5 Research Tools for Finding Ancestors

By Vanessa Wieland

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There are plenty of resources available online for genealogists, it’s all about knowing where to look. Our online courses provide plenty of tools and technology for finding your ancestors, but also strategies for doing the research – and making use of the results. Below, find five resources for researching your ancestors mentioned in our courses and workshops. Then, sign up for a course to learn how to incorporate these resources into your arsenal of genealogy research tools.

Deep into our History

When I first started researching genealogy, I learned about two important dates: 1850 for census records and 1820 for passenger lists. What happens when your research predates those collections? Start with This research tool will surprise you in its scope, as it contains records for people who fought not only in the Revolutionary War but the research that went into tracing them back – meaning, there are also records of their descendants. In addition to the database, there are plenty of other research tools on the site that make it worthwhile for anyone working back further than 1850.

There are more records than you might expect that date back to our founding – and even before. From letters and diaries to advertisements, newspaper articles, broadsides and more, you’ll discover that your research can get pretty in-depth for those early generations. And don’t miss out on the legal documents – knowing the ins and outs of the law will help you determine what records are available and where to find them. Learn how to find your ancestors before 1850 to trace your ancestors with our week-long workshop, starting December 4th.

Outlandish Expectations

If you’ve been watching Outlander, you know that genealogy plays a big part in Claire’s Scottish adventures. In the show, they make the search look relatively easy – with plenty of clues turning up to allow them to find Jamie’s whereabouts 200 years prior. Genealogists who started their research prior to the internet age will appreciate them doing the research by going to archives. And who doesn’t identify with the frustration when trying to find passenger records? Of course, taking your research back to Eighteenth-century, post-uprising Scotland is about as easy as it is for Colonial America – as in, not easy at all.

Luckily, we have resources Claire didn’t have! If you want to trace your Scottish ancestry, one must-use research tool is ScotlandsPeople. Run by the National Records of Scotland, this portal gives you access to plenty of Scottish records. If you can’t go through the stones – or even to Scotland – this site will still help you visit the past. You can sign up for our course, Scottish Genealogy Research Strategies, starting December 4th to learn about using this site and others for finding records of your Scottish ancestors.

Use Timelines in Your Genealogy

Dogs might be man’s best friend and diamonds for girls, but for genealogists, timelines just might beat them both. Timelines can not only help you find holes in your research and provide clues to where you should look next, they can also be a beautiful way to share your ancestor’s story. Better yet, they’re surprisingly easy to create, whether you do one from scratch in an Excel spreadsheet, or use a platform like Treelines. From your basic, facts-driven timelines to beautifully polished ones online, get into the habit of using these handy research tools in your genealogy, and get started with our online course. This independent study course starts as soon as you sign up!

Restore Your Family’s Old Photos

This time of year is a great time to research our past. Between Thanksgiving traditions and the gathering of family for the holidays, there are plenty of opportunities to gather the family stories and photographs together. Of course, with time comes damage and neglect – so while winter keeps you inside, use that time to restore your old photos and digitize them.

And if you’re really in a gift-giving spirit, why not do a photo project and create a great present for someone who’ll appreciate them? You can use easy, free programs like Adobe Spark to make fun posters or social media posts, videos, blog posts, and more. While not one of your research tools per se, it’s another great tool for sharing your findings with your family and friends.