How do I research my family history?

research my family history

Researching family history is akin to a journey of self-discovery. You want to uncover the secrets of your ancestors’ lives and connect with people long gone.

In the digital age, searching for information is much easier as many archives are digitized and available online.

So, let’s look at the most effective ways to find information about ancestors.

Researching your family history with what you know

Start your research by simply writing the information you already know. Just take a pen and a piece of paper and write down everything you know. For example:

  • names of your parents and grandparents from both sides;
  • dates of births, weddings, and deaths;
  • dates and places where significant events happened.

Although this seems straightforward, this information will serve as the starting point for your research.

How to trace family historythrough conversations with relatives

After collecting the information you know, talk to your closest relatives. If your grandparents are alive, speak to them first, as they can tell the family history back at least two generations. Thus, you will go back four generations already.

Aunts and uncles can also tell you a lot of exciting and precious information.

Ask them about their childhood, relatives, and family traditions. For example, finding out that your great-grandmother went to a specific church every Christmas could lead to research.

Dig up your family’s history in records.

Once you have collected enough information from close relatives, you can begin searching through historical archives.

Many people are interested in their family history and seek information for various reasons. Some are interested in the lives of their ancestors in different historical eras, while others believe in esotericism, continuity of generations, and the transmigration of souls. No matter why you’re doing family history research, be prepared for an exciting journey into the past.

These resources will allow you to gather valuable information about your family’s past.

Genealogy research in local archives and libraries

Online databases are a great way to gather information, but remember local archives and libraries. In the cities where your ancestors lived, it is helpful to visit such institutions as:

  • historical societies;
  • courts;
  • city archives;
  • library repositories.

Typically, essential documents are stored there, from birth certificates to records for the purchase or sale of land, houses, tax information, etc., which can provide handy data about the family’s history.

How to research your family tree with DNA testing

DNA testing has become extremely popular in genealogy research in recent years, as it helps discover ethnic ancestry. DNA analysis can establish kinship, confirm family ties, and find relatives.

DNA testing is very accurate, allowing you to confirm kinship with an accuracy of over 99%.

When choosing a DNA testing service for ancestry research, look for an extensive database of people tested, free DNA sample storage (in case you want to order another test later), and online support and tutorials.

DNA results can be helpful in your research, but the decision to get tested should be taken seriously. Tests can reveal family secrets of paternity and maternity that your family members wanted to hide.

Researching ancestral history in communities

You can search for information about your family in history and genealogy clubs and societies.

There are many options:

  • online forums;
  • groups on social networks;
  • local genealogical society.

People who share your interests gather there. They can recommend where to look for information, share experiences, and offer helpful tips to help you.

You will likely get free help from your namesakes, even though you may not be strangers.

Try name variations in your research

Your family tree research may go a long way, so you’ll likely encounter name variations and misspellings.

Previously, the general literacy level was significantly lower, and many people did not know how to write. Your distant ancestor, with a high degree of probability, may not have known the letters to write down his name, and it could have been written down by ear.

Some people deliberately changed their names, preferring to use their middle names, nicknames, or pseudonyms. So, consider how your relatives’ first and last names might have been recorded.

Expand age ranges

As with names, your ancestor may not have known their date of birth, only known it approximately, or may have intentionally given a different date or year of birth by changing their age.

There may be several reasons for this:

  • the need to increase one’s age for conscription or employment;
  • on the contrary, do not get into the army by underestimating your actual age;
  • the desire to appear closer to your spouse in age.

We should remember that an incorrect age may be a mistake. Our ancestors only sometimes knew their exact age because this information was useless, and no one used it. In addition, the mortality rate among children was very high, so many parents did not bother themselves. They did not remember the child’s birth date, who, with a high degree of probability, might not survive. Only noble people could record the birth dates of children. So, it is worth double-checking the age at every opportunity.

Cross-referencing the census with birth and death records will help you determine the correct age. When in doubt, expand the age or year range when searching for documents.

Organize and visualize all the data you have found

Keep the information you collect in order and develop a storage system. The collected materials must be easily accessible and not lost. You can keep it in paper form in files arranged in demand and an outline, or you can use applications to create your family tree online using PC software or specialized websites.

These tools allow you to visualize your family connections, from the branches of your tree to the leaves of each person’s life story.

When researching your family history, write down all sources. Carefully categorizing all the documents and references you use will ensure the accuracy and integrity of your research.

After visiting archives or searching online databases, write down where you found certain information.

To sum up

In conclusion, tracing your family history is a way to self-discovery and will give you a deep sense of generational continuity and connection to your family. You will unearth many secrets, understand yourself, meet fellow amateur researchers, and enrich your knowledge of history in general.

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