Finding Your Roots

THE WHY AND HOW OF RESEARCHING YOUR FAMILY TREE

BY MIMI GREENWOOD KNIGHT

It’s only natural to want to know where you come from and from whom. Learning your genealogy can provide important medical history, offer a deeperpersonal identity, strengthen family connections, and turn into an engaging hobby. Here are some steps to begin your own search.


  1. Gather what information you already have about your family. Scour your basement, attic, and closets looking for family records, old photos, letters, diaries, and newspaper clippings. Ask family members to do the same.

  2. Interview relatives. Ask older members of your family about their memories. Gather not just facts but stories about their childhoods and ancestors they remember.

  3. Analyze your data. Document what you know and take note of holes in the information you’d like to fill.

  4. Source the Internet. Visit FamilySearch.org, which has the largest collection of free genealogy records. While sites like Ancestry. com require a subscription fee, inquire whether you can use the subscription at your public library. You may also find websites that distant relatives have already established researching your family tree.

  5. Visit a Family History Center. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints has more than 4,000 Family History Centers containing the world’s largest collection of genealogical information. More than two million rolls of microfilmed records from around the world including, births, marriages, and death certificates, are available to the public. Compare the information with what you already know and hopefully fill in some blanks in your family tree. Organize your information. Look for free or inexpensive online family tree builder programs like the one at FamilyTreeMagazine. com or compile your information by hand. Make a note of the places you found your info in case you want to revisit them later. File photocopies and notes by family, geography, or source so you can refer to them later.

  6. Plan your next step. Once you’ve gathered all you can from your family, the Internet, and the LDS Family History Center, consider scheduling vacation time in the places where your ancestors lived. Once there, you can visit courthouses, churches, cemeteries, and other places where old records are stored, enjoy a walk in the footsteps of your ancestors, and imagine what their lives may have been like.

  7. Share your research. Print family trees and share them with your relatives or start a family history website to share your research. Don’t be surprised if relatives begin adding stories and family information to what you’ve already compiled.


There’s no shortage of online resources for researching your genealogy. Prices vary from free to several hundred dollars. Before you purchase a subscription, inquire whether your public library has one you can use for free. Here are some of the top genealogy resources available.

  • Ancestry.com

  • Archives.com

  • FamilySearch.org

  • Findmypast.com

  • MyHeritage.com

  • 23andMe.com

  • Ancestry.com

  • FamilyTreeDNA.com

  • LivingDNA.com

  • MyHeritage.com

  • CyndisList.com

  • FamilyTreeMagazine.com

  • ThoughtCo.com

  • YourDNAGuide.com

  • AfriGeneas.com

  • IrishGenealogy.ie

  • JewishGen.org

  • AmericanAncestors.org

  • BillionGraves.com

  • ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov

  • Fold3.com

  • GenealogyBank.com

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