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Writing on Her Journal

How I Started My Search

Researching my family history has been a passion of mine for many years. When I first began, the most I could do was to talk to family members and explore a few public records. Today, resources abound, and the possibilities for finding long-lost relatives has increased significantly.

If The Time Travels Annie Sesstry has piqued an interest in searching your owns roots, let me offer some suggestions that incorporate both how I started and how my approach has grown over the years.

Interviewing family elders. At family functions, I made a point to seek out our family elders. I asked them about their lives and I listened to their stories and family legends. I found out early that names are a key factor, and why I called family members, were not always their given names. I got in the habit of asking about nicknames, as nicknames and given names were also used interchangeably in legal documents.

After interviewing several of our family elders separately, I decided to hold a group discussion. It was a remarkable exercise. Recollections differed from person to person and each added details that made my information more complete. It was also an opportunity for them to reminisce and share long forgotten memories.

Accessing the archives of the state(s) of my family’s origins. Once I amassed my basic information, I used census data, birth and death records, tax records, voting records, marriage records, deeds, and wills. I checked newspaper archives for articles about my family, especially obituaries. was a useful resource. I also utilized the services of an online genealogy service. Some of the most extensive sites are:






Looking for ancestors who emigrated from another country. Although it was not relevant to my search, a tip I learned from my research is that those who are looking for ancestors who emigrated from other countries should look for ships’ passenger lists on genealogy websites. The Ellis Island database is the best resource for European immigrants. If you live near New York or plan to visit, make a trip to the island. Visit the museum and conduct your search on site. If you are unable to visit, do an online search at

Starting my search for my enslaved ancestors alive in 1870. I learned during my research that enslaved African Americans were not enumerated by name until the 1870 Census. If you are interested in finding your unknown ancestors who survived the middle passage, start with a DNA test. Tests from companies such as and 23 and me will give you a complete genetic breakdown. However, DNA testing by African Ancestry Inc. provides information on your African Ancestry only. I did both.

Though it may be difficult, attempt to find your ancestors’ owners. Slave records, especially bills of sale are helpful when trying trace backward especially if your ancestors were sold.

If you have any questions or comments, please drop us a note. Good luck and wishing you a fruitful search.

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