How To Find Your Ancestors (For Newbies)


Photo Source: Hine, L. W., photographer. (1909) Immigrant children, Washington School.Location: Boston, Massachusetts. October. [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

I have been out of the loop for a few days here. I had to take a few days to collect my thoughts and feelings. You know those kind of movies where you are following this character and then at the very end, the plot twist is that the person was delusional and all the things that happened in the movie were in their head? Well that is kind of how I feel about genealogy. It suddenly dawned on me that I was beginning to cross into the category of senility, like an elderly person who won’t stop going on about the olden days. The sad part is that I am only 32. So, you know. I had to accept that reality and then become comfortable with it before I approached it again. I must say, I have gotten a lot done, and I may quit Facebook altogether. It is a huge time waster, have you noticed? 🙂

I thought maybe it would be a good idea to create a mini how-to guide for people who have zero experience with genealogy or who think that there is nothing to learn. I promise you, there are things to learn! I have had so many people approach me and say that they haven’t been able to find anything past their grandparents, especially those with non-European ancestry. Hang in there. Genealogy isn’t just for white people (although you wouldn’t know it, I know). Don’t let a brick wall discourage you. Doing family history is a lifelong project and takes a ton of patience. You might wake up one day and suddenly discover that a record you needed is now indexed and you suddenly know the name of an ancestor who was a mystery. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to me! Us indexers are hustling as fast as we can to get records like The Freedmen’s Bureau available to search, and I have recently seen some batches of records from Mexico available as well. I am passionate about ALL family history, not just my own, and I want you to find your ancestors, too. Give it time. There is new stuff everyday.

Here is a little beginner’s guide for how to get started on finding your ancestors. (Keep in mind, while I am LDS and we are encouraged to find our ancestors for spiritual reasons, I have found that perhaps another approach is just to look for ancestors for the pure sake of getting to know them. If you gain something spiritual, that is great, but even a non-religious person can have almost a spiritual experience learning about their ancestors because their is so much to gain from just learning about them, who they were, and what their life was like. It adds meaning to your life!)

  1. Get a genealogy account through Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, or something similar. Or, get all of them! You can usually get limited free access to them, or if you want to get really serious, I am telling you, just sign up for a paid membership. It will change your life and it is worth every penny! If you are a member of the LDS church, you automatically have free unlimited access to all of them as long as you have your record number. To set those up, go here.
  2. Build your family tree using all the info you have: Names, dates, places lived, etc. Put in what you know, even if you don’t have all the information.
  3. Look for “hints” (on Ancestry, it will appear as a little leaf in the corner). These are records that match your relative. If it is mostly the same, then attach it! I am quite liberal when it comes to adding records, at least at first. You can always go in and clean things up later, but when you are first trying to build up a family tree, it is really helpful to just get stuff on it. You won’t “ruin” anyone else’s tree by doing this. Everyone manages their own tree and this is purely for your own reference, so don’t be afraid to add records. Pro Tip: Stick to direct ancestors at first, otherwise you will be overwhelmed with information. Once you get sucked down a rabbit hole, its hard to get back. (You will find that humans and rabbits are similar in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to breeding. 😉 )

I hope this is helpful, and if I can help you in any way, I will do my best. Good luck on your new obsession! Because it will become obsessive. Trust me.




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