Identifying one’s family history and lineage can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor. Many people are compelled to trace their ancestry and ultimately gain much from having done so.
Interest in genealogy has grown in recent years. The popular and free family tree application FamilySearch Family Tree had 1.6 million contributors in 2018 who added 28 million new people to the global tree. Thousands upon thousands also utilize other genealogy resources to paint a more accurate picture of their histories.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more than 26 million people shared their DNA with ancestry firms as of the start of 2019. MIT predicts that number will rise to 100 million by the end of 2020.
Those ready to get started on researching their lineage may wonder where to start. These guidelines can map the way.
The first step is to work from the known to the unknown, advises The New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors program. Write down names, dates, places of birth, marriage and death announcements, and other pertinent information you can dig up from looking at personal effects. This will provide a starting point and serve as a springboard for further research.
Establish what you want to learn about your family. Maybe you simply want to have a complete family tree that dates back to a particular ancestor? Perhaps you want to see where your family name originated? Identify what is behind your interest and allow those goals to guide your research.
Access census records, military records, travel documents, and other official papers, which can provide key clues to family history. These can be researched individually, but many people like using resources like Ancestry.com because their databases pool information from a variety of sources. The National Archives offers free access to its records database at www.archives.gov/research/databases.
Consider privacy concerns before digging deeper. Acquiring DNA testing and sharing results in an effort to connect with relatives has become a popular side effect of genealogy research. However, experts advise caution before submitting any DNA samples. MIT Technology Review indicates that, if the DNA collection trend continues, the companies that hold this data will have genetic information on more than 100 million people. The Review goes on to say, ‘as these databases grow, they have made it possible to trace the relationships between nearly all Americans, including those who never purchased a test.’
Learning new information can be overwhelming, so it’s best to focus on one family story at a time rather than tackling the entire family tree in one sitting, suggests the service Findmypast.
Connect with like-minded individuals if you find that your genealogy interests expand beyond personal history. Family historians often connect via social media or through local genealogical societies.