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Genealogy Resources

This guide is intended to make researchers aware of the resources available for conducting scholarly genealogy research at the Watson Library and on the web.

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Offsite Access

For access to Watson Library resources outside of the museum, you must have a valid staff library account. 

Where to start

VITAL RECORDS (birth, marriage, death)

Vital records are often the first type of records that genealogists begin their research with because they offer insight to an individual’s basic information. They record life events and important milestones. Be aware that issues such as legibility may arise and as government regulation evolve; different types of information may have been recorded.


·         Birth records will usually include information such as the proper child’s name, gender, date and place born, and the parents’ names. Sometimes details like the parent’s birth locations as well as occupation may also appear.

·         Marriage records will usually show both the full names of the bride and groom, date and place, and sometimes the ages as well as the religious denomination of the bride and groom.

·         Death records of an individual are equally important and can offer additional details on how the individual may have lived. Information such as age, marital status, cause of death, date and place of death and burial, and at times the occupation, the parents’ names and their birthplaces. The more recent the death record, the more information can be gleaned.



Since 1790, the US Federal Census has been conducted every ten years. Data is available for each census up to 1940 – there is a 72 year privacy rule for census records before the next decade’s data is released. Be aware, most of the records are hand-written and digitally scanned from microfilm. This may or may not present problems in how the records were transcribed, and/or problems in reading the digital scan.

Easily search census records with HERITAGEQUEST (learn how under web resources)

  • Things to keep in mind when searching census records:
    99% of the 1890 US census records were destroyed in a fire in 1921. Only 6,160 people out of the 1890 population of 62,979,766 are listed. has developed an 1890 Census Substitute using an assortment of data from national and local sources (more on below)
  • The first six censuses (1790 – 1840) list only the names of the heads of household, though age brackets for males and females in each household are included.
  • 1830 – 1850 censuses are not indexed, and therefore can only be browsed by locality (ex: Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County NY, 1840)
  • From 1850 on, the names of ALL members of a household should be listed in each census; From 1850 on (with the exception of 1890), age, sex, race, birthplace of each person is listed.
  • From 1880 on, relationship of each member of the household to the head, the birthplaces of each family member, and birthplace of the parents, are listed.