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
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.
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.