Tips for Finding Ancestors in State Archives: Get Digital

Tips for Finding Ancestors in State Archives: Get Digital

In this seven part series, you'll learn how to dig up the genealogical treasures awaiting you in your ancestors’ state archives. In this fifth article in the series, we're discussing what you can expect to find in state archive digital collection, and how to go about finding it.

state archives digital records

The fourth part of this series discussed how to make use of the finding guides. This time, we’re covering online collections and how to find the records you’re after. Let’s get started!

Tip 5. Check digital collections

An increasing number of state archives have digital collections you can access online. Digital collections vary from one state to another, but may include vital, land, military or court records. In addition, online collections often contain things that can add historical, social, and cultural context to your family history. From photographs and postcards to maps and memorabilia, digital collections can enhance your understanding of your ancestors’ lives.

Starting your search

Typically, you’ll find a link to digital collections on the state archives’ home page. Look for keywords such as online collections, memory or history. Virginia Memory, and Wisconsin History, both have impressive digital collections. At Seeking Michigan, you’ll find death records, state censuses and Civil War service records, as well as letters, diaries, postcards and oral histories. The North Carolina Digital Collections offers 50 well-organized subjects, ranging from Family Records to Travel and Tourism Photos.

Online databases

Many states also offer online databases that make it possible to order copies of certain records, such as birth or death records, for a small fee. Some archives will even do limited research for you in specified collections. You can request copies either by using an online form or mailing in a form with payment.

Online records request forms

The New Jersey State Archives has a Searchable Databases and Records Request Forms page. The site allows you to search a number of databases by ancestor’s name, including vital records, land records, court and probate records, military records and photographs. If you find a result for your ancestor in these databases, just order it. Alternatively, you can submit a records request form to have the archivists do a search (for a fee) in assorted other collections of vital, probate, naturalization and military records.

Next up, get ready to start your state archive research!


NARA’s new catalog, Online Public Access, makes it easier to find documents that could shed light on your ancestors lives. Learn tricks for tracking down the records you need in a single search. Become an expert today!

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