Have you ever looked for a birth or death certificate among the county records, only later find out that they weren’t created during that year? Had you only know this BEFORE you started researching you could have saved yourself a bunch of time. It would have been nice if someone had told you beforehand what’s available and not. But who could have told you? Or where would you find that information?Ah Ha! The Cheat Sheet You’ve Been Needing – For Free and Online!
The Red Book is an excellent reference tool for all genealogists. It’s not a list of names our a source record in and of itself. It’s a finding aid. This book will tell you what’s available and where to find it for most record types (county records, church records, newspapers, censuses, miliary records, etc.) It’s one of my favorite books and one I talk about in several of my classes.
As for county records, the book is divided into chapters by states (alphabetically organized). Then within each chapter, the book is divided by record groups, i.e. Kansas Newspapers, Kansas Church Records, Kansas Military Records, and Kansas County Records.
In the section on county records, there is a table which lists every county that was ever created for that state. This is important because we know that counties gave rise to new “child” counties, and some counties ceased to exist. This was done with the explicit intent of driving future genealogists crazy. (just kidding) The point remains that every county you may encounter in your research is listed in the table with an explanation of its lifespan if it changed over time. All of the counties are listed alphabetically.
Then within the table is a list of the major records you would typically find at the county level. Birth, marriage, death, land, and probate records! Here are examples from Kansas and Massachusetts.
There are several pieces of information tucked within these tables that you don’t want to overlook. First, you’ll find a column entitled “Date Formed.” That’s the year when the county came into being. Why is that helpful? Did your ancestors arrive either before or within a few years thereafter? If so, they may have been first settlers, which means the land they bought is recorded with a patent and they may have bought directly from the US Government. Which means there could be a treasure load’s worth of good records out there for you.
Another nugget of helpful information is the county address. That’s the county courthouse location. Having this information makes writing to them to inquire about records easier than having to look for the address separately.
Look for asterisks or other indications of footnotes next to the dates in the table. If you find one read the annotation. It may mean that the records for the dates referenced are either incomplete or accessible on microfilm through the state archives or the Family History Library. (This is a full service table! They try really hard to make the research easier.)
You may notice that the dates for the land and probate records are pretty complete where there are many missing dates for birth, marriage & death records. Land and who owned, sold, or inherited it was VERY important information to our ancestors. So it was recorded from the earliest days of settlement. Birth, marriage, and death records are really a 20th Century phenomenon.
Last but not least, at the far left of the table are map coordinates for the county. You may remember on “old fashioned” maps or atlases the practice of treating the map like a grid and referencing locations by letter and number coordinates, i.e. L7. The table map coordinates work the same way and they reference the county map in The Red Book for that state. Learn more about the maps here.
Where to Find It?
So where do you find this super spiffy book and its wonderous tables? Well, the whole book, county tables and all are online for free. (Wow.) They are on ancestry.com; however, you do not have to be a subscriber to access them.
Here are the few steps to take to find them.
- Go to www.ancestry.com
- On the top navigation bar, click on “Learning Center”
- Ancestry com top navigation bar
- 3. The bottom item in the drop down menu is “Family History Wiki.” Click on that.
- 4. Then on the right side of the page, you’ll see The Red Book in italics and hyperlinked. Click on that. From there you’ll see (if you scroll down) a list of the chapters, i.e. Alaska Family History, Alabama Family History. Go to the state of interest. From there the chapter breaks down by record group as mentioned before.
- It’s a free, easy and an invaluable resource to make your research go faster and be more productive. Try it out. I think you’ll like it.
- Happy Researching!