This guide will answer many questions on searching for your family history. Such questions include: How can I find my family history? What information do I need to effectively start the process? Is there information I need or don't need?
These are oft-asked, but not easily answered questions for many people these days. There are a number of different ways to go about building a family history document and piecing it all together. The guide below will discuss a few easy steps to take when working to find your family history and help you easily answer the question of "where does my family come from?"
The first step is to begin speaking with all living relatives. Tell them about your project, and begin asking them about everything they can remember about their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. At this point, the goal is not "I'm going to find my family history completely" but rather "I'm going to compile as many names of possible relatives as possible." Collecting the names of every relative you can is an important part of finding your family history. This will allow you to connect the dots and begin building a list of the different family names you'll need to start researching. You may be aware of your grandparents and great-grandparents names, but what about their ancestors? Never think a detail or name is too insignificant to be noted – sometimes, aunts, uncles and cousins can be a great way to piece together the puzzle of your family. Tell each family member you speak with: "I'm working to find my family history. What do you remember about our relatives? Is there any information you can tell me that will help me find my family history? Is there any work you've already done that could help me find my family history?"
In addition to building a rolodex of names of family members, this is also a great time to start asking your family members what stories they remember or know about the people you're collecting information about. Even the most seemingly insignificant memories that people have can be the missing clues to identifying family members and learning about their lives. Ask yourself: "What details about my family members' lives will help me research them and find my family history?" These can be birthplaces, identifying childhood stories, etc. Before you even begin to hit the books or government registries, your family can be an amazing resource.
You have all of the names you can gather. Now it's time to begin piecing together the dates that are important to identifying these people and their place in the world and your family. While collecting the outline of your family history, ask family members if they have any information on the years that these relatives were born and died. When you begin looking through public records, you'll need names, dates of birth and death in order to be sure that the family members you're researching are, in fact, your own. Now that you have a lot of information, it's time to start charting and narrowing down which branch you'll be starting with to find your family history.
Choose one branch of your family history to start with – whether that is your mother's aunt, paternal grandfather, etc. Ask yourself: "Which branch of the family is the best place to start to find my family history? Where do I have the most information that will help me find my family history? Where do I have the most roadblocks in finding my family history?" and move from there. In addition, this is a good time to begin starting to chart an actual physical family history/chart. Using a physical or virtual family history, begin filling in the pieces you know, so you know which holes you'll have to fill to find your family history.
You have the names and some of the dates as well as a general plan for finding your family history. Next, it's time to start looking at the official resources that can help you begin your search. You might think "finding my family history is as easy as using the Internet," but that's not the case. The Internet is a wonderful place to start your search. There are a number of records and other documents that you can search for that can help you identify where certain family members lived, who their ancestors were, and their life stories. More and more old documents are being scanned into digital form to help people just like you looking to find their family history. However, there are also a number of different physical resources that you should consider.
If you're looking to find your family history, pick the geographic location you'll need to start from (i.e. the birthplace of a relative or a place you know for sure a relative lived in for a number of years). Many cities and towns now have family history or genealogy centers that can aid you in the search to find your family history. These centers are normally run by historians with a lot of experience in finding family historys. They can help get you started by directing you to the right documents you need or the best government resources you should use. Begin visiting local offices to view birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates. These can be a great step to help you find your family history. If you know who was born when, who their parents were and who they married, you can trace back their roots piece by piece. Visit local museums (and even national museums – Ellis Island and other national monuments of immigration maintain great records for when you get to the point where you can trace your relatives immigration) and ask local historians for help.
Once you have more information, continue to plot your history and continue to research the missing pieces in finding your family history. You should continue to find your family history piece by piece. Once you've finished tracking one part of your family, find your family history by carefully tracking the next branch. The amount of time you spend to find your family history, the better it will help. When you're working to find your family history, don't get discouraged if you find an apparent dead end. Simply choose another path (a different cousin's family or the other side of the family) to take.
Don't think to yourself, "I can't find my family history," "I'm going about finding my family history the wrong way," or "I should give up on finding my family history" simply because you hit a road bump. The process of finding out who you are and who is part of your family can take a long time and require quite a bit of work.
"I want to find my family history." It's not an easy decision to make, and it's certainly not a quick process. However, if you've made the decision of "I have the time to find my family history and am willing to devote the effort to finding my family history," you have already taken the first and most important steps. Using this guide as a roadmap, begin your search carefully and thoroughly, and enjoy the process. Sometimes the most wonderful parts of taking on finding your family history can be the stories you learn about yourself and your family in the process.