Vital Records Tips

Read these 21 Vital Records Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Genealogy tips and hundreds of other topics.

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I have an age for my ancestor - but I can't find the birth in the right year - what shall I do?

Don't take people's ages for granted

People have always lied about their age - whether it's a minor pretending they're old enough to marry, or an old widow not wanting to reveal their age. Or it is quite possible that some people did not know their own age. In the case of a death, the details of the person's age was often given by a young family member or friend who may have just guessed their age. If you have an age for someone, don't assume that you know the birth year - try at least five years each side.

What's the first step I should take?

Ask the family first!

Before you start spending your money on birth, marriage and death certificates, and hours at the local archives, ask the older members of your family for their memories or any old documents or photographs. You will be amazed at the amount of information they can give you first, and you will probably find lots of interesting family legends that you can chase up.

How can I find out where my ancestor is buried?

Finding Cemeteries & Funeral Homes

You can obtain important information about your ancestors from funeral home or cemetery records. If you have an idea of where your ancestor may have died but are not sure, visit This website has a search feature that can help you locate funeral homes and cemeteries across the US.

Where can I find a marriage date?

Where can I find a marriage date?

Remember that marriage dates may be found in a many places besides actual marriage records! If you're having trouble locating the marriage date of your ancestors, don't forget to check the following resources:

Court Records
Legislative Records
Family Papers

How do I find my ancestor´s tombstone?

Finding a Cemetery

Haven't been able to find the cemetery of your ancestor yet? Time for the big guns! Narrow down the area where you believe your ancestor may have died or been buried, then turn to maps! Use land, tax and/or census records to mark the areas around your ancestor's home. They will often be buried in either a nearby cemetery or even in a family cemetery on their own property. There are topographic maps available which may show cemeteries, roads, houses and farms and lead you to your ancestor's burial place.

How do I learn more about naming patterns?

Naming Patterns

Naming patterns often provide very important clues in genealogy research. For example, you may find a pattern wherein the first son may have been named after his father's father, the second son after his mother's father, and the third son after his father, and so on. Naming patterns differ in various countries and cultures.

Here are some sites to help you recognize these patterns:

Naming Patterns for Countries & Cultures

18th & 19th Century Britain Naming Patterns

Scottish Naming Patterns

What does my first name mean?

First Names - History and Meaning

In your genealogy research you deal with names - lots and lots of names. Genealogists often research the history and meaning of surnames, but fail to do the same for their ancestors' first names.

Don't miss out on a fascinating study of your family's first name history! The following site is all about the history and etymology of first names.

Behind The Name

How do I use court records?

Don't Forget to Check Court Records

Court records can be an interesting source for obtaining little-known information about your ancestor. In these records, your ancestor may be shown as a plaintiff, defendant or witness. Was your ancestor involved in a property dispute of some kind? A criminal matter? Did he provide testimony in a probate case, or was she named as an executor or witness to a will?

For some in-depth information on how to utilize court records in your own genealogical research, visit the following site:

Court Records - Finding Your Ancestors

How do I find my ancestor´s maiden name?

How to find Maiden Names

Half of all of our ancestors were women, but sometimes the maiden surnames of these women seem impossible to find. For great information on ways to climb over this particular "brick wall", visit the following site:

Invisible Women Ancestors

How do I find my ancestor´s tombstone?

How To Find A Tombstone

You say you're determined to find your ancestor's tombstone, but don't know where to start? Here are the most likely sources of that information: death records/certificates, obituaries, mass or prayer card, family Bible, family members, published cemetery surveys.

Why do I need to obtain Marriage Certificates?

Marriage Certificates Are Important!

A Marriage Certificate is the most reliable document for the marriage date and place.

Additionally, these certificates often provide the ages of the bride & groom, the parents' names, and the names of witnesses - who are often family members.

Where Can I Research My Ancestor's Divorce Records?

Using Divorce Records in Your Search

Even in history, not every marriage lasted. Your relative may have had a divorce in his past. Finding genealogy information on that person through their divorce records may be helpful to you in your family tree research.

If you are sure your relative was divorced, try doing a search in the county the divorce took place. Look through the county's divorce records. You may find a lot of useful information for your genealogy research. You may find the date and place of the marriage, the name and ages of the children involved if they were minors at the time of the divorce, where the two lived after the marriage and the date of the divorce when it was granted.

Be prepared to find some great information if you are researching your ancestors divorces.

Where can I find my ancestor´s funeral records?

Funeral Records

Did you know that funeral homes and morticians can help you locate cemetery records? Existing funeral records can contain a wealth of information, including the burial location. Check with the funeral director listed on your ancestor's Death Certificate for assistance. If a funeral home is no longer in business, then check with other area funeral homes as they may know where the old records are located.

What are surname distribution patterns?

U.S. Surname Distribution

If you're having trouble determining what state your ancestors may have come from, or what their migration route may have been, a study of surname distribution patterns is often helpful.

Here's a nifty little site that can help you narrow down the search for your ancestors by using the distribution patterns of their last name!

You can see how common your surname was in each state in 1850, 1880, 1920, and 1990.

What information should I obtain from Deeds?

Use A Deed Research Form

When you're researching Deeds, make sure to take detailed notes. You should make notes of all the information found on the Deed, even that which makes no sense or seems unnecessary at the time. You may need that information later on in your research!

A nice Deed Research Form can be found here:

What is a delayed birth certificate?

What is a delayed birth certificate?

Delayed birth certificates are common for individuals born prior to the keeping of birth records. These were often issued so that the individual could obtain another form of identification, such as a passport. They were also issued to help verify age for an individual filing for Social Security or other retirement benefits. The individual needed to provide multiple sources of information to document and corroborate his or her birth date.

It should be noted that a delayed birth certificate is, in fact, a secondary source. A genealogist should obtain copies of the records listed on the delayed certificate as primary sources.

Where can I find Land Patents?

Land Patents

The Bureau of Land Management is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. They provide a searchable database to locate land patents that were issued between 1820 and 1908 for Eastern public land. If a record is available you can view it online to see the patent description, the legal land description, and the image of the original document. You can also order a certified copy of the document for your records.

Check out their site: The Bureau of Land Management-Eastern States

Why should I obtain Death Certificates?

Death Certificates Are Important!

The Death Certificate is the most reliable document for information about the death date, place, and cause of death.

These certificates will often also show the birth date, parents' names, and other useful information. Pay special attention to the name and address of the person who provided the information on the certificate. This is usually a close relative.

What is a family association?

What is a Family Association?

A family association is a a group of people who are related to each other, share the same surname, or are interested in the study of a specific surname.

Many associations promote genealogical research and the exchange of information between members, and they often publish newsletters or other materials that may be of assistance to a genealogist.

Why do I need to get Birth Certificates?

Birth Certificates Are Important!

A Birth Certificate can be one of your most valuable genealogical records.

These certificates usually show at least the names and ages of the parents of the child, which can help you move back a generation. Some birth records, especially foreign documents, may carry you back several generations!

How do I find African American family history information?

African American Cemeteries

If you're researching African-American family history, it's often difficult to find records of births, marriages, and deaths. Don't give up, though, as more and more resources are becoming available via the itnernet.

This online database of African-American cemeteries is categorized by state. Many include transcribed tombstones.

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Guru Spotlight
Linda Handiak