Ancestry.com is the largest online repository of family history records with about 25,000 databases — holding about 5 billion records including the entire U.S. Census indexed since 1790.
Although you may hit a few bumps along the way, Smolenyak offers a quick guide to start your family research that could open doors to your heritage.
Start at home. Gather all the data you can. Look in your closets and drawers for old photos with names, yearbooks, certificates, medals and military discharge papers. Get on the phone and talk to relatives who are only 20 minutes older than you. Your relatives are living libraries that are full of research.
Start a tree. Hop online and start with a tree. Ancestry.com has an easy online version where you can enter your data. You can organize your research and the visual chart is easy to share with your family. The interaction can also help you, with relatives sending photos and contributing information that you hadn't had before.
Start the research. The serious part is getting into the research. You might have to write the state for vital records but there are some basic tools online. The census is the real workhorse that everyone starts on and it's easy if your family has been in the United States for quite some time. Ancestry.com also includes Social Security death index since 1962 and massive immigration records between 1820 to 1960.
Don't skip generations. You want to be methodical so that you refrain from error. Start with yourself and go back one generation at a time — don't jump generations.
Try a DNA test. The DNA search can provide your country of origin and a look at how your ancestors migrated. You never know whom you might match up with and what connections you might make through a DNA database.
Smolenyak notes that as we increasingly become mobile and rootless, genealogy is important because it gives a sense of belonging and connects people not only across oceans, but throughout generations.
Who knows? You could find and develop strong bonds with the second cousin you thought you never had.