Steps to Find Your Family Tree
From grave transcripts to census records, millions of genealogical sources have been posted online in recent years, making the Internet a popular first stop in researching family roots. And with good reason. No matter what you want to learn about your family tree, there’s a good chance you can dig up at least part of it on the Internet.
However, it is not as simple as finding a database containing all the information about your ancestors and downloading it. Ancestral hunting is actually much more exciting than that! The trick is to learn how to use the various tools and databases the Internet provides to find facts and dates about your ancestors, and then go beyond that to fill in the stories of the lives they lived.
Visit the Cemetery
Continuing the search for death records, online grave transcriptions are another great source for information about your ancestors. Volunteers from around the world have walked back and forth through the thousands of graves, posting names, dates and even photos.
Some of the larger public cemeteries provide their own online index for burials.
Look for Hints in the Census
Once you’ve used your personal knowledge and online death records to trace your family tree back to people who lived around the early twentieth century, census records can provide a treasure trove of information about families.
Census records in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and many other countries are available online — some free and some through subscription access. In the United States, for example, you can often find living and recently deceased family members registered with their parents in the 1940 federal census, the most recent census year opened to the public. From there, you can trace the family tree back through previous censuses, often adding one or more generations to the family tree.
Go On Location
At this point, you may have successfully narrowed your search to a specific city or county. Now it’s time to head to the source for more detailed information.
Visit the Library
In the spirit of location, my next step in the family hunt was to visit the Web sites for the local library and history and genealogy community in the area where my ancestors lived. Often you can find links to these organizations through the locality-specific genealogy sites mentioned in step 5. Once there, look for links labeled “genealogy” or “family history” to learn about the resources available for genealogical research in the area. You may find online indexes, abstracts, or other published genealogical records. Most libraries will also offer an online search of their library catalog. While most local and family history books are not available to read online, many can be borrowed through interlibrary loans.
Start with the Obituary
Since family tree searches generally run back in time from the present, looking up information about recently deceased relatives is a good place to start your genealogy search. Toledo Blade obituaries can be a goldmine for information about family units, including siblings, parents, spouses, and even cousins, as well as birth and death dates and burial places.
Obituary notices can also help direct you to living relatives who can provide more information about your family tree.
There are several major online obituary search engines that can make searching a little easier, but if you know the city where your relative lives, you’ll often have better luck finding an obituary archive (if available online) from the local newspaper.
If you are unsure of the name of the local newspaper for the community, searching for the newspaper and the name of the city, town or county in your favorite search engine will often take you there. Be sure to look for obituaries for your siblings and cousins and direct ancestors.