Exploring New Ways to Add Details to Your Family's History

robert.niles@latimes.com

Curious about your family tree? Birth and death records online can help put together a family history.

Local governments have been collecting and maintaining birth and death records ever since there have been local governments. And with the establishment of the Social Security system, the federal government got on board too, creating a massive index of deaths in the United States.

Thanks to the efforts of online genealogists, many--but not all--of these records are now on the Web.

Genealogists and the otherwise curious can search California birth records from 1905 to 1995 at http://vitals.rootsweb.com/ca/birth/search.cgi. More than 24 million Californians are included, representing almost 1 million surnames.

To find an individual's birth record, you need at least that person's last name. The more information you can provide--such as year, county of birth and mother's maiden name--the more accurate the search result will be.

Online records do not include all the information that can be found on a birth certificate, such as the hospital and attending physician. But the basics--name, birth date, gender and mother's maiden surname, are there.

Of course, birth records are useful for things other than exploring a family tree. Such as looking up a co-worker's birthday. Or finding the birth year of that new beau who might not be so forthcoming about his exact age.

On the flip side of life, California death records also are online, at http://vitals.rootsweb.com/ca/death/search.cgi. More than 9 million records are available, covering people who died anywhere in the state from 1940 to 1997.

A successful death record search also will turn up the deceased's birthplace, Social Security number and parents' last names, all of which can be helpful for genealogists searching for more details for their family trees.

The federal government's Social Security Death Index provides a national database of deaths, with more than 65 million records. Rootsweb provides a link to its copy of the database on its general search page, at http://searches.rootsweb.com.

Note that if you try an advanced search of Rootsweb's Social Security data, many records do not include the deceased's last residence. Instead, select the state where the deceased's Social Security card was issued (usually where he or she was born), for better results.

Rootsweb's search page also links to birth and death records from other states, as well as to many unofficial vital records submitted by the site's users. Among these are cemetery and church records as well as divorce records and military rosters.

Another option for vital records is http://www.familysearch.org, maintained by the Mormon church. Cataloging ancestors is part of the Mormon faith, so the church has access to millions of death and birth records recorded by its members.

Click on Search for Ancestors to find records from various church and government sources, including the Social Security Death Index.

Closing on a somber note, families looking for a missing loved one also might visit http://www.unclaimedpersons.com, maintained by the San Bernardino County Coroner's Department.

Click on Search to look through listings of individuals--most from Southern California--for whom next of kin have never been found. Each listing is linked to a detail page that includes a phone number at the appropriate coroner's office to call for more information about the deceased.

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Robert Niles is a producer at Latimes.com.

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