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8 Tips for Tracing Your Early American Ancestors

The Findmypast team
21 November 2016

Tracing your colonial ancestors isn't as difficult as it may seem. There are many societies and family historians who specialize in colonial family history research, and so there are a lot of resources online to help you with search strategies. Not sure where to begin looking for your early American ancestor or looking to break through a brick wall? Check out these 8 tips for tracing your colonial ancestors.

PERSI is an amazing, underutilized resource for genealogists and it is exclusive to Findmypast. PERSI contains over 2.7 million journal articles from thousands of historical, genealogical and ethnic publications from over 8,000 history and genealogy societies from all over the world. PERSI is filled with articles and resources for colonial and early American genealogy research. PERSI is also a great resource to research Native American history and genealogy.

One of our newest record sets, Registers of Licences to Pass Beyond the Seas is an invaluable record set for those of you looking for your early American or colonial ancestors. When searching this record set, be sure to browse the images, they're amazing. In this record collection you may be able to find:

Common destinations include Maryland, Virginia, Barbados, St Christopher's, Austria, Holland, and Scotland.

From Britain, Registers Of Licences To Pass Beyond The Seas 1573-1677

Churches are great at record-keeping, so if you're searching for your colonial ancestor, try searching early colonial church records to find more about your ancestors. Church records are invaluable in family history research because they kept records earlier on than the government or states.

If you know the history of the time period you're looking for your ancestor in, then it'll be easier for you to piece together the clues surrounding his or her life. It's even more important to have an understanding of the local history where your ancestor lived. You may not have the information on your ancestor's location, but once you find out, it will make your search easier.

A large part of colonial and early American family history research is church records. It is important to have an understanding of the history of various churches in the colonial era because there were a lot of changes between churches and many churches separated and formed their own congregations, etc. that helped shape our country today. It's important to have a general understanding of America's religious history so that it can help inform your research, especially having an understanding of your ancestor's or family's religious background or denomination.

The census records prior to 1850 can be a little daunting and limited with the information they reveal, but they do list the head of household and often the number of others living in the household as well. Use the early census records as a starting point to help you establish your timelines to help you piece together your ancestor's history.


Although there aren't a wide variety or a large number of articles to search, Findmypast does have US newspaper articles dating back to 1753 for you to search. If you're looking for your early American ancestor it is worth looking into the US newspaper collection, the towns were small and the news reported can reveal a lot about your ancestor.


New York Occasional Reverberator October 5, 1753

There are many societies that can help you uncover more about your family history. They can potentially help you uncover records you didn't know existed, or lead you in the direction of another organization that can provide assistance. Remember, you're not alone in your genealogy research, there are many others on a similar journey so they're happy to help.