Spring semester of my first year of college, I took a public history class. During this class, we learned how to preserve historical sites and documents, and learned about different ways to research the past. One of the projects we had to complete was a family tree. This project took a majority of the semester because we had to go back into our family’s past. From this assignment, I learned many things about my family’s history, including that I have members who came from various parts of Europe, members who fought in the Civil War, and members whose livelihood was dependent on their tobacco crop right here in North Carolina.
What I loved about completing my family tree was that I learned many things about my relatives that I didn’t know before. Also, the tree showed me that I have heritage in many parts of the world and history that dated back to the 17th century. It is important for people to research their roots because they can know where their family comes from, and how different historical events affected their family.
When it comes to researching your roots, there are many different ways to fill in your family tree. First, start with the family basics by asking other relatives, especially older relatives about your family history. This is also where the stories and traditions come from. You’ll be surprised at how far you will get just by asking around. A family reunion or get together with cousins is a great way to start a conversation about completing a family tree. Interview your family members with questions about their lives, including their childhood, education, career, and their children. Scrapbooks have important clues for the family tree. Sometimes they hold birth certificates, marriage licenses, letters, old photographs, and more. Also, look to see if there are special artifacts in your relatives’ homes. For example, you might find military mementos or family heirlooms.
Another option would be to research online through databases and DNA testing. Ancestry.com offers a free trial to research your roots. This website allows you to start with what you know and then provides suggestions, or little leafs, of possible ancestor matches. What I like about ancestry.com is that most of the time, the suggestions match your family and will bring up correct ancestors. A new addition to the site is AncestryDNA, where you can discover your ethnic mix based on your DNA.
The U.S Census is a great tool to use when looking back over the decades. The census can go back as far as 1790 and can be used to trace dates, birthplaces, occupations, immigration details, and more. Visit census.gov to begin and the site will then take you to findmypast.com. Local libraries and newspaper offices also offer possible information about family members. These are great places to research, especially if your relatives have lived in one place for a long time or were involved in their community. Also, you can look at the National Archives for historical information. On their website, archives.gov, military records are available.
If you are looking for immigration records, Ellis Island is a place to search for passengers and their history, as well as ship history. There are multiple genealogy tools on libertyellisfoundation.org to help chart your family tree and your ancestors that came through Ellis Island on their way to making a new life in America.
Lastly, make finding your roots a family road-trip. Go back to the home places where your relatives lived. Visit their homes, offices, and other memorable spots. This is also a chance to see family members you haven’t seen in years.
Researching your roots gives you the chance to know who you are and from where your ancestors came. Genealogy is an important tool to use that can create lifetime memories. By completing your family tree, you are completing a little piece of family history that can be passed down to generations for years to come.