You’ve probably seen that commercial on television featuring middle-age people exploring their “roots” online. Learning about your ancestors can be an interesting, fun, challenging, rewarding, and maybe even eye-opening experience. You may even want to combine it with travel to visit the place your parents, grandparents, were born, or meet cousins, other relatives you’ve never met, or maybe never knew existed. Many people doing ancestry research have learned they are related to some famous, living people – even Presidents! Here are some easy ways to start doing ancestry research on your family.
1. Your Family Tree. Many ancestry research websites have downloadable family tree forms that you can print and use. Fill in all the names of known relatives. Then, try and get information about these people – their nicknames, date/place of birth, where they lived most their life, occupations, etc, whatever history you can obtain about them.
2. Explore A Family Mystery. Ancestry-searching experts’ advice is to start with a particular family “story” you want to explore. For example, your grandmother may have told you a story about her father (your great-grandfather), that he was an orphan in another country, adopted by people who legally were your great, great grandparents. This is a good genealogy “mystery” to figure out. Who were the blood relatives? See how far you can go back exploring these types of stories that may give you insight into your bloodline.
2. Look for/ask about information sources. These can be family scrapbooks, memento boxes that hold birth certificates, marriage licenses, diaries, old letters and photographs. Expand to searching databases online and the U.S. Census. If you have a social security number you may be able to find many documents (birth, death, marriage, passports, immigration records, etc) related to someone. Keep in mind though that many foreign countries, especially in past centuries, kept unreliable records, especially in very small towns and villages. Many times churches kept birth records.
3. Interviews. Ask your oldest living relatives to sit down with you and tell you the stories they know about your family members. It could be that you had a relative who was a physicist that worked on modern rockets for NASA, or that a famous designer in another country is really your cousin.
4. Join Ancestry Groups. Places like Ancestry.com, or FindMyPast.com, are good places to start searching. They make it relatively easy to look for people with just a name. Hook into ancestry-study groups through Facebook and Twitter, or even through local groups you may find on Meetup.com under Genealogy. The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Society Hall can also help you find family history groups in your area.