Claire Balding had a lot of help on Who Do You Think You Are? but taking your own genealogy research stateside is easier than you might think

Who Do You Think You Are? is a television highlight for all of us here at Findmypast, but one issue we often have with the show is just how simple it can make family history look.

After investigating a family mystery in the UK, Claire Balding's episode saw her embark on a stateside journey to learn more about an American branch of her family tree. And every step of the way she seemed to have historians scrabbling to produce archived documents including letters and paintings that related to her famous ancestors. She was even lucky enough to have been presented with a book on the genealogy of one line of her ancestry.

But what about the rest with of us with US links not lucky enough to a) descend from the rich and famous and b) have the BBC's researchers do all the hard work for us? Don't worry, we're here to help. And while we can't sort out a free jolly to New York we can set you on the path to discovering your American ancestors, even if they weren't celebs or multi-millionaires.

1. Births, Marriages and Deaths

The building blocks of any family tree. Search over 20 million US Births & Baptisms; the largest online collection of US marriages covering 360 years and more than 450 million names, and over 141 million Deaths & Burials.

2. Census Records

US census records are unlike any other in terms of detail. In fact, the US was the first nation to make censuses a mandatory part of its constitution. The censuses taken every 10 years between 1790 until 1940 are all available on Findmypast. That's almost 700 million records. Due to privacy laws, the 1950 census won't become available until 2022.

3. Passenger Lists

The US passenger lists contain records dating as far back as the 1600s. If your ancestor emigrated to the US between the mid 19th and the mid 20th century, you'll likely find them in our collection of 21 million New York Passenger Lists & Arrivals. Don't forget, if they headed to America from the UK you may also find them in the Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960.

4. Migration & Naturalization

If your ancestors were US immigrants, have a look in the US Migration and Naturalization collections. These can contain everything from passport applications to photographs.

5. Military Records

Our US military collection contains entries from World War 1, World War 2 and the Vietnam War among other conflicts. You can also see if your ancestor was decorated for their bravery with the Medal Rolls and Honours records.

6. Work & Education

Did your ancestors launch a successful business? Discover where they worked or attended school in the US with our collection of Education & work records dating back to the 1500s.

7. Directories & Almanacs

For those of you with Scotch-Irish ancestry, the US Directories & social history collection will be of particular interest. Sets include Scotch-Irish People- their influence in the formation of the United States.


The PERiodical Source Index contains over 2.5 million entries from thousands of historical, genealogical and ethnic publications, making it one of the most invaluable sources for tracing your US ancestry.

5 Helpful Tips for Searching PERSI

9. US Newspapers

Search nearly 120 million pages from newspapers published in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Panama, and the Virgin Islands. Titles include a variety of local papers, as well as national publications, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

10. British & Irish Newspapers

If you can't find your ancestors in the US newspapers, try our collection of British and Irish newspapers. These cover over 200 years of history, and often include passenger lists or stories covering immigration. You might just find your US ancestor mentioned as an employee on a cruise ship.

And all this is just a small sample of our US record collection. Take a look at our entire collection and see what else you can discover