Mid-Atlantic US Genealogy
9/28/2009
The Mid-Atlantic states have been at the heart of American history from the very beginning. Here's how to start tracing your ancestors in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

The Mid-Atlantic states are as central to America's legacy as, well, Uncle Sam. That American icon originated in the habit of a Troy, NY, meatpacker named Samuel Wilson, who stamped each of his boxes with "US Beef"—misinterpreted by consumers who thought US was short for Uncle Sam. From New York City's Statue of Liberty to Philadelphia's Liberty Bell and Independence Hall to Baltimore's Fort McHenry, whose War of 1812 siege inspired "The Star Spangled Banner," this region has been a canvas for scenes of American history. Delaware, "The First State," led the way in ratifying the Constitution. Key battles of the Revolution were settled in New Jersey. Millions of immigrants first set foot in America at Ellis Island, off the shore of New York and New Jersey. Women's suffrage got its spark at Seneca Falls, NY.

The Mid-Atlantic states gave us many of the best-known names in our history, too, from Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton to Babe Ruth and Wilt Chamberlain. New York alone supplied five US presidents—Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. The region gave birth to classic American authors such as Washington Irving, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. It was home to many of the 19th century's wealthiest citizens—Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Dupont, Carnegie, Mellon.

If your ancestors have roots in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey, you'll discover a wealth of genealogical resources for tracing them. Genealogist and area expert Gary Boyd Roberts offers these tips for getting started:

  • The best published county sources are county and biographical encyclopedic histories known as "mug books" for their combination of data and photographs supplied by the individuals who paid to have their "mugs" put in. You can find mug books in most local history collections. Who knows? You might discover a photo of your ancestor.

  • Take advantage of the numerous in-depth reference books on the various states, many of them published by Genealogical Publishing Co. (see page 58).

  • For published genealogies of area families, consult family histories printed in journals such as The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, The National Genealogical Society Quarterly and The American Genealogist. Use the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), available at larger libraries, on CD-ROM or as part of the Ancestry.com database subscription www.ancestry.com , to find relevant articles.

  • You'll also find helpful resources to start your search from the Family History Library (FHL). You can use its research helps for each state at www.familysearch.org (click the Search tab, then Research Helps) as genealogical guidebooks to truly understand the region and focus your efforts.