How Do I Find My Ancestors?


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Just getting started exploring your ancestry? Learn how to find your ancestors and get genealogy research tips to begin your adventure into your family’s past.

Discover whom to talk to, what questions to ask, and where to access the key information that will help you find your long-lost ancestors and trace your family tree.

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How Do I Find My Ancestors?

  1. 1. How Do I Find My Ancestors?Embarking on a quest to explore your ancestry? Use the genealogy research tips below to begin your adventure intoyour family’s past. Discover whom to talk to, what questions to ask, and where to access the key information that willhelp you find your long-lost ancestors and trace your family tree.Interview Your RelativesPerhaps the best resource for finding out more about your family is, well, your family. If your great grandparents orother elderly ancestorsare still around and their memory is still good, asking them questions about the family can helpyou cover years of genealogical ground in a few short hours—as well as give them a chance to reminisce. Besides,getting great grandma to dig out the rickety old film projector or the dusty family photo albums can be great fun, andgive you the chance to capture some priceless memories before they’re gone. Here are a few sample questions youmight ask your great grandparents, grandparents, great aunts, great uncles or other family members to learn moreabout your ancestry: 1. What do you know about our family surname? 2. Is there a family cemetery or burial plot(s)? 3. Have you or anyone else in our family compiled a family tree? 4. Do you have some old film reels or family photo albums I can look at? 5. How about old family letters, or journals, or diaries? 6. How did your parents meet? How did you and grandpa (or grandma) meet? 7. Do we have a family Bible or genealogy book?You can find more genealogy-related interview questions to ask your family members at Geni’s Genealogy Knol.Also, make sure you take good notes—jotting down dates, names and places as your relatives take you on a strolldown memory lane. Better yet, record your family interviews so that you can refer back to them later and save themfor future generations. Some recording devices you might consider carrying with you on your interviews with yourrelatives include a video camera, a tape recorder or a smartphone with recording ability.Research RecordsA plethora of useful family history information can be found through proper records research. There are a variety ofrecords to explore,providingpertinent information that can help you trace your family tree. From vital records like birth,marriage and death records to ships’ passenger lists, you can glean a lot of genealogical info about the names, datesand places of your ancestors and discover clues to help you map your family lineage. Here’s a brief outline of recordsthat often contain genealogical information. State & Federal Census Records Courthouse Records o Social Security Records o Land Records, Property Records & Deeds o Wills &Probates o Vital Records o Immigration & Naturalization Records o Criminal Records o Civil Records Church Records o Baptism Records o Marriage Records o Funeral Records Ships Passenger Lists Military & Pension Records Cemetery Records
  2. 2. You can obtainthese records in several places. Many of these records can be conveniently accessed for free onlinevia government websites like The National Archives & Records Administration ( and The Library ofCongress ( Many niche genealogy websites also contain millions of records to help you conduct thoroughfamily history research.Government institutions such as courthouses, town halls, and libraries are also excellent places to begin your recordsresearch. In fact, many libraries even have special collections of genealogical material that are often maintained withthe aid of historical or genealogical societies.The Church of Jesus Christ ofLatter-day Saints and the Daughters of theAmerican Revolution house some of the largest genealogical library collections in the United States and are free tothe public, making them perfect places to beginyour genealogy research if you happen to live nearby or are willing tomake the trip.Churches often keep records relevant to your family history such as baptisms and christenings, marriages, andfunerals. If you have a family Bible in your possession, that may help you locate a specific church to begin yourrecords search. Otherwise, start your records search at churches near where your ancestors lived. Once you locatethe church or churches most likely to have your family’s records,contact the church’s office and ask whether theyhave any records about your ancestors and how you might access them.Investigate NewspapersOne of the best resources for genealogical research is newspapers. Newspapers contain many of the records notedabove, in addition to the news that was happening during the times that your ancestors lived. The historical contextthat newspapers provide can help you to recreate the story of your family’s past. Newspaper obituaries and deathnotices offer specific genealogical information about the deceased, as well as names and sometimes details abouttheir immediate and extended families. Newspapers also contain news articles about your ancestors, informationabout family reunions, and interesting facts and stories that can help you fill in the details on your family tree.Many recent newspapers are readily available online, and local newspapers can still be delivered in paper formdirectly to your home. You can access old and discontinued newspapers in libraries, at educational institutions andonline. GenealogyBank ( has one of the largest collections of digitized United Statesnewspapers available online for family history research.Hire a GenealogistIf you want to explore your family’s past but find you don’t have time to do the legwork, you can always contact aqualified genealogist to help you trace your family tree. You can find genealogists for hire through professionalgenealogical organizations and societies in your area and beyond. Try starting your search for a genealogist onlineat the Board for Certification of Genealogists ( and the Association of Professional Genealogists( interviewing surviving relatives to conducting records research, these tips and genealogy resources should getyour ancestry sleuthing started. Remember to carefully document your findings.Have fun discovering your family’spast—good luck and happy ancestor hunting!