Are you interested in finding out more about your great great grandparents? Do you need ideas on where to start family history research and how to find records for your ancestors? I have been finding my ancestors for several years now and each time I discover someone new to add to my family tree, I feel full of joy and gratitude. I love knowing more about my family’s history, where we came from, and who my ancestors are.
Here are some tips to get you started on your family history research:
1. My favorite websites for family history research are Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org. They both have large databases with many types of records including census records, immigration records, death indexes, etc.
2. Using one of these websites, fill out the information you already know for yourself, spouse (if married), parents, grandparents, etc. Create an account and then from the top menu click on “Family Tree” and then “Tree” on Family Search or “Trees” and then “Create and Manage Trees” on Ancestry.com. Find detailed information on how to do this here. Be sure to use maiden names for the last name of women.
3. Pick an ancestor’s line to start your research. It’s easiest if you focus on just one or two lines at a time so you don’t get mixed up. Create a “To-Do” list so you can organize what information you’d like to find out about them. This could be figuring out when and where they were born, finding out if they had any siblings, or who their parents are and where and when they were born. Here’s a printable “To-Do” list to make it easy at familysearch.org.
4. Talk to your extended family and find out if they have anything to add to your family tree. Print it out and take it with you. Be sure to ask specific questions and gather or make copies of any records that your family may already have. Gather old photos as well. It’s nice to attach photos to your family on FamilySearch or Ancestry. I love knowing what my ancestors looked like.
5. Keep a research log so that you can remember where you have already searched for information and not waste time searching in the same place again later. Here is one you can print out or you can use a notebook and create your own columns. Be sure to include the date, what you were looking for and where you searched. There are many possible resources to find records. Here is a huge list of the many types of resources. This list of records available online will help you know what is available currently. It is categorized by country and there are links for individual states in the US as well.
6. US Census Records are often the easiest and fastest way to find someone born in the US between the years of 1790-1930. Unfortunately there are missing records and not everyone can be found easily on there for various reasons including wrong location, different name spelling, etc. FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com have easy US Census searches.
7. Look at your Hints on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. Ancestry.com is the best one for hints. At the top of the page, when logged in, there’s a little leaf with a number in a bubble next to it. These are the number of hints they have found for you. You can either click on that to see all the hints or you can go to your tree and click on a person and view hints specific to them. Review the hints carefully because they do not always match up. By using the information you already know you should be able to determine whether the hint matches your relative or not. If you are not sure, you can mark it as “undecided” and save it for when you have more information to determine if it’s valid. On the home page of FamilySearch.org there is a box on the right column that says “View Ancestor Hints”. Click on that and you can see what hints they have matched for you. Again, review them carefully because it may not be a match.
8. Search for Records. On FamilySearch.org, from your family tree, click on the person you want to research. When on their page, you will see “Search Records” on the right. There are 4 websites you can use to search for those records including FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. Click on the one you want to use and after it loads up, use the filter to change information or narrow down the type of record you want to search for. On Ancestry, you can either click on the Search menu button at the top of the screen and fill in the information yourself, or from your ancestors fact page click the search button on the top right corner.
9. For more help on using the features on Ancestry.com, click on “Help” on the home page or go to http://help.ancestry.com/. For more help on using FamilySearch.org, go to the link in the upper right hand corner “Get Help” where they have self-help links, video tutorials, live chat, and a phone number. There are also local Family History Centers run by the LDS church that are free for anyone to visit and receive help from knowledgeable volunteers. You can find one by searching here.
10. Always verify that the information you find is accurate. On Family Search anyone can edit an individual persons records so before you decide it is accurate, check that there are sources. If there are no sources, try to find sources yourself or contact the person that submitted the information and ask what the sources are. Be sure to always record the source so that you can find it later and others who are searching the same line will see it and know your information is accurate. You can also search for duplicate records. On FamilySearch, scroll down a little on the person’s fact page and on the right side column, there is a “Tools” heading. Then it says “Possible Duplicates”. Click that and it will search for possible duplicates. Review the information and if the people are the same (usually have same birth date, place, spouse, and/or children), you can merge the duplicates.
Sources for more help and information on family history research: