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Roots and branches

Question: Where might I look for names of parents of individuals when there are no birth or death certificates and there are no family Bible records?

Answer: Certificates of vital records are among the best resources, but are fairly recent in this country, mostly beginning in the 19th century. Certificates of birth, marriage and death may be issued by some churches, using registers at the parish level that in some cases go back to the early 16th century. In New England, early vital records were compiled by the local churches and later handed over to the local government for preservation.



Check out the local cemeteries, as many tombstones have survived through the centuries. In many cases, the cemetery records have been transcribed and are available in book form. Some government records that predate vital certificates are probate records, court proceedings and land and property records. Each has the possibility of recording family relationships as part of its official duties. These records begin much earlier and may give the information needed for bringing the family together.




Court minutes, both civil and criminal, may record family relationships that bear on civil suits, litigation of matters that originated in probate courts, etc. The court to appoint legal guardians usually handled guardianship of orphans. Property records have been discussed previously and are a great source of information.

To find out what records are available in the county you are researching, check the “Handy Book for Genealogists,” which is available in most libraries.

Note: The Doris Foley Library Genealogy Room is available for public use. It accepts donations of genealogy books and quarterlies.

Josie Plescia Vaughn is the librarian of the Nevada County Genealogy Society. Send questions to: NCGS, P.O. Box 176, Cedar Ridge 95924 or e-mail


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