There are benefits to starting to research your family history. It’s part of our human nature to be curious about who we come from. When you research your family history, it can help you connect with your personal identity on a deeper level, give you a sense of purpose, and you can even learn more about your family medical history. It can also be a good way to connect with members of your family if it’s an interest you share.
You can start your research with as little as looking up your last name, and from there, you can go as in-depth as you prefer.
The following are some things to know as you get started with your family history research.
One of the first things to do if you’re hoping to learn more about your family history is to get organized.
Try to get the basics about your closer relatives. You might gather what you know about your parents, aunts, and uncles, or grandparents, for example, as you begin your research.
Start talking to your older living family members because they may be able to give you information that could help you in your research.
Even just having a bit of basic understanding can help guide the rest of your research in the right direction.
Write down what you find out from other people in your family so you don’t forget it.
You can also look at things you might already have at home, like birth and death certificates, photos, baby books, newspaper clippings, or similar things that are often collected.
You can ask your relatives where they were born, where their parents were born, and what jobs they did, just as examples to get the conversation started.
If you’re creating a family tree, start with what you know—yourself. You can be your first twig on the tree, and from there, you can start to work outward.
Understand the Most Important Elements
When you’re researching recorded history and documents, there are four elements that are most important—these are names, dates, places, and then the relationships. You can find a lot by pulling out these bits of information.
Pick an Online Research Tool
Ancestry.com is one of the more well-known places where you can create an account and start doing more in-depth research on your family history, but there are others as well.
As an interesting side note, Ancestry.com recommends that users search the 1940 Census. An estimated 87% of Americans have an ancestor included in that Federal Census.
Ancestry features historical records that date back to the 16th century, which may be why it’s such a popular choice.
MyHeritage is another option, and it lets you create a family tree using your own pictures and data, and it also offers access to a range of records pulled from different sources. MyHeritage offers the option to do a DNA test, which we talk more about below.
This can be a good place to begin your search once you’re organized and have some of the basics.
Consider a DNA Test
There are companies that do commercial genetic testing, and then the company will match your DNA to your ancestral background. If you are going to do this, you should make sure that you’re choosing a reputable company that clearly states how they’ll protect your privacy and personal information.
There are records that you can search at the federal, state, and county levels.
For example, the National Archives and Records Administration is good for genealogy research. You can find access to the U.S. Federal Census through the NARA, and there are also records about military service, taxation, land ownership, naturalization, passenger arrival, and more.
Every state also has its own archives too, which might include court and prison records, military records, land records, and state census information.
County records include deeds, probate records, civil records, and voting records, all of which can also be good sources of information.
In The United States, the registration of births and deaths started between 1890 and 1915, depending on the state, but before that time, the information was usually found in family bibles or church records.
Many people spend years researching their family history and learning more about their ancestors, but these are tips that can help you if you’re in the earliest stages of doing so or just think you might be interested.
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