If you dig into your family history, you’ll find surprises and some disappointments, but you’ll have the satisfying feeling of knowing the people and places that make up your family history.
On the disappointing side, that family story about Grandma being Cherokee? It’s almost certainly not true in any way, unless you are a tribal member now. But the surprises could be many. You may be a bricklayer and find out your great-great grandfather was also a bricklayer in 1850.
Genealogy is a great puzzle, but it is not as difficult as it may seem.
Most people can easily trace their ancestors to 1870 in census records, all available online. The 1890 census was mostly destroyed by fire, so that might be a hindrance, but many other records exist.
If you get earlier than 1850, the census just lists by name the head of household (usually male but not always) and no other members of the family.
When you hit snags, think broadly about where your family could be. Males in 1860 usually had something to do with the Civil War. Search war records. Communities from the 1790s and earlier are almost certainly clustered on the East Coast to Virginia and to Georgia and other states in the South.
Some family lines are easier to trace than others. If your people were known to be Quakers, you will be lucky indeed, since the Quaker records list whole families for decades, and even include stories. The same is true of Mormons. Another example are the German families who traveled to the U.S. from Hungary around the 1900s. These records are very detailed and widely available. If you know your ancestors were here during the American Revolution, don’t miss the records of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
A good genealogy program will let you easily add footnotes about where you found your information — this will be crucial as your tree expands. Online sites are also helpful including ancestry.com and familyhistory.com