How to find your ancestors in online databases

How to find your ancestors using online databases is a question most people face when building their family tree.

There are millions of records to sort through and to identify your family members can be your an intimidating prospect. Especially, if your family name is a common one and you could be faced with multiple search results for a single person.

However, a few simple tools and strategies can ease the pressure and make the task seem less daunting.

This is also an important step to take as you continue to build your family tree.

Familiarising yourself with the online databases will be essential as you dig deeper and deeper into your ancestry.

The validation of having your information confirmed by an official record is great for your morale and credibility as you move forward.

Firstly, you should already have some basic information about some of your closer relatives such as your parents and grandparents.

Your initial task is to confirm what you think you know is correct. So, if you know the name, birthdate and birthplace of an individual then it should be fairly easy to find them online. Once found you can confirm the information you have is correct.

The further back into your family tree that you go, the more difficult searching online records can become. This is purely due to the possible lack of documentation abilities at the time. Therefore, it is always best to start as close to the present as you can and work back in time.

Remember at this stage, the more information you can use as your search criteria the better.

How to find your ancestors when they have a common name

It is possible that your search comes up with more than one person of the same name. The you need to see what else you know about them that can distinguish one individual from another. Occupations, marriage records, children are all great pieces of information that can identify one single individual.

For example, if your family name is a popular one such as Smith, and your grandfather’s name was John then you are likely to have more than one result from your basic search.

Don’t be afraid of getting lost along the odd blind alley or dead end. It is better to check the information you can find on individuals. Then you can confirm or dismiss them as a member of your family history.

Experts Graham and Emma Maxwell, who run a genealogy research company based in Scotland called Scottish Indexes, have a great piece of advice on how to find your ancestors.

They say: “Taking a few minutes to wade through some extra results is a far better use of time than eliminating the correct result by filling in too many search boxes.”

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Key points to take away

  • Use all information available to correctly identify a member of your family
  • Start with the relatives from as close to the present as you can and work back in time
  • Don’t be afraid of going down the occasional blind alley. Discovering an individual was actually not part of your family tree is still worthwhile information.