10 tips to start your family history journey
Follow these tips on how to find family history without having to browse multiple ancestry sites to build your family tree. Our genealogy experts compiled advice to get you started with your family search and answer some of the most asked family history questions.
1. Start your family tree
Your immediate family often holds the key to starting your family history research. Record the memories of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins as you start exploring your family tree online. Ask each relative about specific individuals and gather details surrounding their lives including nicknames, places they lived, vital information (including birth, marriage, and death dates), occupations, and other important clues. Enjoy a free questionnaire below to get started with your family history.
2. Search your home for scrapbooks
Family scrapbooks often yield important clues for family history research. Examine your home for vital records (birth certificates), school records, family bibles, diaries and letters, old photographs, and memorabilia boxes that tell stories about your family.
3. Start with the family history basics
Use your initial research for your first searches and then analyze your results to achieve a personal success strategy. Following the family history golden rules will help you become a more efficient researcher and hopefully lead to greater rewards in your family search. We discuss how the Census records can help you in Step 7.
5. Start with a family story
When building your family tree, identify a potential story about family that you are interested to begin exploring. Aim to uncover both newspaper archives and records relating to your family’s stories in your research.
Stories can include military service (such as exploring all Wars and military service records), occupational stories (memories of a first paycheck or time spent as a Service Personnel), educational memories (attending high school or college) or a family legend (being descendant from a prominent individual in American history or confirm stories of a renegade ancestor with detailed).
6. Join the family history conversation
Join a network of family historians both experienced and new on social networking resources (like Facebook and Twitter) to make new connections and gain insight on how to expand your family history resources.
Read genealogy articles and watch YouTube videos related to family history to start building your knowledge base of records and methods for tracing your family tree.
7. Search the U.S. census
The U.S. Federal census is the largest resource for family history and is a solid starting place for examining your family tree. Starting with the newly released 1940 US census, trace parents and grandparents through the census, recording their names, ages, birthplaces, immigration details, occupations, and residences as your build out your family tree.
8. Search one family story at a time
Focus on one or two families at a time to help organize your research and increase your productivity. Select one or two families that interest you, rather than trying to tackle your entire family tree at once. Spend time gathering information and documenting your family in small pieces as you work towards the larger goal of filling out your family tree.
Learn how to then “connect the dots” by following family members on their journey to America through the U.S. census, passenger lists and naturalization and documentation papers.
9. Gather materials from relatives
Your relatives will likely have important resources in their homes that can assist your search. Family bibles, letters, certifications, and other important materials might be only a phone call away. Some family members might have old genealogical information from other relatives who have also worked on the family history that can help jump start your search.
10. Find a Family History Society
Connect with other genealogists and family historians through a local genealogical society or family history event in your area. Attending local classes about family tree research, family history records, and how to avoid brick walls is an important step to finding answers for beginners and advanced genealogists alike.
Visit the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Society Hall to find a family history society in your area.