Unless you are a genealogist or were very close to your grandparents, there's a good chance you don't know your grandparents' names. Surveys have shown that many Americans don't know who their grandparents were. If you are older when you start your family history journey you might not have family to ask. Here are five easy ways to find out your grandparents' names which will help to begin your family history journey.
1. Grandparent's obituary
If you don't know your grandparent's name, how on earth are you supposed to find their obituary? Easy, depending on the date, it's very likely that either your parent(s) or you yourself are named in the obituary. Search Google for your parent's name and the word obituary. Any obituary that they are listed in should turn up in a Google search. If your mother's parents died before the 1980s and you are having trouble locating an obituary try searching for the more traditional Mrs. plus the husband's name (ie. Mrs. John Smith). If no obituary turns up in Google, try a newspaper research site such GenealogyBank.com, Newspapers.com or the newspaper search on MyHeritage.com. (Please note that these sites are subscription based.)
2. Parent's marriage certificate
You parent's marriage certificate might name both the parent's of your father and your mother. Unfortunatley, this is not consistent in all states in the United States. If you don't have a copy of your parent's marriage certificate, you can write and request it. You'll need to know the location they were married. In most cases in the United States you will write to the county for a copy of the marriage certificate. But if your parents were married in New England then you'll need to write to Town Hall. Do a Google search for Vital Records for the town or county. The government office will then provide instructions for how to obtain a copy of the certificate.
3. Parent's marriage announcement
There's a good chance that even without your parent's marriage certificate you can locate a copy of their marriage announcement. Most couples through the years have listed engagement or wedding announcements in the newspaper. Most marriage announcements list the names of the parents for the bride and the groom. You can try a Google search but in this case you'll probably want to try the newspaper sites (listed above) directly.
4. Parent's death certificate
If you've had a parent die, his or her parent's names will be listed on death certificate if known. You can request a copy of your parent's death certificate from the government office in the location where your parent died. As mentioned before this will most likely be a county office, unless you they died in New England and then you would write to the Town Hall.
5. Social Security Application
When a person applies for a social security card, the name of both their mother and father is included. While it's not likely that you have a copy of your parents' social security card applications lying around, you can apply for the information. You can make an online request for the original application of a deceased person through the Freedom of Information ACT.
Bonus - Parent's birth certificate
The vital records - birth, marriage and death certificates - are all important sources for discovering your roots. Your parent's birth certificate, just like their marriage and death certificates, will provide information about who their parents were. The exception to that is if your parent's were adopted. In that case, depending on individual state law, the information may not be available to you. Contact the government offices where your mother and father were born for details about how to get copies of their birth certificates.
What to do next
After you discover your grandparents' names you will be curious about the rest of your family history! The next step is accessing U.S. Federal Census records to start building your family tree. Depending on the age of your parents, you will look for your parents or grandparents in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. There you will find either your parents or your grandparents or both. Families are shown as a whole - both parents and children - and that's how you'll know you have the right family. From there you will use the U.S. Federal Census to go back in time (by 10 years each time) and as you do you will discover your grandparents as children in the household of their parents. From this you will discover your great grandparents' names!
Learn more about getting started in Family History Research by watching the six-part Legacy Family Tree Webinars Getting Started in Family History series.
Marian Pierre-Louis is a genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.