Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tracing Your Family Tree

Blogger's Note: Last month, I began writing a column entitled "Tracing Your Roots," for my local newspaper.  Beginning here today, and continuing each Monday, I will be posting a copy of the article as it appeared in the newspaper on the previous Friday.

Interest in genealogy research, or tracing one’s family tree, is a hot topic these days. Once viewed by many as simply a hobby, genealogy has become one of the world’s newest industries.  In case you haven’t heard, family history research is the subject of two very popular television series, NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” which airs on Friday evenings at 7 p.m.,  and the Sunday evening PBS program “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. If you haven’t watched either of these shows, I encourage you to do so.  

The current interest in family research and the fast growing number of resources available for conducting that research have made it easier than ever to search for one’s family roots.  But if you are like most individuals who want to begin the journey down the family history trail, you may be asking yourself the question “Where do I begin?”  And that’s what I want to discuss here today.

Family history research is like a puzzle - one piece is added to another, and another, and another, until the entire picture is visible.  Often the puzzle’s picture tells a story.  And the search for our ancestors sometimes begins with just one piece of information - the name of a known ancestor. Luckily for most of us, we know the names of our grandparents, possibly the names of our great-grandparents, and more often than not, we also know where they lived.  Armed with just a single name, one can successfully search literally dozens of online databases that contain bits of data about our ancestors.  

One of the best sources of genealogical information out there are census records, and thanks to, a website maintained by the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) Church, the information there is free. This same website also contains information gleaned from birth, marriage, and death records. Probably the most widely publicized source of online family history information is, which requires a subscription to access the millions of records contained in this huge database.  According to its website, the company “has spent more than a decade building the world’s largest family history resource” that includes birth, marriage, divorce, death, military and census record information.

Some of the least known but best sources of free information for beginning family history researchers are genea-blogs. When I first began blogging in 2008, there were only a few hundred of us who were writing blogs about our family history. Now there are over two thousand genea-bloggers who hail from around the world, and many have become leaders in the genealogy community. Thomas MacEntee, well-known as one of those leaders in the genealogy world and a blogger himself, maintains the website, where links can be found to each member’s blog.  This site also features a search function where anyone can search a family name contained in the many blogs listed there.  

An important source of free information for online researchers is the website known as, a site that contains information and photos of millions of cemeteries and gravestones throughout the world.  Founded by Jim Tipson, the website was originally maintained as a place for posting photographs of the celebrity graves he visited, a hobby of his. However, the site no longer contains just photos of celebrity grave stones - it contains over 80 million grave records, including photos of gravestones posted by its 800,000+ volunteers.  According to statistics available on the website, more than 11 million pages were viewed today by its visitors.

The resources mentioned in this article are but a few of the thousands of databases, repositories, and publications available to family researchers.  But if you are ready to start the search for your own roots, they are excellent places to begin.


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