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Notes about researching in the USA

These notes are basically for our own research. If they are any help to you we are pleased. There is no attempt for completeness at this time. There ARE excellent resources already on the Web, especially


US GenWeb.

Abbreviations for the States
City Directories
DAR- Daughters of the American Revolution
Indian Depredation Claims
Life Expectancy
Distribution of Surnames
Preserve Your Results!
Signers of the Declaration and Descendents
Social Security Records
Military Records



A key to the 1790 US Census records.
In 1790 numbers like this were used: 01 03 02 00 00.

1790 was five columns:

A key to the 1800 US Census records.
In 1800 numbers like this were used: 10010-00100-00.

1800 had basically the same columns as 1810, 12 columns. These censuses did not use preprinted forms:

1890 Census

The Eleventh Census of the United States taken in June, 1890 was partially (mainly) destroyed by a fire in the National Archives, housed in the Commerce Building in January 1921. Mis-communication resulted in the almost total destruction of what remained in 1932.

Some of the original schedule still exists. In 1942 during the move to the new building a bundle of the Illinois schedules appeared during a shipment. In 1953, more fragments were discovered including those from Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and the District of Columbia. The remnants of the 1890 census have been filmed and are available through many sources, including the LDS. There are only three rolls of microfilm containing the records. Only about 6,000 names are listed.

1890 Federal Population Censuses: Catalog of National Archives Microfilm

Eleventh Census of the United States, 1890, M407. 3 rolls.

Roll 1

ALABAMA, Perry County (Perryville Beat No.11 and Severe Beat No. 8) [fragments 1-455]

Roll 2

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Q, 13th, 14th, R, Q, Corcoran, 15th, S, R, and Riggs

Streets, Johnson Avenue, and S Street [fragments 456-781]

Roll 3

GEORGIA, Muscogee County (Columbus); ILLINOIS, McDonough County

(Mound Twp.); MINNESOTA, Wright County (Rockford); NEW JERSEY, Hudson County (Jersey City); NEW YORK, Westchester County, Eastchester); and Suffolk County

(Brookhaven Twp.); NORTH CAROLINA, Gaston County (South Point Twp. and River

Bend Twp.) and Cleveland County (Twp. No. 2); OHIO, Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and

Clinton County (Wayne Twp.); SOUTH DAKOTA, Union County (Jefferson Twp.);

TEXAS, Ellis County (J.P. No. 6, Mountain Peak, and Ovilla Precinct), Hood County (Precinct No. 5), Rusk County (No. 6 and J.P. No. 7), Trinity County (Trinity Town and Precinct No. 2) and Kaufman County (Kaufman) [fragments 782-1,233]

Other Sources for 1890:
A recurring rumor is about the census being in triplicate with one copy at local and one at state level. THIS IS NOT TRUE FOR 1890 :(

In California there is a ongoing project in each of the 52 counties of the state to digitize (by volunteer power) computerization of the Great Voter Registers of 1890 for each county. A project which will result in an accounting for the majority of the male population of the State being accounted for. (Women were not given the vote at that time.)

There was a Special Census of living Civil War Veterans, their name and location only. And it does not include all the living Union veterans at that time.

1900 Census: a note: The abbreviations used to indicate naturalization status in the U.S. census records are Na for naturalized, Al for alien, and Pa for papers applied for, which could mean filed a declaration of intent.



The Soundex system was developed in the 1930s by the WPA for the Social Security Administration. The SSA needed a way to identify people who would be eligible to receive old-age benefits, specifically those people who were born in the 1870s and later. While the SSA began its identification process using the 1880 census documents, there were so may spelling errors that another means of locating records for potential beneficiaries had to be developed.

The Soundex system allowed for the use of sounds in a surname to be used to classify and index heads of household in the census records. All spellings of Smith, Smithe, Smyth, Smythe, and other variations that sound alike will be indexed together.

All households enumerated in the 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses were included in the Soundex indexing system. (The 1890 census was not included because most of it was destroyed by fire in 1921.)

Limitations of Soundex:

1880 - lists only households with children under the age of 10. Missing 1,000 cards for the O part of the Soundex.

1890 - only 1% of the census survived a fire, not soundexed.

1910 - only 21 states soundexed/miracoded. (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.) Miracode cards show visitation number rather than page and line number in original census record.

The written rules at NARA say " If the letters are separated by a vowel they are coded separately. If they are together or separated by an h or w they are adjacent and are coded once."

Also the passenger arrivals lists and the SSDI are coded differently than the Censuses.

Soundex Helps


There is an interesting site that lists the distribution of surnames if the name is at least one in 10,000. They show a map of the US and each state's distribution for the years 1850, 1880, 1920 and 1990. The numbers are based on the census except for 1990, which is based on telephone directories. It is a very interesting way to track the general flow of population within each surname. The address is


Data compiled in 1790 by a prominent physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush, indicates that of 100 people born in the city of Philadelphia, more than one-third died before the age of six and only one quarter of the population survived beyond 26. Life expectancy in 1790 for the US population was 34.5 years for males and 36.5 years for females.


The Library of Congress regularly adds maps from its collection to its website. By the year 2000 it is expected that there will be 50,000 maps available online in "The American Memory Collections" at


Send a gift copy of your history to:

The Library of Congress
Local History and Genealogy Collection Development
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20550-554

Or call, 202-707-5537


Social Security Records

Social Security cards were issued as early as 1937. Even if your ancestor never received any money through Social Security, he or she may have applied for a number. For example, World War II (1941-45) caused many elderly people to enroll in the program in order to participate in various government programs and government-related war-time activities. Servicemen and women also were issued Social Security numbers. Many people did not obtain Social Security Cards (until recent government changes requiring every person to have a number) including self-employed, farmers, wives, Federal and State employees, etc.

The Social Security number became mandatory for all as the Tax ID number in the 1960s. Even those who had never contributed to the system were thus registered. Now, parents have until the 2nd tax year to get an ID number (thus a baby born in the latter months may not have a birth certificate processed in time for the first year of filing as a dependent or getting a bank account). The SS5 is primary information, supplied by the person him or herself. The date of birth and the parents' names are ways for the SSA to distinguish people of the same name.

The original applications for a Social Security Number (SS-5) contain name, address, occupation, plus, usually, the names of person's parents, including mother's maiden name. If you know the person's SS number and he or she is deceased, obtain a copy of Form SSA-L997 (local Social Security office should have them or write to SSA at address below), but strike out the word "Extract" (because you want a copy of the original record, not the computerized printout) and then request a copy of the actual SS-5 form from:

Social Security Administraton
Office of Central Operations-genealogy
300 N Greene St
Baltimore MD 21235
be sure to request a COPY _not_ an abstract.

There is more info on the Social Security Administration Web Page Within a year of the death you can get the entire file.

If the person is still living, you will need that person to grant permission by signing in the appropriate spot on Form SSA-L997. There are times when an extract (or Numident printouts as they are called) can be useful. The extract/Numident printout is a computer-generated record of the information on the SS-5 and status changes. It includes such things as: SS number, name on card, other names used, date of the inquiry, date and place of birth, sex, race/ethnic code, date of a changes, mother's name, including maiden name, and father's name. This printout can be most helpful when tracing a female who has married or remarried.

Social Security numbers can be found on death certificates, hospital records, funeral home and cemetery records, personal papers and insurance policies. Also check the computerized data base called "Death Master File" (also known as SSDI), available on CD-ROM at any Family History Center. It's part of FamilySearch(R), or search the SSDI via the Web at:

The SSDI is an excellent source for people who died (and whose death was reported to the SSA) after 1964, and it includes names of a few who died prior to that date. It is actually prepared by a private firm, and DOES have errors, especially omissions. If you can not find a Social Security number, then you can request a search for the number and a copy of the Form SS-5, if found, from:

Social Security Administration
4 M 5 South Block
300 N. Greene St.
Baltimore MD 21201
410-965-1727 (can leave a message and they do call back)
instead of the former address:
Freedom of Information Officer
4-H-8 Annex Building
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235)

Provide as much identifying information as possible and send proof of death (copy of death certificate, obituary, photograph of tombstone, etc.). These searches cost $16.50 each (make your check payable to Social Security Administration). Ask if a claim file exists for the person, the fee for copies of ALL the papers in the file.

Since the offices and records are in the midst of being moved (2/98) there reportedly is about a six month backlog, and that condition will probably continue for another year or so, aggravated by a great increase due to the internet helping so many more folks realize what records are available! They don't cash your check right away, and once they do you should expect the records in about a month. They still manually locate and print the record for you, so going through the local office offers no advantage.


DAR Records and Memberships

The DAR web site is and they have pages that detail membership requirements - primarily lineal (direct) descent from a Revolutionary War soldier or individual who helped the cause of independence. There is also a page listing many local chapters by state. Check there and if you don't see one near you, contact the national headquarters in DC for a contact who can review your documents.

New members are processed first, then collateral additions, then requests for information from non-members. One may also research in their library in Washington, DC.

Documentation Types: The overall objective is to "prove" or certify the events of the individual generations as well as show the relationship betwee the generations (e.g. birth and death certificates provide parents' names).

Thus, the DAR holdings are a treasure trove for anyone who has such an ancestor. Their current standards are quite high. Older pedigrees might be used as "clues" and one might plan to complete the research again, using those clues. Any corrections found should also be submitted to the DAR.

Indian Depredation Claims were paid for by the federal government. In Record Group 217, Entry 474, Registers of Indian Claims, Mar. 1819-July 1894, 15 vols. there is, in the description of this entry, mention of awards in depredation claims. These registers relate to entry 525, "Settled Indian Accounts and Claims, Jan 1794-Feb 1894, which comprizes 4,687 boxes of material. Claims for after 1 Aug 1894 are found in entry 675. These records are located in the National Archives, Washington, D.C. There was also found in the recent move of the RG217 records from the Suitland Branch to Archives I a box (Undescribed material, Entry 529) that is titled "Accounts of Claims growing out of the Florida War, 1836-38". An excellent resource for dealing with the types of material to be found in Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officer of the Department of the Treasury was published by Willow Bend Books in 1997.

The correct address for the Veterans Affairs department is

The "Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives" states that military service information should be requested from the National Personnel Records Center (MPR), using Standard Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records. It also states that the form is available from the St. Louis Center, the Government Printing Office, Federal Information Centers [check your local phone book], local Veterans Administration offices [ditto], veterans service organizations [ditto], and Reference Services Branch (NNIR), National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408.

IMPORTANT NOTE: A 1973 fire DESTROYED 80% of all personnel jackets of officers seperated between 30 June 1917 and 1956 and enlisted men between 30 October 1912 and 1956!!!

The mail address and phone number are below. The URL is the home page for the records center and tells what is available and what is necessary to get it. You will need a form SF-180 and at one time you could order that by email from In the body of the message give your name and snail mail address so they can mail the forms and the form number. It will take a while!

Send email under Subj: FORM to ''. Include your postal address and request the forms you want: 'Standard Form 180' - for WW1 and later records. 'NATF Form 80' - for any military records prior to WW1.

The requested forms will be mailed to you within a week or so.

Note: To request both Military and Pension records prior to WW1, you will need two copies of 'NATF Form 80'.

National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100
phone 314-538-4261
DSN 639-3901

US Army Military History Institute

All of the services have home pages: The URLs are:

**U.S. Air Force --
**U.S. Army --
**U.S. Coast Guard --
**U.S. Navy (includes Marine Corps pages) --
**Vietnam Veterans Home Page --

Other places to search for military records include:

  • Adjutant General's Office in the individual's state of residence for those who served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam

  • Newspapers published in the city or county where the individual is presumed to have lived prior to entry into service.

  • Local post of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Veterans of World War II for information on local men and women who survived.

  • The National Archives, 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20408, has other military-related records that may be of interest to family historians. They include:
    • Application for Headstones (1879-1903). Arranged on cards, alphabetically by soldier's surname. Most applications are arranged by place of burial and then by cemetery. Soldiers buried in foreign countries are arranged alphabetically by name.
    • Card Records of WWI-era Soldiers Who Died Overseas: 1917-1922. These are arranged alphabetically by name of soldier or name of cemetery and are mainly grave registrations of American buried in European (including Russian) chapels.
    • List of Soldiers Missing in Action: 1923-1960. Name of missing soldier, units in which served, date of disappearance. Arranged = chronologically.
    • US Military Links

  • The Cemetery Service, National Cemetery System, Veterans = Administration, 810 Vermont Avenue N.W., Washington, DC 20422 has records from 1861 to present. Its records identify almost all soldiers buried in national cemeteries and other cemeteries under federal jurisdiction. These records are arranged alphabetically on cards by name of soldier.

    CIVIL WAR Pension Records

    Write to the VA office near you. Provide them as much information as possible about the military member you're looking for. Tell them *specifically* that you are requesting the information under the "Freedom of Information Act".

    The process of accessioning pension records from the Veterans Administration was by drawer and not by individual file. So it is possible that if an individual file within a drawer was active in 1934 that the inactive pensions in the drawer were not sent to the National Archives. T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 is the finding aid to these records. Since it only covers to 1934, it should be expected that there were many that remain in the hands of the Veteran's Administration.

    The Veteran's Administration was established as an independent agency by Executive Order 5398, July 21, 1930, in accordance with an act of 3 July 1930 (46 Stat. 1016), which authorized the merger of the Bureau of Pensions, the U.S. Veteran's Bureau, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, and functions of the Office of the Surgeon General concerned with providing artificial limbs and other appliances to veterans. The predecessor Agencies of the Veteran's Administration were:

    Military Bounty Lands and Pension Branch, War Department (ca. 1810-15)
    Pension Bureau, War Department (1815-33)
    Office of the Commissioner of Pensions, War Department (1833-49)
    Bureau of Pensions, Department of the Interior (1849-1930)
    Bureau of War Risk Insurance, Treasury Department (1914-21)
    Rehabilitation Division, Federal Board for Vocational Education (1918-21)
    Veterans Bureau (1921)
    National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers of the United States (1866-73)
    National Home for Diabled Volunteer Soldiers (1873-1930)

    The Veterans Administration was abolished effective 15 March 1989, by the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (102 Stat. 2635), 25 October 1988.

    This information came from the information on Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration, found in "Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, Volume 1."

    A site where they have over 20,000 photos of Civil War soldiers. You can search by name, place, company, etc.

    Hellfire Corner - WWI Graves, battles, etc; Mainly UK, some CAN, some US


    By 1860 there were more than 70 regularly published city directories in the U.S. Others were published at irregular intervals. Though not always accurate, they can be extremely useful for more than just geographic data (address, census district, voting ward, etc). Often occupations and names of more than just the head of household can be found. Personal details differ from directory to directory.

    City directories are widely available in libraries. While most public libraries, historical societies and state archives have rather extensive collections of their own in-state directories, some have directories of other major cities. Repositories with large collections of city directories include:

    * Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
    * American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.
    * DAR Library, Washington, D.C.
    * Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah

    Many older city directories are available in microform and can be accessed through the Family History Library and its local branches throughout the country. Or Just fill out an interlibrary loan request at your public library. The librarian should be able to locate this for you. Some may also be available through AGLL (see ).


    Signers of the Declaration and Their Descendents

    About 1900, F.W.Leach wrote a 13 vol. manuscript tracing the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Only 5 copies exist. Two of them are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

    Luckily, the manuscript has also been microfilmed onto 6 rolls of film by the LDS. For the descendants of Benjamin RUSH, order film #0001754, item #1 (pages 3787-3844). The last few pages of each signer's section/chapter are an everyname index of names appearing in that section/chapter.

    Leach's manuscript is currently being verified and brought up to date by Rev. Pyne, and is being published in 7 vols. by Picton Press. The first two volumes, covering signers from New England and New York, are already available.

  • .

    Abbreviations for the States

    US - StatesAL - AlabamaAK - Alaska
    AS - American SamoaAZ - ArizonaAR - Arkansas
    CA - CaliforniaCO - ColoradoCT - Connecticut
    DE - DelawareDC - District of ColumbiaFL - Florida
    GA - GeorgiaHI - HawaiiID - Idaho
    IL - IllinoisIN - IndianaIA - Iowa
    KS - KansasKY - KentuckyLA - Louisiana
    ME - MaineMD - MarylandMA - Massachusetts
    MI - MichiganMN - MinnesotaMS - Mississippi
    MO - MissouriMT - MontanaNE - Nebraska
    NV - NevadaNH - New HampshireNJ - New Jersey
    NM - New MexicoNY - New YorkNC - North Carolina
    ND - North DakotaOH - OhioOK - Oklahoma
    OR - OregonPA - PennsylvaniaRI - Rhode Island
    SC - South CarolinaSD - South DakotaTN - Tennessee
    TX - TexasUT - UtahVT - Vermont
    VA - VirginiaWA - WashingtonWV - West Virginia
    WI - WisconsinWY - Wyoming

    USA Index - or - Back to the Guide

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