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You have probably tracked down a few of those Ancestry hints inside Family Tree Maker and that took you to www.ancestry.com, where you get a sense for some of the documents and records that you can find there. But what I want to show you now is a little bit more, a bigger picture of what's available there and on other websites. Topping the list of things you can find online are U.S. Census Records. They really are a treasure trove of data. They started in 1790, and have been conducted every 10 years after that point. By the way, the 1890 census was destroyed in fire; there is only a few pages left.
So don't look for anything in 1890, and don't expect to see anything in 1890. There is a 72-year waiting period for the release of the censuses. The 1930 census is the current one that's out there. And 1940 will be released in April 2012, and genealogists are just chomping at the bit for that guy to come out. The content in censuses varies. Older censuses have fewer things, fewer names, fewer details. But newer censuses have things like addresses, names, marriage status, birth years, where folks were born, what country or state, when they immigrated, if that applies, what their occupations are.
The census records are just full of great stuff. So that's really your first place that you should go when you are trying to track down data, and then you can always go from there and find other things using the census data. Another thing that's important to look at are military records particularly, World War I draft registration, because all men aged 18-45 were suppose to register and these little registrations are full of interesting information including color of their hair, color of their eyes, their body type, their signature, addresses or birthday, all kinds of good information. So the World War I draft registrations is a good resource.
World War II draft registration is not such a good resource in comparison. It was conducted on one day in 1942, and it's called the old man's registration because the other registrations for younger people have not been released because of privacy issues. Only folks who are aged 45-64 back in 1942, only those records have been released. World War II army enlistment records are online. They're not anywhere near detailed as the draft registration, but they do have some salient facts that you might want to track down. Civil War records, they are kind of spotty.
But you can find some interesting things here if you're lucky, including rosters, pensions. If you're a Civil War ancestor had a pension or contested a pension, usually you can find all kinds of information about them. Also, what their regimental histories might have been. The US Revolutionary War rolls are also available, but there aren't very many individuals in there, so don't expect to find anything there. Usually you get something only if you're very lucky to find it. Other easily accessible records include immigration. You have probably discovered this already at www.ancestry.com with the ship passenger list. And this is just great because sometimes you can find the exact moment your ancestors stepped off the ship and on to North America or into the United States.
Passports are great to find because frequently they have photographs. Naturalization and citizenship records also are great to find, because of just details about addresses and when that happened. Although there aren't many details about let's say how they looked and things like that. The Social Security Death Index is an interesting thing. You can find it free at various sites. You've probably discovered it already at www.ancestry.com, but pretty much the moment somebody dies this thing is posted online, if they had a Social Security Number. And of course not many people had them decades ago. But these days even children have them. Finally, census records from other countries like the United Kingdom and Canada are appearing online.
And soon you will see records from Mexico and South America and even China will start appearing online. There are other web tools out there, particularly search sites. I would suggest you go to www.google.com. That really is the best search site in my view. Newspapers and magazines are online. That's kind of spotty, but there are aggregate sites out there that have thousands of newspapers online in archive fashion. Books are online and typically you wouldn't expect to find something in a book. But some people actually write books about particular genealogies and you can find them online. There are surname message boards where you can exchange information with people searching on your surname.
And there are uploaded family trees out there as well. So that's the basic overview of what you can expect to find online.
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