Family history, or the study of genealogy, is fascinating. Still, many genealogy beginners need help figuring out where to start, and with tons of heritage and ancestor resources out there, good and bad, it can take time to keep up. It can be helpful to start with the reasons for researching your ancestral history, whether you want to know how they lived, your medical history, cultural origins, your DNA, debunk a family rumor, or to find out if you really are related to a famous person from the 15th-century, here we will discuss setting smart goals to find your why, and a detailed curated list of resources to spark your ancestorial discoveries.
People have many reasons for wanting to learn more about their family history. Still, in the internet world, it can get overwhelming, which might leave you questioning why. If you think of family trees like crossword puzzles, complicated but worthwhile once you've cracked them, then it might help. Like your daily crossword puzzles, family trees can be exciting to uncover, and you might discover who you are and what attributes you share with your ancestors in the process.
Tracing ancestry can also benefit those who want to learn about their medical history and DNA. Some studies suggest that over 40% of the U.S. population could be at increased genetic risk for cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, which makes understanding your risk of developing these diseases even more important. Knowing your family medical history doesn't mean you will develop such diseases, but knowing the risks can help you make informed health decisions and could even help you get screened for some diseases at an earlier age.
With the endless wealth of information in mind, it might be helpful to start thinking about your family history research goals before tracing your genealogy. We'll call these SMART genealogy goals; you may have already heard of SMART goals at school or SMART work goals; SMART genealogy goals are similar.
They are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-specific goals. SMART targets can help you stay on track and help you figure out your aims when researching your ancestors. They can confirm what you want to do is possible and give you clear, detailed objectives so you can easily keep track of your progress along the way.
Time-specific is also a hugely important one to keep in mind. Have you ever researched a topic, suddenly something piques your interest, and hours later, you're down a research rabbit hole? In-depth research is necessary, but remember to set small to medium manageable time-bound goals as you go along; that way, you can keep track and not get overwhelmed in the process.
Before you embark on your family history journey, remember that, unfortunately, some records might have been lost, destroyed, or not even captured. Therefore, you may have to get creative with where you look for your ancestors. Luckily, many preserved historical resources are available in online databases and records. For those looking to commence their family history search by themselves, there are tons of podcasts and apps you can use to help you.
With that in mind, we've compiled a list of family history resources for each individual's smart goals, depending on what you want to get out of your journey.
These beginner-friendly family history resources could help pique your interest. You can dip your toes in and learn more about who your ancestors were, or they could inspire you to do your own family history research.
Family search is a great free non-profit research tool to bring life to your family’s history. You can search for a specific ancestor on their database, get free in-person advice at their family history centers, or connect with your family members across generations.
Created in 1996 by a group of passionate genealogists, there are now tons of free resources to scroll through that are managed by volunteers. Search by state and discover more. For a more in-depth search, check out their Special Collections Project.
Olive Tree Genealogy is not just a play on words; it’s a whole database of well-curated records. Olive Tree specializes in passenger lists, immigration, and genealogy secrets. There’s a Guide for Beginners in Genealogy to get you started.
Want to build your family tree? Family trees or pedigree charts can help you map your ancestral connections and discover where you fit in the rich tapestry. You might also discover more about the ancestors you do know.
Ancestry is a well-known family history website with a huge database of 30 billion records and 100 million family trees. You can add all the ancestors you know, and the ancestry database will do the rest.
Explore your Anstory last name and the stories behind your surname with My Heritage. You can search for birth records, immigration data, names and birth dates, and family occupations.
Information is at the tip of our fingertips, so what better way than to discover with the National Archives? You can search military service records, get tips for starting your genealogy research, and connect with other users in their History Hub.
Family Echo is a free online family tree tool to keep all the information you've gathered in one place. It's only shareable to people you want, so your privacy is protected.
Family Tree DNA offers many DNA testing options for those looking to empower themselves through a DNA approach to healthcare and wellness. Learn about your ancestors and get personalized insights and recommendations for your health journey.
Want to find out more about your genetic makeup? With 23andMe, you can get genetic insights and a complete picture of your health. There are three plans to choose from, and their reports are FDA approved. 30+ trait reports, health predisposition, medical history, and more.
Ancestry DNA is another resource from the popular Ancestry Family Tree. If you've ever wondered if you have family members from another country, the Ancestry DNA kits and cutting-edge science compare your DNA with people worldwide.
The Heritage DNA kit is quick and easy and could help you discover relatives who share DNA with you across 2,114 geographic locations. Discover where in the world your ancestors might have come from.
Promethease is a personal DNA report provider, so if you want to take a deep dive into your genomics and how they may influence health conditions, Promethease offers a front-row seat to science from the DNA data you upload.
If you're searching for a soulful connection to your ancestors and want to learn more about how they lived, where they grew up, or their lives, the following resources could help you trace your global family history and lineage.
This non-profit organization is dedicated to providing resources for African American genealogy research. Our Blank Ancestry is passionate about reuniting African family roots and relations and helping descendants of enslaved people heal the wounds of slavery.
Findmypast is a fast-growing, tech-driven Genealogy subscription service for British and Irish descendants. Upload your family tree, build it, and learn about what your ancestors did and how they lived. Findmypast also has gift subscriptions, so you can give the present of the past to your loved ones.
Jewishgen is a brilliant free global home for Jewish genealogy. There's a discussion group where you can connect with others, Yizkor Book translations, an extensive Family Finder, and more. Jewishgen is all about connecting to the past to influence future generations.
With over 500 million family history records to search through, Genes Reunited has a huge community of family history enthusiasts looking to discover their ancestors and lineages. Trace records and connect with communities of people worldwide.
As a passion project that has been going on for over 25 years, Cyndi's List is great for family history newbies and veterans alike. Trace your lineage with categorized genealogical resources, online research tips, and more.
PolishRoots covers all areas worldwide that were historically part of the Polish Commonwealth. They have a handy translation guide, and they can tell you more about where your ancestors might have emigrated to or help you trace your Polish ancestors from as far back as the 16th Century.
For those looking to connect with their ancestors through historic newspapers and digitized newspaper pages, check out Chronicling America in partnership with the Library of Congress and the National Digital Newspaper Program.
Inspired to embark on your own family history voyage? Here are some resources you can check out for more inspiration.
Join Marian. B. Wood on her family tree history journey that she started in 1998. There are tips for beginners and advice on getting started.
The Creative Family Historian is a great place to start. Learn more about setting goals from a passionate family history enthusiast.
If podcasts are more of your thing, The Geneology Guys Podcast could give you some helpful tips and tricks. They have special guests, talk to family history experts, and review family history resources.