10 tips to start your family history journey

Follow these tips on how to find family history without having to browse multiple ancestry sites to build your family tree. Our genealogy experts compiled advice to get you started with your family search  and answer some of the most asked family history questions.

1. Start your family tree

Your immediate family often holds the key to starting your family history research. Record the memories of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins as you start exploring your family tree online. Ask each relative about specific individuals and gather details surrounding their lives including nicknames, places they lived, vital information (including birth, marriage, and death dates), occupations, and other important clues. Enjoy a free questionaire below to get started with your family history. 

Download a questionnaire to interview your relatives.

2. Search your home for scrapbooks

Family scrapbooks often yield important clues for family history research. Examine your home for vital records (birth certificates), school records, family bibles, diaries and letters, old photographs, and memorabilia boxes that tell stories about your family.

3. Start with the family history basics

Use your initial research for your first searches and then analyze your results to achieve a personal success strategy. Following the family history golden rules will help you become a more efficient researcher and hopefully lead to greater rewards in your family search. We discuss how the Census records can help you in Step 7. 

Your Family Tree

4.Start your online family tree

Build your online family tree to organize your results. Keeping your research and records organized is important as you continue to find new details related to your family. Enter important information, including names, dates, and places to build a solid foundation as you continue exploring your family history.

Your Family Tree 
Build your family tree with our online family tree builder

5. Start with a family story

When building your family tree, identify a potential story about family that you are interested to begin exploring.  Aim to uncover both newspaper archives and records relating to your family’s stories in your research.

Stories can include military service (such as exploring World War I military service records), occupational stories (memories of a first paycheck or time spent as a Merchant Marine), educational memories (attending high school or college) or a family legend (being descendant from a prominent individual in American history or confirm stories of a renegade ancestor with detailed criminal records).

6. Join the family history conversation

Join a network of family hisorians both experienced and new on social networking resources (like findmypast's Facebook and Twitter) to make new connections and gain insight on how to expand your family history resources. 

Staying tuned to the findmypast.com blog for latest record updates and podcasts to help expand your family history search. Read genealogy articles and watch youtube videos related to family history to start building your knowledge base of records and methods for tracing your family tree. 

7. Search the U.S. census

The U.S. Federal census is the largest resource for family history and is a solid starting place for examining your family tree. Starting with the newly released 1940 US census, trace parents and grandparents through the census, recording their names, ages, birthplaces, immigration details, occupations, and residences as your build out your family tree.

US Census
Search the US Census starting in 1790.

8. Search one family story at a time

Focus on one or two families at a time to help organize your research and increase your productivity.  Select one or two families that interest you, rather than trying to tackle your entire family tree at once. Spend time gathering information and documenting your family in small pieces as you work towards the larger goal of filling out your family tree.

Learn how to then "connect the dots" by following family members on their journey to America through the U.S. census, passenger lists and naturalization papers.  

9. Gather materials from relatives

Your relatives will likely have important resources in their homes that can assist your search. Family bibles, letters, certifications, and other important materials might be only a phone call away. Some family members might have old genealogical information from other relatives who have also worked on the family history that can help jumpstart your search.

10. Find a Family History Society

Connect with other genealogists and family historians through a local genealogical society or family history event in your area. You can also post questions to findmypast's facebook online for others to answer when you need help with your research.  Attending local classes about family tree research, family history records, and how to avoid brick walls is an important step to finding answers for beginners and advanced genealogists alike.

Visit the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Society Hall to find a family history society in your area.