Family history research is a popular hobby, especially since archives have become more accessible online and TV series like “Who do you think you are?” have aired. So we are here to answer your questions about genealogy, as well as explain what it entails and how you may get started with finding your ancestors.
Step #1 — Begin Your Family History Investigation at Home
Start by acquiring family history information from household sources. You might be surprised to see what information you already have. You can find the following types of genealogical records at home:
- The Family Bible;
- Birth certificates and announcements;
- Death certificates and announcements;
- Marriage certificates and announcements;
- Vintage family photographs — look for family remarks on the back of the photo;
Find your ancestors in the family bible. Check with other family members to see what they might have. You are specifically looking for birth, marriage, and death dates for family members. Make a list of all known familial ties, including parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and so on. This will help you in further mapping a lot.
Step #2 — Find the Vital Records
Once you are done with your family history investigation at home, look for your ancestors’ vital records. What is a vital record exactly? A birth, marriage, or death certificate is an example of a vital record. In genealogical research, vital records are relatively “modern” documents. In North Carolina, for example, birth certificates were not utilized until 1913. So you should not expect to discover birth certificates for North Carolina relatives born before 1913.
Check to see when each of your ancestor’s vital records were first utilized in their state. You may have found some of these in your own records, but you will almost certainly need to order others. The regulations governing privacy in each state have an impact on a researcher’s ability to access this information. Check with the state’s vital records office to see whether vital records are available where your ancestors resided. Some critical documents are available on large genealogical sites.
Birth, marriage, and death certificates (BMD) provide valuable genealogical information that you might be seeking, namely:
- Full name
- Birthdate and location
- Wedding day and location
- Date and location of death
- Names of parents
- Where parents were born
- Spouse’s name
- Location of burial
The information availability in different states will vary, so plan your research effort accordingly and check online cemetery records if you cannot find a place of burial in vital records.
Step #3 — Track Your Ancestors Using the US Census Records
You are now ready to begin researching your ancestors using census data. Beginning in 1790, a census was taken every ten years to count the nation’s population for the purpose of allocating representation in the government. The census only identifies the head of the household between 1790 and 1840. Other members of the family are indicated by numbers or tick marks next to age group categories. Every person was counted in the census records starting in 1850. All of the main genealogical databases have census records that are publicly accessible.
As a researcher, you may follow your ancestor back in time and discover interesting facts about both specific ancestors and families, such as:
- Household members (only for heads of households from 1790 to 1840).
- Location of your ancestor, including state, county, and district or town.
- Age of the person, which might be an age bracket or a person’s actual age. You can determine the birth date of an ancestor with only a little arithmetic.
Stick to the following tips when getting all of the clues in census records:
- Remember that census takers were people. So there might be some mistakes.
- The spelling of names varies. Expect “misspellings” to occur.
- Take a look at your neighbors. Take note of who lives nearby your ancestor. From your ancestor’s listing, read the census 4-5 pages ahead and backward. These people might be family relatives or colleagues of your ancestors.
Step #4 — Research Death Records
Your ancestor’s death resulted in the creation of documents, and these records — wills and estate records — give vital information to you, the researcher. First, look for your ancestor’s will. They frequently cover the names of spouses, children, and even grandchildren. Unusual family connections, particularly ones involving stepchildren, may be described there as well. You will also get an idea of your ancestor’s fortune.
Step #5 — Discover Your Ancestors Through DNA
A fascinating and well-liked component of genealogical study is DNA. It’s often how people begin their genealogical research or choose to deep dive into their family history. The study of DNA is a subfield of genealogy. One crucial point that must be kept in mind is that traditional “paper” genealogical research must coexist alongside DNA testing. You have a variety of alternatives when it comes time to test your DNA. It’s a good idea to check with more than one testing company because each firm has their own database. Of course, there won’t be much of a difference in your findings, but you’ll have more luck finding a match.
Finding your ancestors is just like building a lego set — exciting and challenging at the same time. But as you open your family curtain, a lot of interesting and surprising information will be available to you.