Discover Your Genealogy
Kenyatta Berry, Joshua Taylor, and Mary M. Tedesco, GENEALOGY ROADSHOW’s experts, offer some advice for researching your own family’s genealogy.
Anyone who has been told a story or had a question about their family history can take simple steps to learn more about their genealogy. It’s surprising how
many documents are now digitized and available on the internet. We’ve compiled a list of starting steps for anyone who wants to uncover family mysteries.
Collect as many oral histories as possible. Your living ancestors have information and stories to share. Interview them and record their stories.
Hint: Collect memories whether you think their stories are true or not.
Hint: Gather as many names as you can, including maiden names and relationships.
Hint: Try to get dates. If someone can’t remember a specific date, ask them to reference a major event (how old were they during World War II, etc.)
Hint: Show family photos to help spur memories.
Who can be identified? Who else might be able to help identify family members (can a family friend fill in
Hint: Gather all photos and documentation, regardless of whether you think they are important. Items might include:
• Birth, death and marriage certificates
• Diplomas and other school documents
• Military service documents
• Communion or other social/service/religious documents
• Real estate documents
Many records are easily accessible through the internet at little or no cost:
• U.S. Census
• Military documents — going back as far as the Colonial
Wars of the early 1600s
• Passenger and immigration lists, including Ellis Island, other ports and ship manifestos
• County and state archives: birth, death, marriage, real estate, business licenses and other documents
• Newspaper archives
• Cemetery records and tombstones that contain historical information relevant to your search
MAKE YOUR SEARCH A SUCCESS:
Hint: Work backwards, methodically, beginning with the present day. Do not start with the person to whom you may be related.
Hint: Consult your local librarian. Librarians are experts in understanding the best methods to conduct research and in finding documents.
Hint: Consult local historians at museums and other places relevant to your genealogical background. These may include ethnic, geographical, social and even work- related organizations, museums and historical societies.
Hint: Consult with genealogy organizations and databanks such as FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, Ancestry.com and USGenWeb.org.
Hint: Look for materials pertinent to your research. Research maps and other reference materials from the correct time period. Country, state, county and city lines and names may have changed. A wide variety of factors may have contributed to changes in documentation, including marriage, divorce, death, moving, war and more.
Hint: Photography was once a luxury item. Antique photos were probably taken in a photo studio by a professional photographer. Often, that information is printed on a photo.
Professional genealogists and genealogical societies are also available to help you uncover the mysteries of your family or to help you get to the next stage of your own research. Prices vary depending on the depth of information you are seeking, the time required to sleuth and a wide range of other factors.
You can find genealogists or a society in your area by visiting: Association of Professional Genealogists (apgen.org), Federation of Genealogical Societies (fgs.org) or Board for Certification of Genealogists (bcgcertification.org).