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Family History Search – A Beginner’s Guide

Searching for one’s family history and constructing the family tree is not as hard as it used to be. In the past, the tedious process begins by interviewing so many people, some of which may have unreliable memories.

With the advent of the Internet, one can now use a number of tools and databases to dig your facts and dates. Most people make it a point to make the Internet their first stop in mining for information about their ancestors.

However, things are not that simple. There is no single database yet where you can find all the information about your ancestors and download them.

You need therefore how to use the many tools and databases available. More important, you must also explore other places aside from the Internet and be able to piece together your family history.

The following is a rough road map you need in your search.


Obituary notices are good places where you have a load of information on the family –spouses, siblings, parents, in-laws, even cousins dead or alive. They are also concrete leads to living relatives who are reliable sources of more information.

Death Indexes

Due to money and privacy issues, not all death records are available online. Those that are available are maintained by volunteer or official sources. If you are looking for American ancestors, the SSDI (Social Security Death Index) contains records since 1962. You may try a Google search for a death record specifying counties and states where they lived.

Cemetery databases

Thanks to the volunteers who personally gathered burial data from thousands of cemeteries in the past, we have online cemetery burial records now. Other public cemeteries also have their own burial transcripts already. You can do your search using your family’s surname, the cemetery, and the location in your favorite search engine. RootsWeb is one good source for links to online cemetery databases.

Census records

Many countries now have their census records available online. In the US, the most recent is from the year 1930. Working back through the years, you can start tracing your family roots and add a few generations to your family history records.

Specific locations

Depending on the country or countries you are led into, the next stop would be WorldGenWeb. From here, there will be concrete links to specific locations. Newspaper reports, biographies, or other records specific to your family or ancestor may be had. Other researchers sometimes leave their own posts for the benefit of others.

Online libraries

Using the specific localities you discovered, you can then visit historical or genealogical societies around ( Look for “genealogy” or “family history” links. From these, you can search for more resources and other pertinent records.

Message Boards

Message boards, groups and other organizations that have links to your surnames and interests may bring in some other pieces of information not found in other traditional places. However, these groups (Yahoo or Google groups) have to be searched manually and may require membership before you can dig into their archives.

Other related resources

Based on your materials, you can then go forward and check out other specific resources based on your ancestors’ interests or occupation: military service, schools, church, fraternities, civic organizations, etc. You might discover a surprise cache of information.

Related family trees

Many family trees are also published online. Before incorporating those related to yours, bear in mind that these family histories might be incomplete and worse, maybe incorrect. Verify their sources in case they conflict with yours.

Subscription sites

These are the last recourse sites in case your records are still incomplete. They all require a subscription for unlimited access, though. Some sites, however, charge on a pay-per-download basis. They may have some free trial offers that you can use to check out how extensive their databases are.

Other tips

One good habit to develop in researching is to log everything you find – the sites and places where you had been, the information you found, the cross references you may discover and where they came from and lead to, etc. This will eliminate incidents where you are led back inadvertently to the same site.

Doing your family history search is usually fun and exciting. Sometimes, they can be an emotional journey. Having some kind of a road map takes away most of the tedious and boring details.


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