Getting Started
This section provides some basic building blocks and many helpful tips for researching your Delaware ancestors.
Join the Delaware Genealogical Society
dgs logo
The Society has monthly meetings from September through May and invites speakers who have expertise in a specific genealogy topic. Even though the topic may not appear to be relevant to your specific situation, the content always contains valuable information which is useful no matter what your particular situation may be. You will learn from society members about places and methods that were helpful to them in their research.  You may even find members who are researching the same family but another line. Among the Society's members are four certified genealogists, and many expert amateur researchers. As a member you will also have access to the members-only areas that contains many databases of interest to Delaware genealogists..
Begin with Yourself
The first step in your quest to determine your family roots, is to begin with yourself and work from there, one generation at a time. Work from the known to the unknown. This approach will save a lot of time since you will be verifying as you go and can identify the problem ancestors as they surface in your research. Starting at some point in the past and making the connection back is often difficult if not impossible.
Before seeking information from other family members, visiting archives, or going online for data, carefully review the information you know or think you know about your family. You will build your family history upon this solid foundation.
Interview Family Members
Just as you might gather information to write a story; Use the five "W's".
Speak to as many family members or people who knew your family as possible, to learn:
Where were they were born?
Parents' names?
Siblings' names?
Where did they live; county, town, state? Did they own their home, rent, live with someone and at what time? Did they move? Why did they move? How often did they move?
What were their occupations and where did they work?
Did they serve in the military?
How many spouses? How many children?
Were they native born or immigrant?
What was the religious tradition(s)?
             Did they belong to a fraternal organization?
Did they attend school, college, trade school?
Were there any sorts of illnesses among family members?
Are there inherited family traits?
Try to learn the full legal names, including alternate spellings. "Uncle Butch" or "Uncle Spike" will be difficult to trace. Why did the family relocate; death of a parent, job loss, fire, the depression, war? If you are interviewing someone who lives at a distance, it is helpful to take a tape recorder. Memory can be fleeting and unreliable. Obtain permission to record and have a general list of questions to lead the discussion. Take a camera or another device to make a digital image of documents if they are presented. This may be the only opportunity. If invited to a family gravesite, it is another opportunity for pictures.
Organize Your Information
Begin by creating charts outlining your family members and their relationships to each other. Use family tree charts and family group sheets. Free blank forms are available for download from Use Family Tree Charts to record the relationships of members of your family and use Family Group Sheets to record details like birth date, birth place, etc.
Ancestral Chart Logo Use Ancestral Charts to record the relationships of members of your family.
Family Group Sheets Logo Use Family Group Sheets to record details like birth date, birth place, etc.
Document As You Go
Record the person's name, date, and place when interviewing a family member. When you begin using the Internet or archival material, always record not only the specific source (book, manuscript, census record, etc.) that the data came from, but also where you found that source (for example Delaware Historical Society Library, Delaware Public Archives, etc.) It is inevitable that you may need to return to these records in the future. It is natural to record where you found information, but less natural to record where you searched unsuccessfully. It is tedious to record this information but it may save you from going over the same ground again.
Determine the Types of Records Available
Once you have determined when your family was in Delaware, use the Delaware Records Availability Timeline on the website. This is a guide to learn some of the more common records that are available for that period. The history of Delaware may require a search of nearby Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and even New York. Use the Delaware Maps section to determine where the record may have been located for the time period in which you are interested. Use the Genealogical Timeline to determine where to find records.
Useful Record Types
Here is a list of record types and some of the information that can be found in each. This is not a complete list and  is provided here to get you started. 
Record Type
What Information It Contains
Census records
Each  census year provides different data. To determine the data collected for a particular year, refer to the forms for that year and download the forms so there is always a copy at hand. See our document on census form questions. The forms are helpful since computer images generated from census records may not have the headings visible.  
Be aware that there are misspellings, incorrect ages, occupations and some family members may be excluded. Some states, including Delaware, may have performed other types of censuses in alternate years to the federal census done every 10 years.. Some cities and towns also did censuses for specific purposes.
The internet has become a wonderful search tool. See the topic about Using the Web. You can do a lot of research before you leave home and can make your trips more productive. For more information on census records visit the Census Records section.
City and State Directories
These were the equivalent of a telephone directory before there were phones. They provided lists of businesses, organizations, schools, officials, voting districts, and churches. For more information on city directories visit the City and State Directories section.
Church records
These records can provide a tremendous amount of information. You need to know the church or denomination to which your family belonged.  City directories can narrow down where your family might have attended religious services. Not all religious records are readily available (see links).
Court records
These records include wills, deeds, mortgages, probate, lawsuits, orphans court, trials etc. All may prove to be useful. For more information on court records visit the Court Records section.
Military Records
The National Archives has this information. Even if the ancestor never served, there may be a record because the person went through the processing procedure to be inducted or rejected. If they did serve, there may be information about benefits to survivors, duty assignments, which can lead to information about battles. The Delaware Archives contains records about prisoners of war, draft, etc. For more information on military records visit the Military Records section.
Social Security Death Index
For information on sites that allow searching the index click here.
Passenger Lists and Immigration Records
New York was a major immigration port through Ellis Island and Castle Garden, but there were other ports of entry to the country. (  Immigrants may have come through other ports like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Galveston, and San Francisco or by way of Canada. For more information on passenger lists and immigration records visit the Passenger Lists and Immigration Records section.
Local newspapers can provide information on marriages, deaths, team sports, organizations and their members, arrests, and tragic events. For more information on newspaper abstracts visit the Newspaper section.
Published genealogies and manuscripts 
Someone may have already completed extensive research about a portion of your family. Of course, the research may contain errors and if minimal references are supplied, you will have to corroborate the data before accepting it for your own family history. These family histories can be found in repositories such as the Delaware History Library, the Delaware Archives, University of Delaware, and many other repositories within Delaware and in neighboring states. For more information on published genealogies and manuscripts visit the Family Genealogies section.
Internet Links
Certainly there are many more and you will want to bookmark ones that are helpful. Many libraries are including digital images online that can be useful. Increasingly there are Genealogy Blogs. These can be interesting and useful learning tools for your research. Visit Delaware Resources.
Some Possible Sources
This is an abbreviated list of the types of information you will be looking for and some possible sources for the information. 
Some Possible Sources
Birth (birth date, place, parents)
birth certificates, family bibles, church records, marriage records, death records
Death (death date, place of death).
obituaries, death certificate, Social Security Death Index
Marriage (marriage date, place, parents).
marriage certificates, religious records, newspaper articles, census records, photographs
birth certificates, obituaries, wills, census records, probate orphans court records
military records; DNA testing
Life interests
divorce records, newspapers, court records, obituaries, diaries, journals, letters
census records, city directories, real estate transactions, wills, deeds
Using the Web
Most repositories have Web sites, some (e.g. Delaware Public Archives) with online catalogs. In the table below is a list of web services that can be helpful in finding a wide variety of types of sources. This is not a complete list of sources on the web and the informational available changes frequently.. Also check our section on Useful Delaware Resources for other useful websites.
Do not be seduced by this seemingly effortless way to do research. You will still have to do old-fashioned legwork and spend time in libraries and repositories to verify your web findings.
Family Search
A free website maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints
This is a fee based website, but a library edition can be accessed at your local library for free.
Heritage Quest Online
Fee based but can often be accessed at your local library for free.
Fee based but some images can be accessed for free. This site contains a lot of military information from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. Additionally there is a non-military collection of black history and Native American records.
Genealogy Textbooks
There are textbooks available in many libraries, such as the Delaware Historical Society and the University of Delaware Library. Another source of introductory genealogical research techniques is Cyndi's List ( See our section on Useful Links for other websites we have found to be helpful.
Books concerning genealogy research methods and genealogy reference books can be found in the Genealogy Research Methods booklist. The booklist also includes  the repositories where the books can be found..
Genealogical Research Technique Classes
Classes are available on genealogical research at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Delaware. Some of the classes are taught by members of the Delaware Genealogical Society. Classes are available in Wilmington, Dover and Lewes. Classes are available for members only and you must be over 50 to join. There are no grades or exams and no educational prerequisites. For more details see OLLI’s website at On this website you will find links to the different locations in Delaware and descriptions of the classes that are taught at each location.
Equipment and Supplies
Below is a list of equipment and supplies you may find helpful for organizing and recording your genealogical research.
Use this portable paper file to store paper documents you acquire  while in the field. It should expand, be securely closed and portable. There could be nothing more discouraging than driving four hours and finally getting a copy of your great, great, grandmother's marriage certificate only to find when you return home that the certificate was lost. In the digital age, a portable device (tablet or mini computer) can be used  to enter everything. Paper copies will still be needed.
A digital camera is useful to take pictures of grave markers or even of documents in books when a copier is not available.
Flash Drive
A USB flash drive is useful and sometimes necessary to download images of census records and other documents when using a computer in libraries and other repositories.  Back up all your records so that you have paper and computer backup on a flash drive or now even in the "cloud"'  which can be free with some services.
Paper and Pencils
No matter how effective you are at using a computer to take notes there are times when either the library or repository will not allow the use of computers in their facility or you just don’t have time to start it up to capture a brief note. In addition, many repositories do not allow the use of pens.
Magnifying Glass
A magnifying glass can be indispensable to view fine print on documents or to examine handwriting that is not very legible.
Ancestral Chart (blank forms)
Use ancestral chart forms to create a pictorial view of the relationships of your ancestors. Even if you use software to maintain your records having a few forms on hand may be necessary when you are in a hurry or you don’t have access to your electronic version of these forms.
Family Group Record (blank forms)
Use family group record forms to capture details about your ancestors. Even if you use software to maintain your records having a few forms on hand may be necessary when you are in a hurry or you don’t have access to your electronic version of these forms.
Where to Go First in Delaware
Much can be learned from large collections in repositories within the state and in bordering states. The major Delaware repositories of original genealogical and historical records are the Delaware Historical Society in Wilmington and the Delaware Public Archives in Dover. There are many other repositories some of which have original records. No one repository has all of the records.
Each repository has its own set of rules and procedures. For  a more complete list of repositories in Delaware (and some in the bordering states) and for more detailed information about the different repositories see our section on Repositories.