5 Ways to Learn About Your Past

article by Maria Perinic
May 16, 2019

When looking into family ancestry there is a lot of guesswork involved with facts and dates tricky to pinpoint. A lot of the time your research will include methods of trial and error before you get things right.

Sometimes you might think you are on an easy path looking for a certain ancestor, but that path takes you to a whole new direction that you didn’t even want to take. Other times you will find family matches faster than you thought possible. Honestly, it can be quite daunting at times.

However, there is nothing more satisfying than finding out everything about your family’s ancestral lines. There are also steps that you can take in finding out more about your past which will keep you on track. Keep reading to find out how to make your family history research much easier.

#1 Take an at Home DNA Test

This is probably one of the most important steps you can take when it comes to researching your family ancestry. These kits have become incredibly affordable and are very easy to complete. All you have to do is provide a DNA sample with either saliva or by a swab of the inside of your cheek. You then mail the sample to the DNA lab in a pre-labeled envelope and wait for about 6-8 weeks to receive your results.

How Much Does It Cost?

MyHeritage DNA,  23andMe, AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, Living DNA are all affordable choices with their at-home DNA kits ranging from $69-$199. There are always special deals taking place and some will offer free shipping for two or more DNA tests. Some of these DNA testing companies will not only offer ancestry testing but also include health testing. This can further elaborate on your risk levels of contracting various genetic diseases depending on your DNA.

How Do They Do It?

So, how do they do it, you might be wondering. Basically, DNA companies use varied methods to determine your ancestry, but generally, it will involve using your DNA and comparing it to a reference DNA which represents different populations from various geographical regions. That is why people will often receive their results with their ethnicity divided up into percentages.

What Can I Find Out?

A cool aspect of DNA testing is that you can find out about your Neanderthal heritage by tracing your mitochondrial line. Did you know that all humans are able to trace back to one woman which we now know as Mitochondrial Eve, who probably lived in Africa some 150,000-200,000 years back? Finding out that you are a little bit Neanderthal is pretty cool and is most common for Caucasian and Asian people.

If you are assembling your family tree taking an at-home DNA test could really lend new elements to our research. Finding new relatives with this kind of genetic testing is not uncommon. Some people have even discovered siblings they had no idea even existed. Although this has happened it is uncommon, so try not to get your hopes up if you have someone, in particular, you are looking for.

The most common family members you can find are cousins, which is also incredibly cool for those individuals working on their family tree. If there are potential matches found, the DNA testing company will also be able to tell you how related you are.

To further understand here are the DNA testing averages:

  • Parents and full siblings: 50% shared DNA
  • Grandparents and half-siblings 25% shared DNA
  • Aunts and uncles and half siblings: 25% shared DNA
  • First cousins 6.25% shared DNA
  • Second cousins 1.5% shared DNA

Finding Out About Your Genetic Health

There are great benefits to doing an at-home DNA test that goes far beyond finding out about your ancestry. Recently, DNA testing company 23andMe has made innovative strides in their testing to include an evaluation of your risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. This is the leading preventable disease in America that affects as many as 30 million US citizens, with only 23 million diagnosed.

In addition to finding out about whether you might have an elevated risk of having type 2 diabetes you can also find out how likely you may be at risk of the following diseases:

  • BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Age-related macular degeneration (adult-onset vision loss)
  • Lung and liver disease
  • Celiac disease (a gluten autoimmune disorder)
  • Anemia
  • Infertility in males
  • Hereditary thrombophilia (harmful blood clots)
  • Hearing loss
  • Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

There is also a section within your health report that will shed light on around 40 genetic conditions, elaborating on various conditions such as:

  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Blood diseases
  • Kidney disease
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Tay-Sachs disease
  • Muscular Dystrophy

Health reports will also sometimes include wellness reports that will tell you how likely you might be to suffer from things like lactose intolerance or find out about your muscle composition and sleep movements.

An incredibly useful part of the health reports will tell you about different conditions that you might pass down to your children. This way you can remain informed and always keep an eye out for possible symptoms. These are, by no means, medical reports, but they can tell you more about your body based solely on your DNA which is a great conversation starter for you and your doctor.

#2 Find out More About the Places

When delving into the research you will probably find relatives scattered around the place, some possibly moving interstate or even overseas. It is vital, then, to find out a little about that particular city or region. Some may have been the center of political clashes with borders moving and subdivisions changing.

For example, very few European countries have the same borders now as they did back in the 1920s. You might even be surprised that some countries no longer exist (Yugoslavia), with others taking its place (Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, Serbia, etc.), and this happened just in the 1990s.

It might be a little daunting to research the history of a region instead of people that come from there, and sometimes it will feel as though you’re wasting your time. If you are somewhat aware of the history of the places your ancestors once lived you will be much better equipped at genealogical research.

#3 Identify and Search Records Associated with Your Ancestors

You might think now that everything has gone online, most of your ancestral research will be available online too. Think again, because even though you might start with a computer search of indexed records, chances are you will soon end up searching records that are found either on paper or microfilm. This means looking in local libraries and other locations which might help in your detective work.

When you do get your hands on some records it’s time to get to work. Although there are digitized records such as microfilms, you should know many of them are not. When you start looking at records that date back to the 1700s, it is most likely that you will be investigating paper records. Although many books are now digitized also, genealogically valued books have to be searched book by book.

#4 Save Time by Knowing Where to Look

One of the crucial places that will save you a lot of time and effort is MyHeritage.com. Not only do they offer at-home DNA testing, but on their website, you can find 3.5 billion profiles with 104 million users. In addition to all of that, you have 46 million family trees which you can access. On hand, you can research 9,753,951,223 historical records. These include:

Birth Records: These are one of the primary sources for information on family history. Birth records are most often issued within a few days of a birth and will contain their parents’ names as a minimum. More often than not, birth records will also contain additional details regarding parents including their place of birth, age, number of children and possibly even their religious affiliation which lead to baptism and christening records.

Before people were birthed in hospitals some records even had home addresses which is hugely important when finding out where people lived.

Marriage and Divorce Records: Marriage certificates are another form of record which will act as a key source of information when researching your family lineage. They are typically created on the day of the wedding and although the civil record will always be there, you might even have a religious-based document as well.

These records often vary in terms of the information on them, but most of the time they will include the brides’ and grooms’ names, age, number of marriages, as well as the date and place of the wedding. Sometimes they will also include things like the names of their parents, witnesses and even the address of residence after the marriage has taken place.

Divorce records will contain similar information in addition to details including names of possible children and maybe even the reason as to why the divorce took place.

Death Certificates: It might seem a bit dreary, but death certificates will be one of the most vital records for finding out more about your family history. This is because within them you will find out things like age, parents’ names and birthplaces as well as the cause of their death.

Another important thing to note is that many death certificates will have funeral home names listed on the death certificates. Funeral homes tend to have their own records so you can find more clues to complete your family puzzle.

MyHeritage also has documents including military draft, enlistment and service records, citizenship, passport and naturalization records as well as immigration and emigration records. To find out more about your family and dig up documents you never knew existed, MyHeritage is one stop you don’t want to miss.

#5 Keep Records of your Findings

Most people at some stage in their lives want to find out more about their family tree and ancestry. This means that many have gone out and done a fair bit of research on the topic. In many instances, this research never sees the light of day and this results in other people doing the same research over and over again.

If you do decide to look into your ancestral history, try to remain mindful of other people that might be undertaking the same venture and who might be doing the exact same work you are, for no reason at all. Keep a research log and think about putting it online.

The Bottom Line

Researching family history is no easy feat, but the rewards are endless and you can pass down the information for generations to come. This endeavor can be time-consuming and emotionally draining as new clues take you down different paths. To keep on track when it comes to ancestral lineage follow these five tips to make your life easier.

By taking a DNA test you will be able to find out where to look. Additionally, you can find out about your health and even find relatives that you never knew you had. Getting to know the places where your ancestors lived is also vital in getting to know more about your lineage.

One of the best tips is knowing where to look. MyHeritage has an easy search tool that can give you access to 9,753,951,223 historical records including primary sources of information including birth, marriage and death certificates. So, the only question that remains is, what are you waiting for?