Records and Documentation
Your mother may have told you stories about her great-grandmother in Switzerland.
These oral histories will help you start your research. Write down the memories of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins.
Ask about specific individuals and gather details including nicknames, places they lived, vital information (including birth, marriage, and death dates), occupations, and other important clues.
Then start looking for the records or documentation needed to verify this information. A list of the records or documents you may need follows.
- marriage certificates
- divorce records
- birth records
- death certificates
- military enlistments
- immigration or emigration records
- naturalization papers
- baptisms or christenings
- funeral services
- city directories
- grave stones or cemetery records
- guardianship documents
- adoption papers
- probate papers
- census records
- property ownership records
- deeds and other land titles and records
- tax documents
- employment records
- voter registration papers
- Social Security indexes
- passenger lists of the ports of departure: after 1850 mostly Le Havre or Hamburg: in the 18th century Rotterdam
Passenger Arrival Lists
Passenger arrival lists can provide clues - and answers - about your ancestor's arrival in North America.
To begin your search it is helpful to know the name of the immigrant and date of entry into the United States.
US census records can provide a date after 1900.
FamilySearch provides a comprehensive page of search advice and links beginning with pre-1820 US Passenger Arrival Records. Click here.
Steve Morse’s web page includes most American ports of entry. Detailed search boxes help navigate the passenger list databases. Click here.
Cyndi's list has links for smaller or more specific collections. Click here.
A census is an official enumeration of the population in a particular area.
In addition to counting the inhabitants of an area, the census generally collects other vital information, such as names, ages, citizenship status, and ethnic background.
In the United States, the first census was taken in 1790.
FamilySearch provides links to the U.S. Census beginning in 1790. Click here for that page.
Ancestry.com provides 10 census questions that lead to answers in your genealogy search.
The first Canadian census was conducted in 1851 and included Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia only.
Click here to access Canadian census records.