Basic facts to get started


Where to begin…

To get started searching your ancestry, there are a few pieces of information that can help you get started. The first bit of information should start with your parents, with the goal of getting one or more of your ancestor’s name that was born prior to 1940.


Why 1940?

The US has a 72 year rule for publishing documents such as US census reports. This is to protect the privacy of the living. For instance the 1940 census wasn’t available until 2012. The 1950 census won’t be available until 2022.


Once you have your ancestor(s) from before 1940, you are off to a good start. A few other details that will be helpful in your search include:

  • First and last names, plus nicknames
  • Places ancestor might have lived
  • Family members- parents or sibling names
  • Occupation (s)


Getting just one or two of these facts can be enough to get you started. Variables that impact finding your family history  include the commonality of the last name. This means if the last name you are searching is a very common last name, then you will likely need more details and facts about their life to get started. Sometimes more unusual names can be easier, if the spelling isn’t too complicated.


What if My parents and grandparents are no longer living?

It is a good idea to reach out to aunts, uncles and cousins. Facebook is actually a great resource for getting in touch with more distant members of your family.

What if I was adopted or one of my parents were adopted?

Since recent adoption information often includes living individuals, there are stricter rules when attempting to access this information. I recommend seeking out an adoption specialist.

Once you have these few facts, then it is time to check out the resources available. For more info, click here.

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