Finding your early American ancestor may seem daunting, but it's not impossible. Explore these strategies for researching colonial genealogy records.
Genealogy Research,  How To Trace Your Family Tree

Strategies for Researching Colonial Genealogy Records

Researching colonial ancestors can be tough, but doesn’t have to be. Dare I say finding your ancestors in colonial genealogy records can be quite rewarding (and fun).

As with all of your genealogy research, having a solid research in place is key.

Strategies for Researching Colonial Genealogy Records

In this article we are going take a look at strategies and examples of colonial records databases to include in your research plan for that colonial ancestor.

Before You Even Create Your Research Plan – Study Your History!

(You are going to create a research plan, right?!)

Regardless of the time period you are researching, having a knowledge of the area’s history – local and state – is imperative. Understanding the society your ancestor lived in and the types of records they may have created is important.

Start With the Usual Records

As you search for your  ancestor in those colonial genealogy records, many of the “usual” record types can (and should) be searched.

Wills and Estate Records 

As with later time periods, search wills and estate records for your colonial ancestors. As you analyze colonial wills and estates, make sure you have a clear understanding of the terminology and the inheritance laws for that time period. Understanding who inherits what leads to relationship clues.  Tip: Don’t hesitate to reach out to archive staff with questions or for reference recommendations.

Tax Records

Tax records can be a little tricky. Often the record sets are incomplete and well, just plain hard to read! Don’t skip reading those tax lists! If you find your ancestor listed, proceed with the “genealogy happy dance”. You will be able to place your ancestor in time and place and potentially establish his community in part.

Land Records

Land records such as deeds and  land grants are an important part of your genealogy research for any time period. If your ancestor lived in a burned  county where land records did not survive, read more about researching ancestors in burned counties here.

1727 Baggott Land Grant
1727 Nicholas Baggott Land Grant

Town Records

New England town records are some of the oldest and most extensive colonial genealogy records databases.  Among these records vital records  – birth, marriage, death – can be found.  [Sigh….my southern ancestors just didn’t do this.]

Church and Parish Records

When found, church records can be a gold mine of genealogical information and can extend far back. If your ancestor was Catholic, there is good news. FindMyPast is has (and continues) to digitize American Catholic diocese records. Learn more using Catholic records in your research here.

Search for historical and  genealogical publications using PERSI

PERSI (Periodical Source Index) has over 2.7 million entries for genealogical and historical publications. Use PERSI to find articles such as biographies, cemeteries, family lines (and so much more!!) that are not online or are no longer in print. Learn more about PERSI and how to use it in your research in this previous post. [PERSI is one of my favorites!]

Private Collections 

Private collections of family papers donated to repositories can contain family letters, business papers,  property records, and more. Check archives and local university collections for their finding aides to discover what they might have.

Where To Locate Colonial Genealogy Records 

Finding your early American ancestor may seem daunting, but it's not impossible. Explore these strategies for researching colonial genealogy records.

Locating the colonial records you need can take a bit of research on its own.

County Courthouse & State Archives

County courthouses and state archives are natural places to seek out colonial records for specific areas. Information on their websites as well as contact with the staff can tell you what records exist and for what time periods.  Tip: Don’t forget to check online databases for state archives. has many colonial era records. Looking for a specific type of record in a specific location such as town records for Massachusetts? Use Ancestry’s card catalog to see what they have. Learn more about searching on in this post.

Many researchers think of English and Irish genealogy research when thinking of FindMyPast (FMP), but FMP has many American record collections. United States, Early American Vital Records and United States, Early American Families a two great examples. Additionally, the Catholic Heritage Archive  (mentioned above) has American records, too! PERSI (mentioned above) is housed at FindMyPast and requires a FMP subscription. However, when facing genealogy brick walls, PERSI alone makes FMP worth my (frugal) dollars. Tip: You can try a FMP free trial first.

FindMyPast Free Trial

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Finding your early American ancestor may seem daunting, but it's not impossible. Explore these strategies for researching colonial genealogy records. #genealogy #familyhistory




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  • Jeff P Basom

    question what if your ancestor moved to another state or nothing in the deeds that indicated were there from. earliest deed i have 1810 pulteney ,steuben co ny earliest probate record i have oct 12 ,1734, marblehead,ma earliest known person was a sargent in the british army under charles 1 its believed he came here in 1645.

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