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How to Determine Your Ancestry

by Ann Johnson

When determining your ancestry, you are attempting to learn more about the history and origins of your family, going back through generations to the furthest great-grandparent you can locate. Because you have eight great-grandparents, and the number doubles for each prior generation, this is a project that can keep a researcher occupied for years. Some people focus just on the ancestry of their surname, yet a person's genetic makeup and ancestry comes as much from the mother's side of the family as it does the surname's side.

Begin a pedigree chart, listing yourself as the starting person. Free pedigree charts can be obtained online or might be available at your local genealogical organization.

Start a notebook or scrapbook to keep any family information you find, such as news clippings or old documents.

Add your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to the pedigree chart as you obtain information on the individuals. Include their full names along with the dates and places of their birth, marriage and death.

Contact relatives to obtain information on family members to add to the chart or to request a copy of family-history information they've collected.

Inspect family Bibles, old family letters and diaries, birth certificates, newspaper clippings of obituaries and any documents that might contain data about your ancestors.

Visit your local library and browse the family-history section looking for books on your surname or your mother's surname or surnames of any of your great-grandparents. From these books you might find data to enter onto your pedigree chart or notebook

Order and take a DNA test from a reputable genetic testing center. This will involve swabbing the inside of your mouth and returning the sample to the center for testing. The test results will give you information to unlock the origins of your ancestry so you can discover what parts of the world your ancestors might have come from. This is also an excellent tool for an adopted person who has no clue what their ethnic heritage might be.

Tip

  • Joining a local genealogical club or organization can provide support and instruction for researchers.

About the Author

Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real-estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University, Fullerton.