If you want to know who you are, what is in your blood and where you came from, trace your ancestry and discover your roots. Digging into the past can show you things about yourself that you never expected. Whether you look into your father’s side, your mother’s side or both, the journey will be well worth it.
History has shown us amazing groups of people who, through the ages, have brought the world to civilisation. From the peasants of medieval times to the Vikings, the wise and fearsome tribes across Africa, the ingenious Egyptians and the terrifying Spartans, the lives of our ancestors fascinate us and instil pride in their achievements and strength.
Which amazing group do you share your blood with?
Tracing your ancestry is exciting and very interesting, but it can prove daunting. Most of us could go back several generations, with the help of a pen and paper and a great-aunt or two, but going back hundreds of years might seem impossible. Fortunately for many eager amateur genealogists there are many experienced historians and genealogists who have collected data, linked families and traced back generations upon generations of people.
Could this be your long lost Grandma?!
Finding a geneologist
The first thing to do is to find a genealogist near you. If you cannot find one, try contacting historical museums or societies for advice on where to find one. Contacting the history department of your local university might be helpful too. Once you have found your genealogist, you should prepare some data to take with you to the meeting or to send to him or her. You should prepare the following:
- A family tree as far backwards as you can trace it including dates of birth and death and all marriages and their dates.
- Any official documents (like marriage certificates, a last will and testament or an obituary) you might have from the ancestors you can trace.
- Any stories about your ancestry passed down by family members. Your father, for instance, might have told stories passed down to him about your ancestors suffering during the potato famine in Ireland. This might prove useful should the genealogist find him or herself missing a link.
Doing it alone
If you would rather pursue matters without help from a professional, try the following:
- Do an internet search with your surname and then the full name of the earliest ancestor you know of.
- Look into the history of the time period when the earliest ancestor you know of was alive. It could give you a lead on where next to look.
- Pry into the memories of your eldest relatives. What stories were they told when they were young about their ancestors?
- Are there any heirlooms with dates or initials that could give you new leads?
- Ask around and find out if any of your family members have tried collecting information about your family tree before. There may be a forgotten family history in an attic or store room somewhere.
- Look into official documents at museums, churches and in old editions of newspapers, there might be names and dates that could be useful to you.
- Look into church records at older churches in the areas your ancestors lived if you know what religion they practiced.
Whichever route you choose to take, finding out more about your ancestors is addictive. You will find yourself getting excited at the smallest scrap of information, like finding out that your great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother’s hair was auburn from a letter written about her birth.
If you hit a dead end, do not give up. Information comes from the strangest of places and you must keep at it until you find something that gives. Some ancestry extremists take years to research just one or two generations. Whatever you do or do not find, your journey into your roots will be rewarding, personal and utterly exciting.