How to Find

a Parent



  • Census Records

  • Marriage license of ancestor and each sibling

  • Birth Certificate for the ancestor or siblings 

  • Death Certificate of the ancestor or siblings

  • Cemetery Records

  • Published family trees 

  • Social Security Records

  • Probate Records


  • Family Records

  • Obituaries

  • Local and County histories

  • Land Records

  • Military Records

  • Newspapers for birth or marriage announcements

  • Church Baptism Records

  • Bible Records

  • Immigration Records

In-depth Discussion

Records are listed in general order, starting with the records most likely to be successful due to record content and ease of access.


  • Census – In 1850 and later, the U.S. Census lists each person by name and starting in 1880 they listed the person’s relationship to the head of household.

    • Don’t assume relationships just because the person/child fits into the family.

    • Sometimes extended family members are living in the same household.

    • Search for all entries of the surname in the same or nearby towns or counties.

    • Remember to look for state censuses as well. Check the FamilySearch Wiki for availability.

    • Always view the original record for additional details that might provide evidence.

    • Find Census Records:

  • Vital Records - General Principles

    • Check availability in the FamilySearch Wiki by searching for the [name of state] and “birth” or “marriage” or “death”.

    • In most states, marriage records start when the county began (or the town in New England.)

    • Birth and death certificates usually began in the early 1900s. If the family was born in the 1800s then search first for the death certificates for those children who might have died in the 1900s.

    • Always note the names of the witnesses or informants because they are often close relatives, but remember that the informant might not always know/provide all the correct information.

    • Check the “Atlas of Historical County Boundaries” to understand the county boundaries at the time of the event. Your ancestor might have lived in two different counties, but never moved.

    • If your ancestor is not found, then extend the search years on each side of the event and check surrounding counties.

    • Find Vital Records:

    • Vital records to search:

      • The marriage license of the ancestor and each known sibling

        • Marriage records have been kept since the beginning of the county in most states.

        • Check several census records after 1850 to determine the ancestor’s state of birth.

        • Look for marriage banns and bonds in earlier time periods.

      • Birth Certificate for the ancestor or siblings

        • Most states in the U.S. didn’t require birth certificates until the early 1900s.

      • Death Certificate for the person or siblings 

        • Especially those who may have died later than the early 1900s.

  • Cemetery

  • Probate/Estate Records: wills, inventories, guardianships, etc. 

  • Published family trees –  use these trees only as a suggestion to confirm with further research.

  • Social Security Records



  • Search Family Records at home

  • Obituaries – Check for an obituary of the person or a sibling.Find Obituary Records:

  • Local and County histories

    • Also check for histories for siblings, children or grandchildren.

    • Find Histories:

      • WorldCat Library is an online catalog for many libraries around the world. It will also reference online sources for some books. If not available online, you can often do interlibrary loan through your local library.

      • FamilySearch Catalog lists books available at the Family History and it also has a link to the book if they have digitized it.

      • Google search: [county, state] and “history”

  • Land records

    • When a man died, often his real estate was divided among his children. The daughters were listed under their married name. Search for them in the grantor-grantee indexes.

    • Especially watch for a deed of land to your ancestor for a small amount of money.

    • Find land records:

  • Military Records 

    • Pension records typically provide the most genealogical information and can include the name of the wife or daughter.

    • If the female ancestor you are looking for was born around the time of a war and up to 20 years after, then check for a pension record for the father.

    • Bounty land warrants can also list the name of the spouse

    • Find military records:

  • Church baptism records

  • Bible records

  • Immigration Records