How to Trace Your Ancestors Beyond Records

by Richard Franklin

Your decision to start a family tree will take you on a fascinating journey back in time. Your adventure as a time traveler will begin with your life. Return to your birth certificate and begin noting where you were born, the date, your parents' full names, your mother's maiden name, etc. Next, keep track of where you've lived, your education, marriage, and children. Then go back farther in time and look at your parents' life. (There's probably a lot that you don't know about them.) Making a family tree may be a fun exercise to do with your parents, and grandparents. Let us help you make this journey more smooth and efficient. In this post, we will share some key tips for tracing your ancestors beyond records.

Tip #1 — Use Home Sources

Personal information may serve as the foundation for your family tree. Begin at home by gathering and arranging your papers, and then create a basic chart or list, starting with yourself, your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Search for the following documents:

  1. Death certificates
  2. Burial records and obituaries yearbooks
  3. Newspaper articles
  4. Family letters
  5. Social activity souvenirs
  6. Sports medals
  7. And other documents that may reveal names, dates, and places

Examine your family's religious documents, old letters, photos, and mementos. Print copies and mark everything to document the source, and scan them to keep them digitally when feasible. Alternatively, you can also find a grave by name online and check this information in your home library.
Next, contact family members and inquire about their lifestyles as well as the lives of other relatives. First, interview all of your oldest relatives. Most of us subsequently regret not doing so in order to learn from our mistakes. Here are some of the questions that may be feasible to ask:

  1. What city did they dwell in?
  2. What type of dwelling did they have?
  3. Did they travel about as they grew up?
  4. When and where did their relatives arrive?
  5. When and when did these relatives pass away, and where are they buried?

Bring some old pictures and attic treasures to jog their memories. Also, ask if you may examine their old family papers, letters, photographs, and mementos. These documents may assist you in broadening your search. Use your camera, phone, or a portable scanner to capture their records and photos.
Take notes while you listen to their family stories. Because each individual recalls an incident in his or her own unique manner, relatives frequently have multiple versions of the same tale, but these discrepancies make it intriguing! Tell them what you already know. If your relative is comfortable with it, use a tape recorder or video camera.  Keep your first meetings with someone you're just getting to know brief. Always get permission before making copies or taking pictures, movies, or audio recordings.

Tip #2 — Record and Document Your Data

After gathering family information, it is critical to record the data accurately on family group sheets and pedigree or ancestor charts. There are plenty of digital templates available online. so you can pick any of them and add your data there. Be sure to indicate a source for each fact. Your main goal here is to thoroughly capture the facts so that you can pinpoint exactly where to find the documents again. Then categorize the data so that you can find each individual in your ever-expanding collection.
Create a folder for each one (on your computer or in your filing cabinet) and include historical images of them, their family, residences, and burial markers, as well as key papers, letters, and souvenirs.  Include their stories, both those you heard as a youngster and those told to you by family members.
woman holding toddler with two children beside sitting on chair grayscale photo 

Tip #3 — Get Ready to Make a Family Tree

The easiest approach to start the documentation of your family history and creating a family tree is to become familiar with the fundamentals of genealogical research. So here’s what you will need to do:

  1. Gather information — Start by gathering information about your family. Write down what you know, ask family members to fill in the gaps, and find pictures and documents. Visit online genealogy sources and libraries to search for census records, land deeds, news stories, and other documents that can verify your ancestry.
  2. Decide on the format — Decide on the format you want to use for your family tree. You can draw your family tree freehand using pen and paper or create a family tree online using various tools.
  3. Start with yourself — Start with yourself and work backward or start with an older generation like great grandparents and work downwards. Add your parents' names, birth dates, and any other useful data. You can add your maternal and paternal grandparents as branches from them. These three generations form the bare bones of your tree. You can then embellish your tree with aunts, uncles, cousins, and other more distant family members.
  4. Label the leaves — Label the leaves of the tree with information such as birth, marriage, and death dates. You can also add pictures and other relevant information.
  5. Share and ideate — Share your family tree with your family members and ask for missing data. You can also use various tools to add more boxes until all your family members have been included.

You will hardly be able to make a family try alone and in one go. So do not be shy — invite all your relatives to this process.

Tracing Your Ancestors Is Fun

Tracing your ancestors can be a fun and rewarding activity for people of all ages. It can help you connect better with a sense of self by learning about the past of your family — who they were, where they came from, what occupation they had, the trials they overcame, the achievements they obtained, the dreams they had. Your ancestors' stories can shape you into a more grateful, empathetic, happy, and compassionate version of yourself.