Resources for: Genealogy & Family History

This guide covers search tools for research in topics related to Genealogy and Family History. While there is no collection of materials at the U of M specifically dedicated to genealogy, we do hold many documents that could assist in your research.

Getting Started

Start with:

Then try any of the following:

We also have the Federal Census Schedules and the state of Minnesota Census Schedules. Census schedules are copies of the actual forms filled out by individuals or census takers. Both the Federal and Minnesota Census Schedules are in microfilm. Wilson Library has machines where you can view, download, or print the microfilm pages.

Tips for genealogy research

As with any research, you aren't always sure what you'll find until you find it. Genealogical research can be a wonderful way to learn more about your ancestors. It may also be a frustrating experience. Follow these best practices to have the most successful experience possible:

  1. Have as many names and dates handy as possible. You can gather these by chatting with your relatives, or by preliminary research. Know any special/foreign characters and spelling variations, as well as any birth years or death years. General ideas of locations in which your ancestors lived can be helpful as well. (Note: Common names may prove difficult to trace back. There is a chance you will trace the wrong line back; patience is key in genealogy research!)
  2. Keep your research organized from the very beginning. This helps you make sure you are gathering as much information as possible and also helps you see if you've accidentally veered onto the wrong path! Ways to organize your research can include:
    • Paper forms
    • Websites like FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com
    • Apps like Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive, Microsoft Word, or Pages
  3. Once you've recorded census information, you can narrow down your searches to specific states, and in many cases specific towns, cities, townships, or counties. This is a great time to incorporate researching vital records like birth, marriage, and death records.
    • Note: Many divorce records remain private even if the marriage record was made public
    • Note: Sealed birth certificates remain sealed for 100 years, even if the certificate is for someone who is deceased. Birth certificates were often sealed in adoption cases or if the child was considered "illegitimate," or born out of wedlock. 
  4. After searching vital records, if you are still missing information, check for cemetery records, city directories, church records, newspapers, and yearbooks. Many of this information exists on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com, but having as much information as possible to narrow down your search will be incredibly helpful! 

Immigration and naturalization records

Immigration

  • If your ancestor arrived before 1820, check passenger records at the port of arrival. Major ports at this time were Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.
  • If the ancestor arrived between 1820 and 1957, captains arriving on ships in foreign ports were required to submit a list of all passengers to the Collector of Customs in the district where they arrived. Extensive passenger lists exists online. If you can find the arrival location, you can narrow down your search in regional and local arrival lists. 
  • If your ancestor arrived in New England, visit the Great Migration Project at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society. 
  • Border Crossing Records exist from 1896 onwards for all legal crossings from Canada and Mexico. 

Naturalization

  • Not everyone was naturalized, as there was an application process that some did not want to take part in, or were not able to take part in. Requirements for naturalization from 1795 onwards were:
    • Reside in the US for at least 5 years. 
    • Declare an oath of affirmation and reside at least two years within the jurisdiction of the court where the oath was taken. 
    • Declare intent three years before admission as a citizen. 
  • Prior to 1906 these citizenship records were kept in state archives. 
  • After 1906 copies of naturalizations were forwarded to the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). 

Naturalization Exceptions:

  • World War I veterans were given naturalization without meeting the above criteria.
  • A woman's status was dependent upon her spouse. If her spouse was naturalized, she too became naturalized. If her spouse was not, then she was not, even if prior to marriage she was a US citizen. She could only regain citizenship if he became naturalized. 
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act meant that even if a Chinese immigrant met the criteria for naturalization, they could not apply. 

Researching non-white ancestors

African Americans

  • Slave schedules were held for the years 1850 and 1860.
  • The 1870 census denoted former slaves.
  • The 1930 census no longer used the term "mulatto" for race and instead used "black."
  • To find records of ancestors who were enslaved, one will need to know the name of the slave owner. 
  • There is a list of records around the slave trade on Ancestry.com
  • A child's status as a slave was based upon the status of their mother, not their father. 
  • The Freedman's Bureau helped formerly enslaved men, women, and children integrate into society as free people. Their records are held by NARA in Washington, DC and are available for searching on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com
  • It is common for African American researchers to hit a "brick wall" in their genealogy searches prior to 1870. Here are a few tips to move past this, from African American genealogical researcher Kenyatta D. Berry:
    • Search for whites with the same surname in the same county as your ancestor.
    • Try to find city records or other address records to find out how close these families lived.
    • If you are able to find a white family with the same surname in the 1860 census, document the number of enslaved individuals owned by these families. 
    • Looked for the enslaved in the 1860 slave schedule within the same age range of your enslaved ancestor, keeping in mind that ages could be off by 5-10 years.
    • Repeat this process moving backwards in time. 

East Asians

  • The 1870 census was the first to denote Chinese as a nationality. 
  • The 1890 census was the first to denote different races under the East Asian umbrella (beyond Chinese). 
  • Japanese American Internment records are held by Archives.gov
  • Japanese American evacuee records from during the internment are held by the Access Archival Database for WWII records, and you will need to know both the Japanese and English names of the individual. 
  • Many Vietnamese came to the US as evacuees and records from prior to their arrival were likely destroyed in their home country.
  • The 14 most common last names in Vietnam make up 90% of their total population (compare to the top 14 comprising only about 6% of Americans) and therefore can be a stumbling block.

Native Americans

  • The 1870 census denoted Native Americans as a nationality. 
  • The 1900 census was the first to make record of the tribe a Native American belonged to. 
  • To find out more information about a Native American ancestor, it is first important to identify as much about the ancestor as possible, such as where they lived and what tribes were in the area. 
  • The Dawes Rolls list individuals who applied for "membership" in what the US called the Five Civilized Tribes in 1898. Registration continued on these rolls until 1906 and contains the names of many Native Americans belonging to the following tribes: 
    • Cherokee
    • Chickasaw
    • Chocktaw
    • Creek
    • Seminole

If you have any information, corrections, or notes on these aspects of genealogical research, please reach out. We strive to make our genealogical resources as accurate, inclusive, and respectful as possible. 

Military research

Revolutionary War: 

  • Your ancestor may appear on multiple muster rolls
  • NARA has a list of microfilm records related to the Revolutionary War available for research in Washington, DC. You may be able to ILL these or scans of these.

War of 1812:

  • Search the index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers
  • NARA has a list of microfilm records related to the War of 1812 available for research in Washington, DC. You may be able to ILL these or scans of these. 
  • Ancestry.com holds War of 1812 Prisoner of War records relating to American soldiers, British soldiers, and civilians.
  • The Indian Wars:
  • Ancestry.com holds US Army Indian Campaign Service Records and Fold3.com has the Indian Wars Service Record Index.
  • The following states also hold records relating to these wars, under specific titles:
    • Alabama: Creek War, Cherokee Removal, and Second Seminole War
    • Georgia: Cherokee Disturbances and Removal
    • Louisiana: Second Seminole War and War of 1837-1838
    • North Carolina: Cherokee Disturbances and Removal
    • Tennessee: Cherokee Disturbances and Removal

Mexican War:

  • Fold3.com holds Mexican War service records
  • Familysearch.org also holds US Mexican War Pension Indexes which may help find ancestors involved in this war.

Civil War:

  • The NARA holds indexes online for the Civil War, including draft cards. 
  • Be sure to note whether your ancestor was a Confederate or Union soldier (or, if unsure, their citizenship may tell you). 
  • There were over 179,000 Colored Men in the USCT (United States Colored Troops). Enslavers could offer their slave to a militia for monetary compensation.

World War I:

  • NARA holds indexes on this war as well.
  • African Americans were segregated and were primarily in support roles. 
  • Native Americans were able to volunteer and anyone who served were offered citizenship of the US.

World War II:

  • NARA holds indexes on this war, but much more of the records are digitized.
  • Archives.gov holds electronic records for over 9 million men and women.

Korean War:

  • Access to Archival Databases at archives.org holds records about the deceased, injured, wounded, PoW, and some other information.

Vietnam War:

  • Access to Archival Databases at archives.org holds records about the deceased, injured, wounded, incidents, contracts, and some other information.

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Last Updated: Sep 19, 2022 11:05 AM