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How to Trace Family History

Updated on October 17, 2010


Genealogy, or the study of a family’s history, is something that is researched and documented for all kinds of reasons. Whatever your intention is regarding your ancestry, it can be a somewhat overwhelming task trying to chronicle all of that information into one place.

Your first intention may or may not be to ask relatives about family history. While this is a good start, in order to learn about family members outside of recent history, you are going to have to dive deeper.

Thankfully, there are many avenues for you to pursue while tracing family history. There are public archives and information databases, among others, that can aid you in your quest. The most convenient options usually charge fees, but there are alternatives to use that are free of charge out there, too.

The more thorough your investigation, the more information you will uncover. Stay vigilant, and you might discover things some surprising family secrets!










Tracing family history serves as a great reminder of who we are as individuals, and also of the potential we possess.
Tracing family history serves as a great reminder of who we are as individuals, and also of the potential we possess. | Source


The first logical step when tracing family history is to pump kinfolk for information. It’s best to ask as many relatives as you can, while you‘re at it.. This will help you fact check by seeing how closely family stories compare.

Estranged family members should also be contacted, as well as family friends. The only way to get a complete understanding is to consult a variety of sources. Even local residents may be able to contribute to your research.

Also see if you anyone in your family has any family records, photo albums, or genealogy books you can use. When researching your family’s roots, there is a lot of information to consider. The most common tidbits are names, birthdays and marriages, but some people also include locations, immigration facts and more.


After grilling your acquaintances for information, the next step should be to check out public resources regarding your family history. This will not only provide you with more leads, it will also help you verify any information you have received against evidence.

Libraries in areas where you family has lived may have genealogy records or microfilm rolls regarding your ancestors. Public records like birth and marriage certificates are also valuable documents to secure while tracing family history. And if you have a Family History Center in the area, you can use it to tap into all kinds of genealogical information!


The Internet has many sources of information regarding family history. Online databases like HeritageQuest and RootsWeb provide census images, searchable Social Security Death Indexes and more to help out. Pedigree databases are also places you may want to consider harvesting information from.

You also have the option of browsing online family history communities, forums and message boards looking for information. With this method, the more information you have to start with and can provide, the easier it will be for others to assist you.


Finally, you may want to organize all the information you found regarding your family. Most family histories are organized into family trees, which are linear diagrams that arrange genealogies according to dates, names and family relationships. It’s your choice whether to include all family members, or only those still living.

Two ways to organize all the family data is in either a descendant or ascendant chart. A descendant chart is structured like a pyramid, while an ascendant chart is built like an inverted one. In the former, you start with your oldest ancestors, and then begin adding each following generation underneath. An ascendant chart starts with yourself, and works its way backwards through time.

It helps to build family trees using a computer, that way you can easily edit, add or delete information without having to start from scratch every time. Some programs to consider are Legacy, RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest., and Family Tree Maker 2011. Even Microsoft Word and Excel can help you to keep all the information organized, at least temporarily.

Anyways, once you have all the family information organized, be sure to save it and to update it accordingly!


Always record information as soon as you obtain it to reduce any chance of confusion.

Focusing your search on a specific sibling or surname at first will help you hone in your efforts and stay on track.

Be mindful that some last names may have alternate spellings.


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    • MistHaven profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New Jersey

      @FloBe - It's pretty amazing how far family connections extend.

      @Fiddleman - Thanks for reading!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very useful information, thanks for sharing.

    • FloBe profile image

      Flo Belanger 

      8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      My family tree is recorded for many generations back and it is interesting to see this connection to my roots. It also makes it easy to confirm whether a new "acquaintance" happens to also be related to me!


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