Genealogy Search Tips

Tips for Finding Ancestor Information

Discover an Ancestor's Place of Birth, Date of Birth, Occupation, Father's Name, Mother's Maiden Name and More

Below and on the following pages are all of our search tips - they are not categorized and are in the order in which they were added to this site.

Search Historical Newspapers

If you are searching an historical newspaper that is displayed online as an image then you are searching the text generated from Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. Usually the OCR text is printed below the image of the newspaper page.

So if you don't see your search term in the newspaper page displayed on the screen you can use your browser's "Find on Page" feature to locate your search term in the OCR text. Then you will be able to find where the article appears in the newspaper page.

Even if the window for the OCR text is very small and your search term does not appear in the window the "Find on Page" will locate your search term and slide the scroll bar down so that you can see your search term and the entire article.

You can also copy the article's OCR text and save it as text in one of your files.

Search Historical Newspapers

Many online historical newspapers are digitized copies that were generated from microfilm copies of the original newspapers. So these newspapers are images of printed information and and they are not in the text form that is common in more recently, published online newspapers.

Computers cannot read the text in these images and so the text must be extracted from the images so that an index of key words can be generated and used in response to search queries. Typically Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software is used to extract the text from newspaper images. Using the generated OCR text computer algorithms then create indexes that can be used to find relevant newspaper articles in response to search queries.

However, if some of the OCR text is not what appeared in some newspaper articles then parts of these articles will not be indexed correctly. For example if the name "Johnson" was extracted from an article as "Jahnsen" then Jahnsen and not Johnson will appear in the OCR text and index for that article. So a search for Johnson will not find the article even though Johnson appears in the article.

So try common misspellings and other related terms when searching historical newspapers. You might find some articles that would not be found because the OCR text is incorrect. See our discussion of Historical Newspapers, Books and Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Microfilm Readers

In recent years many libraries and historical societies have upgraded to more advanced microfilm readers that provide a much clearer view of microfilmed pages. Instead of printing a page with the microfilm reader's printer you can usually print the page to a laser printer. So the quality of a printed page is much better than in the past.

These newer microfilm readers are usually connected to a computer - so you can copy and save a page or part of a page to the computer. For example, you might view a newspaper page that contains an obituary and just copy the section of the page that contains the obituary to the computer.

Many of these computers are online and so you can email your saved copies to yourself or others. You can also upload your copies to a cloud based web page on Google Drive, MicrosoftOne and other similar sites.

In most cases you can also insert a flash drive and save your copies to the flash drive.

Find a Birth Date

In many cases you can find the birth date of a deceased US citizen in the Social Security Death Index.

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) provides information about deceased people who had registered with Social Security - many people born before 1900 had registered. See our discussion of the Social Security Death Index.

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Find Obituary Information

Google's indexed list of books, magazines, almanacs, directories, legal publications and more contain community histories, biographies, obituaries and other information that can be very useful to genealogists.

Go to Google's website and on the left side click Books (you might need to first click "More" to find Books). Then enter your ancestors' name, city, town or county where he or she died. Add or eliminate search terms based on your initial results.

Find a Death Date

You can usually find an individual's death date by looking at cemetery information. For example, you might go directly to the cemetery where the death date might be printed on your ancestor's tombstone.

You can also contact the cemetery manager or a local genealogical society, library or historical society. Some of these organizations might have photos of tombstones and/or transcriptions of tombstone information.

See our discussion of Cemetery Records for additional information.

Find a Death Date

In many cases you can find the death date of a deceased US citizen in the Social Security Death Index.

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) provides information about deceased people who had registered with Social Security - many people born before 1900 had registered. See our discussion of the Social Security Death Index.

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Find a Death Date

Funeral home memorial cards are a good source of death dates. These are the small cards that the funeral home traditionally prints as a tribute to the deceased. They are usually available to everyone who attends the deceased's wake or funeral. Sometimes the burial date, usually a few days after the death date, is printed on the card.

Sometimes these cards can be found online and in many cases they are in family possessions. They are also called Prayer Cards, Funeral Cards, Memorial Cards or Holy Cards.

Find Ancestor's Occupation

If you want to discover the occupation of an ancestor look at the United States Census data. In all the census years between 1870 and 1940 the occupation is listed..

If you would like more detailed information see the World War I and World War II Draft Registration cards. You can also look at an ancestor's application for a Social Security card (Form SS-5). See our discussion of Social Security Applications for additional information.

Find Obituary Information

In some cases you might know an ancestor's death date but the obituary is not online and you don't have access to a library in the area where your ancestor died.

Look online for a local genealogy society or genealogy group in the area where a newspaper might have published the obituary. The genealogy society or group might have volunteers who will look for the obituary at no charge or for a nominal fee. The local library might also have procedures for obtaining obituaries for people who do not live in the area of the library.

Find Marriage Information

More and more images of Marriage License Applications are now online and they can provide a lot of useful information.

You can find the names of the parents of both the bride and groom and this includes the maiden names of both mothers.

In many cases you can also find the residence address, occupation and place of birth for all 4 parents and the bride and groom.




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