How do I Find my Ancestor's Date of Birth, Marriage or Death?

In order to conduct a search, ICGS must know the year of birth, marriage or death within + or - two years. An approximate year is preferred and an exact date is ideal. The more precise you are, the greater the chance we will locate the certificate you are requesting. There are a number of online resources you can use to find an ancestor's date of birth, marriage or death. ICGS recommends you start your search with

Ship Passenger Lists (date of birth)
Social Security Death Index (date of birth or death)
Census Records (date of birth or marriage)

SHIP PASSENGER LISTS

If you are an American, the American Family Immigration History Center should be your first stop. This website includes a searchable database of all immigrants who passed through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924. Best of all, use of this service is free after setting up an account with a username and password. You can search using first and last names or just a last name. Each record will provide you with the ancestor's name, ethnicity, place of residence, date of arrival, age on arrival, gender, marital status, ship of travel and port of departure. To find your ancestor's date of birth, simply subtract the age from the date of arrival. If you are sure your ancestor passed through Ellis Island but do not come up any results after a search for his or her name, try variations of the spelling. Keep in mind that all this information was manually entered into a database from original documents, which can be difficult to read.

For additional research, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has immigration records from various ports from 1820-1957 on microfilm. You may do research in person at the National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001. Go to Room 400, the Microfilm Reading Room. Staff is available there to answer your questions. NARA microfilm publications may be examined during regular research room hours in Room 400; no prior arrangement is necessary. Some NARA regional facilities have selected immigration records. Call to verify their availability or check the online microfilm locator. For more information, visit the passenger arrival records section of the NARA website.

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SOCIAL SECURITY DEATH INDEX

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is an index of deceased people who had social security numbers and whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration. It's unlikely you will find an ancestor if she/he died before 1962 since close to 98% of the entire index contains individuals who died after 1962. You can search the SSDI for free at http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/. Results include the ancestor's first and last name, date of birth, date of death, last known residence, location of last benefit, date and place of issuance and Social Security number. You can order photocopies of the original application for a social security card (Form SS-5) using a form letter with the address and your relatives' name on RootsWeb.com. The fee is $27 if the social security number is known and $29 if the social security number is unknown or incorrect. The original SS-5 application will include some variation of the following information (depending on the year): full name, (married women also had to provide their maiden name), street address, post office and state, employer's name (if employed), employer's address, age at last birthday, date of birth, place of birth, father's full name, mother's full maiden name, sex, color, date of hiring, date of application and signature. Since this information was provided by your ancestor and not a secondary party, the SS-5 is great way to validate previous research. For more information on ordering a SS-5, visit the Roots Web SSDI Help Desk. If your ancestor died in California, try the California State Death Index, available in many libraries and Family History Centers.

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CENSUS RECORDS

For locating a person in a particular place at a particular time, and for leading you to other important sources, few records are as valuable as census records. Since birth, marriage and death records were not kept in many states until the early 1900s, the census is often the best source of reliable information. Though census reports varied over time, most censuses include first and last name, state, county, township, street and house number (where appropriate), relationship to head-of-household, race, gender, month/year of birth and age at last birthday, marital status and number of years married, number of children born and number living (for married women), place of birth, father and mother's place of birth, year of immigration and citizenship status for aliens or naturalized citizens, occupation or number of months not employed, information about school attendance and literacy, home ownership or farm residence. Federal censuses are taken only once every decade.

For more information, visit the census records section of the NARA website. Alternatively, and perhaps the easiest way to access census records, is through a paid monthly or yearlong subscription to one of the three major genealogy websites that have digitized census records:

Genealogy.com($29.99 monthly or $99.99 annually)
Ancestry.com($99.99 annually)
RootsWeb.com($39.95 quarterly)

All prices are subject to change.

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