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ALGenWeb Project - Alabama - How To Research in Alabama
How to Research in Alabama

Genealogical Research in Alabama

Alabama entered the union as the twenty-second (22nd) state on December 14, 1819. Prior to that time, this area was part of the Mississippi Territory and Indian lands. Its earliest counties -- Washington, Madison, Baldwin, Clarke, Mobile, Monroe, and Montgomery -- were formed from the Mississippi Territory.

You can investigate the Alabama History Timeline at the Alabama State Archives. Also, you might be interested in studying the order in which the counties were formed.


Federal Census

The United States government began collecting population data in 1790. The first census to enumerate the state of Alabama was in 1820. When researching census data, you need to be aware of the ways in which the county boundaries changed and even the names of some counties were changed. For example, in 1832, 11 counties were formed from land ceded by the Creek Indians. These counties were Benton, Barbour, Chambers, Coosa, Macon, Randolph, Russell, Sumter, Talledega, and Tallapoosa. In 1858, Benton County was renamed Calhoun; in 1866, Cleburne County was carved from portions of Calhoun, Randolph, and Talladega Counties. It's possible to find ancestors in the 1850 census of Benton County, 1860 of Calhoun, and 1870 of Cleburne -- and they never moved at all.

From 1790 thru 1840, the Federal Census listed only the name of the head of household and then gave a count of the number of males and females, slaves, and other pertinent information (which varied from census to census). Starting in 1850, the census lists all members of the household.

The Census enumerations are kept private by the Census Bureau for 72 years. After that time, they are turned over to the National Archives where they have been microfilmed. The National Archives has published guides to genealogical research in the census records of 1790-1840 and records from 1850-1920.

State Census

The State of Alabama also took its own census from time to time. Microfilmed copies of these census records can be found in many Alabama libraries and also at the Alabama State Archives in Montgomery.

  • 1820 - counties of Baldwin, Conecuh, Dallas, Franklin, Limestone, St. Clair, Shelby, and Wilcox
  • 1850 - all counties
  • 1855 - counties of Autauga, Baldwin, Blount, Coffee, Franklin, Henry, Lowndes, Macon, Mobile, Pickens, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa
  • 1866 - all counties

USGenWeb Census Projects

Don't overlook the valuable resources in the USGenWeb Project Archives. Many counties have some census transcriptions posted. Additionally, scanned images of many census records are available.

Within the USGenWeb Project, two groups have formed to transcribe census records. Be sure to visit and to see what the volunteers have placed online.

Ethnic Research

Peoples of many backgrounds settled Alabama. See the Ethnic Resources links for information on how to research specific ethnic groups in Alabama.

Vital Records

Certificates issued by the State

Recording of life events at the state level did not start until the early part of the twentieth century. There were no birth certificates issued by the state of Alabama before 1908. The state Board of Health can supply birth and death certificates from 1908, marriage certificates from 1936, and divorce certificates from 1950. Birth records less than 125 years old will not be issued except to immediate family or with permission of the next of kin. The same is true of death records less than 25 years old.

A statewide computer system was put in place in 1996, providing availability to all Alabama vital records. Applicants can walk into any county health department in the state and purchase a copy of any Alabama vital record, regardless of where the event occurred. These county offices are not prepared to handle requests by mail, therefore all calls and mail should be directed to the state office.

Center for Health Statistics
PO Box 5625
Montgomery, AL 36103-5625
(334) 206-5418
Fax: (334) 262-9563

The Alabama Department of Archives and History has indexes to state records, but original certificates must be obtained from the Alabama Center for Health Statistics.

County Records

Most counties recorded marriages from the time that the county was established. Very few of them recorded births or deaths. Divorce records would have been kept with general or circuit court records. Each of the ALGenWeb County sites should contain information on contacting the probate office and circuit court offices within the county.

Microfilmed Records

Vital Record Indexes - the Center for Health Statistics has some death, marriage, and divorce indexes available for purchase on rolls of 16 mm microfilm. The cost for each roll is $40. A list of the rolls and indexes included on them can be viewed on the Internet.

County Vital Records Many county records have also been microfilmed and are available from Alabama Department of Archives and History. Early birth and death records may also be listed as registers. It is important to remember that not all records are complete. Each county had vital events which went unrecorded or records which were lost or damaged. Many courthouses have burned and the records they contained were lost.

Land Records and Deeds

Be sure to read Understanding Alabama land records.

Military Records

Of particular interest to genealogical researchers are records pertaining to service during the War Between the States, or the American Civil War. Please visit the Alabama Civil War Roots project pages for links to online resources.

Researching Alabama
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