Want to trace your family history, but don't know where to start?

In the case of genealogy, the best place to start is also the easiest: your home. Thanks to the innovations of the Internet, beginning to establish a family tree is as simple as logging online and taking advantage of the many resources available on the World Wide Web.

Here are 5 ways to to kick off the hunt for your ancestors without leaving home:

  1. Search obituaries. Most family trees begin in the present and work backwards, so the obituaries of your most recently deceased relatives are a good place to start researching your ancestry. Obituary notices contain invaluable information like date of birth and date of death, as well as place of burial and insight into the life of the deceased person. They may also lead you to living relatives who may be able to provide more information. Obituaries can be found using an obituary search engine, or using the archive of the local paper.
  2. Ask your relatives. With the modern conveniences of email, instant messaging, and Skype, it's easier than ever to stay in touch with even the most distant of kin. Interview your family members and gather all the information you can from those who know your family best. Creating a genealogy website or blog is a great way to get your family interested in the project, and mailing lists and forums can provide access to family members you don't even know you have.
  3. Take advantage of previous research. Someone in your family may have already started mapping out the family tree, so search for any previous research that may have been done before you expend unnecessary energy reinventing the wheel. Pedigree databases like RootsWeb and FamilySearch.com provide access to previously researched family trees, which may even include contact information for the original researcher.
  4. Perform a death record search. As death records are typically the most recent record created for a deceased family member, they are often easier to find than records of other kinds. Search through the various online death indexes that are provided by both official and volunteer organizations to fill in the gaps on your family tree. If you're located in the U.S., the Social Security Death Index is available for free searches from multiple sources.
  5. Make use of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Few sources have more information on ancestry than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FamilySearch has been gathering information on genealogy for over 100 years, using the resources of their 4,500 family history centers (located in 70 countries!) and the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Want more advice on conducting genealogical research from the comfort of your couch? 5 more tips, coming at you next time...