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How To Research Your Roots

Updated on July 4, 2011

Getting started researching your past.

If you are interested in searching for your ancestry, but don't know where to start, here is a mini-course in how to research. There are several sites you can use to search, such as, Rootsweb, or Heritage Maker. The site I use the most is Ancestry. You don't have to pay anything to join, but some features are not available if you are not a paid member. I am a monthly subscriber to Ancestry, and have been actively researching my family history for the past two years. In that time, I have discovered 100s of family members and my tree keeps growing! I have also discovered things about my family's past that I had no idea about before I started researching. I will attempt to teach you a few tricks to researching your own family history with this blog.

The first thing to do of course, is enter as much information as you can before searching. This includes building a family tree on whatever site you choose. For example, on Ancestry, when you start a tree (I have several) you are prompted to enter your name (or the name of the person you are researching) and then you are prompted to add the father and mother of the person you are entering. I started with myself but you can start with anyone you choose. Once you have entered the core family information, you can start adding other members. When you have entered all the information you have, its time to start searching.

On Ancestry, you just need to click on the person you wish to research, and click "Search records". The site will then take you to the site card catalog where information is found including censuses, marriage records, and birth and death records. This can be quite overwhelming if you have no idea what you are searching for.

The best information I have found is always in the Censuses. If you are not sure who someone's parents are, you can search the entire Census where they are found and see if you come up with any families with the same last name. For instance, I was having a lot of trouble finding information on my maternal great grandmother. I found her parents and siblings by checking out the same census where she was shown to be married to my great grandfather and then doing a search on each of those members. This technique helped me find her in another census 10 or 20 years earlier - she had a very unusual name so it was obvious it was her. It has also worked for more common names as well. I just recently found information about my great grandfather Brown. Now that is a tough name to research if you don't have specifics! But searching other families with the same name in the same census led me to his parents as well.

Another way to uncover information is by connecting with other members who are researching the same people you are. Ancestry provides this information automatically, if someone else is researching the same person you are, it will provide you with links to connect with them. This will uncover new "hints" which are shown as leaves on your ancestor's name. Click these green leaves to find information you can add to your tree.

If you just enter a name, you might not find much. Try to estimate a birth year at least, and enter that and see if you don't get more results. The more information you put in, the more information you are going to get. Keep written records in a journal or notebook to help you keep track of the information you find. I have a journal that I keep when I find family members in the Census records. Also, be careful of spelling errors on censuses. On Ancestry I have found many human errors in transcribing. I always check the actual copy of the census to see for myself if I can decipher the census taker's writing. Nine times out of ten wrong information is simply human error.

Try these simple methods and you should have no problem locating those elusive ancestors! If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here, and I will answer them as soon as possible! Good luck finding out who you are!


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    • delobar profile image

      Dee Sharp 6 years ago from East Texas

      Thank you for your comments! Yes genealogy is quite addictive! What I have enjoyed most is finding pictures of relatives I have never seen, there are quite a few pictures out there. The one I posted on this blog is my own personal picture of my great grandmother (front and center) and some of her children (my grandmother is not pictured). Old family photos are treasures that are priceless.

    • WayneDave profile image

      WayneDave 6 years ago from Leeds, England

      Great post, really good. This will definitely come in useful. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Fiddleman 6 years ago

      a very helpful hub, I just began doing some of this and it is addicting.