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How to Start a Research Paper on My Heritage

by Mary Pletcher

Your heritage, or the traditions and beliefs that come from your place of origin, may trace back to your parents or grandparents or may reach many generations back, depending on when your family immigrated and where they settled. To start a research paper on your heritage, you will need to define what traditions and beliefs you maintain from your parents, learn where your parents and their ancestors came from, and describe when those traditions or beliefs originated and how your family adapted them.

Verify the paper's requirements with your instructor by checking the syllabus or assignment sheet. Make a note of the required length, number of references required, and any other requirement you will need to fulfill when writing the paper.

Develop a research question. Your paper should answer a how or why question about your heritage, such as "How Has My Heritage Influenced My Choices Today?" or "Why Does My Grandmother Cook Pierogi?" You may choose a general question as the overarching theme of your paper and choose several smaller questions for specific paragraphs, depending on your paper's length.

Ask your parents and relatives what they know about your heritage. What traditions did they carry on from their parents? Do they know when their ancestors first came to the United States, and from where? What sort of town did they settle in and what traditions or heirlooms did they bring with them? Your family may already have a family historian who has compiled genealogical records.

Visit a genealogical library or website to trace your family tree. Many sites have existing census, birth and death records already logged and compiled. A genealogical librarian can assist you with more complicated searches. You may learn that you had ancestors who came from countries you did not know about. Include what, if any, traditions or values may have carried on from those ancestors in your paper.

Research the historical and cultural atmosphere of your ancestors' lifetime and location. Depending on what country or culture your ancestors are from, you may be able to find a local university or library with a collection devoted to that specific heritage. Libraries also have collections specifically devoted to the experience of specific immigrant groups. Cultural societies or halls in your town devoted to your ancestor's culture are also good resources.

Synthesize your research. Based on what you have discovered, begin your paper's outline with the topics you will cover. Make footnotes of all your references to make completing the paper and bibliography, if required, easier. Confirm that the material you have gathered will meet the paper's requirements, and begin writing.

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