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Basic Genealogy

Links to resources below are to the Library's online catalog, unless otherwise indicated.

Prepare | Gather | Organize | Research | Share


Before researching outside of your home, it is helpful to understand types of records available - their accessibility, terminology, and reliability. Reading one or more basic "how-to" books or online tutorials will help insure successful searching. Some examples are:


Interview parents, grandparents and other relatives. Anecdotes and memories are just as important as dates and relationships. Take notes! If possible, record or videotape interviews.

Gather family records and photographs. Include official records (birth/death/marriage certificates and legal documents), but don't forget informal records of family events such as photo albums, baby books, newspaper clippings, school programs, and fraternal organizations. Take necessary steps to preserve and share these valuable records.


Organize information and complete a generation chart (sometimes called an ancestor or pedigree chart) for your ancestors. This will serve as your "road map" for research. For each couple on the Generation Chart, complete a Family Group Sheet. Genealogical software programs can help you organize information.

Use maiden names for women and record dates with date of month first, followed by name of month, then year using four digits (for example, 4 July 1776).

Consider making an "ancestor profile" for everyone in your family tree. You can include photographs, medical information, hobbies, aptitudes, education diaries, and religious affiliation -- anything to form an idea of what that person was really like.


Begin with yourself, then work backwards by generation.

Standards | Guides | Vital Records | Court Records | Census | Military | Immigration & Naturalization


Evaluate reliability of information. Was information recorded when event occurred? When possible, verify information using original records, not compilations.

Carefully record each source of information. Make your description detailed enough so that others can easily find record if desired. Keep a research log.


Vital Records

Most states did not keep records of births and deaths until 1910. Marriage and divorce records are usually kept at the county level beginning at time of county formation. Access to information varies from state to state. For further information, see:

Vital records may also be found in church records. These may be located in denomination archives or in manuscript collections.

Court Records

Court records exist on national, state, county and local levels and may include land, naturalization, probate and tax records as well as vital records (especially marriages and divorces). Knowing the court system in a particular state is essential for utilizing these records. County Courthouse Book contains a good summary of the system in each state.


The United States has taken a census every ten years beginning in 1790. Since privacy laws mandate that 72 years must pass before the census schedules are available to the public, the 1930 is the most recent available to research. The amount of information varies from year to year: 1850 was the first to list everyone in the household by name and 1880 was the first to give birthplace of parents. Now available in digitized formats as well as microfilm, most censuses can be easily researched. Printed indexes or the Soundex/Miracode exist for most years. Online indexes exist for every year through and/or HeritageQuest Online. The entire 1880 U.S. census has been indexed by the LDS Church & can be searched online. Finding aids for the 1930 census can be found at the National Archives and Records Administration web site and at Obtaining EDs for the 1930 Census in One Step.

More information on the U.S. census can be found in:


Compiled service records, pensions, and unit histories as well as personal papers can be sources of information about U.S. military service.

Immigration & Naturalization

Many passenger lists did not survive especially in colonial times. Some customs passenger lists exist between 1820-1891. Immigration passenger lists may be found 1891-1954. Before the Immigration & Naturalization Service was established in September 1906, papers for obtaining naturalized citizenship could be filed in various courts. The massive indexing project by P. William Filby, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1981 with supplements in 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000), is now available in CD-ROM (Family Tree Maker CD #354) and online. See also:


One of the greatest gifts you can leave your children, grandchildren and other relatives is a record of your family history research. Consider publishing your research and donating to a library or archive. The National Genealogical Society provides standards for sharing information with others.

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