Major Databases for Beginning United States Research
Value of databases, strategies for using them, and a list of significant U.S. genealogical databases on the Internet with brief descriptions of each.
Definition. A database is a collection of information organized for rapid search and retrieval. Databases can be online, off line, or a combination of both. Some databases have user fees; some are free. Sometimes different databases overlap or contain information from the same sources. Search engines, such as Google, and lists, such as Cyndi’s List are not considered databases for this discussion. Various types of American genealogical databases in various media include, for example:
• Family Group Records Collection—Archive Section (microfilm)
• American Genealogical Biographical Index (books and online)
• Pedigree Resource File (compact disc and DVD)
• FamilySearch.org (online)
• Periodical Source Index (PERSI) (book, microfiche, and online)
• Freedman’s Bank Records (compact disc, and online)
•Vital Records Index—North America (compact disc)
Value of Databases. Genealogists use databases to quickly find compiled genealogies and original and derivative records. The primary advantage of using databases early in the research process is their ease of use. As a result of the rapid growth of the Internet and genealogical databases, it is likely that many of our American ancestors in the 1800s and earlier will be found in at least one database.
Usually genealogists build a wider search for further non-database original sources on the foundation of information found in databases of derivative sources, and from databases showing images of original sources.
User Beware. Genealogical databases must be used with caution, especially those consisting of derivative sources. Such databases are often poorly documented and contain many errors. Nevertheless, such databases are one of the first places to search for ancestors, provided the user understands the risk that derivative sources contain numerous inaccuracies. Always verify information downloaded from a database by locating the original source from which the data came.
Jurisdictions. Many of the larger databases, such as FamilySearch and Ancestry, combine material from many different sources, jurisdictions, and time periods. Worldwide, national, state or provincial, county, town, and individual family databases exist.
How to Use Databases
Search databases early. Search worldwide, multiple-source databases such as FamilySearch and Ancestry.com when you begin research on a family. Also search databases for the states and counties where the family lived.
At first enter with only a little search information. When searching computerized databases, enter only a little search information to start. If this results in too many matches, add another piece of information and repeat the search. Slowly add more information one piece at a time until the number of matches is reasonable.
When the first search doesn’t locate data… If the original search results in no matches, remove most of the details in the search request. Alternatively, try variant name spellings in the search request. Wild card name searches may also be supported in some computerized databases.
Here is a list of some free databases on the Internet (or partly free at Family History Centers, or Family History Library). They are good sites to begin research on a family that lived in the United States.
FamilySearch.org Largest free online collection of genealogical resources including Historical Records Collections, FamilySearch Research Wiki, FamilySearch Forums, Five Minute Genealogy videos, on-line classes, and more.
FamilySearch Historical Records Collections Free index and/or digital images to more than 500 U.S.- Canada sources, including selected federal and state censuses, birth, marriage, and death records, funeral home records, Freedman's Bank and Freedman's Bureau records, military pensions, probate records, passenger lists, WWI draft registrations, and land records, plus many other international records.
The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Free index to New York City passenger arrivals from 1820 to 1892, containing roughly 12 million immigrants.
DAR Genealogical Research System (GRS) is a free resource provided by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to aid general genealogical research and to assist with the DAR membership process. The GRS is a collection of databases that provide access to the many materials amassed by the DAR since its founding in 1890.
NPS Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database 1861–1865 index of Union and Confederate veterans, giving the regiment, company, rank, and film number.
Ellis Island.org 1892–1924 New York City passenger arrival index showing ethnicity, arrival date, residence, age, ship, port of departure, passenger manifest image, and ship’s image. The best index for this site is at Ellis Island in One Step.
Fold3.com Free access at Family History Centers. Digital original sources such as naturalizations, Revolutionary War papers, Civil War papers, Mormon Battalion pensions, newspapers, Southern Claims Commission, and Texas births and deaths. Formerly known as Footnote.com
HeritageQuest $: This website contains indexes (1790–1820, 1860–1880, and 1900–1940) and images (1790–1940) to U.S. federal censuses; over 28,000 family and local histories; PERSI, an index to 2.3 million genealogical periodical articles; Revolutionary War pension and bounty-land warrants; Freedman’s Bank records; and U.S. Congressional records. It is free at the Family History Library, larger Family History Centers, and many public libraries. Check with your local library for free access to HeritageQuest.
American Ancestors - New England Historical Genealogical Society Free at Family History Library. Births, marriages, deaths, tax lists, church records, wills, family histories, diaries, The Great Migration Begins, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society Register.
OneGreatFamily.com Free at Family History Library. Over 190 million unique entries created from shared submissions by individuals. Also includes Social Security Death Index (1962–present).
RootsWeb Surname List Over 1.2 million surname links to submitter contact data via this file.
RootsWeb WorldConnect More than 640 million names on family trees including births, marriages, deaths, parents, children, sources, pedigrees, family groups, and submitter contact data.
USGenWeb Archives Free transcriptions of census records, marriage bonds, death records, wills, biographies and other documents, transcribed by volunteers, organized by state and county. Searchable.
United States National Archives Supplemental resources for genealogists and access to various databases.
United States General Land Office (GLO) Records Contains image access to more than 5 million federal land title records issued between 1820 and the present, and also includes survey plats, land status records, and the control document index.
FindAGrave.com Free. Over 112 million grave records, catagorized by state, county, town. Searchable.
GenDisasters.com Free. Transcribed newspaper and other historical accounts of train wrecks, tornadoes, fires, floods, accidents and other disasters. Searchable.
Interment.net Free. User-submitted cemetery listings.
Chronicling America Free. Search America's historic newspaper pages from 1836-1922 or use the U.S. Newspaper Directory to find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present.