Discovering Family Roots
Tips to turn history into your storyBy FamilyFeatures.com
Your immediate family
Write down the date and place of your birth (and marriage, if applicable) for yourself, spouse and children, and critical dates for your parents, including birth, marriage and death. This is the start of your basic family tree. Add the same info for all siblings. You can then work back generation-by-generation.
Other relatives, near and far
In almost every family, there is someone who knows all about the familial tree and history. Set aside some special time with him or her and exchange facts, stories and snapshots. You might be unsure of the exact date your grandparents were married, but they or someone else may know. Let visiting relatives know you are exploring family history. Ask them to bring scrapbooks and vintage photographs so you all see and can talk about them, face to face. You can use your camera or smartphone to take pictures of photos you don’t have. Building knowledge of your family history also can be an excuse to call your great aunt (or even a fourth cousin) who has your common great-grandparents in their tree. They probably have stories you haven’t heard and would likely enjoy sharing them.
The family tree
You can build out your tree online using free U.S. census records at familysearch.org and subscription services such as ancestry.com. Enter what you know about yourself, your parents and your brothers and sisters. Then add your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. You can also upload stories, illustrations and photos.
DNA testing has revolutionized the way people discover family history, in that you become part of a far-reaching genetic network. In addition to providing ethnicity estimates, some services compare your DNA to the people in the network and match you to anyone sharing enough DNA with you to point to a recent common ancestor within generations
North Carolina’s online genealogy resources include Genealogy Research and NC State Archives. The State Archives and its Genealogy Room in Raleigh have staff to assist researchers on-site. Access to most of the archives is free and open to the public. You can also visit, phone or email County Courthouse Register of Deeds offices when searching for vital records (you can also find NC county offices online).
Our editor's geneology search
Read about senior associate editor Renee C. Gannon’s exploration of her family tree.
Getting to know your family better