Updated on June 3, 2020
Conducting a family history research can be an exciting journey, though difficult. Anyone who has ever dug into their family history knows how time-consuming (and even frustrating) the process can be. The do-it-yourself approach to learning your ancestry may lead you down a series of blind alleys. We compiled advice to help you do your ancestry search – just keep reading and you will learn how to do the research like a pro!
Tips on the Correct Way to Research Family History
Make a Plan
To succeed in genealogy research, you need to have a clear plan of action. It is better to start off with smaller goals that can be changed over time rather than going at full speed and hit a brick wall. Spend time collecting information and documenting your family in small pieces as you work towards the larger goal of filling out your family tree.
1. Set an objective. Focus on a particular story about an ancestor or a family you are interested in most of all. Aim to uncover any data relating to them.
2. List known facts. Make some notes during your search. This will help you organize information and rest assured you don’t miss anything important.
3. Identify sources. Once you have established your hypothesis, list all the data that can be potentially useful based on what you have learned during step 2.
4. Make a working hypothesis. Combine all the facts you have discovered about the ancestor in a single story. For example:
James Evans was born in London, the UK. In 1903, he got married to Emme Wilson and had two children, Megan and Harry. His first wife died in 1028. After a while, he married Laura Johnson and they moved to America. While in Denver, their daughter Emily was born. James and Laura both died in Denver. James’ children from first wife, Megan and Harry, settled in Florida. Emily moved to Canada.
5. Start your online family tree. Start building an online family tree to organize your results. As you continue to find new details it is important to store your research data. Enter important information in your family tree builder, including names, dates, and places to build a solid foundation as you continue exploring your ancestry.
Note: Remember to re-evaluate your goals sometimes. If you have hit an inevitable brick wall, don’t stare at it but rather take a step back and think. In this case, it is better to switch focus to nearby relatives.
Every journey starts at home. Start the research about your ancestors by having a conversation with your relatives. This will help you learn about your ancestors more closely.
Your older relatives are living libraries and can save you so much time and effort. Even if you have heard your family stories and legends for many times already, taking time to interview your relatives and asking specific questions can help reveal new details. Quiz them about your grandparents and, if possible, beyond. Ask them to identify people and places in old photos and don’t forget to learn all basic information like ethnic background, occupations, addresses, military service, where relatives are buried, and other important clues.
Treasure Hunt at Home
At this stage, you can start searching for records, personal correspondence, and old photos somewhere in the attic, basement or drawers. Documents with dates are especially helpful. Some clues may be hiding in plain view at home – just keep your eyes open.
You may involve your relatives in the process of discovering your roots. Explain what you are doing and why guide each other. This can save you a great deal of research time.
Research at Archives
Archives are the number one place to go if you want to learn about your past. However, before visiting an archive or record office for family history research you need to discover what you really need to know and the types of records that may hold that information.
Some archival material may not be cataloged beyond the title and asking information on a specific ancestor may be unfruitful. Contact the archive to find out of they are likely to hold the material you need or any other relevant material.
Use the information you have collected to search online. There are websites that collect genealogy records and resources from around the world. They provide various books, online records, and publications to ease your mission. Look for local history centers or go to a library – there you can get access to various online databases, like immigration and emigration books, border crossings and passports information, citizenship and naturalization records, and many others.
If you don’t know where to look for records and other data, you may want to check out our list of best genealogy websites. There, we have collected the richest and the most reputable online databases where you could find information about your ancestors.
Get a DNA Test
A DNA test can help you determine deep ancestry and lead you to people and places you would never find simply by doing some paperwork. DNA tests are immensely popular today, both among seasoned and novice researchers. However, there are some things to consider.
Genetic testing is an extremely powerful tool, but you need a clear understanding of what to expect and how to use the results. Don’t expect that a genetic test will help you avoid routine paperwork. DNA tests are definitely worthwhile but be prepared that you will still have to conduct traditional documentary research.
Don’t Neglect Social Media
Through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, you can connect with people with the same ancestral surnames and look for organizations, archives and libraries, and other services in your ancestor’s birthplace. Besides that, you can find people who live in your ancestor’s hometown and contact them to ask some questions.
Besides that, you can join various networks of family historians and make new connections to gain insight into how to expand your family history resources.
What’s Been Done Before?
It is worth checking if anyone else had been doing genealogy research into your family before. There are social networks where people can register their research interests and this can be a way of finding information. The Society of Genealogists library maintains published and unpublished family histories notes. However, you should never copy information from someone’s online tree without proper verification. Instead, use this data as a helper only. Take the time to make sure every piece of information is backed by a source document.
Get Organized and Keep Going
The first weeks of your journey might be tedious since it is not that easy to collect facts about relatives. Plus the amounts of data you have gathered may be difficult to process and systematize. To organize everything you have discovered, choose an online genealogical database to help you keep the data.
Beginning genealogists often wonder how long it will take to finish research. The truth is that genealogy is a never-ending challenge, since the farther back you go, the more ancestors you are likely to discover. However, there is something enticing about genealogy – though you never know where your family roots will lead you, the search can be both intriguing and enlightening.