Texas Living

Unearthing Your Family Roots

By Haley Shapley 12.1.16

If you’ve ever wanted to be a detective, dabbling in genealogy might just be the thing for you. There are clues to be uncovered, leads to be followed up on, witnesses to interview, and mysteries to be solved. But instead of collecting the evidence to make an arrest, you’ll use it to build your family tree and find out more about your roots.

Piece it together

If you’re just getting started, here are four tips to help you find your way:

1. Work from the present backward. To create the most accurate family tree, start with everything you know for sure, and then move back in time from there. Skipping generations can lead to misinformation. Plus, the more you document now, the easier it will be for any future descendants to conduct their own research.

2. Talk to your family members. How many of us wish we’d asked more questions of our grandparents or great-grandparents when we had the chance? Now is the time to sit down with relatives to find out more about their history — the recollections will never be fresher in their minds than they are today. If they’re comfortable with it, make a voice or video recording of your conversations for reference. You might ask:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • What family traditions did you have?
  • What stories do you remember being told about older generations?
  • What can you tell me about the names and birthplaces of older generations?
  • Do you have any family records, letters, or pictures that I can look at?

3. Keep track of what you’ve already searched. Inherent in genealogical research is running into plenty of dead ends. You’ll want to document these along with your successful searches so you don’t duplicate your efforts down the road.

4. Choose a goal. Do you want to learn about your mom’s great-uncle rumored to be an outlaw during the Wild West? Or have you always wondered where your dad’s side of the family emigrated from? Genealogy research can be overwhelming and take you in many different directions, so it’s nice to have a purpose in mind. It’s satisfying to figure out one piece of the puzzle at a time, ultimately moving toward a holistic picture of your family history.

Use your resources wisely

Thanks to the internet, researching the lives of those who came before us is easier than ever. Here are a few websites to aid your search:

Ancestry.com: The largest online genealogy resource, Ancestry.com has 16 billion historical records and 70 million family trees, which gives you a great jumping-off point for your own research. You can also purchase the AncestryDNA test to uncover your ethnic mix and possibly find relatives you never knew you had. Membership begins at $19.99 (monthly) or $99 (6 months) for U.S. records; the DNA test is $99.

Archives.com: Known for being user-friendly, Archives allows you to comb through everything from census and military records to yearbooks and newspapers. Certain features are free, such as searching the old U.S. censuses, while full access is $9.99 a month.

If you need additional help in your search, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission offers a long list of additional resources that may help you in your quest to piece together your genealogy. Let the investigation begin!

Now that you know where you’ve come from, learn ways to welcome new family members and keep family traditions alive during the holidays.