Vital records are government issued documents that record life events such as births, marriages, and deaths. Because these records were created near the time of the event by trusted authorities, they are considered more accurate than other resources.
Vital records can be found through online services or through the local authority where an event occurred. There is often a fee for ordering records, and authorities may require proof that you are related to the person for whom the record was created. Here are some useful tools for finding your ancestors' records.
The family tree begins with you. Using an ancestral chart, begin with yourself and work backwards. Focus on one generation at a time and one ancestor at a time. A simple 5 generation chart is a great way to keep track of your initial research.
Fill in your charts with as much information as you can remember. Look around your house for family journals and photographs that can provide important clues when tracing your ancestors. Once you've exhausted your own resources try talking to relatives. Consider recording interviews so you can reference them later. An audio or video record is also a wonderful way to preserve the stories of your relatives for future generations!
As you research you will find more information such as spouses and children's names, occupations, and dates of death. Use Family Group Sheets to keep track of this information and save yourself effort down the road.
The U.S. Census, which records the people living in the United States every ten years, is the simplest place to begin looking for records. To search the census you need some basic information, such as the name of a family member who was alive in 1940, the year of the most recent available for public access. The more you know about this relative the easier it will be to find them in the records. Information like an approximate date of birth, place of birth, and the state in which they lived will help you find records on the correct person.
The census record will tell you who else was living in the household, which often includes members of the previous generation. You can use this method to trace your family line through history using the census like a trail of breadcrumbs. Take the time to record any information you find on your 5 generation chart and family group sheet.
Need more information? Watch this video tutorial from Ancestry.com.
When you're new to genealogy it can seem like everyone is speaking a foreign language. Use these links to understand some of those odd terms you've come across.