Get Started on a Family History Project

There are many reasons to embark on a family history project: to find your family’s place in history, to develop a closer connection to your family’s roots, or to learn more about distant ancestors. Whatever your personal reasons for tracing your family’s history, it can be a wonderful way to build a stronger family identity and document your unique heritage.

Start With What You Know

Your personal memories of the most recent generations are the first place to start. Write down as much as you know about your generation as well as your parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Scour your family possessions for photos, family scrapbooks, military records, and any other documents that can give you vital information about your relatives.

Write Down Everything

Once you have some basic information about your family, get it organized using a family tree chart or genealogical software. Paid services like and can make it easy for you to add information as you go and share your findings with others. Once you have your information organized, you can more easily identify what you don’t know yet and begin filling in the blanks. Keep a running list of the information you’re missing and the records you’ve searched so that you don’t retrace old ground.

Get Your Relatives Involved

Family members can be a great resource for tracking down family history, documents, and all the stories and trivia that make up your family wisdom. Using your notes, ask family members for information about specific relatives, including name variations, nicknames, occupations, places they lived, and any birth or death information they may know.

Older relatives are literal eyewitnesses to family history, and their stories are very valuable to your project. Don’t just ask about people, places, and dates; engage them about their past and document their memories. You can learn more about developing an oral history of your family by reading the Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide, available for free online.

Leverage the Internet

Many of a family researcher’s best tools are available online. You can access US census records dating back to 1790 with the click of a button. You can also access many property and military records online. Paid subscription sites like and have vast digital collections of historical documents. They allow you to enter the names of relatives and find birth records, property ownership documents, and other historical details.

Use the Power of Your DNA

Depending on your level of desired privacy and willingness, you might be interested in using your genetic information to trace your ancestry to delve deeper into your family’s ethnic roots. Recent technological advances have made it possible to mail in a sample and have your DNA analyzed. Companies like FamilyTreeDNA and AncestryDNA may help you find connections within their vast databases and trace the movements of your lineage around the world. We do not endorse any of these companies and encourage you to carefully review the privacy policy of these services if you choose to participate.

A genealogical project is a wonderful way to build bridges to the past and pass down your family’s history to your children and grandchildren. As you get started in your research, think about how you will share what you find: through a scrapbook, a Facebook group, or even a family blog.

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Published for the blog on October 25, 2017 by Searcy Financial Services, your Overland Park, Kansas Fee-Only Financial Planner and Investment Manager.