Ancestry Research: Tips and tricks on where to begin

The personal biographies we write often include a chapter on the subjects’ family origins, and having a well-rounded perspective on your ancestry is not only fulfilling but also helps ensure that this part of your story is accurate and informative for future generations.  

For those who are interested in learning about their family history, beginning the research into your lineage can seem like a huge task. There are often some discrepancies, errors and uncertainty when it comes to family trees, including misspelt family names or erroneous family stories.  

Ancestry has become a popular hobby and interest in recent years, with the rise of ancestry shows and at-home testing kits and services. For more information on this, read our previous blog that answers the question: why is ancestry so popular? 

Here, we take a look at some of the initial steps you can follow to begin your ancestry research.

1. Start with what you know 

Get started by mapping what knowledge you already have about your family tree. This information is readily available to you, so it is a great place to start. Organise your immediate family tree, your parents’ names, dates, locations and key facts about their lives.  

Once you have done this for your immediate family, document the same information about your grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. This gives you a great starting point and a way to cross-reference any further information you find out later.

2. Use alternative research 

Information is readily available to us at the click of a button, but although historical records and archives are now digitally stored, there are more traditional avenues that can be used to gain access to particular records. For example, family information is often displayed on tombstones and may serve as a way to confirm your family tree.  

You can also find similar information in:  

  • Obituaries 
  • Newspaper databases 
  • Military records 

The above information may be available at your local library, and utilising these alternatives could be a cost-efficient way to access information.  


3. Contact your family members  

In order to gain a complete picture of your lineage, talk to your siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins etc., they may be treasure troves of information and could lead to discovering more great information.  

Follow the same pattern as outlined in the above step, firstly so you can confirm what you know is correct, and ask the right questions to unveil some great stories and nuggets of information.  

In addition, by speaking with family members, you may discover that they have kept certain documents as keepsakes like letters, obituaries, and birth certificates, which will aid with forming your family history further. 


4. Identify maiden names and all previous names 

Maiden names are a crucial element in your quest to find out about the matriarchal side of your ancestry. For example, your grandmother may not have become “Mrs Jones” until she married your grandfather, so make sure to record all maiden names where you can, so that you are looking for the relevant names while accessing historical records and to help populate your family tree. 

This also goes for any other previous names, for example, those who have changed their name or had multiple marriages, and could lead to another branch of lineage. 

Maiden names are typically shown within census records, birth certificates and obituaries, and will be the link within historical records up until the legal date of name change.  


5. Create records based on your findings 

Creating records of your research makes it easier to organise and share with others, for example, if you choose to write your life story, we can use this to form the background elements, or to add context.  

Information can be recorded on forms called pedigree charts, which are similarly used within biology, and show genetic history over several generations with male and female family members represented as different shapes.  

Additionally, keeping certain information or documents organised alphabetically by surname, makes the information easier to digest and navigate through to find specific individuals within your records.  

Once you have your records in place, you may want to preserve your family history to share with future generations. That’s where we come in, our storytelling team will conduct several interviews with you to help you tell your story, your way, and document this in a personal keepsake so your family legacy lives on.  

Contact us to start your storytelling journey.  

At My Story Told, we love learning about individual experiences and being a part of instilling your legacy for future generations, creating a lasting document in the process.  

Most people choose to document their story in chronological order, while paying specific attention to certain periods of their lives such as their childhood or marriage, but there are a number of ways to create a lasting family heirloom that involve unique topics of focus.  

Here, we identify three ways to create a personalised document for your family, friends or colleagues to enjoy.  

1. Family recipes 

Food is never just food. It’s the time at the table together, its recipes passed down through generations, and the comforting taste of home. Though recipes are easily accessible nowadays, the special tricks, flavours, and secrets that make meals unique are what differentiates family recipes from mainstream versions. 

A personalised cookbook of family recipes is something that can become a huge part of a person’s life – whether those meals are used on special occasions or for everyday eating, the amazing culinary treats they’ve invented and dished up over the years can act as a symbol of a family’s legacy.  

It’s also a chance to immortalise traditional family recipes for years to come, as the meals live on through the next generation. 

2. Memorable Quotes 

Throughout our lifetimes, we are told quotes, anecdotes and life lessons that are passed down by relatives. For example, you may have been told something to the effect of: “just like your grandad used to say…”.  

Sharing these anecdotes and quotes could be one way to develop a unique history to share with your family, whether that is life lessons about love, quirky sayings or an old wives’ tale.  

There may have been times when a family member’s words have inspired you, and will remind you about something that is important to you. Putting these in a document means that you can share the wisdom with others, or you can come back to them when you need inspiration.  

3. Business Expertise 

Gaining extensive experience within a specific industry comes with invaluable knowledge and expertise that many can learn from. Success within entrepreneurship does not come without mistakes, and are commonplace within business. Certain approaches and life lessons will emerge from falling at those hurdles, and these lessons could serve as vital information for future business owners.  

Documenting your business journey is another way to create a truly unique biography that many can enjoy and learn from, as people often ask business experts to outline what lessons they wish they knew when they started.  

A document like this can be used to inspire and provide essential value for anyone planning, managing, or growing a business through actionable insights from the successes and challenges of great entrepreneurs and executives.  

At My Story Told, our team are with you every step of the way on your storytelling journey, whether that is a traditional memoir, or any personalised alternative you choose. We help individuals preserve their life stories in their own words, helping you tell your story, your way.  

Get in touch to start your storytelling journey today.