American Family History

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American Family History

By: Trevor Dumbleton

When delving into an American Family History, there are certain advantages and certain disadvantages to learning about the people who immigrated to a new country in the New World. There are usually a great many records of the people once they are in America, but collecting an American family history can often be difficult for certain regions and can be more difficult for learning about families before they left their native lands.

When assembling an American family history, the first place to start is, of course, with the still-living relatives. They can provide a wealth of information about one's ancestors. As they have memories of parents, grandparents, and sometimes even great-grandparents, they can offer names, a few descriptions, and perhaps some memoirs and memorabilia. Your surviving ancestors are an excellent place to start your investigations into the history and people of your family. And these living links to the people and places of bygone years can often provide you with important research materials and memoirs that will get your search off to a roaring start.

Next, it is time to check government records. These can be a wealth of knowledge about names, dates, places, and times of death and birth for your American family history. With birth records listing the names of people and the names of their parents, your search can expand both upwards and outwards. With the names of parents, you will be able to learn the names of their other children. And with records of death, one can learn where these people wound down the remainders of their lives.

However, birth and death records are not the only records that can add information to your American family history. There are also deeds, land grants, court papers, patent records, copyrights, and, of course, immigration papers. These are very important for delving into your family history, as they will allow you to understand who these people were and where they lived. With each little piece of information, you can start to develop a picture of your family, its history, where it went and how it got there.

Unfortunately, there are going to be some difficulties when trying to assemble an American family history. This is particularly true in families of African descent whose ancestors were sold as slaves. The record keeping was often rather thin both during and after the years of slavery. And attempting to learn where the original members of your family came from is next to impossible. Sub-Saharan Africa is a very large place.

As well, for almost any family the record-keeping in the rural South and Appalachia was thin at best. Often, the records do not exist at all. Attempting to find information about your family, even births and deaths, can be like trying to grab the brass ring on a merry-go-round with your eyes closed. For families such as these, your family members will be of much more use than government records when compiling an American family history. With a few memoirs you can piece together some information. But many times the data will be rather loosely conjectural.

As well, another difficulty with collecting and American family history is figuring out anything about your family before it immigrated. Many immigrants arrived with only a suitcase and the clothes on their backs. Some did not even have the suitcase. Thus, their arrival was a clean break from distant lands to start an entirely new life here in America. Learning anything about your ancestors in the home country is difficult when one tries to look back through the murky past.

Though compiling an American family history can be difficult at times, it is far from impossible. With a little time, a little tenacity, and a few bits of luck that can arise with consistent effort, you can construct a picture of your ancestors that will find a place of pride amongst your heirlooms. So feel free to start your investigations and learn just where your name came from and how it eventually ended up with an entirely unique treasure: you.

About The Author

Trevor Dumbleton - is a categorized resource directory to help explore the world of genealogy, or family trees, including the history of our ancestors.


coolguy23 11.08.2012. 13:27

Approximately what percentage of Americans could trace their family history to Britain? i don't know if that makes sense, but what percentage of Americans could trace back their family history all the way to family living in England back in the 17th and 18th centuries?


Admin 11.08.2012. 13:27

In the 2000 census, 24.5 million Americans reported English ancestry. That is 8.7% of the total U.S. population. This estimate is probably a serious undercount by over 30 million, given that in the 1980 census, around 50 million citizens claimed to be of at least partial English ancestry. In 1980, 23,748,772 Americans claimed wholly English ancestry and another 25,849,263 claimed English along with another ethnic ancestry.


Emily 10.01.2009. 06:00

What is a good way to trace back my family history? I really want to trace back my family history... What is a good way to do so? I would like to know what country my ancestors came from.


Admin 10.01.2009. 06:00

Start with your living family and get as much information from them as possible, Talk to your senior members and tape them if they will let you. They might be confused on some things but what might seem to be insignificant story telling might turn out to be very significant. Find out if any has any old family bibles. Ask to see and make copies of birth, marriage and death certificates. Depending on the religious faith, baptismal, first communion, confirmation and marriage certificates from their church can also render important information.

Go to your public library and find out what all they have in the genealogy area.

A Family History Center at a Latter Day Saints(Mormon) Church can be a great source. They have records on people all over the world, not just Mormons. In Salt Lake City, they have the world's largest genealogical collection. Their FHCs can order microfilm for you to view at a nominal fee.

I have never had them to try and convert me or send their missionaries by to ring my doorbell. I haven't heard of them doing that to anyone else that has used their resources. As a matter of fact I understand that a lot of their volunteers are not Mormons. Just call the nearest Mormon Church or visit their free website at to get their hours for the general public.

As far as websites are concerned you need to find those that will furnish you with original source records.

I believe Ancestry.Com is the absolute best for records. They have all the U.S. censuses through 1930. The 1940 and later are not available to the public yet. They have U.K. censuses through 1901. They have military, land and immigration records. Not all records are online but the ones that are will save you time and money traveling all over the country to courthouse, libraries etc to obtain them.

A word of warning: Be very very cautious about information in family trees on their website or ANY website, free or fee. They are subscriber submitted and mostly not documented or poorly documented. You might see different info on the same people from different subscribers. Then you will see the absolute same info on the same people from different subscribers but that is no proof at all it is correct. A lot of people copy without verifying. Errors in family history have multiplied because of online family trees. The info can be useful as clues only as too where to get the documentation. Documentation is the meat of genealogy.

I have been giving this warning for 2-1/2 years on this board. Right before Christmas I had my own experience. I put in a name of an uncle of my paternal grandfather. I did this as there are at least 4 people with the exact same name in the family and I was hoping to make contact with others. This uncle had been married 3 times as he was widowed twice. The subscriber with the information only had him married twice with his second wife listed as his first and showing they were married in Newton, Sussex County New Jersey. LOL She had to be a great prize for a farmer in Gonzales County, Texas to go to New Jersey in 1891 to marry her.

Then I found out that me, my sister and my brother-in-law are all dead. No date of death given but we all died in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey.
The only time my sister and I have ever been in New Jersey is when our family drove through there going to and from New York in 1956. So we have been dead 52 years. I started checking further and found family on both sides that married and died in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey. Since my ancestry is primarily southern American colonial (there are a few exceptions and those exceptions entered through southern ports) I was very surprised.

I found this tree on Ancestry.Com. If this tree had been submitted to any of the other genealogy websites, Rootsweb, Genealogy.Com, etc. it would have been accepted. You can make up an entirely fictitious family tree and it would be accepted. If you disagree with anything another subscriber has on your family, the owners of the websites will tell you that is between you and the other subscriber.

If you decide to put your family tree in their Public Member Tree or their Personal Member Tree their system will give you hints to records they have in their system that appears to match people in your tree. Just make sure it is the same person. Frequently in times past, several people in the same family will have the same name livinig within a reasonable distance from each other. One of my great great grandfathers had a brother, son, grandson and nephew named Zachariah Berry Jackson and there might have been others. So you really have to be on your toes.

Also they will give you hints to people that their system shows in other people's family trees. Watch It! Don't go adding spouses and children to someone in your tree just because someone else has them. Good genealogy means a verifiable family tree n


soadupchiq 01.04.2009. 15:06

How did the Jacksonian era in American history represent a time of social change and reform? How did the Jacksonian era in American history represent a time of social change and reform?

More specifically, how did the Second Great Awakening help to trigger reform, what did different types of reformers set out to do, and how well did they accomplish their goals.


Admin 01.04.2009. 15:06

The Jacksonian Era represented a time of change for many reasons. Lets start with the man, first, Andrew Jackson.

By the time Jackson reached manhood, everyone in his family were already dead. His father died when he was young, and his mother and two brothers perished during the war of independence. Furthermore, during the American Revolution, Jackson received a severe gash across his cheek from a British officer's sabre for refusing to clean his boots. Experiences such as this and the loss of his family force Andrew Jackson to venture out into the world on his own, and if he was to be successful, he was going to have to be a self made man.

Whatever inheritance Andrew Jackson did not squander, he lost in the bank panic of 1819 (an experience that led him to extremely dislike banks, especially the Second Bank of the United States). The main archetype during this era was the life of the common man. Jackson had to venture on his own, was a frontiersman, became a lawyer, then a militia leader. Eventually the latter led him to fighting in the Red Stick War and utterly crushing the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Soon after, Jackson would be called defend (and successfully so) New Orleans during the War of 1812.

With no formal military training we see Jackson being very successful on the battlefield. This was something that gave every American pride, something that made people feel that Jackson was one of them, not some socialite or aristocrat from New York. He had suffered with the common folk of the era through the losses of his family, the battles with various Indian Tribes and the British, as well as his financial losses due to bank panics. Here, the American people had a president they could truly identify with, and Jackson himself was devoted to serving them.

One of his main goals was to pay off the public debt (better known in today's terms as the deficit). He did so by selling federal land. To Jackson, this was his greatest achievement (and the only president to actually payoff the deficit in his term. AJ also did not like how the Second Bank of the United States altered the political structure in Washington (many congressmen were on its payroll, including Daniel Webster, which was accepted at the time) as well as how they had a stranglehold on the nation's economy. He didnt like that many Americans would have to answer to the bank on all business dealings, so he led a successful crusade against it as well.

Here, the common man was able to see in their president someone who had experienced the many things that they in fact had during their lives. This gave Americans pride, and further played on the important notion (especially throughout the 1800's) that America did not need an aristocracy to survive or function. Like him or not Andrew Jackson did much to inspire the average American of the day and greatly helped in molding the pride and stigma that went with it, of the common man and eventually the middle class.


joe 05.06.2010. 19:00

what would be a good metaphor to family history or a family tree? i have to create a project on my family history geneology for my final exam in american dream i need to impress my language arts teacher by using a metaphor or similie and comparing my family to something. some have compared there family to cookies and all the ingredients that go into the batch make up who they are today while others compared to the branches of a tree i just need some good ideas.


Admin 05.06.2010. 19:00

My family is like a Monopoly board. Some free park in my house, some are in Jail. Others never get off Baltic Avenue and some roll up on Park Place.


asdfaea a 22.08.2009. 22:39

What aspects of American history NOT tied to slavery or the Civil War can relate to Huckleberry Finn? I need to find an aspect of American history that doesn't tie in with the background of Huckleberry Finn, which includes slavery, the Civil War, etc. The event should be connected or parallel to Huck Finn's adventures in the book. I can't really come up with any that doesn't relate to slavery or the Civil War, some ideas/tips would be very helpful, thanks!!

asdfaea a

Admin 22.08.2009. 22:39

How about the dueling families in this book. You could relate this to the duel between Burr and Hamilton that cost Hamilton his life.

See my article about Hamilton:


lovely 13.03.2012. 17:52

What event or tends do you think has had the most significant effect on American families and/or their values? What events or tends do you think has had the most significant effect on American families and/or their values in the last 10 years in American history?

Do you think these recent trends has affected our idea about family? Why?

I'm just curious as to how people feel about this issue. (: I want to hear some good answers!


Admin 13.03.2012. 17:52

Over the last half century or so, a decrease in morality brought about by a decrease in religion has had obvious effects where quality of life is concerned. In the name of political correctness, we bend the rules concerning marriage and have allowed the non-believers to usurp our rightful holidays.


James 03.06.2011. 01:10

What is the best place to find genealogical archives? I'm an American going to England to search my family history. I know that they came from Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Essex, so what I am wondering is if I should go to the capitals of these counties or if the National Archives in London would have everything I'm looking for. Any ideas will be greatly appreciated. Cheers!


Admin 03.06.2011. 01:10

If you want to consult parish records, you will need to go to the County Record Office or Archives Centre in the relevant county, which will probably be located in the county town - the Genuki website will tell you where. Check the parishes your ancestors came from to see if any of the parish registers are online.

This is the website for The National Archives at Kew
They have all the census returns for England and Wales in microform, and lots of military records. I think the only parish records they have are some non-conformist registers. have pretty much made visits to TNA obsolete now that they have put all the census and military records online.

You may not need to come to England to research your family history. Your local LDS Family History Centre will probably be able to order in the microfilms of all the parish registers you need. Find out where the nearest one is on their website


Becs, Lord of the Ring!!! 15.01.2009. 01:39

How far back can most people trace their family history? This may seem like a strange question, my family history is a little jumbled, so I was curious if most people can trace their family like: "this man was married to such-and-such, and his daughter married that such-and-such..." and so on.... I'm always shocked when people can talk about their family history and how far back some people can go, and know the names and stuff. So how far back do most people know, can some people trace back to renaissance days or whatever...?Or is that stupid?

Can you trace your family's history back far? Or have you ever?

Becs, Lord of the Ring!!!

Admin 15.01.2009. 01:39

ON both sides I can go back to the Civil War; on one side I can go bck to the American Revolution. It's really quite interesting to research your family's history even if it is a little jumbled.


bgbrwneyes1824 25.10.2006. 18:06

Does anyone know how to trace Native American family history? When Native Americans were put onto reservations, their family names were changed to suit the "White Man". I have Indian heritage from both sides of the family and cannot trace it back to my ancestors. I want to tell my children who our ancestors were so they can be proud of who they are.


Admin 25.10.2006. 18:06

The radio and television show "Questions and Ancestors" has an episode on Native American Genealogy. You can listen to the episode on your computer, or you can download the episode as an mp3 file.

Also check out Indian Tribal Records at Access Genealogy and Online Native American Indian Records and Databases (see links below).


James 03.06.2011. 01:25

What is the best place to find genealogical archives? I'm an American going to England to search my family history. I know that they came from Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Essex, so what I am wondering is if I should go to the capitals of these counties or if the National Archives in London would have everything I'm looking for. Any ideas will be greatly appreciated.


Admin 03.06.2011. 01:25

You either go to Kew, the Nation Archives or you go to the records office for each County, you will fnd links on this website ( 1st one and Genuki will give you addresses/times of the Records offices, under the UK section) You will need a CAIN card or a day pass and genuki or the link to the individual records office website will tell you what you need to prove your ID and look at the the records...

I would suggest you make sure you know where you are looking, who you are looking for as going into a records office for the first time and especially Kew you will end up wandering around the floors not knowing what to look as much background knowledge online and write yourself out a plan for your research, the Kew's website has lots of help sheets and you can search for what records you want and write down the numbers as it will then be easy to order these records once you get there. The other records offices are far easier but it depends on where your ancestors need to know as borders changed many times and records can be at other local offices.

Anything post July 1837 - 1974 bmd Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Essex, I would spend a couple of days online with freebmd indexes and get your list of record cite will not be able to view certificates, you have to purchase copies if you want these bu if you want to view parish baptisms, marriages and marriage banns and burials, these can be viewed using the quarter civil record a marriage 3 Q 1849, you would need to look in the July, Aug, Sept parish book/fiche and also the June of 1849 as sometimes it took a month before the marriage was it saves you time.

The website I gave you is UK based so it has lots of links and you can ask help/advice, it also has lots of help sheets on the documents page ( and some records) which they are continually adding for each county and they say if you are looking in a particular county ask as if they have records that are not ready as yet to go online they will do their best to do you a look up or get them also has many other good links which could help you.

I remember the first time I visited Kew I was completely lost and wasted so much time as it is so big with so many records, indexes, room after room full of indexes and draw after draw of film and fiche............


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