What are the Best Ways to Research Family History?

Sonal Panse

Tracing family history can offer an interesting and enlightening look at one's genealogy. Family history research may be undertaken for reasons of personal interest as well as for medical, financial and legal reasons. The best way to research family history is to begin with oneself and trace the family tree backward from there. It is easier, after all, to begin with known facts.

A multi-generational family. Older family members can often be a good starting point for a family history search.
A multi-generational family. Older family members can often be a good starting point for a family history search.

For instance, it is possible to begin with one's parents, grandparents and other known senior relatives, and question them for information about the family name and the family history known to them. The genealogy may be explored along the paternal line, along the maternal line or along both lines, taking into account the various kinsfolk from either sides. On the whole though, it may be easier to research family history through the paternal line rather than the maternal line, given that in most cultures it has been a common practice for a woman to take her husband's surname.

Birth certificates and other vital records can help in researching family history.
Birth certificates and other vital records can help in researching family history.

It is important to note down the oral testimony from family members and look through any available family history records to see if it can be corroborated. Historically, in many Christian households, it was common to record the family tree in the family Bible. Documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, religious papers, diaries, wills, letters and photograph albums can also be immensely helpful in tracing family history. In addition, to research family history, documents like newspaper entries, tax records, electoral records, census records, military service records, land records, immigration records, ship passenger lists, naturalization records and other archival evidence may also prove to be useful. Keeping a careful record of the searches made, the references used and the results obtained can make make further research easier.

It can also help to search the family name using a search engine, sifting through the results. It may be possible to stumble upon distant branches of the family in this manner. Joining local genealogical societies and connecting with people interested in genealogy can be beneficial as they may offer search tips, advice and assistance.

Another way to research family history is by utilizing various online genealogical directories, some of which may require a subscription to access the website database. Online genealogical sites like the International Genealogical Index (IGI), found on the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, contain quite comprehensive archival information gathered from parish registers, municipal offices and other sources, as well as as family histories and family trees submitted by users from around the world. It is a good idea to look through family history records of people with the same surname; there may be a chance of having a common ancestor, and it will save the necessity of going over already covered ground.

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Discussion Comments


I wanted to also say that all internet sites are not like that. I actually found a legitimate site and got some great information about my family genealogy that meant a great deal to me. I did pay a fee but I knew exactly what I was getting for my money.

Everyone has to make money for their services so if you are looking to find something completely free, you are probably not dealing with a legitimate company.


I just wanted to add that you must be very careful when researching your family history online. You will several sites that will say something like "find family history for free" or "free family history research". Be very cautious. Many of these sites ask you to put in a great deal of information about yourself that you would normally not be comfortable giving.

After you have given them your life history, they then tell you that after you pay so much money upfront, you will get so many *free* searches. They are just trying to make money.

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