17 Resources For Tracing Your Family Ancestry

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If you’re like me, when you were young, looking beyond your mother and father to find out where you came from just wasn’t important.  

Well, I’ve found that the older I got, the more important my ancestry became.  I’m not sure why.  There are so many holes and unanswered questions. Maybe I have a broader perspective on things now and need to search.  Maybe you’re just curious like I am – is there a famous historical figure or do we have distant ties to nobility in our families’ past.  Perhaps we are looking for some wild or romantic skeleton in our closet.  

Whatever our reasons are, I find tracing my ancestry awe-inspiring and fascinating.  If you like history then you will love ancestry in discovering your personal history. Ancestry and history are intertwined and unique. It is very interesting to learn about other people – how they lived, what they did, who they knew. But I’ve also learned along the way that most people haven’t a clue what resources are available to them beyond the usual – interviewing family, checking birth certificates and newspapers, etc.

Below is a list of 17 resources you will be able to take advantage of if you’re really serious about finding out about your ancestry and “where you came from.”

  1. The obvious, of course, is interviewing family members; not only mom and dad, but aunts, uncles, distant cousins.  Start by drawing a quick family tree going back just two generations and start making calls or sending mail or emails.  Here are some of the basic things you’ll want to know:
  • Complete names (married and maiden names)
  • Addresses throughout their lives
  • Birth records
  • Military service (when and where)
  • Marriage records (even attendants, if possible)
  • Property records (state and county)
  • Burial records (where)
  • Old pictures, especially if they have names and dates
  1. Old Family Bibles.  While it doesn’t seem to be such a common practice these days, in the past, families kept their bible forever, often keeping record of family members, births, marriages, and deaths on pages within the bible. Acquiring a bible from a family member is a heirloom that should be cherished – it’s a piece of family history that could hold clues to your past.
  1. Old Family Letters.  Once again, with technology, we’ve all but lost the art of letter writing (what will our own children and grandchildren have to look back on in years to come?).  But older generations tended to preserve letters of importance; Christmas, birthday and valentines day cards.  These letters and cards can oftentimes be of great value in tracing your ancestry.  They may contain important dates, facts, and places that will be of help.  Check return addresses and postmarks for more information.
  1. Legal documents are a great resource.  Such documents include deeds (property addresses), wills (names of kin you may not have known about), marriage licenses (note the witnesses), birth certificates, voter registration, adoption records, and even judgements. Your search for these documents should begin within your state/provincial and county records.
  1. What about associations your ancestors may have belonged to?  These would include churches, clubs, veterans groups and lodges, all of which may be able to provide background information for your search. 
  1. Census data.  After 1840 the Census collected age, place of birth, occupation, personal wealth, education, spouse, children, hired hands, and even immigration information. Copies of the original decennial census forms from 1790 through 1930 are available on microfilm for research at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC (http://www.archives.gov/), at Archives regional centers, and at select Federal depository libraries throughout the United States. 

In Canada, search on the government website for censuses from 1825 – 1926. Lots of information available on this page to search for your ancestors.

Check FREECEN for free information or the online censuses at ‘The National Archives’ for UK censuses from 1841 – 1911.

In Australia, the best place to search for census data on relatives would be the Public Records – Census date go back to 1828.

  1. Naturalizations records.

For Pre-1906 Naturalizations:

Contact the State Archives for the state where the naturalization occurred to request a search of state, county, and local courts records.

Contact the NARA regional facility that serves the state where naturalization occurred to request a search of Federal court records.

For Naturalizations After 1906:

After 1906, the courts forwarded copies of naturalizations to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Naturalizations from Federal Courts are held in the NARA’s regional facilities for the Federal courts for their area. Learn more: http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/naturalization/

For a FREE Immigration and Naturalization try searching on this RootsWeb site. This website has excellent information for new genealogists.   

  1. Grave sites!  Headstones will give dates and possible family names. A few websites to check for your ancestors are:
  1. Libraries.  Here you’ll find newspaper articles (look for obituaries, and birth and marriage announcements) and books on local history (what was taking place during their life).  Many libraries can be accessed online.  You will also find genealogy information in several libraries, the Allen County Public Library in Indiana having the second largest genealogical collection in the US.  Another good source is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT.
  1. Genealogy message boards.  Google “genealogy message boards” and join in–you’ll find a wealth of information available! 
  • Try an initial search with OnGenealogy – has a list of 8 FREE genealogy message boards to continue your research.
  • Genealogy.com – GenForum is the ultimate research resource with over 14,000 online forums devoted to genealogy, including surnames, U.S. states, countries, and general topics.
  1. Military records.  You’ll find several sources online, including NARA (http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/).
  1. High school and college yearbooks.  These sources can help locate a relative or provide other resources for your search.  Check online.
  1. Family pedigrees.  These are family groups already linked in a computer system. Accessing an individual’s family group sheet in a linked pedigree will also give you access to all of the records that are linked to that individual.  Two great sources are Kindred Connections (http://www.kindredkonnections.com/index.html) and the Family History Library (http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHL/frameset_library.asp). 
  1. U.S. Immigration records. Two great sources are Ellis Island Records (http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/) and Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/default.aspx?rt=40)
  1. Social Security Death Index.  This is a database of people whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) beginning about 1962. The best source is RootsWeb.com (http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/?o_xid=0028727949&o_lid=0028727949&o_xt=41534187).
  1. Family History Daily has an awesome list of 50 no-cost family history resources where you will find birth, marriage and death records, obituaries, cemetery listings, newspaper articles, biographies, research tips and so much more.
  1. Genealogy Explained also has 26 websites for your arsenal of genealogy tools and resources in your family tree research.

Now that you’re all grown up and interested in finding your “roots”, these 17 resources should get you well on your way with your ancestry research.  It’ll be a fun and rewarding adventure.

Published by Darrell Gibbs

A father of three children and five grandchildren who retired in 2015 and began a career as a non-fiction writer in genealogy resource ebooks for new family historians. Aspiring towards the future as a Historical Fiction Author of his premier book "Wessex Reign".

3 thoughts on “17 Resources For Tracing Your Family Ancestry

  1. It is interesting how different, but still alike, the sources are in different countries. Here in Sweden we are lucky to be able to follow our ancestors from year to year, move by move, in the church records. Considering how many Sven Svensson we have, it really is impossible sometimes to only use periodic census data.

    Written sources is usually required to confirm stories from elderly relatives. The stories is an amazing way to get a better insight in the family history, but facts are sometimes ”forgotten” or changed. It is important to not only accept the painted picture as the whole truth. Even worse sometimes to trust other’s research. 🙂

    I still have a lot to learn about finding information about my distant relatives in the US. It is alleays fun with new challanges 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your positive comments 🙂 You bring up valid points to consider when researching.
      As per your comments it is very important to get reliable and accurate information from trusted sources.
      Beginner family historians should always document sources and cite them for their reference. Documentation

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Beginner mistakes usually includes missing sources, at least that was one of mine from a few years back. The one mistake that has caused a legacy and still causes troubles today is not the sources but a standardisation in naming, both for individuals and places. So annoying sometimes 😀

        Really looking forward now to when I will have time to dive deeper into the life of a few 17th century maritime pilots 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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