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Genealogy 2020: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Family Tree

Want to learn more about your ancestors – who they were, where they lived and where they came from?

If you do, this in-depth genealogy guide is for you.

A lot more tools and resources have become available in recent years, mostly thanks to the internet, that have made tracing your family lineage easier.

But undertaking a genealogy project is still a demanding task that requires time, effort and dedication. Most importantly, you need to get it right. Otherwise, you’ll waste time chasing cold trails.

We wrote this guide to help anyone who wants to learn about their ancestors do so easily.

We explain how to get started, where to find the best information resources (most of them are conveniently online) and how to get the information you need from these resources.

We also get into DNA testing and how to use it in your genealogy project.

If you are only interested in DNA testing for ancestry, go straight to our reviews of the best 6 DNA ancestry tests.

If you want the whole nine yards on Genealogy, keep reading.

What is Genealogy?

list of genealogy websites

Genealogy is the study of ancestors or family lineage. It begins with your parents, then their parents and goes as far back as the available information will allow.

There are many reasons why people decide to research their ancestors.

Many are simply curious about their family history. For others, it is a journey of self-discovery and others want to pass on their family’s history to their children.

You may have your own motivations.

Whatever they are, this guide will help.

As I mentioned, it’s not a piece of cake. Sure, online resources and DNA testing has made it easier.

But you still have to dig through historical records, ask your living family members lots of question and join many dots.

It’s like filling a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing.

But as you discover new information and your family tree starts coming together, the satisfaction you’ll feel is worth it.

Genealogy vs. Family History: What’s the Difference?

genealogy for dummies

Genealogy and family history are sometimes used interchangeably. Even the venerable Wikipedia states that family history is a synonym of genealogy.

In a stricter sense, however, genealogy refers more to the search for your ancestors –pouring over old records, asking family members questions, taking a DNA test and so on.

Family history is more about creating a narrative about your ancestors. It goes beyond dates, names, and places.

It puts your ancestors in the context of the era they lived in and their social, economic, and physical environment.

It includes myths, legends, and those crazy stories that every family has.

The differences or similarities between these terms won’t affect your search. So don’t let them worry you.

In any case, all the information you get at the end will contain lots of both.

How to Get Started

geneology research

Here are some tips to help you get started on the right footing.

1. Start Immediately

The best source of information about your ancestors is your living family, especially your grandparents and great grandparents.

If you are lucky to have an older family member who is still alive, you should talk to them immediately. Wait a few months, and they might not be around to fill in your missing puzzles.

Not all the stories your grandparent tell you will hold up. But they can point you in the right direction or give you the information you couldn’t have gotten from any records.

They may also have records you might not have known about.

2. Stay Organized

You’ll be getting lots of information and details about your ancestors. It is essential that you have a system for organizing that information.

Otherwise, you’ll lose it, or it will be a jumbled mess of no help.

There are various organization systems you can use.

Family Tree – Physical or Digital

Most people opt to use a family tree. You can go the old-fashioned way and draw an actual family tree and then fill in the information as you go.

But you’ll need a pretty large surface, such as an entire wall of a room.

Alternatively, use a family tree software or service.

Ancestry.com is one of the best platforms to create a family tree.

The fact that they also provide access to historical records and family matching via DNA testing makes creating and building a family tree easier.

If you want a basic family tree maker, some good options include Family Echo, Canva, Creately, and Famberry.

They offer free or premium family tree templates, and you can also design your family tree from scratch.

Some offer extra features like family collaboration, image libraries, printable family trees, and the ability to import genealogical data from other websites.

Note that some websites like Ancestry.com are subscription-based, meaning you have to pay a fee every month.

If you want more features and flexibility, consider downloading a premium family tree software program like Family Historian or Legacy Family Tree.

But they can be pricey, and as an amateur genealogist, you probably don’t need all the features they provide.

An online family tree service is usually cheaper and easier to use.

On Paper

Even if you decide to create a digital family tree, it’s a good idea to have information on paper as well. There are several ways to record information on paper.

  • A notebook to quickly record information as you research. Take down notes when looking through old family records or talking to your grandfather. These notes can serve as a backup in case you lose certain information. Writing on paper also helps you organize your thoughts.
  • Create a family-group sheet. This is a record system that lets you record information of each nuclear family. It’s a great way to keep track of individual families in your family lineage. You can record details like birth, marriage, and death of each person in the family. Here’s a printable family-group sheet template from the National Archives.

File Folders

You’ll need a safe and organized way to store any paper records you come across such as copies or print outs of birth certificates, census records, and even pictures.

To avoid confusion or to lose crucial details, have a single folder for each surname. You can also have a separate folder for one person if there are many records about them.

Keep the folders somewhere safe and easily accessible such as a storage box or file cabinet.

I highly recommend a waterproof and fireproof storage box to keep the records completely safe.

Research Calendar – On Paper or Digital

It’s a good idea to keep track of your activities during research. This includes places you’ve visited and the people you’ve talked to.

Use a calendar to note down these details, which will help you remember exactly when you did what.

Something like Google Calendar or the Calendar app on your iPhone should work well enough. You can also use a diary app or a physical diary if you want to write more details about each activity.

In addition to recording past activities, you can also use a calendar to plan future research activities such as calling a family member or looking up a certain census.

3. Work Backwards

Start from the present and work your way backward.

We recommend starting with yourself to get a feel of how to take extensive records. Note down your name, birth date, locations, marriage, and occupation.

Be as comprehensive as possible.

From there, write down your parents’ details and then your grandparents and great grandparents if they are alive.

If they are not alive, look for records regarding their birth, marriage, business, and other life events.

Even if they are alive, supplementing their stories with records ensures you have accurate information.

For most of your ancestors, you’ll have to rely a lot on family and historical records, which we discuss next.

Using Historical, Official and Family Records in Genealogy(and Where to Find Them)

family history, family tree, genealogy

Genealogy is mostly about hunting down records and extracting useful information from them.

Different kinds of records can help you find missing details about your ancestors.

They include family records such as marriage and birth certificates, historical records like newspapers and old maps and official records such as census reports and military service records.

Many of these records are now available online in searchable databases. For others, especially family records, you’ll have to hunt down the physical records themselves.

Below, we discuss the most helpful records. Not all of them will be helpful to you. For instance, military records won’t help if none of your ancestors were ever in the military.

Pick those that you think will provide useful info.

1. Census Records

Every ten years the United States Census Bureau carries out a census.

The census records extensive information about individuals, their families, occupation and geographic location among other details; details that can be incredibly useful for genealogy.

Since census records date as far back as 1790, you can use them to research your ancestors.

Census records are made public 72 years after the census. So the most recent census you can check in the 1940 census.

Where to Find Them

The National Archives: There are census microfilms stored in the National Archives building in Washington DC or any of their regional facilities in other cities. You can also order digitized records from the National Archives website.

Ancestry.com: They have a searchable database of census records from 1790 to 1940. You may need a subscription to search some census records properly.

FamilySearch.org: Free to search their Census database but you need to create an account.

For other searchable online census databases, see the full list of resources on the National Archives website.

What Information Will You Get

The kind of information collected changed from census to census.

For instance, between 1790 and 1840, only the head of the household was listed. Many other details were omitted from these censuses as well.

The first comprehensive census was done in 1850. From 1850 to 1940, you can get information such as names of all family members, their age, country of birth, their parents’ country of birth, street address, occupation and much more.

How to Get Useful Information from Census Records

We have an in-depth guide on how to find your ancestors in the US Census. Read it to learn the best techniques and methods for getting the best from census records.

Here are some quick tips.

  • Start from the latest census (1940) and work your way backward. If you are searching for a particular ancestor, start from the last census before they died. If they passed on in 1923, start with the 1920 census and go back as you trace their life to birth.
  • Copy the details of the person of interest in a blank census form. You can download blank templates online for every census year.
  • Use Soundex for names that might have been misspelled. Soundex is an index for names that are spelled differently but sound the same. You might spend hours searching for a ‘Smith,’ but your ancestor may have been recorded as ‘Smythe.’ Ancestry.com includes a Soundex option when searching through their records.
  • Check the special census schedules. In addition to the main census records, other special censuses were done to collect targeted information. Mortality schedules from 1850 to 1900 recorded deaths that occurred in the year before the census date. Agricultural schedules recorded agricultural information including names of farmers. Others include slave schedules, veterans schedules, and Indian censuses.

Note that censuses don’t always provide complete or accurate information. Someone may have been left out of the census, or certain details might be wrong.

Also, some information may have been accurate then but no longer so. Old addresses may no longer exist, a town may have changed its name or a new state may have formed.

So don’t rely on census records alone. You’ll need other records to ascertain and supplement what you get from a census.

2. Family Records

Records such as birth and marriage certificates can help you pinpoint important names, locations, and dates.

They are also important for verifying the information you’ve gotten from family members and other sources like a census.

Beyond your own family’s records, you’ll have to ask your extended family members for their records.

And not just your grandparents; your uncles, aunts, and second or third cousins can also have important records that fill in missing gaps.

If no one has the records you are looking for, check if you can find them online or order copies by mail from your state government.

Here are some of the family records to look for.

Birth certificate

It will tell you when someone was born and where. It also contains the names of their parents and their birthplaces as well.

If a physical birth certificate is not available, you can search it online in some states or request for a copy from the state’s records office.

Marriage records

A marriage record helps find out when someone got married and where. It might also include dates of birth of the couple and names of witnesses.

Check if there is a physical marriage certificate. If not, see if you can find the record online or from the state records office. Some churches also have marriage records.

Divorce records

If you need to find out about an ancestor’s first marriage, a divorce record can help if a marriage record is not available.

A divorce record will contain details about the ex-spouse, any children they had together and information surrounding the separation. You can get a divorce record from your state or county.

Death certificate

The death certificate tells you date, place, and cause of death. It’ll also include details about the person’s family members. In most states, you can search for death records online.

Social Security Death Index

This includes records of deceased individuals who had been issued with social security numbers. The record consists of name, last residence, date of birth, date of death, and SSN. You can search the index at FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com among other websites.

Baptism and church records

if you know which church a particular ancestor attended, contact or visit them to see if they have a baptism record on file.

It can tell you their birth date, date of baptism, and names of parents. Church records can also help if the person played a major role in the church such as pastor, deacon, or choir leader.

Land records and deeds

A property deed lists the owner’s name as well as the seller. A deed is useful when ascertaining where someone lived at a particular time. You can request for a deed from your county courthouse.


Check the county courthouse for a will from your ancestor. It will contain important information where they lived, their properties as well as their children and spouse.

Other Family Records

Other family records worth exploring include:

  • Family bibles – many people, then recorded a lot of genealogical information in family bibles including names, birth dates, wedding dates, and death dates.
  • Old letters, journals, and diaries –if you can find any of these hidden away in the basement or closet, they can be a treasure trove of family history. They may include names, locations, major events, and important dates.
  • Old family photos –what if you could put a face to the name or find a new face you didn’t know? Family photos can tell you a lot about your ancestors and their family. Check with your family members and also search sites like Ancestry.com and deadfred.com. It’s also worth checking the Library of Congress massive photo collection.

3. Official and Public Records

If your ancestors lived in the United States, they must have interacted with the government many times, especially county and state governments.

If they worked for the national government or served in the military, there’s bound to be federal records that can give you information about them.

It’s also important to check what’s available publicly such as newspaper records and city directories.

Here are some of the best official and public records to check.

Naturalization Records

If your ancestor was foreign-born and became a US citizen through naturalization, their naturalization record can tell you a lot. The record will contain names, date of immigration, country of origin and other details that can help you fill missing gaps in your search.

Most naturalization records are stored in the courts where the process took place, usually a country court.

The National Archives also has microfilms of Naturalization Records; a few from before 1906 when any court could carry out naturalization and all from post-1906 when the process was done only in federal courts.

Search their microfilm catalog and then go see the microfilm or order a digital version.

Immigration Records/Passenger Lists

These are not the same as naturalization records.

Immigration records are generally passenger lists of foreigners who came to the US aboard ships.

They contain details such as nationality, date of birth, physical description, the country they came from, and the relatives they are joining in the US.

This information can tell you a lot about your ancestors, how old they were when they immigrated and close family members who were already in the country.

You can find passenger lists online at sites like Ancestry.com and TheShipsList.com.

The National Archives also has microfilms for each port between 1820 and 1982. Most of the microfilms are in their main building in Washington, DC while others are stored in regional facilities.

Military Records

If your ancestor served in the military, their service record contains a lot of helpful genealogical information.

You’ll get their names when they served, health information as well as details about family members.

You can also get details about pension payments when they were veterans and family members they left behind after death.

There are several ways to get military records.

Ancestry.com: You’ll need a subscription to carry out a complete search.

The National Archives: They hold records starting from the revolutionary war to 1912. Go to their Washington, D.C. building, or search their online microfilm catalog.

National Personnel Records Center (NPRC): Located in St. Louis, Missouri, the NPRC holds records from World War 1 to the present.


Newspapers not only give you important details about your ancestors such as names and family members; they also provide important context around their day-to-day lives.

You can’t get this rich history from other records like censuses and or birth records.

Even if your ancestors were not famous, they might still appear in local newspapers. Maybe they were involved in a business deal, did something notable, or they posted something in the paper.

Many local newspapers also carry birth, engagement, marriage, and death announcements.

Start your search with local newspapers. Check the archive at your local library.

In some states, you can find digitized local newspapers.

Another good source of newspaper archives, including local, regional and national newspapers, is Chronicling America.

This is a partnership between the National Endowment for Humanities and the Library of Congress.

Chronicling America carries historic newspaper pages between 1789 and 1963.

If you are searching for information about a particular newspaper, you’ll also find a U.S. Newspaper Directory on the website. It has information on newspapers published from 1690 to the present.

There are many other sources of digitized newspaper archives online like Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com, but most require a paid subscription.

Google also carries a free archive of hundreds of digitized newspapers, some dating as far back as the 1700s.


If you want to search specifically for obituaries, there are better ways than going through dozens of digitized newspapers.

Some newspapers have separate obituary archives, some of which are searchable online.

You can also search for some of the obituary databases online. The two most popular ones are Legacy.com and Obituaries.com.

The kind of information you find in an obituary depends on its source.

At the very least, the obituary should have a name, date of birth, date, and cause of death and a tally or names of surviving close family members.

Cemetery Records and Tombstones

If you can’t find your ancestor’s obituary, try looking for their grave or cemetery record.

If you know the cemetery they were buried at, visit the cemetery office to request for the burial record. Some cemeteries have digitized records online.

You can also search grave records online at FindaGrave.com.

A cemetery record usually provides much of the same information as an obituary – date of death, date of birth and surviving family members.

Once you find their grave, consider visit it to see the information on the tombstone. Most tombstones are inscribed with the date of birth, date of death, and close family members.

While you are there, check the graves nearby. They might be related family members you didn’t know about.

Other Official and Public Records

  • Tax records –These contain information about your ancestors’ income, properties, inheritance, and family members. Tax records are available in state and county archives. Family History Centers also carry some historic tax records. Some records are available online at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
  • Passport applications –These are great for tracking down foreign-born ancestors who visited the United States. You can get microfilmed passport applications from 1795 to 1925 at the National Archives, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and fold3.com. The State Department has all the other applications from 1925.
  • Alien Files – Also called A-Files, these are records of persons who are not US citizens but reside in the country. They include files on refugees and asylum seekers. The National Archives has A-Files for Aliens born in 1910 and before. These files contain photos, visas, citizenship applications and much more information that can help in your search.
  • Prison records –If your ancestor went afoul of the law and was arrested, prison records can help you find out where they lived, their age and other contextual information. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a searchable database of inmates starting from 1982. For older records, visit a National Archives facility. If your ancestor was in state prison, consult your state prison records.

Ancestry DNA Testing for Genealogy

genealogy family tree

Records are the most important part of any genealogical research. You’ll spend most of your time looking for records and searching through them.

DNA testing complements whatever you find in old records. It is especially useful for finding unknown family members from recent generations and tracing your mother’s and father’s line centuries back.

You can also use DNA testing to confirm your ethnicity, which can explain the presence of an Italian or African ancestor in your family tree.

There are two types of DNA tests: health DNA tests and Ancestry DNA tests.

What you want is the second one. It’s the one that will help you uncover unknown cousins, trace earlier generations and find out more about your ethnicity makeup.

Start with our reviews of the best 6 DNA ancestry tests to find the best one for your needs.

What You Can Find Out Through Ancestry DNA Testing

1. Unknown Family Members

When you provide a DNA sample for testing, it is compared against hundreds of thousands of other DNA results in the company’s database.

This allows you to find family matches who may be as close as a sibling or as far as a fourth cousin.

You can then contact your matches to find out more about how you are connected.

While DNA testing uncovers family members only up to the third or fourth generation, connecting with your matches can help you discover more about your ancestors.

For the best DNA test for family matching, try AncestryDNA.

They have the largest database, meaning you are more likely to find more unknown family members.

Whichever company you test with, remember to add the matches to your family tree.

If you have an Ancestry.com subscription, it’s easy to add the new matches to your family tree just by clicking a few buttons.

2. Paternal and Maternal Lineage

Family and historical records only go so far. What if you could go back hundreds of years into the past and find out exactly where your mother’s or father’s line started?

That’s what paternal, and maternal lineage tracing helps you do.

To trace your paternal and maternal lines, you’ll have to get a special type of DNA test.

The most common DNA test is called an Autosomal DNA test. That’s what Ancestry.com provides. It’s great to find unknown relatives and finding out your ancestry makeup.

But for paternal and maternal tracing, you’ll need a Y-DNA test or an mtDNA test.

A Y-DNA test is for tracing your father’s lineage.

The test follows the Y-chromosome, which is passed down from father to son virtually unchanged, to the Y-chromosome haplogroup from you descend (if you are male, that is).

Information about the haplogroup tells you where your father’s lineage goes back to, where your ancient ancestors lived and how they migrated around the world.

If you are a woman, you can test your brother’s, father’s, paternal uncle’s or paternal grandfather’s DNA to trace your father’s lineage.

An mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) test is for tracing your mother’s lineage.

The test follows the mtDNA, which is passed down from mother to children virtually unchanged, to the mtDNA haplogroup you are descended from.

Both males and females can take the test, but you can only trace the female lineage in your family.

For the best Y-DNA and mtDNA DNA tests, we recommend Family Tree DNA. Read our FTDNA review to learn more.

In addition to tracing your maternal and paternal lineages, FTDNA can also match your Y-DNA and mtDNA to unknown family members from your father’s or mother’s side.

You can use those matches to fill your family tree and connect with them to learn more about your shared ancestors.

Unlike with an Autosomal DNA test, you don’t have to guess which side of the family your Y-DNA or mtDNA matches are from. This makes your research so much easier.

3. Ethnicity Makeup

Sometimes what you find in records during research can be confusing. For instance, you can discover you have an ancestor from a region you never thought you had any connections to.

Many people who thought they had a European ancestry have been surprised to find Asian, African, or Native American ancestors in the lineage.

To confirm what’s in the records, get an Ancestry DNA test.

When you get the results, focus on the ethnicity breakdown included in the report. It shows what percentage you have from different ethnicities.

If you have Italian ethnicity, then you know that the Italian ancestor is for real. If you have African ethnicity, that means you might have a black ancestor.

Ancestry DNA is excellent at providing a detailed ethnicity makeup report. They narrow it down to specific regions, rather than just continents and countries.

This can help you find out exactly where a specific ancestor came from.

23andMe offers a detailed analysis as well. They cover over 1,000 regions around the world. Read our review of 23AndMe Health & Ancestry test to learn more.

Note: The ethnicity makeup report is not always accurate. Use records and other resources to confirm the information on your DNA report.

Overall, both 23AndMe and Ancestry DNA are two good choices (click to see our comparison) when it comes to general Ancestry testing for ethnicity analysis and family matching.

FTDNA is for those who want to delve deeper into their ancestry.

How Ancestry DNA Testing Works


Getting your DNA tested is easier (and cheaper) than ever.

The first step is to choose which company you want to test with.

AncestryDNA is the best for family matches and ethnicity makeup.

23andMe is the second best for family matches and ethnicity makeup. 23andMe is a good choice if you also want genetic health screening.

FTDNA is the best for those who want to trace their maternal and paternal lines and get family matches from their mother’s or father’s side.

Go with MyHeritage DNA if you want an affordable ancestry DNA test orLiving DNA if you want to research roots in Britain and Ireland.

Once you find the best company for your needs, here’s how the rest of the process goes.

  • Order the DNA test online. You’ll have to register for an account.
  • The company will send you a sampling kit that you’ll use to provide a cheek swab or spit sample.
  • Secure the sample and send it back to the lab for testing.
  • After a few weeks (usually 6-8 weeks), your DNA report will be posted in your secure online account.
  • Start analyzing your results.

If you’ve opted into family matching, your account will be automatically populated with found matches. The number of matches will keep growing as more people take a DNA test.

Contact the matches to find out your exact relationship and learn more about your common ancestors.

You can also deduce your relationship to matches by checking their surname or maiden name and analyzing any matches you share with them.

It’s also a good idea to have your family members send in their DNA as well. It will help you find more matches and find out how you are related to them.

Don’t spend all your time on family matches.

Your ancestry makeup report (also called an admixture report) can also tell you a lot about your ancestors.

Read our guide on how to get the best out of your ancestry composition report.

Genealogy for African Americans

how to do genealogy

Because of slavery, it can be difficult for African Americans to trace their ancestry both in the US and in Africa.

But it has gotten easier over the years as companies, universities, and organizations have worked towards helping African Americans trace their ethnicity and ancestry.

The best place to start is with what you have.

Look for any family records and photos you can find and begin building a family tree from your current family going back.

Talk to living family members to get more information.

Use the records we have listed above – military records, census reports, land records, birth and death records, etc. – to find more details about your ancestors.

Researching Census Records – Useful Tips

  • If your ancestor was a slave, they would not be listed by name in the 1790-1840 censuses. Instead, they are listed statistically under the head of the household.
  • If they were free, they are also not listed by name unless they are the head of the household. Otherwise, they are listed statistically. So generally, the censuses before 1840 are not very helpful.
  • For the censuses between 1850-1860, free black persons were listed by name. But slaves were listed by number in a separate census.
  • The 1870 census was the first after the civil war. So all African Americans, including freed slaves, were listed by name. Most are listed with their surname, making it possible to trace their family lineage.
  • If you need information from before 1870, check the 1850 and 1860 mortality schedules at the National Archives or Ancestry.com. They listed the names of slaves who died in the 12 months prior to the censuses taken in these two years. Additional details recorded included marital status, age, and cause of death.

Helpful Resources

Here are some resources, online and offline, that can help with your search.

Patriots of Color: A database with records of people of color who fought in the Revolutionary War.

Civil War records: Thousands of black soldiers fought in the Civil war on both sides of the battle. You can search the records at Fold3.com or at the National Archives.

On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier IIThis book contains short biographies of each colored soldier who served in all-black regiments created in 1866. It also includes records of black soldiers who served in the US army between 1866 and 1917.

African American Biographical Database: One of the largest databases of African Americans from 1790 to 1950. Entries include names, birth records, photographs and a wealth of other details.

Slave Voyages African Names Database: Names of Africans rescued from captured slave ships and African trading sites. Each record includes name, age, gender, and origin.

Taking a DNA Test

In addition to searching records and the above resources, it’s also a good idea to get an Ancestry DNA test.

Companies like AncestryDNA and 23andMe have become very good at tracing African ancestry.

A DNA test can help you trace your lineage to one of the countries in West Africa, where most slaves were taken.

Genealogy for Native Americans

family geneology

This is another population group for whom tracking ancestry can be a challenge.

But with some effort, modern technology, and various resources, you can find out a lot about your ancestors.

As with any other kind of genealogical research, begin with what you have.

Look for family records and see what official and public records are available. Then work your way backward from your current family members.

Researching Census Records – Useful Tips

  • 1790-1840 censuses are not very helpful since they did not identify any Indian Americans. That’s because most Native Americans resided in reservations and were not taxed.
  • In 1850, Native Americans living in households were counted, but there were very few of them.
  • Beginning in 1860, Indians in the general population were recorded for the first time. This is the earliest useful census report when finding an Indian ancestor.
  • The most detailed censuses as pertains to Native Americans are those from 1900 onwards. They enumerated Indians living on reservations as well as the general population.
  • There are also special Indian census rolls between 1885 and 1940 that contain additional information about Native Americans. You can find them on ancestory.com.
  • In addition, there are separate censuses taken of specific Indian tribes. They were sometimes carried out on different years from the Federal censuses. See the full list of American Indian Records at Ancestry.

Taking a DNA Test

In addition to helping you find unknown family members, an ancestry DNA test can help you track down your lineage.

Most ancestry DNA reports do not specify which tribe you are from, but they help you confirm that you indeed have Native American ancestry.

They can also help you narrow down your lineage to a specific region.

Genealogy for Adoptees

family tree history genealogy

If you are adopted, family records won’t help you find your blood ancestors. You also cannot use other records from the military or census if you have no idea which names to search for.

The best place to start is by getting adoption and orphanage records. These can be difficult to get depending on the state and if the records are sealed or open.

But in most states, you can request for confidential records through writing such as the original birth certificate or medical records.

These can provide the names of your birth parents, giving you a starting point for your search.

If you cannot access these records, try finding your birth family another way.

The best alternative is to join an adoption registry online such as Adopted.com or FindMe.org.

Once you get the names of your birth family, you can search other records for additional information.

Getting a DNA Test

A DNA test is important for adoptees trying to find their ancestors.

It will help you find family matches who can help you track down other family members and discover shared ancestors.

Some people have even found their blood siblings and birth parents through DNA testing websites.

Tracing Your Lineage to Royalty

family geneology

Could you be related to Royalty?

Even if you have not considered that question, it’s still something to think about. It’s not that you’ll claim your rightful place on the throne; it’s just for curiosity sake.

If you are of European descent, then you are likely connected to Royalty as The Guardian reports.

That’s because all Europeans likely descended from one ancestor around 600 years ago. So you share a tiny bit of blood with the Royals.

If you are looking for closer ties, you’ll have to consult historical records. See if you have an ancestor who is close to one of the Royal family members, either living or dead.

But I’d suggest starting with an ancestry DNA test to see if you have any European ancestry, to begin with.

Even if you are black, you should still take the test. There are many black people with European roots.

If you don’t find any ties to English royalty, don’t be disappointed. You may still have links to the 12th-century emperor Genghis Khan or the Egyptian Pharaoh King Tut.

The best way to find out if you are linked to Royalty is to start at present and work your way backward. You may have to go several hundred years back to find any link.

Ancestry.com nobility and royalty records should also help though you need a subscription to make the best use of them.

Important Genealogy Resources

genealogy for beginners

National Archives: They carry numerous official and historical records including censuses, military records, immigration records, and land records. Most of these records are not searchable online. You have to order digitized microfilm or visit one of their centers around the country.

Ancestry.com: One of the biggest genealogical websites in the world. They have billions of records and pictures. You can also create a family tree and fill it with matches from their DNA test. Using the website requires a paid subscription.

FamilySearch.org: Here, you can create a family tree and search their records including censuses, military records, and other genealogical records. The site is free.

Newspapers.com: A large online archive of newspapers managed by Ancestry.com. They have newspapers starting from the 1700s.

Fold3.com: The best source of military historical records.

Legacy.com: A large online database of obituaries from various newspapers and funeral homes.

FindaGrave.com: Find cemeteries from around the United States.

DeadFred.com: An archive of photos.

African Heritage Project: A free resource for African Americans who want to trace their ancestors. Records include slaves an free persons as well as their descendants.

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About the Author Charles McKnight

I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built MyFamilyDNATest.com after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.