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How can I Find out About my Family History?

By J. Beam
Updated May 23, 2024
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Learning about one's family history can be important for a number reasons. Some people feel a need to connect with and understand their heritage, while others want to establish their family's story for present and future generations to reference. Learning about family history can prove to be a daunting task as it can take many hours of research and recording of information, but no matter your motivation, it will be a worthwhile accomplishment in the end. Before starting your research, it is important to create a means of organizing the information you come across. There are pre-printed forms, such as pedigree charts, that are designed for organizing genealogical information, but you can just as easily create your own record keeping system.

When beginning the actual research, start with the eldest members of your family who can provide you with basic information on previous generations. Perhaps they also have heirlooms such as family bibles, wedding guest book registries, or obituary clippings that may serve as a resource for locating information on extended family. The depth of your research is up to you and family members are often the best place to start. By talking with family members, you may discover someone in your family has already done some of their own research that you can build upon.

In addition to family members, or even if you have no family members to consult, the Internet is an excellent resource for family history research. You can locate certain public records such as births, deaths, marriages, and previous census years. Another excellent resource is the Family History Library, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. There are thousands of branches, called Family History Centers, operating internationally by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. These centers are open to the public and have computers available for public use.

Preserving your family history once it is established is equally as important as sharing it. There are many ways to beautifully record this information in books for gifts, display, or storing. Remember to record permanent information on acid-free paper, use protective sleeves, and make the information accessible for future generations to add to.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon351310 — On Oct 12, 2013

I believe I'm Irish and native American with a bit of English, but I don't want to pay a website and I don't have any elders that know about our history. My last name is haney.

By myharley — On Jun 28, 2011

It seems like there is often at least one person in the family who really begins researching the family tree history and putting all this information together.

I have a spiral notebook that was put together for my mothers side of the family. Even though I don't look at it very often, it is something that I treasure and know it contains a lot of information about my family that I would have never been able to gather on my own.

By arod2b42 — On Jul 18, 2010

The reason which Mormons provide such a great resource for genealogical study is that they believe that by knowledge of our relatives we can pray for them and liberate their souls. Such a belief provides a strong incentive to trace small pictures of the "big family tree" which links the world. As the field of genetics advances, such a magnificent prospect is beginning to look more and more plausible.

By SilentBlue — On Jul 18, 2010

There are various good software options for genealogical research, but even with the use of these it is important to keep written and online records for access by future generations well beyond the time when your computer dies.

In the olden days, Welsh people would be known by their genealogies, with "surnames" extending for generations: e.g. "Griffith ap Richard ap Llewelyn ap John..." (ap meaning "son of"). In modern times, most surnames derive from the name, occupation, nickname, or placename of a distant ancestor.

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