How To Start Your Family Research

    Researching your family history can be a fun and rewarding experience, but many people do not know where to begin.  I began my family research a few years ago after having my DNA tested.  I was surprised by my DNA results and had very little knowledge of my own family’s history.  I set out for answers and learned many research tips and tricks along the way.  This blog post is designed to help you get started on your family research quickly and easily regardless of your budget.

    First, contact your oldest living relatives and ask them to tell you as much about past generations as possible.  Asking specific questions about each branch of the family will garner better information.  Be sure to prepare questions in advance and take detailed notes of their answers.  Elderly relatives who are here today may not be here tomorrow, so don’t delay.  You don’t want miss the opportunity to speak to people who can share valuable information with you.  I find that people are usually happy to talk about family history and phone calls in regards to this subject are more than welcome.

    The holidays are coming up and this is an excellent time to discuss genealogy.  I learned about my great grandparents and second great grandparents by bringing up the subject of genealogical research at a family gathering a few years ago when I was first starting my family research.  My aunt even got out a box of photos that contained a photo of my second great grandfather and countless photos of my great grandparents.  These were pictures that I did not have in my possession prior to this.  Be sure to ask your relatives for any and all photos that they have of your ancestors.

    Once you have taken notes from your relatives, visit the popular subscription websites such as Ancestry, My Heritage and Find My Past.  Family Search is completely free and has an abundance of genealogical records as well. Ancestry, My Heritage and Family Search have a broad base of records spanning the globe whereas Find My Past focuses more on records from Ireland and the United Kingdom. Geneanet.org is another excellent website and costs only $12.50 for a three month subscription.

    Public libraries often allow free use of Ancestry while visiting the facility.  The Denver Public Library also allows library cardholders to access My Heritage and even has a “genealogist on duty” to assist family researchers on Tuesdays through Fridays from 10am to 1pm at no charge.  You can learn more about the “Genealogist On Duty” program here: https://history.denverlibrary.org/news/genealoist-duty.  The Denver Public Library (DPL) has a wealth of other resources to help you get started with genealogy.  You can learn more by visiting  https://history.denverlibrary.org/genealogy.

    So, what if you don’t live in Denver? No worries.  I just mentioned the DPL because I live in the Denver Metro area, but there are plenty of resources no matter where you live in the United States.  

    Visit your local library’s website or the library’s website for where in the United States your ancestors lived and search for “genealogy”.  Many local libraries have newspaper archives which can be priceless in assisting you with your research.  Obituaries often contain information such as a woman’s maiden name or will list other relatives such as siblings, spouse and parents.  Many libraries will even conduct a name search in newspapers for you if you are unable to visit their facility.  For example, my husband’s third great grandparents, Philip and Anna Catharina Klein, and fourth great grandmother, Anna Maria Klein, immigrated to Pittsburgh in the early 1850s before the family relocated to Philadelphia. I contacted the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh asking them to search for an obituary for Philip Klein’s mother in local newspapers.  The staff is conducting this research at no charge.  You can learn more about this service at the Carnegie Library at this link: https://www.carnegielibrary.org/research-overview/genealogy/research-requests/.

    There are countless other resources available to you from the comfort of your own home.  Cyndi’s List (https://www.cyndislist.com) should be one of the first places you visit when starting your research.  This website provides links for various countries around the world including all 50 states.  For example, let’s say that you wanted to learn more about records from Mexico. You would click the “categories” tab on the upper left of the homepage.  Once on the “categories” page you would scroll down and click on the link labeled “Mexico”.  You would then see a list of resources available on the internet for Mexican research. I recommend clicking on the “General Interest” and “How To” links once in this section.  

    If you know the name of the arrival ancestor (meaning the ancestor who first stepped foot on U.S. soil) then you may be able to find that person in immigration records.  Ellis Island opened in 1892, but Castle Garden was America’s first immigration center.  Based in New York City, Castle Garden was in operation from 1820-1892.  You can read more about Castle Garden here: https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/ny-castle-garden-ellis-island/. You can also search Ellis Island immigration records at https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/about-passenger-search.  

    Another resource worth visiting is House of Names (https://www.houseofnames.com).  This site will explain the origin of many surnames and basic searches of first and last names are free of charge.  More detailed information is available for a fee.  This site has been useful to me on more than one occasion.  For example, David Fairbrothers was my third great grandfather.  He was born sometime around 1824 in New Jersey to James and Nancy Fairbrothers, both of whom were born in New Jersey.  Researching early Americans can be difficult and I do not have any additional information on my fourth great grandparents.  According to House of Names, the Fairbrothers surname was first found in Yorkshire, England and the first person who landed in America bearing this surname came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1746.  Now, I may or may not ever find any information beyond James and Nancy Fairbrothers, but at least I know the likely origin of their surname.

    I will discuss additional resources and research techniques in another blog post, but you now have plenty of information to get started.  In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at mail@dawnharvey.com.  


    This is the list of resources mentioned in this blog post:

    Major Genealogy Websites: 






    Immigration Resources:



    Other Helpful Resources:









    Dawn Harvey







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