What Records and Archives Would Help Find Somebody’s Parents’ Names?

I’m trying to trace my ancestral roots and thanks to years of dedication from a family member, I have gotten as far back as my paternal great great great grandfather (born in 1847 and passed away in 1938).

I want to go even farther back, though - ideally at least to a generation which points to somewhere specific in Africa. (I’m aware of websites like Ancestry and African Ancestry but prefer to go the paper trail route as far back as it’ll take me.) My first train of thought was to find out the names of my great great great grandfather’s parents somehow and continue to work my way back: due to my relation, I can’t obtain a birth certificate from the state department and family members who could are also deceased. What other records might reveal helpful information which points to his parents? I have online access to the state’s archives and history.


I am looking for the parents of Benjamin McCray (born some time in 1847 and died some time in September 1938). He was black/African American, married to Lettie McCray (may be spelled incorrectly as Lettuce on some documents), born in Alabama, USA and died in Lee County, Alabama. 

4 Answers

  • 3 weeks ago

    Talk to the Dept. of Vital Statistics that is in the state where they were born.  Also, consider researching the census records.  

  • 3 weeks ago

    You might try birth and death records, but if you are attempting to research a person who was a slave the probability of an actual name is pretty slim

    Source(s): Genealogical Researcher 60+ years
    • Shainah3 weeks agoReport

      The birth certificate is not an option for me, so I’ll certainly still obtain the death certificate :/ Thank you!

  • 3 weeks ago

    His death certificate, if you could buy a copy, might have them. It might not.

    He was alive in 1850 and 1860, but isn't on the census, that I can find. The census just counted free white people in those decades. Do you have him in 1870 and 1880?


    There isn't a flaw in your family's research. African-American genealogy is difficult because they didn't list slaves by name in 1850 or 1860; just the (white, male) owner and his slaves by sex, color and age.

    Death certificates have always had space for father and mother (maiden name) but 1/3 to 1/2 of the DC's I have seen have "Unknown" for mother. Given how little Alabama spent on educating its black citizens, if I were you I would not get my hopes up. Keep looking at census records; once in a while (5 - 10 percent) an elderly parent is in the same household, relation "Mother" or "Father".

    • Shainah3 weeks agoReport

      Hmm: it’s interesting that you say that because I’ve been able to find information that in the 1870 Federal Census, he worked for the railroad! So is there a flaw in my family member’s research?
      (I still want to buy his death certificate! Has it ever been common practice to put parents on them?)

  • Maxi
    Lv 7
    4 weeks ago

    If you are looking at any country, you need to know the records that are potentially available and for what dates when record keeping was began etc etc .......and all countries are very different...eg you can see census as late a 1940 going back every ten years( and sometimes localised census every 5 years) in the US, the UK you can view census 1841 to 1911 ( there are some other census/registers but not widely available and/or with very limited info) Ireland you can see 1901 and 1911 (and small limit  fractions of some census for some areas)

    To find parents of a person, the records that show those are birth certs, baptism records ( sometimes) census show family in a household, some marriage records, show no parents, some both and some just the father depends on the years, depends on the country.

    Continents like Africa.... contain lots of countries each country has different records, when they began, if they were tribal or national and the majority of those are not online and never will be........... now if you are looking at eg slave ancestry then you will not find records kept for named people as slaves were recorded as property, unnamed sold, auctioned off, shipped out to vaious places, auctioned off again in groups...so until that slave was given a name and documented in slave registers as belonging to a master you will find nothing prior....which means end of that line of research

    • Shainah3 weeks agoReport

      Thank you! I have been doing that type of digging as well :))

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