Read this first!
About This Guide
This guide offers a road map of how and where to find records about your Delaware ancestors. It is designed to complement other online and print genealogical resources. Many chapters include historical information, provide context, and offer suggestions for additional research.
While this guide focuses on records located in Delaware, it also includes information on relevant out-of-state and national repositories.
Lists of references we used to compile this guide, plus additional resources you may find helpful, appear after the topics covered in each chapter. We believe consolidating references like this makes them more accessible and user-friendly than using footnotes or including a lengthy bibliography at the end of the guide. Accordingly, some references appear multiple times and in more than one chapter.
DNA analysis is a powerful tool used in genealogy that is beyond the scope of this guide. Many resources and experts are readily available to help you navigate using DNA in your research.
A Few Basics
As a general rule, we refer to repositories by names that were current at the time this guide was published. For example, references to the Delaware Historical Society by definition include its earlier name, the Historical Society of Delaware.
The Delmarva Peninsula refers to the entire state of Delaware, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and the two Virginia counties on the southern tip of the peninsula.
Many of the repositories we list are open to the public on a limited basis and/or are run by volunteers. Check before visiting; contact information is in the Record Repositories section of this guide.
The US Census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, and is an essential source of information for genealogists. Throughout this guide, we refer to the census as “US Census.” When a specific census is mentioned, the year of the census precedes or follows US Census.
Records exist in a variety of formats: they may be transcribed; they may be available on microfiche (flat sheets) or microfilm (reels); or they may be digitized. While digitized records are viewable on a computer, they may or may not be available online; they may be viewable only at a repository. An index may be available online, but the records it references may not be, and you may need to visit a repository to view the actual record.
We mention numerous websites throughout this guide; rather than repeat their addresses multiple times, we are listing the ones we cite most frequently here. Most of these sites are free to access; we have denoted those that charge a membership or subscription fee with a ($) symbol.
We have tried to create accurate but streamlined citations to genealogical databases, particularly for Ancestry and FamilySearch, but please note that organizations may add, drop, or modify their website content at any time.
Additional sites and more details are in the Record Repositories section of this guide.
Ancestry ($) holds a collection of more than 20 billion records available by subscription from several sites, including Ancestry.com; Fold3.com, which has an extensive collection of military records from the Revolutionary War through World War II; and Newspapers.com, which has more than 509 million pages of historical newspapers. Some libraries in Delaware offer free access to Ancestry using library computers on-site. For more information about this, see the Delaware Division of Libraries Website in the Record Repositories section of this guide.
FamilySearch holds a very large collection of genealogical and historical records. Established as the Genealogical Society of Utah, FamilySearch is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Access to all records is free and open to anyone interested in genealogical research; simply set up an account. Many records are available on FamilySearch’s website and wiki pages. In addition, FamilySearch operates volunteer-run Family History Centers, including three in Delaware. www.familysearch.org
Google Books has a comprehensive index of full-text books, many of them freely available as PDFs. books.google.com
HathiTrust is an international collaborative of academic and research libraries with a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world. The HathiTrust Digital Library is a preservation repository that is easy to access. Items in the public domain are in full view for everyone and items held in copyright are searchable. For an in-depth search, you’ll need to create an account, which is free. www.hathitrust.org/
The Internet Archive is a nonprofit digital library of internet sites and other cultural artifacts offering free access to millions of books, images, videos, and other resources, including family genealogies, state histories, and other publications. archive.org
Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project written collaboratively, largely by anonymous volunteers who write without pay. Except in limited cases, anyone with internet access can edit or add content, which means articles may contain undetected misinformation or errors. www.wikipedia.org
About Archival Record Groups
Some repositories, including the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Delaware Public Archives (DPA), organize many of their holdings in record groups (RGs). There are thousands of RGs, and each group may contain hundreds of individual documents. For the most part, what’s available online is an index for each RG; to access the actual document, you’ll probably need to visit the repository.
In some cases, you can locate RGs online by using the search function on the NARA and DPA home pages and entering the RG number. You may have better luck, however, by entering “record groups,” rather than the number, in the search box.
On the NARA site, it’s a good idea to begin by clicking on the “Research Our Records” tab, which offers an overview of how to search the site. It is likely you’ll need to click through several pages to find RGs. Keep in mind that NARA’s records are stored in various locations throughout the United States; the online listing will specify the document’s location. The NARA home page is at www.archives.gov.
For DPA records, it may be easier to click on the “Public Finding Aids” icon, and then click on “Online Guide to the Collections.” Then enter “record groups” in the search box on that page. It also may help to put asterisks in the search box at the beginning and end of the RG number you seek, e.g., *4825*. Once you find the number of the specific document you seek, you’ll need to contact a librarian at DPA in order to access it. It is best to do this in person. DPA’s home page is at archives.delaware.gov.
Corrections and Updates
We have made every effort to ensure the information in this guide is accurate as of its publication date. Storage and accessibility of genealogical information can change, especially as records are indexed, digitized, and made available online. In addition, organizations may redesign their websites and/or change their website addresses (URLs). URLs were updated in December 2021.
Should you discover any errors in this guide or have suggestions for future editions, please write to the Delaware Genealogical Society at 505 N. Market St., Wilmington, Delaware 19801-3091, or contact us at Contact Us.