Do you know who your ancestors were and where they came from? Do you know your roots? If you’re not sure then please check out this post as I will discuss 5 ways that will help you to discover your ancestry.
Genealogy – A Popular Hobby!
Genealogy has become America’s second most popular hobby, (gardening being the first). But why is everyone wanting to discover their ancestry?
To answer that question you only have to look at the television programs that have sprung up over recent years. There is Who Do You Think You Are? which helps celebrities to trace their roots.
And there is also Finding Your Roots which is in a similar vein to Who Do You Think You Are? but also looks at DNA testing, as well as the many diverse backgrounds of the American population.
DNA testing has also caught our attention with the help of TV adverts brought to us by Ancestry, MyHeritage and others. It seems to be all the craze lately.
This media coverage has made us question who we are and has also inspired us to know who our ancestors were. There is after all hundreds of different resources out there that can give us answers to our questions.
But where do you look and how do you find these answers?
What follows is just 5 different ways that can help you to explore your family history. You can choose one, two, three or all of these options. There’s no limit.
You just need to have that drive to want to find out as much as you possibly can about your ancestors.
Shortcut to the 5 ways to discover your roots:
- Interview your relatives
- Check out genealogy search websites
- Get your DNA tested
- Join a local library
- Join a genealogy / family history society
1. Interview Your Relatives!
Whenever someone asks me for genealogy advice the first thing that I will suggest to them to do is to seek out their relatives and ask them questions. You can greatly expand your family tree and your knowledge about your ancestors by asking relatives questions. And the great thing about this method is that it is totally FREE!
Is it really free though?
Ok, to be honest it may not actually be free. You may want to take your relative to a cafe or a restaurant where you can ask them questions in a comfortable environment. Or you may go to their house and take along some flowers and a gift.
These two options will obviously cost you some money but the information that you will glean from them will be priceless.
Learning facts, stories and anecdotes from your relatives will save you a lot of time as you will not have to dig and poke for all of these yourself. And it will save you money as well as you will not have to pay for certificates, documents, services, etc.
You can get all of these from your relative if they are willing to share them with you. So it doesn’t hurt to ask.
How to conduct an interview!
Before you can even interview your relative you must think to yourself what is the best form to ask your questions. If they live too far away then a telephone or email interview maybe the best option for you.
Or you could possibly opt for a letter interview instead. Their response may take a while to get to you but they may feel more at ease writing about their family roots rather than speaking over the telephone.
A face-to-face interview though would be best if it is possible. From chatting with your relative you will be able to have a more connected conversation and I feel more information will be shared this way.
Remember though to make your relative feel comfortable during the interview. Do not treat it like an interrogation otherwise obviously they will not want to share anything with you.
And also please bare in mind that it may take more than one interview to get all the information that you are after.
Unless you have a photographic memory you will need to record their answers. If you are tech-savvy then you could set up a video camera, or maybe a voice recorder on your phone. In any case make sure that they are comfortable with these.
You could though just try plain and simple paper and pen!
Bring along photographs though that will help them joke their memories. You will be surprised what stories and tales can be told from a picture.
Questions to ask!
Before you find out all that you can about your ancestors just get to know your relative first. Ask them their name, who they were named after and what life was like for them as they grew up.
Ask them about their career, their holidays, and immediate family. Then you can start to ask them about what they remember about your ancestors.
There are so many questions that you can ask them. And as I have mentioned before you can conduct more than one interview. So please do not bombard them with questions for hours and hours and hours.
2. Check Out Genealogy Search Websites!
Everything these days seems to be on the Internet. Every week new records are being put online by the popular genealogy search sites, such as Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage. But besides records there are other services that you can take advantage of with these sites.
These sites boast that they have billions of records within their databases. They always seem to be competing with each other in order to bring you, their members, as many new records as they possibly can.
So this competition is great for the public as we get access to more and more information that we can use for our genealogy research. It’s a win-win situation for us family historians.
From these sites you will get vital records such as birth, marriage and death certificates. These records are a stable of any genealogy search website.
Other kinds of records
As these sites try to out do each other there will be other kinds of records that you will also be able to access if you decide to join them.
You can expect the following records:
- Census records
- Voting lists
- Immigration and travel records
- Military records
- Schools, directories and church histories
- Convict, criminal, land and wills
- Reference, directories and almanacs
- And much, much more
Build an online family tree
To make your research even easier for you you are able to create and build your very own family tree online. Do not worry though if you have already started your tree elsewhere as you can easily upload your tree to these sites.
One of the benefits of creating your tree on such a site is that you can get ‘handy hints‘ about your ancestors once you enter them into your online tree.
As you enter an ancestor’s name a leaf or light bulb will appear. This icon will then show you that there are records within their databases which may, (or may not), feature your ancestor.
The more information that you enter into your family tree will mean that the more accurate that these hints will be.
And the greatest benefit of such a a feature is that you may actually meet a distant cousin who has also joined the site. This will be very beneficial to you as you can get even more information from them about your ancestors.
One of the key features of a genealogy search website is the community of members that have joined these sites. Through the form of message boards and forums you can get help with anything genealogy related.
So if you have hit a brick wall in your research then why not ask the community for help. You will find within this environment that many people are willing to help each other with their queries.
Genealogy DNA testing
As the popularity of these websites grows the more and more services that that they will offer. The latest trend is DNA testing, (see next section), and a number of the popular sites now offer this service.
Ancestry and MyHeritage are two such sites that spring to mind. DNA testing can help you to break down brick walls in your research.
The science behind this testing is improving all the time. So you can expect new information to arrive at any time. It really is an exciting time for DNA testing.
3. Get Your DNA Tested!
The latest craze that seems to be taking over the genealogy world is DNA testing. As I mentioned in the previous section it is an exciting time for the family historian, but there are different tests that you can take, and different companies that you can go with. So what you do you do?
First of all though what is DNA testing?
DNA are essentially our building blocks. It can tell anything and everything physically about us. It stores information such as the color of our eyes, our skin, how tall we are, and much, much more.
But it also carries clues about our ancestry through markers. Scientists can look at our DNA, check out differences between our markers and a sample that they use.
Based on this comparison then they can tell us where our ancestors came from and also their migration path as well.
Different tests that you can choose from!
- Autosomal DNA (atDNA) – This is the most basic of the tests that you can take and all of the DNA testing companies over this test. The results that you will receive from this test will give you information about your most recent ancestors.
- Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – This test will look at your maternal ancestry, following your mother’s mother’s mother’s and so on. This test can take you back thousands of years.
- Y-Chromosome DNA (yDNA) – On the flip side you can also have your paternal ancestry tested. This type of test will give you same level of results giving clues to your ancestry from thousands of years ago.
The different DNA testing companies!
There are literally dozens and dozens of DNA testing companies that you can choose from. Getting your DNA tested and getting your results back though are pretty much similar.
In order to get your DNA tested you will either need to provide a cheek swab or a sample of your saliva. In either case your sample will need to be put into a test tube / vial that is sent to you in your DNA testing kit.
At the time that you give your sample you will need to set up an online account with the company that you decided to go with. Upon registration do not forget to include the unique barcode number that appears on your testing kit.
This number will link up your DNA results with your account. It is a way to keep your identity anonymous, which means the people in the lab looking at your DNA cannot link you up to your DNA.
4. Join A Local Library!
Yeah you maybe thinking to yourself what can a local library teach me about my ancestry. They only contain old books don’t they? Well you will be surprised as to how much you can learn about your ancestors by joining a library.
Genealogy and local history books!
Let’s first look at the books that you can find at your local library. Libraries have a plethora of books that can help you with any kind of subject matter, genealogy included.
There are hundreds of genealogy books available to you that can help you with any problem that you have faced whilst discovering your ancestors. There will undoubtedly be roadblocks and brick walls that you will encounter during your research.
Some books will look at research techniques, whilst others will look at organizing your research, what records are available, amongst other things.
You can also get help with getting the most from certain genealogy search websites, such as Ancestry or FamilySearch, or understanding what DNA testing is and how you can interpret your results. All through the help of books.
Local history books can also help you with your genealogy research. They can tell us what life was like for your ancestor in the area in which they grew up and worked in.
They can also describe the political landscape as well as other subjects such as what work was available, the economy, the population, and so on.
So you can see there are books that you can freely borrow from your library. There’s no need to dip into your own money when you can get help for free.
And if you cannot find what you are looking for then you can always ask for assistance. Chances are that the book that you are after can be brought in from another library.
Access the library’s computers!
Any modern library these days will have computers which you can log on to and access the Internet. Similar to borrowing books you will need to sign up to the library in order to use this service.
I cannot emphasize enough though just how much valuable family history research that I have conducted at my local library. From my library’s computer I was able to access genealogy search websites such as Ancestry and FindMyPast absolutely free.
This is because most libraries offer access to these sites to their members for free. So why not pop in to your local library and take advantage of this free service.
If your local library is large enough there maybe weekly, if not monthly, meetings held which can also be useful to you. These groups will join up regularly and with the help of other keen genealogists you can get some tips and tricks that you can use for your own genealogy research.
There may also be talks presented by genealogy experts. So it’s always good to attend these presentations as you can sort of pick their brains, so to speak.
5. Join A Genealogy / Family History Society
On a similar note to the previous section you can also get some much needed help from a genealogy society, (often referred to as a family history society within the United Kingdom).
Whatever you want to call them these societies can give you the much needed help that you need to discover your roots. Unlike a library though this is a paid service, so expect to pay an annual subscription to become a member of a genealogy society.
What does a genealogy society offer?
- Monthly meetings – Once a month you can expect a genealogy expert to give a presentation on a recent book that they have written, current research that they are conducting, or just general tips and guidance that they can share with you.
- Fairs and open days – An opportunity which you can attend and where you can get genealogy advice from the people who are running the event. You can also chat with fellow family historians who can also help you as well.
- Publications – These societies are also responsible for producing books that include records for the local community, such as parish records, military records, and monumental inscriptions.
- Unwanted documents/certificates – You may also be able to purchase documents or certificates at a discounted price. These records have been kindly donated to the society as they have been wrongly purchased from the members.
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