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How to Trace Your Family History

By Charles Hopkins Published 01/19/2007 | Genealogy

When it comes to tracing your family history, there are a number of documents that you will find to be very helpful in piecing together the story of your ancestors. Here are some examples of documents that will be especially helpful.

Perhaps the most basic of documents to look for when tracing your family's history would be personal records kept within the family. For many generations, family Bibles were used to record births, deaths, marriages, and other important milestones within the life of the family. Letters written by family members can also often give you a great deal of insight into the personalities of your ancestors.  You can get a feel for how they viewed the world, what types of concerns were on their minds on a daily basis, and how they reacted in both times of joy and sorrow. 

Records kept at houses or worship can also provide you with a window to the past. In fact, there have been times in history when the most reliable records were those found in parish churches. Here you will find information about marriages and deaths, where burials took place, when baptisms and other admissions into the denomination or faith took place. You may be surprised to find that your forebears at times played a prominent role in the local house of worship, either by serving as part of the lay government of the body, or perhaps fulfilling a lay ministerial role in the life of the congregation. 

Parish records can often lead you to graveyards where your ancestors were laid to rest. Since families are often buried in common plots, you may be able to obtain additional information about other relatives from the surround headstones. Older headstones may be difficult to read, but by taking paper and a little chalk, you can make a stencil of the markings on the headstone, and often be able to decipher the inscriptions from that. 

Government records may also yield some valuable information. Such documents as census records may help you to have some idea of how many inhabitants were in a certain household at the time the census was taken. In some cases, you may even be able to obtain a list of names for all members of the household. Property titles can also help you to place relatives in a given location at a certain point in time, which in turn will give you further ideas of physical locations to look.

Online resources can help you immensely these days. From access to large genealogical libraries, such as the one owned and by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the limited access to records of the Social Security Administration, using the Internet will save you a lot of time and money.  Often, you will be able to obtain further information that will help you to trace your family line back a few more generations.

Tracing your family history is a labor of love, and one way you can make sure that your ancestors are known and appreciated by the generations that will follow you. Taking the time to trace your family history will often teach you a great deal about your family, and how the past has helped to form the present that you know so well.