Looking For Your Family History .. Where to Start

Perhaps you’ve seen the show “Who Do You Think You Are” and it got you curious as to where your roots are planted? Or maybe you’ve had someone tell you they got their DNA results back and you are curious enough to want to try it too? DNA is all the big rage right now, as is looking for your family history.

Curiosity is all it takes!

Who………do you know?

When looking for family history the best place to start is with who you already know.

Start with what you do know, your parents and your grandparents, where they came from, where they were born etc.

When I started a near 45 years ago I was lucky enough to still have my grandparents and their brothers and sisters and that is where I started. In my search..back then, we did not have easy access to what we have now with the records that are online. I spent HUNDREDS of dollars in postage writing to people for information. Many of them didn’t answer. I was very fortunate that my dad had a couple of cousins that were interested in the search and they were eager to help. I also had a great-uncle that had done some research and he too shared with me. My grandmother was quite pleased that I was curious and she would offer up much information for me. My grandfather was a story teller and I listened with interest when he would talk.( I tried to write down the stories he told but they never sounded as good as how he told them.)

Start by asking questions! That is what will bring the detective out in you. I personally refer to myself as Wonder Woman, as I wonder about everything!


What…….do you want to know?

I wasn’t satisfied with just knowing names and dates. I wanted to know everything! Where they lived how they got there, what their occupations were, their struggles, and their triumphs. I wanted to know everything about them so I would really know them. I wanted to live through them in a sense. That lead me to visiting places they lived and reading history books to understand the life they lead in their era. I collected pictures, newspaper articles, obituaries, and I visited libraries and cemeteries like they were resort spots. When I got stuck I would search out relatives of relatives of relatives and stepping out of my comfort zone would visit with them for information. Deciding ahead of time what sort of information you are looking for will help you in starting your search.

When …….did they live?

Knowing the history of when they lived helps much in your research. Google books is an awesome place to find histories of the areas that your ancestors might have lived. I personally can get hung up in just reading the accounts of the ages even if it isn’t about the ancestor I am searching. In doing so I have stumbled upon information that I would never have found. Sometimes you can find books in libraries on the areas also. I found an awesome book of the cemeteries of Atchison County Missouri at the library. I bought it thinking it only contained the names of my grandparents to learn that near half the people in the book were relatives. Family history books are also a good place to look. Perhaps someone else has already searched the tree and found information they are willing to share with you.


Where ….did they come from?

If you know where your ancestor was born, do a search on google of the town that they lived in. Sometimes you will find history books on towns that once were, and might just find out some information on you ancestor in the process.

I once found a book on the city of Rockport, Missouri that had biographies on some of their founding fathers and in the process found much history on my family along with pictures of their homes. Visiting the home towns of my ancestors takes me back to when they lived. I imagine what it must have been like back then. If you have older family members that “remember” get them to write you an article about their life. I have accounts of my grandmother and some of her siblings of things they remember about growing up. It helps you to see what their lives were like and you know them just a little better because of it.



Why……….do you want to know?

What are you going to do with the information you find? Do you hope to publish your information? Are you going to save it for your children? Do you want to make a scrapbook?

Knowing why you want to know about your ancestors will help in your search as to where you will look and how hard you will try to keep your info concise. For instance, if I’m simply trying to connect a line to my tree, I might not be as thorough as I would be if I’m working on my direct line.

If you are wanting to build a family scrapbook, I would suggest that you start with one person build their pages and then move on to the next. If you do all your research at one time then want to go back and build a scrapbook you now have an overwhelming about of data to sort through. (lesson learned too late.)

DNA has connected me with so many distant cousins that sometimes finding the connection is a bit daunting. It’s like hunting for treasure but all worth it in the end. Nothing adds to my excitement more than digging up a piece of juicy information and excitedly sharing it with the family. Be prepared, however, for them to not be as excited as you are.

I use ancestry.com to keep my info organized and their platform in my opinion offers up the best search information. When just starting out looking for your family history you might want to utilize some free services until you get a little more handle on just how things work.



How……..are you going to organize your information.

You will want a software program of some sort to keep your information in order. That is what I love about the online data bases like ancestry , and myheritage.  I have been a member of both, and though I really like the software that come with Myheritage, I didn’t feel like their search info was as comparable to what I would get on ancestry. I still use the MyHeritage software on my computer, but online I use the ancestry site.

You might want to keep paper copies of your info as well. There are different ways to do this. I print my profile sheets from the ancestry site and save them in three ring notebooks. There I also will add pictures and news clips as I find them. I will admit my organizational skills leave a lot to be desired, but after almost fifty years of collection it can become overwhelming at times! Findagrave.com is another good place to look for info and printing the page sheets gives you a good profile to work with.

You can start a free tree on wikitree.com. The object is to build one big tree. Each person has a separate profile and as you connect with others in the tree the profiles are merged. I am only now moving info to wikitree from ancestry. If you have organizational skills….please share them with me! I need HELP!



This is a good place to start. I hope this gives you some value, and if I can assist you in anyway please let me know. If I know, I will gladly share with you. Happy Hunting!

The Pierce Family Historian

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The Pierce Family Historian