Roots - How to Start Your Ancestry Search Pt2


I come across a lot of people who want to start doing Ancestry, but get so confused they never take any steps at all. 

When I started, I dove head first into the wealth of records and names and was quickly overwhelmed. How many people can be named Jake W in the same year, in the same town, in the 1900s? The answer might surprise you, as it did me. As I've learned more, I realized that many of the records I originally added were wrong and I've had to go back and prune my trees. So here are some tips/thoughts for those who are interested in starting out.


  1. Slow your roll. Let's start with an objective.

What is it that you want to learn? I used to think that I wanted to go as far back as possible. I've had white friends who could trace their history to the 1600s. For a lot of people who descended from enslaved folk, that isn't a possibility at this time (though that will not stop me from digging). We also need to take a step back, if you have 4 sets of grandparents, 8 sets of great-grandparents and the lines continues exponentially keeping track will turn into a full time job. So again, find an objective that you may want to learn about to get started. The little wins will keep you going.


Where did my last name come from?

This answer may surprise you. The surname you have now may have been changed or adopted by a family member.

Where did my great-great-great grandparents grow up?

There are certain towns I travel to where I feel right at home, familiar. I've found there is often a correlation to where my ancestors lived at one point or ended up. 

What did my great-grand parent do as an occupation?

Are you handy? You may have picked up those skills further back than you think!

      2. *Interview your relatives: 


When was (family member) born?

Where was (family member) born?

How many children did they have, if any?

What year were they married?

Did they have children/families outside of the marriage?

Where did they die? 

Were they laid in a family plot?

What did they look like? 

*This only works for relatives who are open to questions. Some are not, see below for gatekeepers

**Side note: Some stories are reliable, some are not. I've gotten a lot of “through the grapevine” facts that turned out to be complete misses, everything from names, to birth states, to ethnicity. Take everything with a grain of salt until you can verify it.

The Gatekeepers:

I've had family members give me the strangest looks when I ask anything about my ancestry. I know that there are a lot of painful memories for some people and there are also a lot of family secrets. Whatever the reason, people who don't want to share details can make this process much harder. 

You can try what I like to call the “tell me a story method.”

Some people will slowly release family facts in the form of a story, but you have to be quick about saving the information they give you for later. 


I was watching this video about this man from Blytheville with our last name. Do we have family out there?

I always wondered where I got (insert skill here). Did someone in your family do that professionally? 

Did you have any photos or paintings? (Sometimes people may not have photos, but they can tell you about 1 or 2 family members who collect this information.)

Do we have a family Bible or genealogy book? (You may be able to bypass many questions if you have a family Bible. Family Bibles usually have important names dates and notes. Also, sometimes relatives have already done the research. You can search your last name and see if you find any genealogy books available online.


Doing ancestry has been a puzzle where I slowly pick up pieces and put them where they belong. I've spent years looking, but when I do find a new connection or picture or story from a long lost relative, it's worth the wait. 


Happy Hunting!

Love, Aybil

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