The National Archives has military service records beginning with the Revolutionary War. Two types of records are of particular interest to the genealogist: the compiled service record and the pension application record.
Compiled military service records are of limited genealogical value. They serve primarily to prove military service by your ancestor. For the most part, they consist of the serviceman's rank, military unit, dates of service, payroll and muster rolls, discharge, desertion or death. A few of the later war records include some personal information such as age, birthplace and physical description.
Microfilm indexes of military service records are available for the following periods: Revolution, 1775-1783; post-Revolution, 1784-1811; War of 1812, 1812-1815; Indian Wars, 1817-1858; Mexican War, 1846-1848; Civil War, Union troops, 1861-1865; Civil War, Confederate troops, 1861-1865; Spanish-American War, 1898-1899; and the Philippine Insurrection, 1899-1902.
Pension application records are the most important military records for genealogists. The National Archives has pension applications and payment records for veterans, widows and other heirs. They are based on service in the U.S. armed forces between 1775 and 1916, but not duty in the service of the Confederate States.
Genealogical information in these files varies. In the file for one of my ancestors was an "autograph letter" recounting his experiences during the Revolution as well as statements signed by John Hancock attesting to his service in Maine, along with notarized information relating to his marriage and the birth of his children. Others may contain only depositions relating to the applicant's service, his age, birthplace and place of residence. Widow's applications often have more material, for they had to furnish the date and place of the marriage, the date and place of her husband's death, her maiden name, age, residence, and the names and ages of her children.
The National Genealogical Society compiled and published an alphabetical name index of the Revolutionary War pension applications files and is working on one for the War of 1812.
To secure photocopies of military or pension records by mail, write the National Archives Reference Service Branch (NNIR) and ask for copies of its military request order forms. Information on the form must be as complete as possible for an effective search to be made. At a minimum, you must know the state from which he served and the period when he served. There is a charge for this service.
Some state archives or libraries have additional military records—or copies of the federal records—so you will want to check there. Iowa, for instance, has an excellent collection gathered as a part of a WPA project in the 1930s and maintained by military authorities. Some states also issued pensions; inquiries about these should be directed to the state where the veteran lived after the war.
[Webmaster's comment: To view some online maps showing sites of major battles during the Revolutionary War, check out the maps at the U.S. Government's The Revolutionary War at a Glance site. There's also an similar site for the Civil War at The Civil War at a Glance. A site helpful for those whose ancestors served in the Civil War from Illinois is the searchable Illinois State Archives Civil War database. You can search for the names of Civil War Union and Confederate soldiers at the U.S. National Parks site Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, or view photos of the Civil War at the Library of Congress site Selected Civil War Photographs Home Page. For New York researchers, you may want to check out Western New York Civil War Links and New York in the Civil War. For other researchers, you may find lists of Civil War soldiers and the unit in which they served on the state-and-county sites for the US GenWeb Project. If your Civil War ancestor was known to be in a prison camp, perhaps a record of him might be found at Civil War Prison Camps.]PASSENGER ARRIVAL RECORDS/FEDERAL LAND RECORDS Table of Contents
The Archives and its branches have passenger arrival records beginning in 1820 (they were not required before that date). To request a search of the passenger arrival records, write the Reference Service Branch (NNIR) and request forms for ordering passenger arrival records. The important information you will need includes approximate date of arrival of your ancestor, port of entry, and—if possible—the name of the ship. There is a charge for this service.
[Webmaster's comment: Just recently many, if not most, of the records of passengers who arrived at Ellis Island have become available for searching online at Ellis Island Family History Center. You might also find a long-lost ancestor's name on a ship's passenger list at Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild site. Also check out The Olive Tree Genealogy for transcribed copies of ships' passenger lists.]
If your ancestor lived in one of the "public land" states (30 states, primarily from Ohio west) and bought land directly from the federal government, you can request a search of the National Archives Records. You will need to furnish your ancestor's full name, the state in which he or she acquired land, whether the land was acquired before or after 1908, and, if possible, the legal description of the land by section, township and range. If you don't have a legal description, describe its location as precisely as you can. There is a fee for this service and it may take several weeks to process your order.
[Webmaster's comment: It is now possible to do a search of the Federal Land Patents online at the Bureau of Land Management's The Official Federal Land Patent Records Site. Also, if you are unsure about where a particular town is located, do a search for it on the US government's web site at: USGS Mapping Information Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).]
The records maintained by each county or other local jurisdiction are valuable sources of family information. Land records, wills and probates, other court records and vital statistics are just some of the materials available to the genealogist.
Unfortunately, many of these records have been lost by fire or, perhaps, carelessness. And in most states, birth and death records weren't kept until this century. Marriage records are often available for much earlier years.
In general, early records for most of New England are fairly complete. Most Massachusetts vital records have been published. In the South, however, many early records weren't centrally kept or were lost or burned.
In most states records of interest to genealogists are kept in the state archives, the state library and a land office. County records not transferred to the state archives are usually found in county courthouses. In New England some records, particularly vital records, are kept in town halls.
Many state libraries have developed information sheets that will help you begin your research. There are also published genealogical research guides available for many states.
The government publication, "Where to Write for Vital Records," gives specific information on the location of these records. Issued periodically, it is [also] available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, or can be found in many libraries. It lists information by state and includes the repository, address and cost of each certificate.
The Handy Book for Genealogists is a particularly helpful guide. It contains information on local record sources, including published state and local histories, lists of libraries and historical societies, county maps of each state, a listing of counties, with records available in each and whom and where to write for them, date the county was formed and its parent counties, and a rundown of available census records and indexes to them. Available from Everton Publishers, P.O. Box 369, Logan, UT 84321.
[Webmaster's Comment: A book similar in content to the Handy Book is also available through Ancestry, Inc. which has the title The Big Red Book.]
You can find out what records are available in a county by writing the county clerk. (The exact county official in charge of various records varies from state to state; a letter addressed to the clerk will usually be passed on to the proper office.)
If you can provide a specific name and an approximate date for a document (deed, birth, death, marriage, will, etc.), the clerk can find and copy the record for you at a nominal fee (usually about $3).
[Webmaster's Comment: Due to inflation, these fees have increased also. By clicking on the link to "Where to Write for Vital Records", you will see an online version of that publication with current fees and also the time periods for which such records are available.]VITAL RECORDS Table of Contents
While vital records are the most important records for genealogists, their availability varies widely from area to area, as previously mentioned.
An additional problem is that information found in them is not always accurate. Early records may not be complete, the person providing the information may have given inaccurate data either intentionally or by mistake, or other errors have occured in copying or indexing.
If a parent gave the information for a birth certificate, you can assume it is accurate. Beware, however, of information provided for a death certificate. A person giving such information for his grandfather often didn't know the pertinent information asked, such as date and place of birth, or gave confused information. As an example, a great uncle provided information for the death certificate of his father (my great grandfather) and in the blank for the decedent's mother's maiden name (a sorely needed piece of information for me) is listed my great uncle's mother's name, not that of his father's mother.
While the date of death given on a death certificate is usually accurate, the cause of death may not be as complete as you'd like even though furnished by a coroner or doctor. The cause of death for one of my ancestors is listed as "apoplexy" (stroke). Under "contributory causes," the doctor wrote "drunkeness" and under "how long" he entered "many years"! (A story begging to be learned! Follow-up led to an obituary which recounted a trip to town the Friday night before he died and the wrecking of the buggy on the way home; the obituary was diplomatically silent about the cause of the accident.)
Marriage records are usually dependable, since the persons involved supplied the information. However, sometimes folks fudged about their ages—either because they were too young to marry without permission of their parents or they didn't want the clerk to know exactly how old they were. My father was married a few months before his 21st birthday and gave his age as 21, thus avoiding the hassle of getting his father to sign. And Dad went to a neighboring county for the marriage license, knowing that his home county would verify his age against his birth record.PROBATE RECORDS Table of Contents
Probate records are important for genealogists. Among the earliest available, they help document family relationships and dates of death. A will may list the wife and/or husband and all the children by their given names, may include some grandchildren's names and the married names of daughters and their husbands' names. Sometimes, though, you'll find one that simply says "my beloved wife" and "all of my children" without naming any of them. Remember, too, that a particular son or daughter may have previously been provided for and the absence of a name in a will does not necessarily mean a person was not an offspring of the deceased.
If no will can be found, you must search for other papers. Usually you will find court orders appointing an administrator or executor. If a person left a will, he often named an "executor" of the will and the court required that person to post a bond. If a person died "intestate" (without a will), then the court usually appointed an "administrator." Thus the use of executor or administrator in court records indicates whether a will was left. Most counties have indexes of executors' and administrators' bonds. If you search long enough and hard enough you can almost always find some court record of a person's death—at least those who owned property, for there had to be some disposition of that property.
[Webmaster's comment: Copies of many wills and probate records have been placed on the world wide web. A source for the states of Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Tennessee is SAMPUBCO which has indices to many counties' records as well as links from the site to the online versions of wills, or you can order a hard copy of a will from microfilm for a nominal fee. Also you can do a search on the Ancestry.com Message Boards using "Will" as the search criteria to find wills that have been posted there. Another source for wills on the WWW are the archives for the US GenWeb Project. Other wills may be posted on private genealogical web sites as well. For instance, there are wills posted here on my website for the following individuals:
Sometimes the answer can be found in deeds, although these usually do not contain genealogical information. At a minimum, deeds help you establish where your ancestors lived and when. Occasionally you will find family references such as "the same land which I inherited from my father, Samuel, as his eldest son and heir." Also, some land records, particularly those for settlement of estates, may list heirs. If your ancestor conveyed "an undivided fifth interest" in a piece of property it would indicate that he and four other heirs, likely his siblings, may have inherited the property.
Deeds can also help establish whether an ancestor was married, since the sale of land requires the wife's consent. The absence of a wife's name indicates the seller was unmarried at the time. In one case, I was unable to find the date of death for an ancestor's wife prior to his remarriage to another woman. To complicate matters, both women had the given name Elizabeth. However, careful checking of deeds involved in his many land transactions revealed a period of about two years when he sold land without a wife signing. This information revealed the approximate dates of the first woman's death and his later remarriage.
While most counties have accurate indexes of deed records, usually these are a "grantor" (seller) index and a "grantee" (buyer) index. Other persons who may be mentioned in a deed are not indexed and the information you are looking for may be "lost" in one of dozens of deed books. I once solved a perplexing genealogical problem for another person quite by accident. She wrote wanting to know if perhaps two of her ancestor's daughters had married into the Pence family since the two families were neighbors. They hadn't. But one day while checking a deed for some land my ancestor had bought, I discovered all of the information relating to the marriages of her ancestor's children. Turned out that the land was being sold by her ancestor's heirs, one of whom was a daughter whose existence and married name were unknown. The deed was indexed under the name of the unknown daughter's husband along with "et al"—"and others." Naturally, the persons she was looking for were among the "others." Moral: You may have to check deeds for in-laws of your ancestors as well as those for neighbors in order to find that elusive fact.GUARDIAN BONDS Table of Contents
Another useful record found in courthouses is the record of guardian bonds, or orphan's bonds. These can establish the parentage of a person who was a minor and help establish dates of death for the parent or parent. Note that it was not necessary for both parents to be deceased for a guardian to be named. This was sometimes done in cases where a minor child was an heir to a grandfather's estate through the deceased parent or if a mother was remarrying. In both cases, and in others, the guardian was appointed to protect the child's rights to the estate. I've also noted cases such as one where a person was named guardian of two orphans who had the same last name as he. Instead of being niece and nephew, as might be expected, they turned out to be his own children. He was named guardian in order to take custody of their portion of their mother's inheritance from her father's estate.COURTHOUSE RESEARCH TIPS Table of Contents
As always, be sure to take complete citations when extracting wills, deeds or other court records. Witnesses or those who gave bond for certain transactions should also be recorded, for these may have been relatives.
Remember that in the early years of our country, many people could not read or write, so watch for variant spellings of the name you are searching. Often names were recorded as they sounded to clerks. This is how the name Bentz became Pence in most parts of the U.S. (The German "B" is often pronounced as "P.") Most often the spellings we use today were the result of an accident, not a deliberate effort. It's probably not worth your while to look for a court record for a name change, for it was seldom done. Likewise, people who spell a similar surname different from you may be related to you, while those who spell it the same may not.
A few years ago, notice was taken of the legal name change made by a prominent person. A Johannes Hart Pence lived in New Jersey in colonial times. One of his sons, out of deference to his grandmother's maiden name, began using Hartpence as his surname. Generations later, a member of this family, remembering the story about the name having been changed in early days, went to court to have it changed back to "the old way." That's why a presidential candidate has the name Gary Hart instead of Gary Pence!
Another thing to watch for is translation of names. The German Zimmerman became its English equivalent, Carpenter, for example.
You also need to watch for misspellings of place names, particularly in deeds. In searching for the spot where an ancestor lived, I kept finding it described as being "at the foot of Rich Mountain." No such place could be found on any map, old or new, in the area. I finally figured out why. The ancestor was German and if he described the land to an English clerk, he would describe it with a German accent. If the word was pronounced "rich," what might the correct word be? Answer: "Ridge." Sure enough, Ridge Mountain was on the map and the land was located.
And, in earlier times, the boundaries of the counties were constantly changing. Thus, in order for you to concentrate your research in the proper place, you need to know the geographic history of the areas you are interested in.
For instance, some of my ancestors lived for many years in Shenandoah County, VA. This county was created in 1772 from a portion of Frederick County, which in turn was created in 1738 from Orange and Augusta counties—both of which were carved out of other counties. And today, the land on which they lived is located in Page County, which was created from Shenandoah County in 1833. Therefore, depending on the dates involved, you might have to search the courthouses of three or more counties to find the appropriate record for an individual.
Everton's Handy Book (mentioned earlier) can provide you with information about the formation of counties.FAMILY BIBLES Table of Contents
Family Bibles or information on tombstones are excellent records—but there are some things you have to be careful about. For instance, Bibles usually are accurate family records, but you should check the date the Bible was printed. If it was printed in 1850 and contains family birth, death and marriage records back into the 1700s, obviously someone wrote these records long after the fact and may not have known the facts or remembered accurately, or even could have been told the wrong information.
Also, you should check the handwriting carefully. If several entries are in the same shade of ink in almost identical handwriting, it's a good sign those entries were made at the same time and probably not concurrent with the event. The date of the last nearly identical record is probably closest to the recording date.
[Webmaster's comment: I am aware of only a few websites devoted specifically to Bible records such as Index to Online Bible Records and Anna Buxton's Bible Archives. Also see Bible Records Online.]TOMBSTONE RECORDS Table of Contents
Tombstones, too, are sometimes erected many years after a person dies and therefore might contain erroneous dates. Or the stonecutter could have erred or been given the wrong information. Be careful, too, of printed compilations of cemetery records (this applies to other published material, such as marriage records), because errors can be made in copying, indexing or publishing. A book on one cemetery contains entry for one of my wife's ancestors, including this quote: "son of N.B." This contradicted other information and it was not until much later—when I had someone recheck the stone for me—that I learned the correct inscription was: "Erected by his son, W.B." This fit what I had previously believed.
When copying cemetery inscriptions, be careful not to misread numbers or letters. The number 4 is often carved with a light horizontal line that wears away leaving what looks like the number 1 or 7. Other numbers that are easy to misread: 3 and 8, 8 and 6, 5 and 3. Letters usually are more distinct, but C, G, D and O can be confused. Mar and May are hard to distinguish, as are Jul and Jun. When copying, place a question mark over letters or numbers you are unsure of.
Be sure to record surrounding stones, for they can provide clues to family relationships. Look for markers outlining family plots and note the names of all those buried within the plot. A woman who was a widow for a number of years, or a bride who died young, might be buried with her parents, and others with different names may be related.
Many cemeteries will not be well cared for and will be badly overgrown. The best time to search is the early spring or late fall when the foliage is thin and the weeds short. Helpful equipment for "tombstone hunting" includes carpenter's chalk (for rubbing over letters to make them easier to read), a putty knife to scrape debris off fallen stones, a scrub brush to clean stones, a crowbar to turn heavy stones, perhaps an axe to clear away underbrush or a shovel to dig away from sunken stones, and a camera to record unusual stones.
Even if your ancestor is buried in an unmarked grave, if you know the cemetery he or she is buried in you can sometimes get information about him from cemetery records. Write a library or historical society near the cemetery to learn if such records are available. Larger city cemeteries usually have a sexton who maintains such records. If one exists for the cemetery you are interested in, that is the person to contact.
[Webmaster's comment: There are a number of websites that have information transcribed from gravestones including:
as well as probably others that I am currently unaware of.]
NEWSPAPERS Table of Contents
Marriage notices, obituaries and birth announcements are often found in newspapers—if you are willing to spend the time to hunt through them. A few are indexed, but most require a page-by-page search. You'll need to know where the family lived and the approximate date of the event you are interested in.
[Webmaster's comment: One place to check for recent obituaries is Obit Central or Obituary Daily Times. Other obituaries have been posted by volunteers to the various message boards maintained by Ancestry.com at Message Boards, where you can do a search limited to "Obituary." Another site for obituaries is at New York Obituary Index.]
Some local libraries have microfilm or other copies of early newspapers and many state libraries have extensive collections. The Library of Congress has an excellent collection of early American newspapers.
If you know the place and date of marriage, birth or death, you can usually get a copy of any mention of it (at least for more recent years) by writing newspapers in the area. Your library probably has a directory of newspapers in the U.S.
[Webmaster's comment: There are now web sites for locating newspapers such as:
Newspaper Indexes: A Location and Subject Guide for Researchers, 3 vols., by Anita Cheek Milner (Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, NJ), lists newspaper indexes by state, county and town, indicating the repositories in which they can be found.CHURCH RECORDS Table of Contents
If you know the religious affiliation of your ancestor, you should try to find out what records are available for the churches in the area where he or she lived. Records vary widely from denomination to denomination. Some may be housed in a national or state repository; others are found on closet shelves of the current church secretary.
A Survey of American Church Records, by E. Kay Kirkham (Everton Publishers, Logan, UT), is a guide to the location of church records that have been published or deposited in public archives.
[Webmaster's comment: Church records are often available on websites such as The Olive Tree Genealogy or the US GenWeb Project sites.]
There are countless other sources for genealogical information—literally too many to be considered. Your local library is a good resource in discovering some of them. It will likely have several books on genealogical research, all of which will give you additional ideas. It also may subscribe to a number of genealogical periodicals. Take time to check through a few of these. One feature in many of them is a section with queries about "lost" ancestors. I've received a lot of help by writing to those searching the same lines as I am. In fact, one of the pleasant things about genealogy is the willingness of its practitioners to share their findings with you.
If you get stuck on a particular line, placing a query in a genealogical publication may yield results. If you follow this route, BE SPECIFIC. Saying you will "exchange information on the Baker family" won't bring many responses because readers won't know who it is you are looking for or if they have information that will help you.
Try this approach:
"Need parents of James L. Baker, born OH 1812, married Sue Allen in Bartholomew County, IN, in 1837; lived Warren County, IN, 1850 census. Who were his parents? Hers? Was George Baker, Bartholomew County 1850 his brother or cousin?"[NOTE: I made up all of the foregoing information, but after this article began appearing in local newspapers, I got a response to it!]
If you write others seeking information, remember your mail manners. Because you're asking them to help you, you should make it easy for them. Ask questions precisely. Include as much information as necessary to identify the individual you are interested in, but don't include extraneous material. A short, to-the-point letter will get a response. One dealing with a variety of subjects will be set aside because of the extensive work involved in answering it.
Be responsive to the needs of the individual you are writing and offer information you may have that could be of help. Offer to pay the cost of copies of material you request or to reimburse for out-of-pocket expenses. And it's customary when writing to seek information to include an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) for the reply.
Keep a copy of the letters you send, for it may be difficult from the reply to tell what you said in your request. And it's a good idea to keep a log of in-coming and out-going letters, including a notation as to when particular letters were answered.
[Webmaster's comment: This is also good advice for posting messages online to the various message boards and mailing lists available for surnames and localities. To locate a mailing list relevant to your research, you can search Lists on Rootsweb or Genealogy Resources on the Internet—Mailing Lists. The genealogy Usenet newsgroups where you can post messages online are now available at Google Newsgroups. Messages can also be posted at GenForum under the appropriate surname or locality, or at Ancestry.com Message Boards, or also try posting your query any of the state-and-county message boards on US GenWeb Project. There is also a group of online message boards for genealogy at Yahoo! Clubs where you can post messages once you have registered as a member. This is not an exhaustive list of message sites as there are other genealogical sites with message boards that I have not listed here, and some private web sites have online guestbooks where messages can also be posted. You also may want to check Cyndi's List for additional online bulletin boards and mailing lists.]
Webmaster's comment: 13 Apr 2002—Added this email which I saved from a defunct BBS, but which was probably originally posted to the Roots-L mailing list, to help others researching common surnames:
Area: InterNet Genealogical Messages
Date: 18 Mar 94 02:27:29
From: Donald G. Scott <dscott@osuedu>
Subj: Common names like JOHN REED
This is in response to a recent message which I inadvertantly deleted concerning a Rooter's frustration with the dead end he had seemingly reached with his JOHN REED, mar. ca. 1800 in New Jersey.
Just a word of encouragement to others frustrated by ancestors with common names. I am researching two, distinct MILLER lines, and MILLER is reportedly the most common name in America currently, and I would argue it was no less so in 1800. I have been able to overcome some dead-ends, however, by following three avenues in particular:
Study intimately everyone with the same surname as you are working on within at least a twenty-mile area of the earliest known residences of your ancestor. Remember that, unlike today, frontier families usually did not migrate in isolation. They frequently travelled in family groups, which frequently included parents and grown children, grown siblings, even uncles, nephews and cousins all moving to a new area about the same time (within say a 10 year period or so of each other, sometimes longer) and purchasing land near one another (and often naming their children with identical names, so if you have ten JOHN or JACOB REEDs in the same neighborhood—don't despair, they may be cousins!) Use the same tactic with closely allied families . . . (see 2 & 3)
Try tracing the in-laws . . . of both your earliest identified ancestor (e.g., JOHN REED) as well as those of his children. John's wife, and his children's spouses, may have been neighbors of John in an area of previous residence, as most people around 1800 married someone from a neighboring family.
As a last resort perhaps, try tracing some of the surnames that become associated with your earliest known ancestors—those of friends, neighbors (from deeds and census lists), witnesses on civil and church documents—even people who settled in the same area as your ancestor about the same time. Like relatives, friends and neighbors often migrated to the same areas when they heard about how cheap or fertile the land was, etc. Find out as much as you can about your ancestors' religious affiliations; you may not know John's, but that of his children or grandchildren may give you a clue; sometimes an entire "faction" of a church moved to a new area together, maybe even taking a preacher with them!
A combination of these three methods has been very successful for me. Trying to discover the parents of a JACOB MILLER—one among many!—in an eastern OH county which had very few extant public records before 1860 (2 courthouse fires!), I became intimately acquainted with every MILLER in the area, as well as Jacob's in-laws and associates. I discovered a newspaper account listing the heirs of a George MILLER, which included a son Jacob. In addition, the given names of George's children and those of Jacob were nearly identical, and the time frame was right so I kept digging. I found a Revolutionary War pension application file for a George MILLER, where names of witnesses were also allied to JACOB MILLER, which added strength to the case, but was proof of nothing, of course. As there were other George MILLERs in the area, I next had to prove that the two George MILLER records were for the same person. A big breakthrough was that George, in his testimony, had described every place he had lived since birth (4 states/ colonies) and named many allied surnames along the way. To get to the point, through this painstaking process and careful record-keeping (you need to establish proof of each identity and each relationship, even if by preponderance of evidence), I have been able to trace the line back three more generations, including the immigrants. Just this week, more than a year after discovering George, I discovered a land record (Rev. War land warrant claimed by heirs after decease of the veteran) listing all of the heirs of George's father—also a Rev. War. vet.—living in 1812!
So don't give up; keep digging, especially, for land, military (even state militia), newspaper and church records! You can trace common names—it just takes longer and a lot more detective work! Hope something here will help . . .
A.M.S., wife of dscott @ OSU
James Truslow, Adams. Atlas of American History, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943. Indispensable to an understanding of migrational movements. Better than The American Heritage Pictorial Atlas of United States History (1966).
American Society of Genealogists. Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources,
Vol. 1—edited by Milton Rubincam, 1960. General research principles; gives titles of volumes containing source materials for research in the 13 original states.
Vol. 2—edited by Kenn Stryker-Rodda, 1971. Research (with sources) in the "second tier of states" (those east of the Mississippi River not covered in Volume 1).
Ray Allen Billington. Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier, New York, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 4th Edition, 1974. Well balanced, non-political, and better by far than the other available volumes on the westward movement (by Clark, by Hafen, Hollon & Rister, by Riegel & Athearn, and by Steckmesser).
Bullinger's Postal and Shipper's Guide, Westwood, N.J., Bullinger's Postal Guides, Inc. [may be out of print now.] Gives county and closest shipping point of 19th century communities now not listed in the U.S. Postal Guide. Local LDS Branch Library has a copy. [Note: See US City and County locator - FIPS 55-3 QUERY as an alternative source for this type of information.]
Daughters of the American Revolution. Booklet, Is That Lineage Right? Washington, D.C. Superb in pointing up checking statements of fact and vexatious problems (marriage, names, shifting county lines, etc.).
Doane, Gilbert H. & James B. Bell, Searching For Your Ancestors: the how and why of genealogy, ©1980 5th edition, published by the University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minn. Highly readable, entertaining yet instructive, often humorous, account of genealogical research methods and sources.
Greenwood, Val D., The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd edition, published by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, Md. © 2000. Acknowledged as the best guide there is to every facet of genealogy. Current, comprehensive, exhaustive, all in highly understandable language. [This book has been used in genealogy classes taught at Brigham Young University.] Items 7 and 8 are musts for any personal genealogical library.
The Handy Book for Genealogists, The Everton Publishers, Inc. Genealogy's all-time best seller (250,000 copies 1949-1975). Contains many leads to source material, but is most useful for its tables showing when each of the 3,000 counties in the United States was created and the counties from which each such county was formed. A must (with item 7) for effective research.
Howard L. Hurwitz. An Encyclopedic Dictionary of American History, New York, Washington Square Press. Clear, succinct, comprehensive entries, explanatory of geographical, military, and historical events pertinent to any genealogical research.
Norman Edgar Wright, Building an American Pedigree: a Study in Genealogy, Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University Press. Used as a college-level text. Outstanding for its 66 8-1/2" x 11" maps (many from items 1 and 3, above) illustrative of westward movement and migrations.
Also, you may check with your local library to see what general genealogy reference books may be available there. Genealogy has become such a popular pastime, that non-credit classes are offered through local colleges and community centers, so you may also want to check around locally for information on genealogy classes.
Other online beginner's guides can be found at:
To Part I of Searching Your Family Tree
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids