Beginning a quest to explore your ancestry? Use the genealogy research tips below to begin your adventure into your family’s past. Discover whom to talk to, what questions to ask, and where to get the best information to help you trace your family tree.
Genealogy Research Tip 1: Interview Family Members
The very best genealogy resource for discovering more about your family is, well, your family. If you have elderly ancestors that are still alive and their memory is still good, inquiring them about your family can help you cover years of family ground in just a few short hours—as well as give your living relatives a chance to reminisce. Besides, getting your great grandma to dig out the old film projector or the family photo albums can be quite a bit of fun. Here are a few sample interview questions you might ask your elderly relatives to learn more about your ancestry:
1. What do you know about our surname?
2. Is there a family cemetery?
3. Has anyone in our family compiled a family tree?
4. Do you have some old films or family photo albums?
5. Do you have any old family letters, or journals, or diaries?
6. How did your parents meet?
7. Do we have a family Bible?
There are over 150 more family interview questions in the Family History Questionnaire provided by the Lake Township Historical Society at Ancestry.com’s Rootsweb. Make sure you take detailed notes—jotting down dates, names and places as your relatives divulge info about your family’s history. Better yet, record your interviews with family members so that you can refer back to them later and save them for future generations. Some recording devices you might consider carrying with you on your interviews with your relatives include a video camera, a tape recorder or a smartphone with recording ability.
Genealogy Research Tip 2: Investigate Records
Useful genealogy information can be found through proper records research. There are a variety of records to explore, providing pertinent information that can help you trace your family tree. From vital records like birth, marriage and death records to ships’ passenger lists; you can glean a lot of genealogical info about the names, dates and places of your ancestors and discover clues to help you map your family lineage. Here’s a brief outline of records that often contain genealogical information.
• State & Federal Census Records
• Courthouse Records
o Social Security Records
o Land Records, Property Records & Deeds
o Wills & Probates
o Vital Records
o Immigration & Naturalization Records
o Criminal Records
o Civil Records
• Church Records
o Baptism Records
o Marriage Records
o Funeral Records
• Ships’ Passenger Lists
• Military & Pension Records
• Cemetery Records
You can find these records in many places. Several of these records can be conveniently accessed for free online via government websites like The National Archives & Records Administration (archives.gov) and The Library of Congress (loc.gov). Several websites also contain billions of records to help you conduct thorough genealogy research.
Government institutions such as courthouses, town halls, and libraries are also excellent places to begin your records research. In fact, many libraries even have special collections of genealogical material that are often maintained with the aid of historical or genealogical societies. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Daughters of the American Revolution house some of the largest genealogical library collections in the United States and are free to the public, making them ideal places to start your genealogy research.
Churches sometimes keep records such as baptisms and christenings, marriages, and funerals. If you have a family Bible in your possession, that could help you locate a specific church to begin your records search. Otherwise, start your records research at churches close to where your ancestors resided. Once you locate the church or churches that are most likely to have your family’s records, contact the church’s office and ask whether they have any records about your ancestors and how you might obtain them.
Genealogy Research Tip 3: Read Newspapers
One of the best genealogy resources is newspaper archives. Newspapers contain many of the records noted above, as well as the news that was happening during the times that your ancestors lived. The historical context that newspapers provide can help to recreate the story of your family’s past. Newspaper obituaries and death notices offer clues and details about your deceased relatives, as well as names and sometimes details about their immediate and extended families. Newspapers also contain news articles about your ancestors, information about family reunions, and interesting facts and stories that can aid in filling in the details on your family tree.
Many current newspapers are readily available online, and local newspapers can still be delivered in paper form directly to your doorstep. You can access old and discontinued newspapers in libraries, at educational institutions and online. GenealogyBank (genealogybank.com) has one of the largest collections of digitized United States newspapers available online for genealogy research.
Genealogy Research Tip 4: Hire a Genealogist
If you want to explore your family’s past but simply don’t have the time, you may consider contacting a professional genealogist to trace your family tree. You can find genealogists for hire through professional genealogical organizations and societies in your area and beyond. Start your search for a professional genealogist online at the Board for Certification of Genealogists (bcgcertification.org) and the Association of Professional Genealogists (apgen.org).
From interviewing surviving family members to investigating records for genealogical info, these genealogy tips and resources will get your family sleuthing started. Remember to document all of your findings. Have fun uncovering your ancestry and good luck!
How Do I Find My Genealogy?