In genealogy, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Finding where your ancestors lived is the first step in identifying records about them. Fortunately, the internet-ization of America also has swept over the nation’s state archives, historical and genealogical societies, libraries, vital-records offices and other keepers of genealogical gold. Many of the resources that once gathered dust in various statewide repositories now can be accessed without changing your own location—in front of your computer, that is.
To help you find these outstanding state sites—and to salute their efforts at making genealogical and historical information available online—we’ve compiled this state-centric Best Websites list. Though there are many outstanding online resources for state and local information, including subscription sites, we’ve focused on those that specialize in one of the 50 states. The 75 stellar sites singled out here (at least one per state) represent the go-to bookmarks for browsing America’s past, state by state.
Jump to a letter within the listings: A-G – H-N – O-S – T-Z
Alabama Department of Archives and History <archives.state.al.us>
Databases include Civil War service cards and 1867 voter registrations, plus indexes to maps, newspapers, church records and local government holdings. Don’t miss the digital archives, where you’ll find old photos, the complete four-volume History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography and 119 issues of the Alabama Historical Quarterly.
Encyclopedia of Alabama <encyclopediaofalabama.org>
A searchable, hyperlinked encyclopedia of all things Alabama, this handsome and speedy site will help you sort out Anniston from Andalusia and explain what became of the Cherokees and Old Cahaba. Image galleries range from rural life to Mardi Gras in Mobile to barbecue.
Alaska Libraries, Archives and Museums <lam.alaska.gov>
An appropriately big jumping-off point for exploring our biggest state, this site will take you to an index of more than 200,000 articles in Alaska newspapers, lists of collections with finding aids, the multimedia digital archives, and the searchable library catalog and museum collections database.
Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates <genealogy.az.gov>
If only all states followed the vital-records practices of Arizona, where you can search for birth (1855 to 1934) and death records (1844 to 1959), then click to PDFs of the originals.
Arizona Biographical Database <lib.az.us/bio/default.aspx>
This project of the Arizona State Library lets you search more than 100,000 entries on people in its collection of books, newspaper articles, periodicals, obituaries and vertical files.
Arkansas History Commission <www.ark-ives.com>
More than just good-looking, this site is home to Civil War records, special sections on black history and folk life, and the Catalog of Arkansas Resources and Archival Treasures, which includes a searchable biographical index and 13,000 images.
Online Archive of California <www.oac.cdlib.org>
Recently redesigned to take advantage of new technologies, the OAC opens the golden gate to more than 170,000 digital images and documents and nearly 20,000 collection guides.
California Genealogical Society and Library <californiaancestors.org>
You can search the library catalog and find answers in research FAQs, or search the 350,000 names in the California names index. Get a hit? Just $10 will buy a lookup in the original source.
Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection <www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org>
This outstanding collection lets you browse or search more than 500,000 digitized pages, representing 163 individual newspaper titles published in Colorado from 1859 to 1923. You can search the whole collection or individual titles, and opt to search only articles, pictures or ads.
Colorado State Archives <www.colorado.gov/dpa/doit/archives/geneal.htm>
A single search here scours nearly 1 million entries, or you can search separately databases including the 1870 Colorado census, penitentiary inmates, Civil War volunteers and birth certificates (after 1900).
Connecticut State Library <cslib.org>
If you can’t find what you need in the digital collections—which include court records, town histories and some vital records—the extensive finding aids will help you dive into records on paper and microfilm.
Delaware Public Archives <archives.delaware.gov>
Click on the Digital Archives link to access collections of digitized photos, Civil War records, naturalization records, historical maps and more. Don’t miss the probate records database covering 1680 to 1925, tucked away at <archives.delaware.gov/collections/probate.shtml
Florida Memory Project <floridamemory.com>
This site, courtesy of the State Library and Archives of Florida, offers a virtual trip to the Sunshine State, with digitized photos, Confederate pension applications, WWI service cards, Spanish land grants and other old documents.
Digital Library of Georgia <dlg.galileo.usg.edu>
Walk through this gateway to a million digital objects in more than 200 collections from 60 institutions and 100 government agencies. The collection includes newspapers, books, manuscripts, aerial photos and the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Search or browse by topic, time period, county or other parameters.
Georgia Archives <sos.georgia.gov/archives>
Search Colonial wills and will books, Confederate pension applications and death certificates (1919 to 1927). Or look for your ancestor or the old homestead in the Vanishing Georgia Photographic Collection of almost 18,000 images.
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Hawaii State Archives <hawaii.gov/dags/archives>
Say aloha to this site’s indexes of marriages, divorces, deaths and citizenship papers; guide to Hawaiian newspapers; and digital collections, including passenger manifests, WWI service records, tax assessments and vital records. The latter covers all of Kauai, Molokai and Niihau plus all Maui birth and death records and a few marriage records.
BYU-Idaho Special Collections <abish.byui.edu/specialcollections/famhist>
Home to the Western States Marriage Records Index, which includes Idaho, this site also hosts Idaho-specific resources, including the searchable state death index (1911 to 1956) and eastern Idaho death records.
Illinois State Archives <www.library.sos.state.il.us/departments/archives/databases.html>
This data-packed site now includes databases of public-domain land tract sales and Illinois servitude and emancipation records. They complement the 11 military-records databases, statewide marriage index (1763 to 1900) and two-part statewide death index (pre-1916 and 1916 to 1950). Still stumped? The guide to the Illinois Regional Archives Depositories will tell you where to look next.
Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court <cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/nr>
Don’t let the Chicago locus of this site fool you: Many Illinois ancestors who wound up living elsewhere in the state can be found in this searchable archive of more than 260,000—and growing—naturalization records from 1906 to 1929.
Indiana State Digital Archives <indianadigitalarchives.org>
The fruit of 15 years of work by Friends of the Indiana State Archives volunteers, this site now boasts nearly 2.5 million searchable records, with more being added. The latest addition is a database of more than 213,000 Hoosier Civil War records.
Allen County Public Library <genealogycenter.info>
Although renowned for its general genealogy collection, this library in Fort Wayne is also a treasure trove for hometown and home-state researchers. Statewide databases include county courthouses, WWI deaths, African-American settlements, orphans and pre-1882 deaths.
This active genealogy group has provided county-by-county research guides, an alphabetical index of pioneer ancestors, a list of available naturalization papers and more.
Iowa GenWeb Project <iagenweb.org>
While all the state sites in the USGenWeb Project <usgenweb.org
> are useful, this Hawkeye State project goes way beyond the usual links to county pages. Check out the many special projects, including the family group sheet collection, gravestone photo project, transcribed history books and state censuses, Civil War and WWI compilations, newspaper clippings, and WPA graves registration survey.
Kansas State Historical Society <kshs.org/genealogists/index.htm>
This site features a number of searchable databases, including indexes to the 1895 Kansas census, biographical sketches and obituaries, physicians and midwives, fraternal order death notices, military records and pioneer women’s stories.
Kentucky Historical Society <history.ky.gov>
Search the Kentucky cemetery records database—hundreds of thousands of names transcribed from gravestones across Kentucky—or explore oral histories and “Kentuckiana” on this well-designed site.
Louisiana State Archives <sos.louisiana.gov/tabid/88/default.aspx>
Look on the left under the Research Library link for a database of Confederate pension applications (a whopping 49,000 names indexed from 152 rolls of microfilm), plus death records (mostly 1911 to 1956), Orleans parish births (mostly 1819 to 1907), Orleans parish marriages (1870 to 1957) and some passenger manifests.
Louisiana Biography and Obituary Index <neworleanspubliclibrary.org/obits/obits.htm>
This 10-year project of the New Orleans Public Library makes accessible the contents of alphabetical card files of more than 650,000 names found in New Orleans newspapers from 1804 to 1972 and biographical information published in older Louisiana collective biographies. For just $2, you can order copies of whatever you find in the index.
Maine State Archives <maine.gov/portal/facts_history/genealogy.html>
A new “Archives Interactive” feature lets you search to see if the record you want is in the collection, then click to order a copy. More searchable indexes cover marriages (1892 to 1996, with a gap from 1967 to 1976) and deaths (1960 to 1996).
Maine Memory Network <www.mainememory.net>
This lovely site aims to be “Maine’s statewide digital museum.” It includes a community heritage project and a comprehensive guide to Maine’s history that draws on more than 200 organizations and archives statewide.
Archives of Maryland Online <aomol.net>
Land records here date from 1658. You’ll also find probate records as well as service records from the Revolution and Civil War (both sides). Don’t miss the Early State Records link, which includes digitized microfilm of newspaper pages, not all of them “early.”
Western Maryland Historical Library <whilbr.org>
Digitized coverage includes the Civil War in Maryland, city and county directories, tax rolls and even old scrapbooks.
Massachusetts Archives <www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcidx.htm>
This site offers indexes to birth, marriage and death records from 1841 to 1910, plus an ongoing project to index more than 1 million immigrants who came through the Port of Boston between 1848 and 1891.
Seeking Michigan <seekingmichigan.org>
A relatively new star in the state-sites firmament, this site is not only good-looking and easy to use but packed with data, most notably a searchable database of nearly 1 million Michigan death certificates (1897 to 1920) transcribed in full detail. You also can explore Civil War photographs and records, WPA property descriptions, oral histories, maps and more.
Minnesota Historical Society <www.mnhs.org/genealogy>
Start with the indexes to births (1900 to 1934, plus selected pre-1900 records) and records from death cards (1904 to 1907) and death certificates (1908 to 2001), plus the Minnesota state census records from 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895 and 1905. But don’t overlook the building and house histories, guide to place names, maps and searchable photo collection.
Minnesota Discovery Center <mndiscoverycenter.com/research-center>
This new umbrella site incorporates the Iron Range Research Center, whose searchable genealogy database includes births, marriages, deaths, mine accidents and more. You also can search digital archives of manuscripts, photos and government documents.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History <mdah.state.ms.us>
A rich collection of historical photos and more than 2,400 old maps add luster to the state archives’ online catalog and wealth of finding aids.
Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative <sos.mo.gov/mdh>
The Missouri State Archives has long excelled for its online offerings, including more than 185,000 searchable pre-1910 birth and death records plus death certificates (1910 to 1959, linked to a digitized image of the original), military records of 576,000 Missourians, 93,104 naturalization records (1816 to 1955) and 35,500 land patents (1831 to 1969). This umbrella site adds a wide range of special collections, photographs and old newspapers to what was already an outstanding Show Me State site.
Missouri History Museum <mohistory.org/genealogy>
Use the Genealogy and Local History Index to search the library and research center’s holdings by personal name, business name or even street address. You can then request a photocopy of whatever record you find referenced in the index. Coverage is strongest for St. Louis.
Montana Historical Society Research Center <mhs.mt.gov/research>
Established in 1865, the Montana Historical Society is one of the oldest institutions of its kind west of the Mississippi River, but its website shows everything’s up to date in the Big Sky State. You can explore the multimedia Montana Memory Project, contribute to the Montana History Wiki and search the research center’s online catalog.
Nebraska State Historical Society <nebraskahistory.org>
Read up on Cornhusker history with the help of an online index to Nebraska History magazine and other publications dating to 1885, plus selected fully illustrated articles. Other databases cover Civil War veterans, select city directories, prison records, place names, WWI draft registrations and some cemeteries.
Nevada Census Database <nvshpo.org>
Now a link at the State Historic Preservation Office’s site, this free database serves up 310,000 entries from all extant Nevada enumerations from 1860 through 1920.
Not your typical collection of research resources, the online offerings at this site include the complete New Hampshire state papers as downloadable PDFs plus several collections of land-survey records. You’ll also find guides to the archives and to New Hampshire genealogy research.
New Jersey State Library <www.njstatelib.org/NJ_Information/Digital_Collections>
Revolutionary War and Civil War records stand out here, along with a history of African-Americans in New Jersey and The Origin of New Jersey Place Names.
New Mexico Genealogical Society <www.nmgs.org>
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010, the society excels in guiding researchers through the Land of Enchantment’s genealogical maze. Site visitors will find a wealth of how-to articles, an index to and sample articles from the society’s magazine, New Mexico Genealogist, and exhaustive coverage of church records in the state.
New York State Archives <www.archives.nysed.gov/a/research/res_topics_genealogy.shtml>
Most notable for its database of more than 360,000 New York soldiers in the Civil War, this site also is packed with tips and links. Check out the probate records pathfinder for step-by-step assistance in finding where your Empire State ancestors’ records are hiding.
New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center <dmna.state.ny.us/historic/mil-hist.htm>
This unusual site devoted to New York’s military history recently unveiled 53,671 digitized pages of New York National Guard records, including 197 issues of the New York National Guardsman magazine.
North Carolina State Archives <archives.ncdcr.gov>
Click on Online Projects to explore a big collection of Tar Heel State maps, photos, the North Carolina Newspaper Digitization Project and especially North Carolina Family Records Online. The latter includes family Bibles and indexes of marriage and death announcements appearing in five North Carolina newspapers from 1799 to 1893.
NCGenWeb Project <www.ncgenweb.us>
Another standout from the USGenWeb Project, this North Carolina site offers a wealth of extras. The maps tracing the state’s confusing county formations are a must-bookmark, and the Digital Bookshelf <ncgenweb.us/nc/bookshelf
> is a nifty guide to digitized titles of interest to Tar Heel State researchers.
North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies <library.ndsu.edu/archives/biography-genealogy>
Search the statewide North Dakota Biography Index, 212,000 naturalization records, the 1885 Dakota Territory census, obituaries from the Fargo Forum newspaper and indexes to Cass County marriages, divorces and probate cases. “Fact pages” will help you start your North Dakota research.
North Dakota Department of Public Health Public Death Index <secure.apps.state.nd.us/doh/certificates/deathCertSearch.htm>
How does lightly populated North Dakota have two of the top state sites? We’re guessing that the long winters provide plenty of time to transcribe data. Here you can search death certificates from 1881 on.
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Ohio Historical Society <www.ohiohistory.org/resource/archlib>
Search the catalog of 230,000 items in the society’s library, or research your Ohio kin without leaving home using digital resources such as the index of death certificates (1913 to 1944), War of 1812 roster, and online index to admission records from the Boys Industrial School (1858 to 1944) and Girls Industrial School (1869 to 1943).
Ohio Memory <www.ohiomemory.org>
This digital history storehouse lets you explore 75,000 primary sources from 330 repositories, including grave registration cards, WWII oral histories, deeds and military records. You can search all collections or browse by subject, place or contributing institution.
Oklahoma Historical Society <okhistory.org>
Visit this site sooner rather than later (sorry) for its online Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture <digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia
> and extensive research guides. Search the 1890 territorial census, 1896 applications for enrollment, Dawes Final Rolls, obituaries and Smith’s First Directory of Oklahoma Territory.
Oregon State Archives <arcweb.sos.state.or.us/banners/genealogy.htm>
Search for surnames in the Oregon Historical Records Index, then see what other finds await using the Oregon Historical County Records Guide, with maps, histories and record inventories for all 36 counties, and the Provisional and Territorial Records Guide to the archives’ own holdings.
Pennsylvania State Archives <www.digitalarchives.state.pa.us/archive.asp>
Perhaps ironically for the state Quakers founded, the highlights of the Archives Records Information Access System here are military records. You can research many Pennsylvania soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the Spanish-American War, plus WWI medal applications.
Historical Society of Pennsylvania <www.hsp.org>
Although not strictly genealogical, this site nonetheless has plenty to offer, including several exhibits covering a range of topics, from the immigrant experience to ethnic wedding traditions to leading abolitionists. A wealth of catalogs and finding aids will lead you to the right stuff in the society’s non-digitized collections.
Rhode Island Historical Society <rihs.org>
Search the catalog, or get up to speed on Rhode Island genealogy with the in-depth research guides found at <rihs.org/refservices.htm
>. Also check out the link to the in-progress Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries website <rihc.info
>, where you can search or browse cemetery records.
South Carolina Department of Archives and History <archives.sc.gov/genealogy>
It takes a little clicking to discover the true richness of this site. Don’t miss the maps tracing the convoluted formation of the Palmetto State’s counties or the guides to genealogy resources. Definitely look at the goodies under the On-Line Records Index button, which takes you to <archivesindex.sc.gov
> and more than 300,000 items (many with images), including records of Confederate veterans (1909 to 1973), criminal court records, state land-grant plats, legislative papers, and will transcripts (1782 to 1855) and even 2,662 school insurance photos (1935 to 1952).
South Dakota Department of Health <apps.sd.gov/applications/ph14over100birthrec/index.asp>
Nearly 200,000 South Dakota births are searchable here, including many delayed birth certificates issued for folks born before statewide registration began in 1905.
South Dakota State Historical Society <history.sd.gov/archives/genealogists.aspx>
Find your prairie ancestors with the help of the searchable index to naturalization records, the cemetery records search, databases of Civil War veterans in the 1885 census and guide to prominent South Dakotans (1897 to 1930). Other resources show what records are available for each county and what newspapers have been microfilmed.
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Besides finding aids and research tips, this site contains databases such as Death Notices in Nashville Newspapers 1855-1907, indexes to death records (1908 to 1912 and 1914 to 1931), Confederate pension applications and guides to Tennessee place names and post offices.
Tennessee Virtual Archive <teva.contentdm.oclc.org>
This highly visual virtual vault is strongest in Civil War materials, including maps, photos and letters. Other collections showcase historical maps, Tennessee in WWI, early 1900s schoolhouses, Fisk University and old postcards.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission <tsl.state.tx.us/arc/genfirst.html>
Helpful guides to Lone Star State records and resources here complement 54,634 Confederate pension applications, indexes to republic claims and Texas adjutant general service records (1836 to 1935) and Confederate indigent families lists.
Texas State Historical Association <tshaonline.org>
Search for all things Texas in The Handbook of Texas Online, or peruse 100 volumes (with indexes) of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly.
Utah Death Certificate Index <archives.utah.gov/research/indexes/20842.htm>
Search death certificates from 1904 to 1958. Each links to an image of the original.
Cemetery and Burial Database <history.utah.gov/research_and_collections/cemeteries>
A perfect complement to the death certificate index is this searchable database of Utah burials. You can search for a person’s name or for a cemetery.
Utah Digital Newspapers <digitalnewspapers.org>
Still another reason to wish you had Utah ancestors is this ambitious site serving up versions of more than 40 digitized newspapers ranging from the 1850s to the 1970s.
Vermont Historical Society <vermonthistory.org>
Find the resources you need to start your Vermont ancestor search here. You can view an index to Civil War manuscripts, read articles from Vermont History, peruse Sanborn fire insurance maps (membership required) and see where city directories are stashed in area libraries.
Virginia Memory <www.virginiamemory.com/collections>
This roundup of digital collections from the Library of Virginia ranges from Revolutionary War bounty land warrants to questionnaires completed by Virginia WWI veterans. Recent additions include “cohabitation registers” for married former slaves and old photos from Fairfax County.
Virginia Historical Society <vahistorical.org>
Digital collections that include maps, 19th-century photos and other artifacts supplement a wide range of finding aids.
Washington State Digital Archives <digitalarchives.wa.gov>
This great site keeps getting better, with dozens of records being added every month. More than 90 million records have been preserved here, with more than 28 million searchable online and many, including vital records, censuses, military records, land records and naturalization papers, linked to digitized originals.
Historic Newspapers in Washington <www.sos.wa.gov/history/newspapers.aspx>
Another ambitious digitization project, this site aims to put online historical newspapers from the state library’s collection of more than 40,000 microfilm reels. The ever-growing collection, concentrating on the 19th century, can be searched by personal names.
West Virginia Archives and History <www.wvculture.org/history/archivesindex.aspx>
Key among the attractions at this site is the Vital Research Records Project, which is placing birth, death and marriage certificates online. You can search the records and view scanned images of the originals.
Wisconsin Historical Society <www.wisconsinhistory.org/genealogy>
This website would make our list for its Wisconsin Genealogy Index alone: You can search more than 150,000 Wisconsin obituaries and biographical sketches published before 1999, as well as 1 million births, 400,000 deaths and 1 million marriages registered before September 1907. But that’s not all. You also can explore Badger State history in Civil War records, photos and eyewitness accounts of historic events.
Wyoming Newspaper Project <wyonewspapers.org>
Given the late start and privacy restrictions on Wyoming’s vital records, newspapers may be your best bet for finding Equality State kin. This database contains all the newspapers printed in Wyoming between 1849 and 1922—more than 900,000 newspaper pages converted from microfilm to digital format. You can browse or search the collection by date, county, city or newspaper name. Once you’ve found an article of interest, you can search the text to locate a name or keyword quickly.
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Tip: If you can’t visit your ancestor’s state archives in person, find out whether you can borrow materials or order photocopies through interlibrary loan. Many archives offer research services for a fee, or you can hire a local researcher to do lookups for you.
When searching for local resources, don’t overlook the USGenWeb Project <usgenweb.org
>, a volunteer effort to provide a free genealogy website for every state and every county in the United States. Although the county sites are typically where the “action” is, a few states—we’ve singled out several here—also boast sites packed with research tips and even in-depth database and transcription projects.
WHAT DO STATES HOLD?
While genealogical resources in state archives, libraries and historical societies vary from state to state, you can expect to find records such as these at the state level:
- vital records
- wills and probate records
- court records
- military records (perhaps a surprise, but keep in mind that state governments used to raise regiments)
- early land records
- legislative and other government records
- records of orphanages, asylums, prisons and other state institutions
- state censuses
- naturalization records
Nongovernmental resources, such as these, often wind up being collected at the state level, as well:
- old newspapers
- city directories
- historical maps and photos
- oral histories