Discover your Family Tree Today

Tips to Begin your Family History Search Through Important Primary Sources

If you have wondered about your ancestry , you are not alone. As more time passes and families grow, tracing the lines of your heritage can become more and more challenging. Also, as travel has become easier and safer, families are decentralizing and spreading across the country or even around the globe, making it difficult to keep in touch. In the past, multiple generations of a family may have been born, lived, and died in the same town – even the same house – but today, that is seldom the case. To help build your roots, here are tips on how to locate and document your family tree:

1. Organize your Family History Documents

The best place to begin digging for your family’s history is at home. Gather any documents, photos, or other family mementos that might help provide a foundation for a family tree . Consider creating a file or dedicating a notebook to track your progress and make notes. Keeping everything together in one place will help you to stay more organized and will easily make sense of the document trail you will eventually accumulate. As you gather additional documents over the course of your family history search, evaluate your organizational system and determine if it would make sense to divide the materials collected into categories based on a direct ancestor's name or type of document. You will gain the most from your data if you are able to compare documents easily and use that information to make accurate, verified additions to your tree.

2. Start your Research with your Immediate Family

After you organize any materials you already have, begin consulting with your relatives. Ask questions that include the basics such as names, hometowns, family structure, and trades or occupations. Also ask open-ended questions that help reveal stories about your heritage. This can help you to not only answer questions that might come up as you are following the trail of your ancestry, but it can also provide additional insight into your family’s personal history when searching for family history documents. You might also gain interesting leads by following up on research another relative has conducted – be sure to inquire about any existing family history or trees. Use information that has already been combed through to help verify your own findings or guide you in your efforts.

3. Examine Family Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificates

There are many resources available online and in government offices that you can access for your family history search. Reviewing birth certificates and other personal documentation can help you learn about your ancestors and where they were located during their lifetime. The best historical documents to find are written by your ancestor, or witnessed by someone who had first-hand knowledge of the recorded event. This tends to be more reliable than documents containing information about your ancestor, who were not present during the recording of the information. This includes original documents, such as census records, as well as, databases where information was copied from original documentation. Make photocopies of the original documents whenever possible so it can be added to your ancestral file. If you are unable to obtain a copy of a specific certificate, carefully record all events from the original document. Accuracy is key to your family history search, so be sure the facts you write down are carefully and completely transcribed. This will help you avoid following up on a false lead due to incorrect details.

Family History Search

4. Search Military Records for Family History Clues

When building a record of your lineage through a genealogy tree, many genealogists do not simply stop at the names of their ancestors. A large part of genealogy is not only searching, but is also learning about the lifestyle of your ancestors and what events in history were a part of their lives. In some cases, a family’s connection to a war can help reveal a great deal about your heritage. Consulting military records is a great way to learn about how your ancestors were involved in important wars or military action. Through your family history search, you might be able to create a personal tie to a historical event.

5. Find your Family History by Visiting Graveyards and Cemeteries

At one time, tombstones contained a wealth of ancestral history reaching far beyond a name and dates of birth and death. Sometimes older tombstones contain information about children, cause of death, and other facts about the family member’s occupation or involvement in important historical events. To aid in the search for your family history, you’ll need some basic tools of the trade. Bring a digital camera to take pictures of the graveyard and family tombstones. Also bring paper and chalk to make a rubbing of tombstones. As time passes, the wording on a tombstone can become eroded by the elements. Making a rubbing offers the best chance to read, record, and eventually search for more family history information.

6. Use an Online Genealogy Website

Online genealogy sites can be a great way to stay organized and make sense of search results. By proceeding with your family history search in a methodical way, you will avoid having to do double the research. You will also be able to lay out the collection you have in a clear, understandable way. This will allow you to make well-documented conclusions and educated guesses about your kinship based on the information already gathered. Using Web-based genealogy tools, such as our web-based family tree application, can also help you verify every resource and hunch by enabling you to share your research online with other family members who may live in different states or counties.

Researching your family’s history can be both fun and interesting. With a little bit of elbow grease and a lot of detective work, you can build an accurate family tree that can be added to over generations to come. And even if you have trouble with your search and seem to happen upon more “dead ends” than treasure troves when it comes to useful research, remember that any insight or perspective gained into your past is more than you knew before. Treasure the information you find and keep it alive by sharing it with future generations.

7. Begin your Family History Search Today

Researching your family's history can be both fun and interesting. With a little bit of elbow grease and a lot of detective work, you can build an accurate family tree that can be added to over generations to come. And even if you have trouble with your search and seem to happen upon more "dead ends" than treasure troves when it comes to useful research, remember that any insight or perspective gained into your past is more than you knew before. Treasure the information you find and keep it alive by sharing it with future generations.