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Important Websites to Help Your Research – Part Four

In our first three posts on this subject, we listed a few websites in categories that were somewhat related. In this post we will mention a number of websites that have general genealogical interest and give the reasons for including them in the list since they mostly do not fall into distinct categories. When compiling such a list it is sometime hard to know when to stop. That is likely the reason for some “Top Forty” and other types of classifications. These particular websites seem to be among those we have most visited and that alone is the criteria for inclusion. Here is the list.

National Archives and Records Administration of the United States

The National Archives of the United States hold many genealogically valuable records including military records, census records, immigration records, court records, land records, Native American records, passenger lists, Social Security records, and many other categories. Unfortunately, the National Archives website does not have nearly as many digitized records as you might expect. Most recently, the National Archives has contracted out the digitization of its records. Records from the National Archives can be found on many other websites however, there are some significant tools for genealogists on the website itself including instructions on obtaining copies of records from the National Archives. The site also contains instructions about preparing for a visit to the National Archives. One important fact about the National Archives that you should remember is that not all of the records are kept in Washington, D.C. there are Branch Archives in many parts of the country.

National Geological Survey and National Map

The National Geological Survey and National Map or USGS has been extremely valuable website for locating places anywhere in the world. The website is fairly complicated and it is a good idea to start with the main page link to Maps, Imagery, and Publications. There are then further links to the National Map, a valuable resource for locating places in the United States, and the Historical Topographic Map Collection, which is a collection of digital copies of topographical maps created by the United States government covering the entire United States land area. Another valuable resource on the USGS website is the Geographic Names Information System or GNIS. This is a database of the names of all of the geographic features extracted from topographical maps and other sources throughout the history of the United States. This is a valuable website for searching for places that no longer exist. The GNIS is part of the United States Board on Geographic Names, which also maintains a searchable list of foreign geographic names.

Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

The Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is one of the more valuable websites for genealogical research. It contains an interactive map of the United States showing every county boundary change since 1620. In addition, the website maintains a list in chronological order of every single boundary change to every single county in the United States with supporting citations to the laws or ordinances that created the change. Every genealogist should regularly use this website to ascertain whether or not the county listed for an event actually existed at the time the event supposedly occurred. It is a good idea to explore this website for many other valuable research tools that are available.

Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America or DPLA is a relatively new website that is rapidly increasing and its value to genealogical research. The DPLA is actually a portal that allows genealogists and the rest of the public access to millions of collections of digital records throughout the United States including by timeline, map, virtual bookshelf, format, and topic. It is essentially a way to simultaneously search hundreds of valuable collections across the United States at the same time. Presently, it is rapidly increasing its holdings and will become even more valuable in the not-too-distant future.

Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office

The United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records is a very specific website with valuable genealogical important records consisting of land patents, survey plats and field notes, and land status records. If your ancestors moved westward into Federally controlled land, they likely obtained their land through one of the various homestead acts. In that case the transfer of the property to the homesteader was done by means of a Land Patent from the Federal government. Interestingly, these Land Patents are signed by the President of the United States. If you find a Land Patent for your ancestor this will provide an important link to a specific point in time and place in the country.

In each of the sites listed above, it is very important to investigate other resources than those mentioned that may be available through those particular websites.

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