Researching Family History

Family History Sources by Type

tree image with green and blue boxesThere are several different genealogy websites where you can search with a name and any other information you might have about a family member to see what types of online records may exist.  Many of these websites are free to use, but may require account creation or have limited trial options.  

Additionally, you will find a few well-respected online indexes that provide useful tips for getting started with family history research. 

Census Records – The United States has been conducting censuses every ten years since 1790. The early censuses up until 1850 gave only the head of household’s name and the number of residents in the household by gender and age range. Beginning with 1850, the censuses began including more details, giving the name, age, gender, and occupation, and place of birth for each household member. By the time of the 1870 Census, age at last birthday, gender, marital status, occupation, value of real estate, citizenship status, and place of birth were given for every individual enumerated. Subsequent censuses included additional information even including year of immigration to the United States for foreign-born individuals. The National Archives and Records Administration has the original census documents and has made the 1940 Census available for searching online for free. Various genealogical websites provide searchable access to census data, some for free.

Death announcementNewspaper Notices – Newspapers can be valuable sources of family history, providing announcements of engagements, marriages, births, deaths, and other noteworthy events. Coverage varies from paper to paper and access to newspapers varies widely. Some maintain online archives while others may only be accessible through libraries.  A number of databases have archived historical newspapers, in some cases going back into the 1700s. Larger public libraries and most university libraries will have access to a variety of newspapers both current and historical.



Announcements at left from the June 29, 1772 edition of the Boston Evening-Post, found in America's Historical Newspapers database.

Cemetery Records and Grave Markers – Most gravestones have very limited information about the individuals whose lives they commemorate. At the very least a gravestone will have the person’s name, but in many cases it will also document birth and death dates and maybe even a little bit more. Some stones, for example, will record that the person was someone’s wife or husband or the first infant child of a particular couple. While visiting the cemetery may not always be practical, especially if your family has roots in another state or even in another country, you might find considerable information in online sites such as or BillionGraves. 

Social Security Death Index -  The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database of people whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) beginning about 1962. A small number of deaths are listed before 1962. It was created from the Social Security Administration's Death Master File.The SSDI is searchable on a number of websites and can provide valuable information about the deceased.

Military Records – Military records can also be useful in gathering genealogical data. Enlistment records usually provided the formal name for the individual, the birth date, marital status and name of spouse, parents’ names, and place and date of enlistment. The National Archives provides online access to selected records for free and also has a service where family members can order individual service records. Genealogical websites usually include the ability to search military records as well.

Published Genealogies, Town and County Histories, and More – Some of your research might already have been done for you. Some family researchers have compiled their research and published formal genealogies that are available for purchase, loan, or, in some cases, for free. Large public libraries and some universities have family research collections that are open to the public and include numerous genealogies. Sometimes it is useful just to know more about the area where your family lived during a certain time period. Many larger towns have published histories that not only provide historical background on the area but also information about important families. Many counties have heritage societies or associations that collect photographs and community histories. 

  • Jacksonville Public Library
    303 N. Laura St., Jacksonville
    (904) 630-2665
  • Jacksonville Florida East Family History Center
    7665 Ft. Caroline Road, Jacksonville
    (904) 743-0527
  • Jacksonville Florida West Family History Center
    461 Blanding Blvd., Orange Park
    (904) 272-1150
  • MacClenny Florida Family History Center
    904 S. 5th St., MacClenny
    (904) 259-6910