How to Find Information About Family History

online and offline sourcesUse sources both online and offline for the richest family history.
(Photo by USDA)

They say that the past is set in stone, but I can argue it’s set on the web. As an immigrant, I want to know my family history, and comb through generations of stories to see where my family members are from.

It used to be difficult to find information for a family history project ambitious enough to span continents, but these helpful tips should narrow it down.

Here are a few ways to find your past:

1) Family Interviews

The web is important and will definitely be a friend, but talking to family members is the best place to start.  Ask your family members about where they think they come from.  Some will be more detailed than others, but as you go down the list of relatives to talk to, you should have plenty of information to work with later.

You can use this family questionnaire if you’d like:

  1. Where were you born?
    (Hospital records are necessary, as well as the name of the cities/towns/places a person is born)
  2. What do you know about (insert oldest person in the family) and where he/she was born?
    (It always helps to have two sets of information about the oldest members of your family, since memories can be fuzzy.)
  3. How long has our family lived in the States?
    (At some point we all immigrated here, and it helps to get an idea for when family made the move.)
  4. What jobs have you worked and when/where?
    (This is a question best reserved for family members that are older because if a person has moved around often for work, there is a trail of paperwork they would leave behind.  Even finding a few documents might prove to be useful in documenting particular dates.)

Check out these interview tips for more on helping people tell their stories.

2) Genealogy Centers

There are family history Genealogy Centers around the country that you can visit that also specialize in family archives.

You can also use the US Census to find information on your family if you know that your family has lived in the States for a long time. The US Census might be overwhelming to use, but useful if your surname is unique.

3) Use Google

Sometimes, there can be holes in asking family members about their history. Some people might have passed on, and others may simply not know much, if anything at all.  Google your full name, and set aside the creepy information you find out about yourself.  Track the information you have on yourself and then of those family members you are in contact with. There might be surprising patterns that you find.

4) Genealogy and Personal History Groups

Check out online forums and meet ups for other personal historians and people who are interested in researching family histories.  These people are passionate about helping others fill out their family trees.  Think of it as a mystery, a great puzzle spanning decades and centuries.  You can check out organizations like the Society for Personal Historians, or the world’s largest Family Reunion and other get-togethers.

5) Cleaning Out the Attic

Anytime a relative asks you to help them move – do it! Help them with spring cleaning and examine each of those mementos that have been out of sight all these years in the attic or basement.  Sometimes it’s an object that sparks interest in your family history, and other times it’s an heirloom that has spent years being interchanged and has a rich story of its own.

Having mementos to sort through starts with someone saving them. Learn more about saving family photos and memories.

Elderly couple huggingYou never know what gems you might find in the attic.
(“Affectionate elderly couple hugs on the porch”)

Tracking your family history is a tough project, and certainly a daunting one depending on how much information you can find.  But, wouldn’t it be worth it to find out that your ancestors worked on the Manhattan skyline, or that some were serving at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked?

What we can find out about the past can lead us to face the future with confidence, because where we have walked, others will follow, and where we will walk, others have led.  Find out about your family members and the quirky stories that bind you together.  Who knows, maybe in forty years, there’ll be some stories about you!

Everlasting Footprint wants to help you celebrate your family history everyday.
Click here to get started.

About Carlos Tituana

Carlos Tituana is an aspiring novelist and currently a graduate student at Brooklyn College. He loves his family, his softball team, and animals. He enjoys talking about music, his devotion to the New York Knicks, and about anything else you can think of: people find it easy to open up to him.

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