Discovering Your Roots: A Guide to Family History Research


Family history research, also known as genealogy, is a fascinating journey that connects us to our past. It provides insights into who we are, where we come from, and the lives of our ancestors. This guide will walk you through the essential steps of family history research, offering tips and tools to help you uncover your family's unique story. Whether you're a beginner or looking to deepen your knowledge, this guide has something for everyone.

Understanding Family History Research

What is Family History Research?

Family history research involves tracing and documenting the lineage and history of your family. This practice can reveal important historical contexts, migration patterns, and personal stories that form the rich narrative of your ancestry.

Why is Family History Research Important?

Understanding your family history can provide a sense of identity and belonging. It connects you to your cultural heritage and can even inform medical histories that might be relevant for your health. Moreover, it offers a chance to preserve your family's legacy for future generations.

Getting Started with Family History Research

Setting Goals for Your Research

Before diving in, set clear goals for what you want to achieve. Are you looking to trace your family back to a specific era? Are you interested in discovering the origins of a particular family legend? Setting objectives will help guide your research and keep you focused.

Collecting Family Stories and Documents

Start by gathering stories, photographs, documents, and any other family memorabilia. Talk to relatives, especially the older generation, to collect oral histories that might not be documented anywhere else.

Creating a Family Tree

A family tree is a visual representation of your lineage. Begin with what you know—your immediate family—and gradually add more generations as you uncover more information. Platforms like or MyHeritage can assist in creating and expanding your family tree.

Essential Tools for Family History Research

Online Databases and Archives

Online databases such as Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Findmypast offer vast resources for genealogy research. These platforms provide access to census records, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, and more.

DNA Testing

DNA testing services like AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage can provide insights into your genetic background and connect you with relatives you might not have known existed. These tests can reveal ethnic origins and even help you break through research brickwalls.

Genealogy Software

Software like Family Tree Maker, Roots Magic or Legacy Family Tree helps organize your research, store documents, and create reports. These tools are essential for managing large amounts of information efficiently.

Conducting Effective Research

Using Census Records

Census records are a treasure trove of information, listing details about household members, occupations, and places of birth and residence. Some census years even record citizenship statuses and military service. These records can help track the movements and growth of your family over decades.

Accessing Vital Records

Vital records, including birth, marriage, and death certificates, are fundamental in genealogy research. These documents provide critical data points such as names, dates, and locations that can link generations together.

Exploring Immigration and Naturalization Records

For many families, immigration and naturalization records are key to understanding when and how their ancestors arrived in a new country. These records often include passenger lists, naturalization papers, and more.

Digging Deeper: Beyond Basic Records

Military Records

Military records can provide information on an ancestor's service, including enlistment dates, units served, and pension records. These documents often reveal significant personal details and historical contexts.

Land and Property Records

Land deeds, property records, and wills can offer insights into your ancestors' lives and economic status. These records can also help you pinpoint exact locations where your family lived and or identify family members through estate conveyances.

Church and Cemetery Records

Church records, such as baptism, marriage, and burial records, can be invaluable, especially in places where civil records are scarce. Cemetery records and gravestone inscriptions can also provide important dates and familial connections.

Overcoming Common Challenges in Family History Research

Dealing with Common Surnames

Researching common surnames can be tricky due to the sheer number of entries. Focus on cross-referencing with other details such as birthplaces, occupations, and family members to narrow down your search.

Breaking Through Brick Walls

Sometimes research hits a dead end, known as a "brick wall." When this happens, try revisiting your research with fresh eyes, seeking out alternative records, or consulting a professional genealogist.

Handling Inconsistent Information

Inconsistent information across different records is a common issue. Always look for multiple sources to verify data and be mindful of variations in spellings and dates.

Ethical Considerations in Genealogy

Respecting Privacy

Be mindful of the privacy of living relatives when sharing family history information. Obtain consent before publishing personal details online or in print.

Acknowledging Sensitive Information

Family research might uncover sensitive or controversial information. Approach such discoveries with sensitivity and respect for those affected.

Preserving Your Family History

Digitizing Records and Photos

Digitizing records and photos helps preserve them for future generations and makes sharing easier. Use a high-quality scanner and store digital copies in multiple locations, including cloud storage.

Writing a Family History Book

Consider compiling your research into a family history book. This can be a treasured keepsake for your family and a way to ensure your research is accessible to future generations.

Creating a Family Archive

Establish a family archive to store physical documents, photographs, and artifacts. Use archival-quality materials to protect these items from deterioration.

Family History Research in the Digital Age

Using Social Media

Social media platforms like Facebook and specialized genealogy forums can connect you with distant relatives and other researchers. These networks can provide support, share resources, and offer new leads.

Exploring Online Communities

Online communities such as Reddit’s genealogy subreddit, Facebook genealogy interest groups or RootsWeb can be valuable resources for advice, collaboration, and sharing discoveries with others interested in family history.

Case Studies: Successful Family History Research

Tracing Famous Ancestry

Stories of people who discovered connections to famous historical figures can be inspiring. These case studies often highlight the use of multiple research methods and the importance of persistence.

Uncovering Hidden Stories

Many researchers uncover surprising or hidden aspects of their family history, such as previously unknown relatives or dramatic life events. These stories demonstrate the power of thorough and detailed research.


What is the best way to start family history research?

Begin with yourself and work backwards, collecting documents and stories from living relatives. Utilize online databases and create a family tree to organize your information.

How can DNA testing help in family history research?

DNA testing can provide insights into your ethnic background, confirm relationships, and connect you with distant relatives. It’s a powerful tool for breaking through research barriers.

What should I do if I encounter conflicting information?

Verify conflicting information by consulting multiple sources. Look for patterns and corroborating details to determine the most accurate data.

Are there free resources available for family history research?

Yes, websites like offer free access to a wealth of records. Many libraries and archives also provide free resources and assistance.

How do I handle sensitive information in my family history?

Approach sensitive information with respect and care. Obtain consent before sharing details about living relatives and be mindful of the potential impact on family members.

What are some tips for preserving my family history research?

Digitize records and photographs, write a family history book, and create a family archive using archival-quality materials. Ensure digital copies are stored in multiple locations for safety.


Family history research is a rewarding endeavor that connects you with your roots and provides a deeper understanding of your identity. By following the steps outlined in this guide and utilizing the tools and resources available, you can uncover the rich story of your ancestry. Embrace the journey, and you may find not only historical facts but also a greater appreciation for the lives and stories that shaped your family.

For those looking to take their genealogy research to the next level, consider enrolling in our highly-rated genealogy courses. Our expert-led classes are designed to equip you with advanced research techniques, the latest tools, and insider tips to enhance your genealogical discoveries. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced researcher, our courses will provide you with the knowledge and skills to delve deeper into your family's history and uncover hidden stories.

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Written by

October 11, 2023
Wesley is the founder of

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