May 21st, 2020 | Updated on August 10th, 2022
There is a saying; you don’t know where you are going till you know where you are coming from.
Our history, heritage, family, and ancestors form our lives from the moment we are born. They are instrumental in building our identity, our perspective of the world, and even our purpose.
Everyone loves to learn about their family history and heritage. Up until a few years ago, you had to rely on family lore, folktales passed down through the generations or hand-drawn family trees.
Nowadays, you can even use science to learn more about where you come from and who your ancestors were.
1. Start At Home
Within old boxes, in the garage, basement, or attic, you can find a treasure trove of information.
Records of relatives’ past such as IDs, school records, photos, journals, and other documents are just waiting for you to discover them.
All of these things give you a starting point with reliable factual information you can use to aid you in sifting through searches later on.
You can also ask family members for information. The older they are, the more information they will probably have to share with you.
You might want to record the conversations so that you don’t miss any important clues. You can glean information about locations and events that can help you piece things together.
Additionally, your family can give you context about relationships, migrations, history, and culture.
To get the context, try using questions starting with “why,” “how,” and “what. You can also contact through email or phone calls to distant relatives to help you gain more insight into your ancestry.
2. Set Up A Family Tree
A family tree helps you to organize and formalize your information. It’s a visual guide that enables you to understand what you have and what is missing.
To build a family tree:
- Start with what you know. This would be your immediate family and distant relatives. Capture as much information as you can and write it down. The information you want to write down includes names, relationships, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. Now you will be able to see what information is missing and formulate a plan from there.
- Look for other sources of information such as family records, family members, libraries, courthouses, churches, etc.
- Record everything you find, including the source you use. Recording your information also makes it less likely to get confused as your family tree continues to grow.
- You must critically analyze all the information that you gather. Make sure to verify the information that you heard from a relative and confirm whether it is true or not.
3. Search the US Census
The US Census Bureau has a lot of information available if you know how to look. Naturally, it has the most extensive records of Americans.
The 1940 census is available to the public for free, and you can use it to go further back in your history. With the census, you will be able to find names, ages, birthplaces, immigration details, occupations, and residences.
The information you can gather from the census is extensive. You will want to start with a single first and last name as well as the person’s birthdate.
Work through that person’s name and collect information on whom they married, where they lived, etc.
Keep in mind that some name spellings can be wrong (or have changed over the years), so use dates and relationships to verify.
You can filter your search according to the location (state, county, or town) and record type. Use a broad search, then use the filters to narrow it down. And don’t forget to record everything you find. Many people search websites claim to offer free people search records, these records are all technically free and open to the public. Examples of public records include criminal records, traffic offenses, contact information, addresses, past addresses, bankruptcies, and more.
4. Use A DNA Kit
Paper trails and history can only get you so far. This is where advancements in DNA testing can help.
Through DNA testing, you can discover migration paths your ancestors followed and get an idea of your ancestral roots. Millions of Americans have used DNA Kits to learn about their ancestry.
DNA testing kits, use your saliva or cheek swabs to map out your genome and use that information to determine ancestral genealogical relationships.
The service provider supplies the sample collection kit, along with instructions on how to use it.
After collecting and sealing the sample, you mail it to the service provider to analyze. There are many providers you can choose from; you can compare 23andMe to other home DNA Kits by discerning the essential factors in your results, such as health, traits, or ethnic breakdowns.
5. Talk To Your Relatives
You know those family members you rarely see, or you know about but never really talk to? They can be a rich source of information too. Not only could they have memories, but they could have records within their possessions that you could use.
Talking to the extended family can open up new research avenues or verify some information for you. The subject matter also gives you something to connect with, build bridges, and eventually forge relationships.
Get To Know Yourself
Knowing where you come from is a remarkable journey. You have the resources in your home and family to get started. Remember to be organized, systematic, and relentless in your search.