Do you want to know about your ancestry, but you do not know where to look? Do you find it hard to even know where to start? If you answered yes to these two questions then this 9 simple step guide to tracing family history will help you get on your way.
With a mass of family heirlooms, stories, documents, and all sorts of records that are available to you you may not know just where to begin.
Genealogy can be a rewarding hobby, but only if you know what you are doing.
And also where to look for information and how to use resources that are available to you.
Well, if you need help to discover your ancestors then please read on.
What are the 9 steps to help you?
The journey of discovering your family history can be accomplished in nine steps. I will explain each of these steps here, and also provide links to further posts that will cover each of the steps in more detail.
So, whatever step you are currently at please check out these further links for more information and help.
You may also like to check out the Step by Step Guide to Tracing Your Family Tree at ThoughtCo.
1. Start with yourself
To build a solid foundation to work from you need to write down all that you know. It can help if you draw a family tree, and go as far back as you can.
Fill in what information you know, such as dates, and places for when your ancestors were born, married, and when they died.
By doing this exercise you can see what you do and don’t know about your ancestry. And therefore what you need to focus your attention on.
Then look around your home for clues.
Do you have anything in your possession relating to your family history? These could be certificates, letters, documents, photographs, and any other family heirlooms.
You may have them in a cupboard, in the attic, down in the basement, or even at the back of a drawer.
Collect them all and put them in an area of your home where you will be doing your family history research. Having a central place where you can do your research will make it easier for you.
2. Organize yourself
It can be quite frustrating if you are staring at a massive collection of information that you need to sift through. If you do not sort through your records, documents, letters, and other sources of information, and develop a system early on then you will struggle from this point on.
By following this practice you will save both time and money.
I am sorry if that does sound depressing but it is important to note that you will need to become organized from the very start of your genealogy journey.
When your research is organized you will be able to find an ancestor’s information effortlessly and quickly. You will also know what data you have concerning an ancestor, and what record or document you need to find next.
To prepare yourself for this hobby you will also need to purchase binders, folders, plastic pockets, pens, pencils, etc. These materials will help you to put your documents and records in order.
You will need to buy a genealogy software program when you start to trace your ancestry. These programs are useful as they allow you to enter the information that you find.
For more information to get yourself ready please check out my How To Organize Genealogy Data post.
3. Ask your relatives
Your next step in exploring your family history is to interview your relatives about your ancestry. A prepared list of questions to ask your relative can help you to structure the interview.
Not only can you ask them about names, dates, and places, but also information such as occupations, significant events, memories, and stories that have been passed on through generations.
Try to ask open-ended questions so that they can give you more details.
Don’t be afraid to visit your relatives again for more answers!
Later when new information arises during your research you may need to re-visit your relatives and ask them new questions.
They may have forgotten something and so you can re-jog their memories with what you have discovered.
You will though need to verify all of this data as memories fade over time, or misinformation can pass on through the generations.
It is your job to check all that you have collected so far. You will need to be thorough with your research.
4. Preserve your heritage
You may think that preserving your family heirlooms can come later during your genealogy journey. But it is important to practice this process before you get too engrossed in research. By preserving your heirlooms you can feel more connected to your ancestors.
Preserve your heritage for generations to come.
You may have hundreds of photographs containing your ancestors. As daunting as it may seem you will need to sort through your collection. This will help to make researching your ancestors easier.
You will need to scan your photos, clean them, and scan each of them again. Scanning before and after the cleaning process is imperative as you may cause some damage during the cleaning.
To set your mind at ease though, if you follow correct procedures you will not cause any damage to your photo collection. But it is important to be mindful when carrying out the cleaning process.
Other family heirlooms can be preserved such as documents and letters, medals, coins, jewelry, and other items.
When you preserve all of these heirlooms you can feel closer to your ancestors. You can see what heirloom belongs to which ancestor and get more of an understanding as to their story.
By preserving these family treasures you will also be passing down more of your heritage to your children and grandchildren.
For more information on what you can do during this step please check out my Preserve Your Family Treasures section.
5. Find free resources
Genealogy is like any other hobby. You will need to spend money so that you can keep researching your ancestors.
But you do not need to break the bank to find information about your ancestors. There are plenty of free resources, both online, and in the real world.
Similar to the first two steps of your journey, if you utilize the free resources first you will save yourself money. It’s that simple really.
There are plenty of free genealogy sites where you can find your ancestors’ records. And there are several free genealogy software programs that you can use if you do not want to spend any money.
Please be advised that free programs do offer limited features, but they can still be beneficial to you.
Free genealogy books, classes, apps, and blogs can give you plenty of guidance and tips to help you.
Visiting a cemetery can give you vital clues that you may not find online. Also visiting your local library can help as you can use their resources for free.
You can check out my impressive Free Genealogy section of this site for more information. I say it’s impressive because I have amassed quite a lot of guides detailing how to research your ancestors for free.
6. Genealogy societies, archives, and conferences
Genealogy societies, (or family history societies as you may call them), are great because they can assist you in several ways. And they can potentially help you to break down a brick wall in your research.
They will have local knowledge of where your ancestor worked and lived. And they can help you to track down records that you may need for your research.
They will most certainly produce parish, chapel, and school records that you can use, as well as other types of information.
Archives are useful too.
By visiting archives you will be able to obtain certificates concerning your ancestors, such as birth, death, and marriage. Electoral registers, business and residence addresses, passenger lists, and even more records are also available.
The archives may also offer some help with family history research. This is usually done by appointment so you may want to call before you make your visit.
You will need to plan your visit to the archives to get the most out of it.
Genealogy conferences can also be useful. You can get tips and guidance from the experts, and learn from fellow family historians as well.
7. Use the internet
By this stage of your genealogy journey, you will have made quite a lot of progress. You will have acquired all sorts of documents and materials, charts, memories, and stories from various resources.
Step five of your genealogy journey showed you that there are free online resources that you can utilize. But to go further with your research you will need to check out the more popular genealogy sites.
These particular sites, (such as Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FindMyPast), contain billions of records. So there is a very good chance that you may find your ancestors’ records.
You can also check out members’ family trees that they have made public, and connect with distant relatives as well.
Try checking out genealogy search websites!
Other online sources can include FamilySearch which is a free website that includes births, deaths, marriages, and censuses, etc.
You may also want to subscribe to the Ancestry site where you can find the same information, but also wills, probates, and even other members’ family trees.
8. DNA testing
Most people these days are turning their attention to DNA testing. As the masses have taken advance of what this resource has to offer this has meant that the price of testing kits has significantly reduced.
By giving a sample of your saliva historian have been able to track down long-lost cousins. These connections have become invaluable to researchers as they have shared information that may not have been found online.
Not only that but you can discover where your ancestors originated from. And you can get clues from the big genealogy sites that will help you to fill in your family tree.
And so this method of research has the potential to help you to break down brick walls that may have stopped you in your tracks.
For more information please check out the DNA Genealogy Testing section.
9. Write What You Have So Far
By this stage, you will have amassed quite an assortment of material that you have used for your family history research.
When you began your genealogy journey you may not have thought about writing a family history book. But if you do fulfill this step then you will be able to pass down your legacy to your children, and your grandchildren.
It can be quite difficult to decide what format to decide upon. Do you choose to write a memoir, narrative, cookbook, journal/scrapbook, or maybe even a website?
Whatever format you choose you will need to decide whether you will focus on one particular ancestor, or maybe a family group, or maybe even a single branch of your family.
For more information please check out the Write and Publish Your Family History section.
My 9 simple step guidebook
I have briefly discussed the 9 simple steps that you can follow. There is certainly more to discuss than is covered here.
And that is why I have written a 167-page book, ‘Trace Your Genealogy and Family History in 9 Simple Steps‘, that will explore each of the steps in far more detail.
In the book, I go into far more detail and give plenty of tips for each step of the way.
If you want to get the most out of your family history then I do urge you to see what my book has to offer.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
I hope you enjoyed reading this 9 step guide to tracing family history. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.
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