Learning About Your Ancestry: A Background on the Importance of Family History

Your ancestry is your ethnic origin or heritage, and it includes both your ancestors and the places that you and your family come from. As you trace your ancestry, the further back you go, the more likely it is that your search will lead you to other countries. Exploring ancestry can be a fascinating pursuit, and it may also involve some unexpected discoveries.

Why Research Family Ancestry?

People delve into their family history for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have a mild curiosity about your family background, wishing to know who your great-grandparents were or why your family settled in a particular area. Sometimes the discovery of an old family album sparks curiosity because you can't name some of the family members in the photos. Another important reason for learning about your family history is to learn about potential medical issues. Some illnesses and diseases are genetic, so it can be important to know if the risks of these illnesses are present in your family. Once you know your medical history, you may be able to take preventative measures to maintain your health. After learning about your family's history, you'll also be able to preserve important family traditions, passing them down to your own children and grandchildren.

How to Get Started With Family History Research

Mapping out what you know and what you don't know is often the first step in exploring family history. Start by identifying as many family members as possible, entering their names in a family tree or pedigree chart. When you can, include dates of birth and death as well as pertinent details such as marriages and children. Talk to relatives to fill in more details until you have recorded as much background information as you can get. Once you know what you know, you can make a plan to gather more information. Perhaps you wish to focus on one branch of your family tree first or you'd rather narrow your focus to a specific period of time. Pursuing one research goal at a time helps prevent confusion as you work.

Most beginners start by conducting genealogical research on the Internet and at local libraries. A number of websites provide genealogy information and let you run a basic background check on your ancestors, with some offering data for free and others charging fees. Check vital records in states where you know you have family to find recorded births, marriages, and deaths. Religious institutions also keep records of parishioners, including births, marriages, baptisms, confirmations, deaths, and burials. The U.S. Census is a wealth of genealogical information, especially from 1850 to present. Check local municipalities to find land and property ownership information as well as taxation records. Military records are also available if you can produce full names and service dates of veterans.

Tools to Use

Research tools can help you gather and organize your information. The Internet offers many search tools that can be useful when digging through public records. You may also want to consider paying for access to convenient records databases that help you find and organize your data in one place. Software is also available to help with storing and organizing this information. Some people may also purchase an account with a DNA research company to help trace their family line. With membership, you can test your DNA and find people who are a close match with you. You can then reach out to see if you're related.