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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How Do I Find My Ancestor's Parents?

"United States Census, 1880," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 02 Dec 2012), Lafayette Vance in household of Beverley Vance, Cokesbury, Abbeville, South Carolina, United States; citing sheet 263B, f

Are you stuck and in search of a few clues for locating the parents of your ancestor? The list below will help point you in the right direction. Records vary by locality and are stored in different places depending on the location. Search the Research Wiki for clues to records available. Search by the county/parish and state, and search by topic. You can also learn about how to access records by contacting these places where your ancestor lived:
  • library
  • archives
  • courthouse
Census - Trace your ancestor on the census back to the years where they would be living at home with their parents. You will need to know the maiden name to identify a female ancestor. Be sure to compare other family members listed to your ancestor’s siblings to make sure names and birth order match. Verify your findings using other records below.

Social Security Application – If your ancestor lived long enough to apply for Social Security, the names of his or her parents may be listed on the original application. See US Social Security Records for Genealogists.

Death certificate – Many times death certificates include the names of an ancestor’s parents. You will need to verify this information. If you cannot find a death certificate for your ancestor, search for one on a sibling. This North Carolina death certificate lists both parents and county of birth along with the mother’s maiden name.

Obituary – A newspaper obituary can provide many clues about relatives. Sometimes the names of parent’s are given. See these examples of obituaries at Some give parent’s names. Sometimes you will have the names of living family members in obituaries. Those make the best chances for oral history interviews.

Wills - You can find out more about an ancestor’s family if a will exists. Wills often mention names of family members, especially children and spouses. Learn more about wills here:United States Probate Records.

Marriage record – Some marriage records mention the names of the parents. You will need to study the content of records in a given locality for the time period you are researching. For example, an Illinois marriage which occurred in 1880 does not state the parent’s names of the bride and groom, however after 1916, more information was added to marriage records (See Illinois, Cook County, Marriage Records):
  • Birth date of bride and groom
  • Full names of parents
  • Employer


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