How to Find Out Where Your Family Came From

by Ann Johnson

When tracing your family's history, one of the basic questions you are answering is where your family came from. All family research begins by noting those generations to which you have personal knowledge and are closest to, such as parents and grandparents. From those individuals you need to branch out, seeking information about their parents, grandparents, and so forth. When making your search you need to know what documents and genealogist's tools will give you the clues to answer the question: Where did your family come from?

Begin by interviewing family members, such as parents, cousins, and aunts and uncles. Record the information they give you and begin creating a family tree and collecting documents, such as death certificates, church records, family letters, newspaper clippings and newspaper obituaries.

Look at the birth certificates. Birth certificates will list the name of the child's parents, plus where those parents were born. For example, if you know your deceased father's name and where and when he was born in the United States, yet have no idea who his parents were or where they were from, you can contact that county and obtain a copy of his birth certificate. From that birth certificate you can typically discover the name of his parents, plus where they were born.

Research the census reports. Every ten years the United States takes a nationwide census. Those reports show not only the names and addresses of the residents, but where the parents of those residents were born. If you have names of your ancestors, you can trace older census reports, looking for the generation that first came to the United States, thus answering the question; where your family came from. Link for locating and researching census reports in resources.

Take a genetic DNA test, such as a Y-Chromosome 33 or 46, or mtDNA. These tests can provide significant clues and answers as to what part of the world your family originally came from. The tests involve collecting samples from the mouth with a cotton swab and mailing those to a lab and paying a fee. Some tests must be taken by a male family member, such as a brother or father. Link to additional DNA testing in resources.


  • Information in census reports is subject to error, as it is only as accurate as the people originally involved in collecting the data.

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.

Photo Credits

  • C. Johnson