Chapter 4 : Modern Methods Of Researching Your Past

As we mentioned, learning from facts is one of the best tools that you have in genealogy searches.  We’ll start with the most basic of searches, the ones that lead you to the answers that you are seeking from the very basic level. 

While modern technology and modern research methods are effective, we’ll also explore some of the lesser beneficial methods of genealogy research which can actually be helpful to connect the dots. 

The Advent Of Change

While most people have always be interested in genealogy, it was always something on the backburner, so to speak.  Yet, there was something that happened in the 1970’s that made genealogy come to the forefront and began our search for more answers as well as the ability to us modern research methods to tackle them. 

Of course, that was the television adaptation of Roots:  The Saga of an American Family.  This was a fictionalized account of Alex Haley’s family history.

It was the beginning of people questioning what their family’s history had in store for them.  Could you have some powerful past that you didn’t know about?  This television program really sparked the questions that people had and they began the search for information which would grow into a steady habit for many years. 

Today’s interest in the past is fueled by many sources.  Before going any farther, though, we must provide you with a word of warning.  The fact is that the internet is one of the best tools that you have to connecting you with your long lost family and giving you answers to questions about who your relatives were.

Yet, it is also an easy way for you to find yourself in a trap.  Sometimes, information that you find is not going to be accurate.  This is especially true of those methods found on the web that can’t be proven accurate.  Nevertheless, there are ways that you can connect the dots and learn quite a bit about your family’s past.

The process often consists of looking in unique areas, often ones that you haven’t thought of or realized that your family may possibly be a part of it.  Uncovering your family’s history means going deep into the process.

Research Effort Methods

The process of learning about your family is likely to be one that offers several key searches.  You’ll use a wide range of these methods to get to the answers you need.

  • Types of relationships among your family members will include kinship to various groups or associations.
  • A surname search is called a one name study which will only give you details about a certain family name, passed down over time.
  • A small community, village or even church parish may offer help in the research methods.  This also includes a one place study, which is just a search of on location’s family lines.
  • Or, you can use a particular person to search for, for example trying to use your family’s history to connect to another person’s family.

The truth is that you’ll likely need to go through many of these methods to find the answers that you need.  In many ways, it’s a process of looking where you didn’t know you needed to look for answers regarding your family.

Latter Day Saints

Don’t skip over this section just yet!  Even if your family doesn’t have any known connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as LDS, you may still be able to use their records to help you to learn about your family.

During the 1900’s, this group worked hard to create a program of moving all of their available records on ancestry into the valuable tool of microfilm.  They placed all records they had in this medium, to safeguard them.  In addition to this, they also created an index that was used to keep track of all of their members.

These two undertakings were large, thorough and would become one of the best tools for genealogical searches today.  Today, these two projects have been folded together and are in two databases that are readily accessible. 

The International Genealogical Index, which is known as IGI, is a tool that can be used.  It is a transcription record of filmed civil and ecclesiastic records.  These records have come from various locations from cooperating local areas around the world. 

The other database that you can use is known as the Ancestral File or just simply AF.  This database is used to collect the information about the member’s contributions over time.

So, how can these databases help you?  First off, the IGI is one of the best records of old birth and marriage records from the LDS.  It has records of those that have been born, died and married starting from well back to 1500.  Most of this information is from the United States, Europe and Canada. 

Generally, information regarding members has been able to reveal quite a bit about family ancestry from these resources.

How can you use the LDS’s collection of information?  In Salt Lake City, Utah the collection of these microfilms is located.  The resources are located at the Family History Library which has a vast collection of information regarding the entire society. 

Yet, you don’t have to travel there to find them.  There are branches (some 4000 of them) around the country and world that can offer you help.

You can visit these locations, request information or even rent information for your on site research needs.  In fact, they have expanded this search ability to the internet as well.  You can visit the collection at this location at 

The website actually provides for free research guide and a variety tools including the Ancestral File, the International Genealogical Index, the Social Security Death Index, and the 1880 United States Federal Census information.  This is an ideal place for you to get started with your search!

Use Your Genetics For Genealogy

What if you could have your DNA tested at a local lab and then reported to you.  It could be then used to trace your family line, based on your DNA well back into history. 

How can this be possible when DNA is something that is rather new?  The fact is that today, DNA is adding to the genealogical search quite a bit. Those that are studying genealogy are finding that this is a great way to actually learn about your past.  But, how does DNA and genealogy work together?

There are two types of DNA that are important to be considered for genealogy purposes.  The first is mitochondrial DNA which is the type of genetic marker that is passed down by everyone. 

Mitochondrial DNA is passed down through the maternal, or female, line.  As it is passed down, even through thousands of years, it changes very little.  Only small mutations are seen in this type of DNA and that makes it a significant role player in history research.

The other type of DNA which is important is known as Y Chromosome DNA.  This type of DNA is only found in males; where as Mitochondrial DNA is found in everyone.  In Y Chromosome DNA, there are only small mutations percent over time in the male lineage.  This too makes it very important for the search for family lines.

As you can imagine (soap operas here don’t count) the need to know if you are related to someone is done by taking DNA samples of two people and comparing them.  By using a genetic test, researchers can see if two people have the right DNA to be related based on these two types we’ve mentioned. 

In genealogy, this happens to be an ideal method for matching people today that may be descendants of others from the past.  For example, by taking two people that share a potential common ancestor, tests can help to place where people are in the scope of ancestry. 

One study that you may want to look into, then, is that of the Molecular Genealogy Research Project.  The MGRP, as it is called, is a database collection of information that is taking genealogical information and genetic data and working to place people throughout the world.

The goal of this project is to establish the fact that everyone is related to everyone else, and then to define just how closely they are related.  By taking blood samples and pedigree charts that he had collected, Mr. James L Sorenson, the founder of the project, began to learn as much as he could about how closely related people actually were.

By comparing the data of those that would donate blood samples, this project showed that people were in fact related, though distantly, through generations.    You can learn more about this project, and even participate in it by visiting their website.

Another project that should be noted is that of The Genographic Project.   This project is one that used genetic methods to actually trace the human patterns of migration and then to determine the biogeographical and ethic origin.  In this project, the results help to place people in various ancestral groups even through some ancient times.  It can help to tell you where your ancient ancestors may have lived and experienced.

The fact is that DNA is an ideal tool to use in determining the relation of people.  In our search for answers about your own family, though, it may be harder to actually see how DNA can play a role.    Nevertheless, it is one of the most amazing types of research methods available and definitely one that will see improvements over time.

These methods of understanding ancestry and genealogy are good places to start.  They are tools that could be effective at helping to answer some of your own questions.  But, by far they aren’t all that you can get into.

The goal of any type of ancestry project is to trace back from the beginning, or rather from the now into the past. Therefore, to get you started in the process of learning about your past, we’ll go back and offer you the first steps of understanding your family tree.

In the next chapter, we’ll talk about how you can get started in the exploration of your family tree and family history.  Start with the understanding that there are modern means of research available to you, though.  You can then ues the information that you uncover there to give you the answers that you need.

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