Saturday, December 22, 2012

Location Specific Records

It is hard for me to understand that while it is winter here where I live it is summer in Australia. Even within the United States the climate can be very different. When I lived in North Dakota, we had extreme winters but here in Georgia it is very mild. Another thing that is different in different places is what records are available. The types of records you will find in Wyoming are VERY different than you will find in Massachusetts. That is why it is so important to take the time to really investigate what is available in the area you are researching. I normally research in the deep south. If my research took a detour to New Hampshire the first thing I would do is look in my reference books to see what sorts of records were kept up there. New England had a completely different record keeping system. Many of their records were generated and held at the town level which isn't the case here in the south. There was also much more of an emphasis put on the documentation of vital records than down here. If I assumed that New Hampshire had all of the same record sets that Georgia has then I would miss a ton of information. One thing we have here in Georgia that many other places don't have are Colonial Records. This is a very important record set for Georgia. The types of land records you will find will be different in different places. You need a good basic reference book like the RedBook, American State, County, and Town Sources or The Handybook for Genealogists. Once you have a general idea of what might be available, you can then do more specific research at the state archives and in the Family History Library's Card Catalog.

P.S. We are still hoping for some snow here in Georgia

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. This was a wonderful post. I'm in New Hampshire and although I might be an expert on New England records, I would certainly be a total newbie if I were anywhere else in the the United States! I've never done research anywhere else, so when people ask if I'm an experienced genealogist I have to say "No!". I'm also very "ethnically specific", so if you have Boston Irish ancestors, or family that came down from French Candada, I'd have to refer you to someone else for advice. I think its important that everyone understands how location, ethnicity, and even religion can be so important in genealogy.

  2. The first time I delved into New England records I was just simply amazed. I had no idea that records of those types were available anywhere. It made me seriously jealous of those that do most of their research up there. Your comment really illustrates why even professional genealogists hire researchers to help them. It is impossible to know everything about everything in genealogy.

    On the surface it may look like the state of South Carolina doesn't have much of anything (for example, the state didn't keep marriage records at the county level until the 20th century even though it is one of the original colonies!). However, if you know where to look you can find much more than what is on the surface. South Carolina is a hard state. Janis Walker Gilmore wrote a research guide for South Carolina for the National Genealogical Society. This is one of those must have items if you are looking at families in SC.

  3. American research seems so hard! I am from Australia (yes it is summer down here) where research is much easier. Mostly because we only have six states and two territories (as opposed to fifty states) and that nearly everything is recorded at the state level. Also, most state/territory governments (all except three) have online, mostly free, Birth/Death/Marriage Indexes which begins when that state/territory was formed. Also the National Library of Australia has digitised nearly all the Australian newspapers up to 1954 (which you can view for free on the internet) which is obviously really helpful for Birth/Death/Marriage notices. I do agree with you, however, on the fact that all states/territories need to be researched differently. I have ancestors from 5 states and in each state I will use different ways to research them. Needless to say, some states are easier than others.

  4. WOW! I had no idea that it was easier to do research in Australia! You just never know. The privacy laws are so different everywhere. Someone posted on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list just today on the difficulties in Canada.

  5. Australia actually has quite strict privacy laws. They change in each state, but birth records are not available for births less that 100-80 years ago (as I said, each state is different), marriages aren't available less than 50-70 years ago and death aren't available less than 20-40 years ago.

    I have ancestors/relatives in Canada and I've found that, again, it depends on which state. British Columbia's quite good (all online) but Ontario is on the dreaded microfiche. But then again, Canada has all its censuses available free from 1851-1911 so it's quite easy if you know how. My great-great grandfather lived on the border of Canada and the USA at Niagara Falls. He lived on the USA side of the border but was actually born in Canada. I don't know why, but it means that I need to look at records for passenger lists etc. from two countries.

  6. Vitals here depends totally on the state. Some states have death certificates as public record as soon as they filed. Some are private for 50 years. Here in GA you can't get one that is newer than 1930. Texas is about the only state I know of that will let you have birth info on anyone. Most states restrict births to those persons named on the certificate. Marriages are public record as soon as they are recorded in every state that I know of. Wills and probate as also public record as soon as they are filed. No privacy issue with those.