Traces spoke with Ancestry.com for some expert tips on family history research. Here is their best advice:
- Talk to your relatives: It seems simple, but you might be surprised by how much information your grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles might have that they’ve never shared, only because they were never asked. Ask them what they know about their parents and grandparents, especially any specific dates. Birth and death dates, migration records, and military service dates, to name a few, are incredibly useful to have when starting your research.
- Work from the known to the unknown – Start with what you know for certain about your ancestors and build on that knowledge until you have a solid next step. This will help you stay on track and with your own family, because it’s all too easy to jump ahead and end up accidentally tracing the roots of people who aren’t related to you.
- Narrow by category – Filter your results by selecting one of the options under ‘Narrow by category’. If you look specifically at travel records, for example, you can see when and from where your ancestors came to Australia.
- Immigration records – There’s a host of citizenship and naturalisation records; convict transportation records; border crossing, passports, and passenger and crew lists under Ancestry’s immigration records. These will allow you to discover the details of your family’s journey to Australia and how you came to be here today.
- Look at new releases – Ancestry is constantly adding new record collections to its database, so there are always new opportunities to trace your history. Just because you didn’t find something a month ago, doesn’t mean you should stop looking.
- Wildcard searches – Look for different spellings using wildcard characters. Use an * if there are several letters you’re not sure of (for example, Rob*son will look for Robinson and Robertson) or a ? for a single letter (for example Sm?th for Smith and Smyth). If your Grandpa Joe slightly changed the spelling of his name after WWII, this is an extremely useful way to find earlier records.
- Share your findings – One of the benefits of having a public family tree is that your distant relatives can feed in information that you may not have previously known. As well as making a connection with long-lost cousins, you can also learn something new that might help you make the next connection.