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Using family records (in addition to an FTDNA or AncestryDNA.com test) to research your family history

5 Ways to Research Your Family History (In Addition to getting a DNA Test)

Researching your family is like solving a large complex puzzle. An FTDNA, 23andMe or AncestryDNA.com test may fill a lot of missing pieces but it won’t tell you the whole story.

If you are serious about researching your family history, you’ll have to do more than just get a DNA test. You’ll need to expand your search and find more sources to fill in the missing gaps.

Here are five ways you can do that.

1. Talk to Your Family Members

Family stories can be surprisingly informative. The trick is to know how to draw them out.

Start with your closest family members; your older siblings, parents and grandparents. Ask them about your family history, where they lived as they grew up and anything else that might help you find what you are looking for.

Don’t stop there. Seek out extended family members and talk to them too. It helps to pay them a visit and form a bond before you start asking all sorts of questions.

As you listen to all sorts of stories, it’s a good idea to take notes. You can easily forget important names and places. Quickly jot down all the important details. They will come in handy when you are trying to connect the dots later on.

2. Look for Family Records

Family records can help with your search

Family records such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and death records can tell you a lot about your family.

For instance, your grandparents might not remember exactly when they got married. A marriage certificate can help with that.

As you talk to your family members, ask them if they are willing to show you their family records. They are a great way to build timelines and make connections between different families.

They can also help you determine who lived where and when.

Don’t just rely on the most common family records. Other records such as business licenses, old receipts, tax records and title deeds can also prove essential.

Often, even without taking a DNA test, you can learn almost everything you need to just by using family records and listening to family stories. The DNA test is just the icing on the cake to bring everything together.

3. Read Census Reports

find your ancestors in the US census records

Some of the richest sources of family information are census records.

Every ten years, the US government undertakes a massive count of individuals in the country. These records are compiled into reports that are made available to the public 72 years after the census was taken.

So currently you can only see records dating from the first census in 1790 to the 16th one taken in 1940.

Reading census records takes time, patience and effort to find what you are looking for. But if you know where to look and how to read the squiggly handwriting, you’ll find a goldmine of information.

Use our in-depth guide on how to find your ancestors in the US Census to get started with your search.

4. Join a Surname Project

Almost all cultures around the world use paternal surnames. So using your surname is a fairly effective way of tracing your paternal lineage.

The best way to do that is to join a surname project.

This is basically a group where you connect with other people who share your surname. You can then use DNA results and conventional genealogy information to find out whether you share a common ancestor.

To join a surname project the best place to go is Family Tree DNA.

They host hundreds of surname projects you can join. They offer discounts when you order a DNA test through a surname project.

Other places where you can find existing surname projects or create your own include International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), Cyndi’s List and WorldFamilies.net.

5. Join Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com, the same company that provides AncestryDNA tests, is hands down the biggest and best resource for researching your ancestry.

They don’t just provide DNA tests. They are also a treasure trove of information for people doing serious family research.

You can search your surname, create a family tree and use their billions of records to research your family history.

You can search through obituaries, genealogy records, census records, military records and so much more.

Their services require a subscription.

Note that even if you pay for an AncestryDNA test you still have to pay a separate fee to create a family tree and research your family on Ancestry.com.

But it’s worth it.

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.

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