How to Research Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Research Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide

Genealogy is an engaging discipline and a wonderful way to show appreciation for your ancestry and save your family history for future generations. It is also quite a complicated undertaking so you might be wondering where to start your research, what sources to use, and how to organize the information you find.


To help you with this venture and make it easier and more pleasant for you, we at Treemily prepared this “how to research genealogyguide

What is Genealogy

Genealogy Definition

Genealogy is the study of one’s family history and tracing its lineage. It involves research by interviewing family members and those close to them, going through various archives and official records, genetic analysis, and more.


People learn how to search genealogy to continue a family tradition, as a part of establishing their identity, for medical purposes, and a host of other reasons. Maybe, it was an amusing family story about your heroic grandfather you heard as a child that now lights up your inquisitive mind to learn your complete family history. Or it is a lost relative that sparks your keen interest in genealogy and its research.


Whatever the reason, it requires a lot of commitment and diligence, and we are here to help you start the job right.

How to Do Genealogy Research

Genealogy newbies might be overwhelmed by the number of resources they need to study and by the amount of work that lies ahead.


To help you define the roadmap and stay on track, here are the steps for you to start:


  • Identify the goal of your research. This is important for you not just to stay on the right track but also to keep your motivation up. 


  • Make a list of what resources you already have – diaries, photos, documents, and records in your possession. Make people a part of this list. Make a separate list of the resources that you need but don’t have yet. Continue adding to both lists as you go. 


  • Start with the interviews of your closest family members. While doing this, make sure you keep a record of your conversations. Write down what you see or hear. Tape-record it. Make videos. Then you will be able to come back to those notes, analyze them, and compare them.
  • Make a draft of your family tree and update it as you get hold of new data – this is a great way to track your progress and organize your findings. Treemily is a great tool to do that!

These simple steps should create a great framework for your work and help you get started.

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What Skills Do You Need to Start Genealogy Research?

If you finally made up your mind to start a magnificent journey into the mysteries of your family genealogy, you will need not only determination but also skills to tackle the challenges that you will face and to harvest as much as possible from all the data and information.


Here are some of the skills that would be helpful and at times critical for your research:


  • Patience is probably one of the most important skills that you need to develop. Be prepared to wait – for the DNA test results, documents from national and local archives, a reply from some friend of your grand-aunt, and so on. Going through records is also tedious work. It will take some time and dedication. 
  • Good communicative skills will be beneficial during the research. People will likely turn out to be your most precious source of information. You will need to speak to specialists working at the archives, family history centers, municipalities, and other organizations, and being a good communicator can help you get those people to walk the extra mile you to provide you with the records you need. You will also need to speak to your family members and distant relatives, and having the ability to get people talking can get you far beyond acquiring the information you need – it can help you strengthen your family bonds and spend some quality time with your close ones. 
  • Analytical skills are also required for genealogical research. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions (patience, remember?). Take your time when analyzing dates and evidence, reading maps, and evaluating the credibility of data. Build the string of logic consistently, double-checking the information and keeping the record of sources diligently. Otherwise, you may find yourself at a dead end.

Researching Online: How Search Engines Help You in Your Research

In the 21st century, genealogy research has become a much easier task. Even some very old records have been made digital and can mostly be accessed or requested online, so researchers don’t necessarily have to take trips to other states, countries, or continents to get the data they need.


Moreover, as more people become interested in their family history, an entire infrastructure for genealogy research is rolling out online, which includes “how to search genealogy” guides, genealogy databases, census bureaus, digital libraries and archives, online surname search facilities, phonetic search algorithms to ease search by name or surname, online gravesite collections and even mobile apps to navigate you through cemeteries. 


Online communities of genealogy fans are a very important part of this infrastructure. Their members will be happy to share their success secrets and motivating stories, as well as provide some advice, refer you to a great source of records, or tell you about a research project that will support you on the way to tracing your roots.

ancestry free online

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 with smaller goals that can be changed over time rather than going at full speed and hitting 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 his first wife, Megan, and Harry, settled in Florida. Emily moved to Canada.


  1. 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 chart maker, 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.

Mom-And-Pop Investigation

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’s stories and legends many times already, taking time to interview your relatives and ask 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 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 for information on a specific ancestor may be unfruitful. Contact the archive to find out if they are likely to hold the material you need or any other relevant material.

Go Online

Use the information you have collected to search online. Some websites 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 passport 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 can 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 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, 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 has 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 history 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, something is enticing about genealogy – though you never know where your family roots will lead you, the search can be both intriguing and enlightening.

Ancestor tree

Choose A Family Tree Builder to Organize and Present Your Research

Family trees are a great way to organize your data, and for many researchers, a beautiful and complete family tree may be one of the major goals of their work. Here again, we are lucky to live in the age of technology as now there are special tools that provide users with an opportunity to organize information about all family members and ancestors clearly, make it accessible to other family members online wherever they are, and even turn a family tree into a true piece of art. 

Genealogy research is laborious work but also very rewarding and insightful. It may turn out to be your favorite hobby, a good reason to start new family traditions, or even become your life’s work. We hope that our guide learning how to research genealogy will prove itself useful to you on your way to exploring more about your family and yourself.