The 5 Best Sites for Family History Research

“History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all.”— Laurence Overmire

Recording one’s family history is a combination of mystery, admiration, and excitement. And pulling back on the layers of family history is one of the most rewarding endeavors anyone can undertake.

While tracing one’s roots is indeed a gripping proposition, finding reliable sources of information can prove to be challenging.

In some cases, enthusiastic family historians may have the willingness to do the legwork. However, they may not know where to begin.

In this article, we will discuss the five best sites for family history research. These sites contain a trove of genealogical information compiled through decades of research and data processing. Consulting these sites can provide family historians with a nudge in the right direction.

Understanding Sites for Family History Research

Traditional family history research involves going through archives such as birth, marriage, and death records, newspaper articles (still on microfiche sometimes), church registries, military documents, and personal items (photographs, letters, and diaries).

While these information sources can prove highly insightful, tracking down records can be extremely time-consuming and costly.

But what if there was some way to gather all of this information into a single database?

Thanks to information technology, compiling millions of records is now possible.

As computers took over every component of society, the gradual digitalization of most public records has enabled the creation of vast databases.

Nowadays, a great deal of information is publicly available.

The key is knowing where to find such information.

Even with a high degree of digitalization, it can be quite complex to sort through vast amounts of records. Doing so can prove equally time-consuming. Of course, sifting through digital records does not compare to thumbing through paper files at a local library or town hall.

Sites for family history research offer a viable alternative for uncovering one’s roots. These sites offer free and paid subscriptions that enable users to go through available records in hopes of finding useful data. For instance, a basic query using a family name can reveal the names, birthdates, and places of residence of long-lost relatives. More in-depth services can locate information on birthplaces, dates of death, and descendants.

Nowadays, family history sites offer a wide range of services. For instance, these sites offer comprehensive family history reports, photo albums, and video presentations. Indeed, paying for these types of services can greatly facilitate building one’s family history, particularly when there is very little to lead the way.

The question then becomes: What are the best sites for family history research?

The following sections will shed light on this crucial question.

The 5 Best Sites for Family History Research

1. has established itself as the market leader in the online genealogy industry. Its ubiquitous television and internet advertising have positioned it in the minds of consumers. Most users regard as the best overall family history research site.

In general, has access to more than 27 billion records. Also, this family history research site offers DNA testing services. Its price ranges from $16.50 to $49.99 a month. The subscription packages’ costs increase depending on the options and services chosen.


  • It has an enormous archival database.
  • It is quite user-friendly and has an intuitive feel.
  • It boasts great customer support.


  • It is one of the priciest options on the market.
  • It offers a free 14-day trial. Access locks following the trial period.
  • Price increases are based on the types of records accessed.

The verdict:

On the whole, is the best all-around value for serious family historians. It is a great starting point for anyone looking to recreate their family history, given its massive database and intuitive feel.

While it can get somewhat costly, access to’s vast archives makes it a worthwhile investment. Users should strive to get the most out of this genealogy site considering its overall cost.

2. MyHeritage

MyHeritage is a relative newcomer to the online genealogy scene.

Nevertheless, this family history research site offers good value for money.

MyHeritage is not quite as robust as According to its company information, it holds roughly 12 billion records. It also offers DNA testing services. It offers virtually all of the same services as, but it costs less, ranging from $129 to $299 annually.


  • It offers a robust database.
  • It is a fun and user-friendly site.
  • It allows photo updating, such as colorizing older black and white photographs.


  • It offers an annual, not monthly, subscription but it has a 14-day free trial.
  • Its database is not quite as extensive as’s.

The verdict:

MyHeritage is a great alternative to It essentially offers the same features as at a lower price point. Given that MyHeritage also offers DNA testing services, users can find a viable alternative in MyHeritage. Overall, MyHeritage offers good value for money.

3. Archives

Archives is a great option for family historians who want to conduct a profound search on specific topics.

This family history site holds more than 11 billion records. The bulk of these records come from official sources such as government records.

Nevertheless, Archives has access to a substantial number of documentary sources. Archives is a relatively simple, no-frills service. There is no specialized app. Its interface is rather simple but effective. Archives starts at $9.99 a month.


  • It has a substantial database filled with official documentation.
  • It is an affordable option at $9.99 monthly and also has a 14-day free trial.
  • It allows users to build their family tree using quick search features.


  • It does not offer DNA testing services.
  • It does not offer hints or search suggestions.
  • It has a relatively simple interface which may get somewhat cumbersome at times.

The verdict:

Archives is a great supplementary source for other databases such as or MyHeritage. Archives is great for searching old government or military records. As such, it is highly useful in tracking official information. Archives is a go-to option when searches hit dead ends.

4. FamilySearch

FamilySearch arguably delivers the best value for money as it is free to use.

This family history site functions on volunteer work. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs and maintains this site, hence its no-cost offer.

Overall, this site has uploaded more than 6 billion records since 1999. It is a great alternative for those looking to deepen their detective work. Like Archives, FamilySearch is a great ancillary source of information. The site is nothing to write home about. Nevertheless, the value it delivers more than outweighs its lack of a snazzy interface.


  • It is totally free to use.
  • It offers a significantly large database filled with census data, military records, and certificates.
  • It is a long-running site that offers a reliable service.
  • They offer free genealogy classes.


  • It limits one family tree per account. Multiple trees require multiple accounts.
  • There are no DNA testing services available.
  • It’s interface may be relatively unfriendly for some users.

The verdict:

Given that FamilySearch is a free site, it is a no-brainer. While some may choose to use it as a springboard before committing to a paid subscription service, FamilySearch does have its limitations. Therefore, FamilySearch could very well serve as a great starting point for novice family historians. And the free genealogy classes offered by the site is an added bonus for beginning family historians.

5. Find My Past

Find My Past is a great option for persons of European descent.

This great family history research site focuses on European family history, particularly British and Irish ancestry.

Anyone who wishes to trace their European roots can find a great deal of information on this site, as it holds more than 2 billion records.

Find My Past’s archive may seem small, but it holds a treasure trove of data, considering that it has records dating back to AD 850.

Subscriptions on this site start at $129 annually.


  • It is ideal for those researching European roots.
  • It offers DNA support services.
  • It allows users to create multiple family trees.


  • It lacks a dedicated app.
  • Its archive is relatively limited, particularly to those who do not have European roots.
  • The DNA testing kit costs $89. Nevertheless, users can upload their DNA information from other sources.

The verdict:

Find My Past is a highly specific tool that is a useful secondary research alternative. This site can serve as a springboard for those who have European roots. From there, users may choose to sign up for other services such as MyHeritage or Find My Past offers good value for money despite charging extra for DNA testing services. On the whole, Find My Past delivers good overall value.

When to Hire a Genealogist

Online family history research sites help facilitate genealogy. These sites can greatly support in-person research, such as going to local libraries, town halls, or military offices.

However, there may be times when family historians may hit a wall. This proverbial wall usually entails leads drying up or somehow being unable to tie up loose ends.

In these situations, genealogy experts can provide an effective service.

A genealogist is a professional who specializes in researching family ancestry. These professionals have the knack for following leads and tying up pesky loose ends.

While they are research experts, they have something even more valuable: experience.

A genealogist’s experience lies in solving situations novice family historians may be unable to decipher. For instance, genealogists are familiar with records, archives, and databases that can help overcome dead ends. Moreover, a genealogist can help family historians craft an accurate representation of their family tree, narrative, and identity.

Additionally, enlisting the help of a professional genealogist can expedite the research process. Genealogists can aid family historians in sourcing records and even use their connections to gain access to archives. Indeed, hiring a genealogist may prove to be the best investment family historians can make.

When to Hire a Professional Writer

Some family historians may be eager to put their family history on paper. After all, extensive research into family history merits a worthy vehicle to showcase its value. For example, family historians may opt to write a book or memoir chronicling their entire family history or highlighting specific chapters of it.

Writing a book, memoir, or diary may prove to be a substantial undertaking. As a result, hiring a professional writer can help get this part of the process off the ground.

Professional writers have the skill and experience to take raw data (dates, numbers, facts) and translate them into an articulate narrative that appropriately depicts a family’s underlying narrative.

While they are both very valuable on their own, in tandem, a genealogist and a professional writer can form a successful collaboration.

These professionals can come together to build a clear representation of a family’s history.

After all, extensive data, records, documentation, photographs, and even DNA information need someone to thread them together into a seamless tale that preserves the voices of the forgotten ones.

One Final Thought

Researching family history is a marvelous undertaking. It is a labor of love. Thus, attempting to rush it may prove counterproductive. However, allowing a family history project to stagnate also does a disservice to a family’s heritage. Consequently, utilizing family history research sites can spur a stalled family history project onward. These sites can help untie knots and overcome obstacles. There is a very good chance that the missing piece of the puzzle is just a few keystrokes away.

Author and professor Liam Callanan once noted, “We all carry inside us, people who came before us.”

Indeed, every individual on this planet is the sum of their ancestors. So, it is only fitting that those that have come and gone take their rightful place in their family’s history.

While society may only celebrate the lives of a few, genealogy has the power to bring back those left behind by the history books.

True Confessions of a Genealogist

“Genealogist” is a term you’ll hear from time to time in passing, but you won’t derive its definition from the context unless you’re actually paying attention when it comes up—and I never was.

I’ll admit that prior to researching and writing about genealogy and historians and the like, had I been pressed to define “genealogist” I might have guessed that it had something to do with DNA, or maybe horoscopes, or wait…is it rocks? 

There is also a possibility that at one point I might have thought that genealogy and congeniality had something to do with one another. 

Maybe for a little while there during that time I thought that genealogists were the people who teach you how to enter a room, how to politely sit and stand and exchange pleasantries, and how to make proper use of the extra silverware at fancy restaurants—that kind of thing—you know, charm school stuff. Maybe I thought that. Maybe. 

If I did in fact think that, well, I would have been wrong. But it turns out that DNA does actually come into play in genealogy, and while still far off, my first gut-guess would have been closest to the target.

To oversimplify their role, one can say that genealogists fill in the blank spaces on family tree charts.

Sure, if you know how to write and your handwriting is decently legible, you can fill in those blanks yourself.

But what if you don’t have the names?

If you wanted to know the names of your grandparent’s grandparents—on both sides of the family—how would you go about finding out? 

If you interviewed every last one of your living relatives and you didn’t get any usable results, what would you do?

In the B.G. era (before Google), if the local library wasn’t much help, you’d seemingly be left with few options. 

You could go knocking door-to-door. 

You could stop passers-by on the street. 

You could wait around hoping that eventually you’d meet someone who knew the answers to the questions you were asking. Otherwise, you were pretty much out of luck.  Or were you?

See, genealogy was around before Google. In fact, Google isn’t necessarily all that helpful to genealogists today.

The study of familial history and the charting of family trees goes back to ancient times. Nobility relied on the upkeep of their pedigrees to maintain their claims to property and power. They also used genealogy to calculate the odds that a female marriage prospect would produce male heirs.

Some examples of family trees even purport to connect all the way back to Adam and Eve.

Confucius’ family tree is over 2,500 years old. It’s maintained to this day, and it’s ranked by “The Guinness Book of World Records” as the largest family tree in existence (I googled that).

But if genealogy differs from most other forms of modern, everyday kinds of research in that it doesn’t rely as much on digital sources, how do genealogists do what they do?

Turns out it’s a pretty complicated business. Maybe that’s why genealogy is an entire field of study in itself.

I needed to know more.

For answers, I reached out to Jennifer Rizzo, a Denver-based genealogist with The Writers For Hire.

First off, I wanted to learn how one ends up in genealogy. As someone so far removed from the subject that I might have once confused it with poise and manners training, I asked Ms. Rizzo about what first sparked her interest in the practice.

“Growing up,” she replied, “I was told stories about my own ancestors, and the trials and tribulations that they faced. I always found it fascinating to think about how difficult it must have been for them to leave their entire lives behind, and journey across the ocean to a new life full of uncertainties. Discovering more about them really sparked my passion for genealogical research.”

Jennifer’s online bio states that she studied Spanish at the University of Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico, and that she holds a certification for International Tour Management through the International Guide Academy. 

Absent from her bio, however, is any mention of genealogical studies in an official capacity, and it got me thinking: 

I went to college; did I ever see Genealogy listed as a major? 

Is there some kind of certification or licensing process involved? 

How does one become a bona-fide genealogist?

Jennifer laid out her story for me:

“The way I got into Genealogy was a bit unconventional. Like most professional
genealogists, my journey started out as a personal hobby and passion. However, in
addition to my background with Spanish and Tour Management, I also worked in the
medical field for many years. During that time, I was tasked with doing in-depth
research into medical records and Social Security law.

Those fine-tuned research skills, combined with my knack for languages, passion for history, and travel/tour management education, proved to be the perfect set of skills for transferring into Genealogy.”

According to Jennifer, to be a Genealogist, it does not require a formal education or degree.

“That being said,” she continued, “for anyone wanting to work as a genealogist in a professional capacity, I highly recommend taking classes and attending seminars or workshops. There’s a lot you can learn from trial and error, but there are also really valuable skills that come from studying under more experienced genealogists. I personally have taken many classes and seminars under the Association of Professional Genealogists, as well as through Ancestry, the National Genealogical Society, and RootsTech.”

I told Ms. Rizzo about how I once conducted a practically fruitless search into my own family’s history—all I really found was a death record for my grandfather from 1984. 

I asked her if a professional genealogist could really find out much more about him, being that he emigrated from Hungary and died before the age of the internet. 

Her answer definitely reinvigorated my hope that I could one day fill out much more of my family’s story:

“A professional genealogist could likely find the ship manifest that shows his arrival, as well as his immigration papers. They could also probably find information on what kind of job he held when he was in Hungary, exactly where in Hungary he lived, and the names and ages of the people he immigrated with. Depending on what kind of information you are interested in, a professional genealogist could also find census records tracking where he lived in the United States, what kind of job he had, whether he was a renter or home owner, and even the value of his estate. Honestly, there are likely a vast number of things that a professional could tell you about your grandfather.”

I wanted to learn more about the actual process a genealogist goes through when working a case. I asked Ms. Rizzo to describe the first steps she takes when approaching a new client:

“The first thing I do is have my clients give me all of the information that they know. This could be anything from names and dates of birth to family stories that they’ve heard over the years. That information gives me a good starting place and helps me to identify which areas need the most attention first.”

When taking on a client and beginning the search into their family’s history, are there any initial indicators that their case will be a particularly difficult one?

What factors make one family harder to research than another?

How do you get around those obstacles?

“If adoptions or name changes are involved, I always know that those cases will likely be more of a challenge. For the most part, though, it’s hard to know how easy or how difficult one’s family history will be to trace until I really get into it and see what resources are readily available.”

Have you ever found the biological parents of an adopted child?

“I have never actively tried to find biological parents of an adopted child but would
definitely be up for the challenge!”

Is that kind of search even in a genealogist’s wheelhouse?

“Adoption records are tricky. Different states have different laws about providing information on birth parents. There are definitely times when a genealogist can help with that kind of search, though. Genealogists are skilled at taking little clues from many different places and combining them to put the puzzle together. While a state may only release an original birth certificate that excludes the biological parents’ information, a professional genealogist will likely be able to use the information in that certificate to find other clues.”

When you come to a dead end in your research, how do you know it’s the end of the
road? Where do you check for more info? When do you finally give up?

“Genealogy is not an exact science, and there is no distinct ‘end of the road.’ What information you can find really depends on how much time and resources you are able and willing to invest in your research. If I am searching for one specific record and find that it’s impossible to locate, I always try to find another way to get the information that
the record contained.”

Can you tell me about a time that you encountered and subsequently overcame a
brick wall in your research? How did you beat it?

“There have been times when I have tried to locate a client’s family member on a
particular census, but they were not coming up in any searches. In one particular case, I used the census records from the years before and after to make a guess as to where
they would have been living. Then, using the names and ages of the family members, I
did a page-by-page search of the census in that town. It turned out that they were
actually on the record, but that the handwriting on the original record was hard to read,
so whoever transcribed them into digital format entered the wrong last name.”

“There was another case in which the spelling of the family’s last name was changed
shortly after they immigrated to the United States. So, when searching for their
immigration records, they couldn’t be found under the current spelling. In that case, I
took the information that I knew about the family and was able to locate a ship manifest
from when the family arrived. From there, I could find their immigration papers showing
the original spelling.”

What kind of little-known research avenues are out there?

“There are a lot of avenues that can be used to find information. It’s really a matter of taking the few things you know to be true and plugging them into different sources to try to find what you’re looking for.”

Have you ever discovered anything embarrassing, shameful, or shocking while
researching a family’s history?

“History is full of all kinds of embarrassing and ugly things. So, when you’re digging into
a family’s past, it’s inevitable that there will be at least a few unpleasant discoveries. I
have found all sorts of things in my research: family members with illegitimate children,
people who spent time in the state asylum, slave owners, Nazis, murderers…the list
goes on.”

Is there ever an instance where a genealogist would choose to not share a discovery with their client?

“I try to be as honest as possible with my clients, and let them know about
everything I dig up. There have been times when a client has voiced that they don’t
want to know about anything unsavory. In those cases, I just keep those things to
myself. For the most part, though, people tend to understand that no family is perfect
and that there are bound to be some unexpected discoveries.”

I asked Ms. Rizzo to tell me about her favorite genealogical research story from her own experience. 

I wanted to know if she’d had one particular success that was the most fulfilling or if any one client stood out in her memory as being her happiest customer ever.

Here’s how she responded:

“As cliché as it sounds, I have honestly enjoyed all of the different genealogy projects I’ve worked on. Discovering and putting together all of the clues of the past is such a rewarding experience. And it’s so much fun to see how excited my clients get when I find things about their ancestors that they didn’t know before. I don’t know that I can necessarily pinpoint a specific moment that has been the most fulfilling, or a client who has been the happiest. I would say that personally my most fulfilling moments are when I spend hours trying to solve a mystery, and finally come across the answers I have been looking for.

“As for my clients, I think they have all been quite happy with the results. After all, when someone hires a genealogist, it’s generally because they have a deep desire to find out about their roots. Being able to provide them with answers to the age-old question of ‘Where did I come from?’ is incredibly satisfying for everyone involved.”

If you’re interested in starting a family history project of your own, request a quote today!        

One-of-a-Kind Gifts for Your Parents This Year

With the holiday season upon us, it’s time to think about that annually dreaded concept – getting a gift for Mom and Dad.

It’s not that you don’t want to get them a gift. Quite the opposite! You want to give them something amazing. You want to give a gift they’ll use and talk about for years. And this year, it seems more important than ever.

But buying for Mom and Dad is hard. Really hard.

They’ve given you so much, yet they ask for so little. And what they do want, they already have.

So, how do you find fun, interesting, and unique gift ideas for the people who gave you. . . everything?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here are 15 one-of-a-kind gift ideas to help you show your parents just how much you love them.

1. “Back in the Day” Canvas Print

The older we get, the more we like to reminisce.

And this is the perfect gift for reminiscing!

The “Back in the Day Personalized History Canvas Print” lets you pick a significant day, like the day they met, their wedding day, or the day they bought their home, and create a cool newspaper-like wall hanging.

The print will include whatever personal information you want as well as fun facts and significant events from that day in history.

It’s a cool conversation piece that your parents will love.

2. Twelve Whole Months of Fun

What are your parents’ interests? Whether they enjoy doing puzzles, tasting chocolates, wine, or even whisky, you can find a “Product of the Month” club that’s perfect for them.  

Before you shake your head and conjure up the famous “Jelly of the Month Club” that poor Clark Griswald received, give it a chance.

The key is to pick something that your parents truly love and will want to explore. Would they like to try new types of cheese? Would they get a kick out of a new mystery novel? Seriously, you can even get a “Cryptid Crate” that sends a box of stuff each month on a different mythical beast like Nessie, Sasquatch, or the Chupacabra.

No matter their passion, there’s a subscription out there.

3. Directions to Their Family Members

A Personalized Family Member Locator Signpost is a fun conversation piece.

Just add significant places, like the towns where each or relative lives, and the sign points to their directions and gives the mileage. It will add a little flavor to their outside décor and keep the neighbors talking.

Added bonus: Whenever someone moves, you have a new gift idea because you’ll need to replace a board!

4. Their Personal Life Story

Your parents likely have very interesting life stories. And now they can tell them, with this one-of-a-kind gift: a book detailing your loved one’s personal history.

A truly unique gift idea, this is a keepsake book that future generations will treasure, created by our own TWFH team.

We capture a record of your loved one’s special memories through personal interviews, so their stories are never lost.

Our writers will interview your loved one about their stories, memories, and accomplishments, and we will turn our interview notes into a beautiful, professionally published book.

This wonderful package includes:

  • One-hour family consult. Before we interview your loved one, we will schedule a one-hour consultation with you and/or your family to learn more about your loved one and to discuss your goals for this book. During this consult, we will also work with you to develop a set of interview questions.
  • Interviews with your loved one. Our professional writers will conduct an interview for up to four hours (by phone or Skype) with your loved one. Digital interview files are included in your gift.
  • Transcription. Our professional writers will transcribe their interview notes.
  • Custom Printed Book. Professionally printed, 100% CUSTOM hardcover book. Up to 100 pages and including up to 10 photos (optional; provided by you or your loved one in digital format)

5. Snapshots of Your Life

Your parents would love to see more pictures of their grandkids, or your dog, or even you. But they don’t do social media and you just can’t get there to see them often enough.

This is a great solution! It’s a digital picture frame that you can access remotely through cloud technology and download new pictures for them periodically.

When you snap great shots, you can upload them into your parent’s new picture frame to keep the pictures fresh and fun for them all year round.

6. A Personalized Calendar

A personalized calendar with photos of the whole family is simple but useful and fun.

Get creative with it and choose pictures that will make them smile throughout the year. Use holidays and special events like grandkids' birthdays to theme each month, and don’t forget to include your favorite pets!

7. A Masterclass

You’re never too old to learn something new!

Give your parents something they can do together like painting or cooking, or give them each one they’ll love on their own.

With Masterclass online courses they can even take classes that are taught by subject experts they know and love.

Let them learn how to cook from Gordon Ramsay, that really angry guy from T.V.

Or, even better, have Steve Martin show Dad how to really tell jokes!

8.Their New Favorite Blanket

Who doesn’t love a super soft and warm blanket?

Your parents might even have one, but how old is it?

Splurge and get something nicer than they’d ever buy for themselves like this Wicked Cozy Blanket from L.L. Bean.

Just don’t tell them what you paid, or they’ll never use it!

9. “Thinking of You” Lamps

If you don’t see your parents as often as you’d like, get them a dose of comfort with these Friendship Lamps.

Your parents get one lamp, and you keep the other. Whenever you think about them, miss them, or want to make them smile, just touch the lamp. When you touch your lamp, their lamp will light up letting them know that they’re on your mind.

It’s sweet, fun, and unique!

10. Homesick Candles

Does Mom pine for her childhood home in Boston? Or can dad not stop talking about the year he was stationed in Hawaii?

The area-specific Homesick Candles will take them back using the most powerful memory trigger – our sense of smell!

Boston has notes of tea, cinnamon, and vanilla. Hawaii? Pineapple, seashore, and sugar.

Just hope that they’re not homesick for life on the pig farm!

11. An Ancestry/DNA Kit or Subscription

From Ancestry DNA to 23 and Me, there are a lot of options out there for DNA kits these days.

Chances are, your parents might think they’re pure stock German only to find out they’re part Irish or Samoan as well.

More often than not, there’s a surprise in the DNA chain somewhere. But even if there are no surprises, aging parents love to ponder where they come from and the roots of the family tree.

12. The Bucket List Scratch-Off Poster

Give Mom and Dad 100 interesting ideas to do to keep the adventure going.

From scuba diving to learning a new language, they simply pick a task, do it, and then scratch it off to keep score.

Warning – You may come to your parents’ house to find “Visit a dive bar” and “Skinny dipping” scratched off.

Just remember, it's all part of the fun.

The Bucket List Scratch Off Poster is sure to make for some interesting stories for the next family get together!

13. Monthly Flowers

Flowers brighten anyone’s day! Why not set up a flower subscription or just vow to send flowers every month?

If you can find certain flowers that hold special meaning for your parents, try to work them in to add a little more meaning.

Get creative and have fun with it!

14. Novelty Face Masks

OK, it’s not great that we still need them.

But why not have a little fun with it and give your parents a conversation piece (along with added safety).

Face masks can be colorful, decorative, or even funny.

It’s the best smile that you can’t actually see.

15. A Paint-by-Numbers Kit

Paint-by-numbers is easy and fun for anyone. Not just for kiddos anymore!

You can pick a famous painting like the “Mona Lisa” or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” or even send in a photo and have it turned into a paint-by-numbers canvas. How cool is that?

Just imagine your dad painting his very first dog. It would definitely be a unique trip down memory lane!

Wrap Up

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Shopping for your parents can be challenging, but this is the year you’re going to knock it out of the park.

Put some thought into your gift for your parents and put a smile on their faces as we head into 2022. These ideas are sure to bring a little fun and comfort into their lives and may result in the gift they talk about for years to come!

Give the Gift of Connection This Holiday Season

Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned life as we know it on its head, including the holidays.

With rises in Covid cases, for the second year in a row, many of us won’t travel or gather as we traditionally do to see friends and loved ones. And as such, we may be on the hunt for ideas that forge a connection, despite separation and miles during what should be a cherished and memorable time of year.

Here are some ideas that might help you stay close at heart to the ones you love and cherish the most.

Holiday Cards

According to an article in the JSTOR Daily, the first commercially produced holiday card was designed in 1843.

It featured an illustration of people toasting the holidays with the message along the bottom that read, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Soon after, the idea of sending holiday cards near and far caught on as a way to celebrate the season and connect with friends and loved ones. Holiday greeting cards became a convenient, cost-effective way to stay in touch.

Over the years, the concept of sending and receiving holiday cards has become somewhat of a lost art, especially with the advent of e-cards and social media. However, this year might be the perfect time to restart this tradition.

You can purchase cards or make them yourself. Regardless, sending a card is an easy, affordable touchpoint and a way to say “hello” and “happy holidays” to a close friend or relative you may not be able to see this year.

Winne Parks, CEO of PaperSource, a popular cardmaking and stationery company, was recently interviewed for an article in Bloomberg News about the spike her business has experienced in greeting card sales since the pandemic began.

“One of the great silver linings out of this is the time for people to slow down and go back to the basics,” she said in the article.

So, if you’re looking to supplement those video chats with a little something extra, consider sending holiday cards to let others know you’re thinking about them.

Handmade Gifts

Taking the time to handcraft a gift is another way to feel connected as we continue to quarantine and socially distance ourselves from others this season.

Homemade gifts aren’t something novel, but they may hold more meaning than something purchased.

CNBC recently reported that online searches on sites like Etsy and Pinterest suggest that people are looking for gift ideas that are more personalized or for gift ideas they can craft themselves.

If you’ve picked up an old hobby or started a new one during the lockdowns, you could put it to good use, making one-of-a-kind treasures for your friends and loved ones.  

Personal History

What about giving a gift that tells a story? Have you ever thought about giving your mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or close friend the gift of their personal history?

It may sound like a daunting task: gathering anecdotes, collecting photos, and capturing quotes. Don’t let this stop you, though. You can enlist a writing service to put together this keepsake your loved one and future generations will cherish for years to come.

They will do all the work for you – interview your loved one, transcribe the notes, and produce a professional, personalized custom book that captures favorite moments, life wisdom, and funny stories.

The end product is sure to make you and your loved one feel more connected.

Impact on Mental Health

Without a doubt, the holidays are going to be strange again this year. We will not be able to partake in many of the holiday traditions we have in years past, and many of us may feel out of sorts.

Engaging in activities like sending holiday cards, making handmade gifts, and giving a loved one a treasured keepsake of a personal biography are all ways you strengthen bonds with family and others you hold dear. 

How to Combine Historical Research with Family History to Create a Riveting Nonfiction Book

The history of your family is about much more than names, dates, and places.

It can be difficult, however, to compile a family history that’s more than just a dry recounting of bare facts without access to the holy grail of the family historian: things like diaries, letters, memoirs, and oral histories.

Luckily, there are other ways to fill in between the lines of your family tree.

Combining historical research with more basic genealogical research is an excellent way to add color, depth, and context to the lives of your ancestors and craft a family history that future generations will enjoy for years to come.

Genealogy Versus Family History

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When you think of family history, your mind probably goes straight to genealogy. And while the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are important distinctions we are making in this article.

Genealogy is the pursuit of lineage, genetic connections between individuals that span centuries and are most commonly illustrated through a family tree.

Family history goes deeper, incorporating historical research and storytelling to allow future generations to understand their forebears and the formative events of their lives on a more profound level.

A family tree typically includes names, dates, and places of birth and death. A family history will also include your ancestors’ biographies, descriptions of the towns they lived in, personal anecdotes, historical context, and a recounting of the events and experiences that shaped the course of their lives.

Many people conduct genealogical research themselves, while others hire a genealogist to help them navigate the endless resources and rabbit holes that are an inevitable part of genealogical pursuits.

Likewise, some individuals seeking to compile a family history may choose to hire a ghostwriter to help them arrange their genealogical and historical research into a well-organized and compelling narrative.

Why Historical Research Is Important to a Family History

Provides Depth and Context

Your ancestors’ lives, just like our own, were shaped by the events and customs of their place and time.

Doing research into the history of the towns where they lived, the wars or natural disasters that took place during their lifetime, and even the popular fashions and cuisine of the time can tell you a lot about their day-to-day lives.

For instance, let’s say you’re interested in sketching out a biography of your great-grandmother Loretta but living relatives have little knowledge of her life before the age of thirty.

Your genealogical research, using vital records and census data, shows that Loretta was born in Mississippi in 1895 and that her father was a sharecropper.

This is where historical research comes in. Basic research into the area where Loretta was born can give you information, such as the population and demographics of her hometown.

Local newspapers from the turn of the century can provide you with not only major and minor news events but also town gossip, ads for local businesses, editorials and commentary on hot-button issues, and more.

What was the life of a sharecropper and his family like at that place and time?

Undoubtedly, there are books, articles, and personal histories that can tell you everything, from the day-to-day obligations of a sharecropper to the social contexts of racial and class discrimination that made the lifestyle toilsome and ultimately untenable.

Photographs from around the same time and place can even show you what type of clothing Loretta and her family likely wore.

You may never know what subjects Loretta liked in school or what thoughts crossed her mind as she drifted off to sleep at night, but historical research can help you understand Loretta’s early life on a deeper, more personal level than a family tree could ever do.

Provides Structure for Your Narrative

If your goal is to produce a book out of your family’s history, you may struggle to find the best way to structure your story to keep your readers (and yourself) interested and engaged.

Historical research can unearth interesting details that help you zero in on a certain event or person in your family’s history that you want to arrange your story around.

For instance, perhaps your great-great-grandfather was one of the thousands of Chinese-Americans who helped construct the transcontinental railroad.

You may have little knowledge of this topic, but research will quickly reveal a rich, fascinating, and often tragic history.

This experience could provide the central focus for your narrative, from which you can move forward chronologically to show how your great-great-grandfather’s grit and sacrifice shaped the lives of future generations.

If no event or individual jumps out to you during your research, never fear. Hiring a ghostwriter can help you not only compile and organize your research but also highlight the information that future generations are likely to find most compelling.

How to Combine Genealogical Research with Historical Research

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Step 1: Complete your genealogical research.

Before you embark on the historical research phase of writing a family history, you’ll want to complete your genealogical research first.

This can include a wide range of tasks, from interviewing family members to tracking down vital records. At the very least, you’ll want to decide the scope of your research, i.e., how many generations you want to cover, and build a family tree.

Though you may be tempted to dive right in by joining one of the popular online genealogical sites, be warned that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the vast number of resources and information available out there, not all of which is trustworthy.

Thus, consider first consulting a book on genealogical research for beginners, or better yet, hire a genealogist to complete the groundwork for you.

Step 2: Take notes and set research goals.

As you conduct your genealogical research, jot down the names, places, dates, and any random details that intrigue or surprise you. If you hired a genealogist for this initial phase, you could make these notes as you review their research.

Use these notes to set goals for your historical research.

Ask yourself: What information is most interesting to me? What information is missing? What do I want to know more about?

There may be specific events or tragedies that stand out to you, like an ancestor’s death in a war, or a particularly notable person, like a politician or an artist or even a single mother who ran a successful business while raising her children alone.

Step 3: Dive into the historical research.

Once you’ve set your research goals, it’s time to dive in and learn more about the people, places, and events that will collectively make up your family history.

A wide variety of sources exist for the purposes of family and historical research. Here are just a few:

  • Newspaper archives: Local newspapers can turn up valuable information like birth, marriage, and death announcements, but they also provide a glimpse into the character and idiosyncrasies of the places your ancestors called home.
  • Town histories: Published town histories include an abundance of information about buildings, businesses, and inhabitants over decades or even centuries. Even if your ancestors aren’t mentioned by name, these histories can give you a strong sense of the communities from which they hailed.
  • Maps: Historical town and county maps can help orient you to the layout of the localities of interest to your family history, while plat maps and fire insurance maps may help you actually pinpoint where a specific family member lived.
  • Photographs: Even if you are unable to locate photographs of your ancestors, images of others from around the same time and place or in a similar profession can indicate the style of clothes they likely wore.
  • Cookbooks and restaurant menus: Looking through old cookbooks and menus from a particular time and region is not only fun, it also gives you an idea of what your ancestors ate on a day-to-day basis.
  • Local historical societies: Many local historical societies maintain an archive of items—unpublished family histories, oral histories, photographs, letters, travelogues, diaries, and other ephemera—that provide firsthand experiences from the people who have lived there over time.
  • Your local library: Reference librarians are an excellent resource to help you find history books that deal with a particular time, place, and/or social group, providing insight into everything from religious and social customs to popular modes of transportation.  
  • National Archives Research on Ethnic Heritage: The National Archives maintains a section of its website for those researching ancestors from historically oppressed or displaced groups, including Black and indigenous Americans. For the former, the site includes not only resources for locating ancestors but also an array of materials documenting the Black experience throughout U.S. history.

Step 4: Find a focus and start writing.

Based on what your genealogical and historical research turned up, decide on a focus for your book.

Maybe it will be chronological, beginning with an event like your ancestors’ arrival in the U.S., or maybe you’ve run across a fascinating individual in your family line who you want to serve as the focus.

Writing a family history should be fun, but it isn’t always easy.

If at any point you’re stuck, or perhaps need help organizing or finding a focus for your research, hiring a ghostwriter is the perfect way to help transform the disparate anecdotes, characters, and experiences of your ancestors into a rich, fascinating family history.

Seven Reasons Why You Should Hire a Professional for Your Family History Book

Your family’s history has always fascinated you. 

It fascinates others, too. 

It always puts a little smile on your face when your noteworthy reputation precedes you, as when you’re introduced to friends of friends as, say, “the gal whose grandmother worked for Walt Disney,” or perhaps “the guy whose dad built a plane in the garage.” 

Maybe your uncle’s gripping tales of life as a young man in World War II Europe never failed to put a dramatic edge on those otherwise boring barbecues. 

Or perhaps your aunt’s hilariously juicy stories of celebrity encounters during her days as a touring backup dancer were always the hit of every block party. 

“You should write a book!” some captivated listener would always exclaim. But your relative’s practiced response was always something like, “Oh, there isn’t enough there for a whole book,” or any number of other shy but flattered dismissals.  

Honestly, they were probably right to wave off such a notion.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Not every life comes standard with enough intriguing anecdotes to fill a solid inch of library shelf.

But the collected stories of an entire family, on the other hand, most certainly are enough for a book — a rich and colorful tome at that! 

These histories are as unique as the individuals that make up our families and they deserve preservation. They deserve to be written down, handed down, and added to with time.

Everyone who sets out to document their family’s history has a starting point. Usually, this is the impetus to begin the journey in the first place. 

Classic family stories like the kinds suggested above are often enough to get the gears in motion. But sometimes would-be family historians are inspired to begin their projects with actual, physical pieces of family history:

  • A leather-bound photo album, found tucked away in a cabinet after a grandparent’s passing, filled with dozens of black and white prints dutifully annotated with names, dates, and locations.    
  • A charted-out family tree, found folded up in a desk drawer, branching back through centuries and linking up to majestic looking coats of arms from a dozen different countries.
  • An old black trunk, the kind so many carried through Ellis Island, discovered during an attic cleanout packed with documents that haven’t seen the light of day in decades.

Unfortunately, despite the passion behind them, the quests that are born from discoveries like these often come to an early end exactly where they started. 

Between roadblocks in genealogical research and a simple lack of time, most family history projects end up on the back burner. However, with the help of a professional historian or genealogist, your endeavor can turn from a simple pipe dream into a reality.

Seven Great Reasons Why You Should Consider Hiring a Professional Historian or Genealogist


Dead ends and brick walls exist in research just as they do in the physical world. 

A dead end is exactly what it sounds like: the end of the road where there’s nowhere else go and nothing else to do but turn around and head back to where you came from. 

A brick wall on the other hand, while seemingly solid and formidable, hints at the possibility of another side or an interior.

A brick wall could be the apparent end of a paper trail, a language barrier when tracing back to your ancestral homeland, or misplaced documentation.

An experienced researcher will know the difference between a true dead end and a brick wall. 

They’ll know when to quit and when to continue on, and they come equipped with workarounds when the potential for further investigation is there.


When it comes to our most precious commodity, you will definitely save a great deal of it by hiring a historian to help you write your family history book. 

Obviously, two heads are better than one and four hands are better than two. With a professional researcher at your service, your progress will accelerate exponentially. You could work together step by step or tackle multiple tasks simultaneously by delineating the work most suited to each of you. 

Historians and genealogists bring an entire career’s worth of expertise and research skills to the table.

When taking on a family history project solo, you’ll be starting out literally years behind where you could be with the help of a professional.

On another note, your family history book might have a built-in deadline. 

Maybe you’re hoping to have it completed in conjunction with a certain milestone, such as an elderly family member’s birthday, or the big family reunion next year.

When working with a professional historian, they can take these factors into account and advise you on the best course of action to create the most comprehensive final product possible within your given time frame.   


The cost of producing your family history book will vary, depending on numerous factors, such as its length, breadth, and final trim size or design. 

Taking on a project of this scale completely uninitiated will definitely result in at least a few financial setbacks. 

First off, you’re likely to waste a lot of time. And, as the saying goes, time is money.

Also, you’ll inevitably find yourself burning cash on postage, shipping, fees for document procurement, and various subscription-based services. Not to mention a lot of unnecessary personal travel.

A professional historian or genealogist will have connections, a plan, and a proven method in place that produces the desired results within your budget.

While hiring a professional is likely not going to be less expensive than doing the work yourself, you will get a lot more bang for your buck going this route.

Historians and genealogists live and breathe this kind of research, so they will be able to streamline your project and avoid a lot of the hiccups that would be encountered without their help.


People tend to move around a lot. Here in the United States, especially, it seems that most of our ancestors were quite mobile. It’s the norm for Americans to have many miles between their current locations and their points of origin. 

Our shared heritage of migration is a veritable fountain of captivating history, but it’s also a source of frustration when it comes to tracing our family’s moves backwards in time.

Our forebears crossed seas and oceans and, in many cases, spread out across the country.

Retracing their movements, finding evidence of their presence in one location or another, and locking down the documents that they left behind can be incredibly time consuming and even overwhelming for a first-time researcher. 

An experienced historian or genealogist will know exactly where to dig, and can travel to the places your ancestors once lived to do the nitty gritty research for you.


The advent of the Internet was undoubtedly a massive leap forward for human ingenuity.  Eventually, it will probably be credited as a catalyst for our continued evolution as a species. 

It’s been said time and again that anyone who owns a smartphone is carrying around the entire catalog of human knowledge in their pocket. When it comes to sleuthing out your family history, however, Google will only get you so far. 

The various online ancestry sites may find a few recent birth certificates, death records, and marriage licenses.

And you can use satellite imaging to take a peek at what’s left of the old family homestead on the other side of the planet (if you happen to know its coordinates), but that’s about all.

Up until very recently, the entirety of human documentation existed in the analog world of ink and paper.

A qualified genealogist will know when, where, and how to contact churches, town halls, libraries, and hospitals in the pursuit of documentation that will help you paint a vibrant portrait of your family’s history. 

6. DNA

Sadly, many modern families do not have a firm understanding of exactly where their ancestors originated.

Thanks to the Human Genome Project and DNA analysis—a relatively recent addition to the arena of genealogical research, such mysteries can finally be solved. 

If the plan for your family history book includes a deep dive back in time and a wide scope, professionally interpreted DNA tests will add to the richness and diversity of the story it tells.

Your family’s DNA will provide direct, scientific confirmation of a heritage that previously could only be presumed.

The results are often unexpected and illuminating. And your hired historian or genealogist will know exactly how to take those fascinating results and use them to find fresh routes to investigate. 


Recruiting historians and genealogists to help tell your family’s story will ensure that you end up with a comprehensive and polished final product. 

All interesting avenues will be explored. 

The reporting will be accurate in its entirety. 

If you aren’t confident in your abilities with the written word, many historians and genealogists are associated with ghostwriters who can help you dial in the diction to your exact preferences. 

They can even connect you with artists who will design your book’s cover, so it mirrors how you see it in your mind. 

Your family history book should be perfect. The lengthy and emotional adventure from concept to print should be free from even a single regret.

Its final form should be exactly as you’d hoped it would be, if not even better. And it should stand as a cherished heirloom that makes you burst with pride each time you hand out a copy.

With a little professional help, you’ll get to that very place.           

Oral Tradition in Genealogy: How Hiring a Ghostwriter Can Help Capture History Before It Fades Away

“Rap comes from the oral tradition. The oral tradition gives voice to those who would’ve otherwise been voiceless.” — Benjamin Zephaniah

It is easy to overlook oral tradition because it has always been there.

Our families contain a plethora of stories, anecdotes, and tales that migrate from generation to generation. These stories make their way across time in one way or another. However, the richness of their details tends to fade year after year.

This is the fundamental issue with oral tradition. Over time, family history gradually dissipates, eventually leaving very little of previous generations. Thus, preserving family and community history becomes a difficult task.

The solution to this phenomenon is to chronicle oral tradition in a written format.

Indeed, recording oral tradition textually serves to preserve it forever. Consequently, the previous generations’ voices can endure for eternity.

What is Oral Tradition?

Virtually every culture in the world has some form of oral tradition. In general, oral tradition “refers to a dynamic and highly diverse oral-aural medium for evolving, storing, and transmitting knowledge, art, and ideas.”

Oral tradition is much more than just talking, though. It is about either giving or receiving valuable information. Many times, this is information you will not find in history books.

Oral tradition is the foremost way in which people transmit knowledge from one generation to the next.

Think about the stories you heard from your parents or grandparents. These stories often contain a message or lesson. The lesson encapsulates what your family or culture’s values truly are.

Celebrated author Edwidge Danticat offers this wonderful insight: “These were our bedtime stories: Tales that haunted our parents and made them laugh at the same time. We never understood them until we were fully grown, and they became our sole inheritance.”

The marvelous quote above refers to three key elements pertaining to oral tradition.

First, oral tradition is a part of our childhood. These stories permeate our upbringing and ultimately define most of our identity. As such, these “bedtime stories” mark much of our makeup throughout our formative years. The lessons contained in these stories help mold who we become.

Second, the stories contained in oral tradition also marked our parents’ lives. As we understand these stories, we can comprehend who our parents truly were. Eventually, we can gain a better sense of our parents’ generation. These tales shed light on our parents’ psyche, thereby allowing us to see them in an entirely new way.

Third, we only truly begin to understand what oral tradition truly means when we are older and more mature. Life experience helps us perceive the importance of our oral tradition. Hopefully, our maturity allows us to distill the valuable teachings and incorporate them into our lives.

Eventually, we, too, become transmitters of our ancestors’ oral tradition. Nevertheless, we also have a chance to add our particular flavor. In doing so, the next generation can get a renewed sense of stories that, in some cases, are hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Why Does Oral Tradition Matter?

Academic and author Patricia Leavy drops this impressive thought on oral tradition: “Oral history interviews allow us to document and chronicle people’s stories; stories that might otherwise not be included in the historical record.”

Indeed, oral history is about recording stories, tales, anecdotes, and experiences that would most likely not make it into the history books.

Sadly, many mainstream historians dismiss oral tradition due to its lack of accuracy or evidence. However, oral tradition provides priceless clues into major historical events.

Think about your family’s stories. Perhaps you heard about your grandparents fighting in a war. Maybe you heard about your parents emigrating from a foreign country. Or, you could have heard stories about how your ancestors lived through major historical events.

Sure, these tales might lack the depth that history books provide. Nevertheless, these stories impart knowledge not found in the history texts.

Thus, the case for oral tradition boils down to first-hand knowledge and experience. This first-hand experience allows the recipients of it to build their own understanding of oral tradition’s contents based on their experience. In the end, recipients can articulate a much broader link between stories and recorded history.

Naturally, there will be some divergence between one account and another. Nonetheless, this contrast is what provides greater depth to our perception of our historical context.

Undoubtedly, the importance of oral tradition lies in filling in the gaps that mainstream history cannot possibly fill. Consequently, chronicling those unrecorded stories provides a valuable contribution to the overall historical record of our families and communities.

Oral Tradition and Genealogy

Oral tradition and genealogy are inseparable. We cannot talk about oral tradition without talking about genealogy. After all, our families’ histories stem from oral tradition. Without the oral tradition, we would have very little knowledge of our ancestors.

American poet and genealogist Laurence Overmire makes this stunning contribution: “History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all.”

Definitely, history recalls extraordinary individuals. However, seemingly average folks frequently fall through the cracks.

Genealogy makes sure that does not occur.

By way of oral tradition, genealogy goes beyond the study of family origins and history. The narrow-minded view of genealogy reduces this study to a mere compilation of ancestor names and birthdates.

And in the best of cases, genealogy produces family trees. However, family trees do very little to reveal the true people behind the names and faces.

Those who claim they know their genealogy can only cite names and dates. Unfortunately, they may not know who their ancestors genuinely were.

As a result, this situation leads to a lopsided understanding of family genealogy.

This is where oral tradition comes to the rescue.

Oral tradition allows people to mesh traditional genealogy with sociology. Indeed, oral tradition helps incorporate details into family history. Just as Laurence Overmire remarked, “Genealogy remembers them all.” However, we cannot expect to accomplish this goal without oral tradition.

Critics may point out that many accounts in oral tradition are apocryphal. True, many accounts are virtually impossible to prove. But therein lies the beauty of oral tradition. Oral tradition does not intend to be a collection of actual data. Oral tradition seeks to breathe life into our past.

After all, we are not looking to prove a murder case. We are looking to recreate our ancestors’ identities.

The Role of a Ghostwriter in Recording Oral Tradition

So, what can you do if you are serious about chronicling your family’s genealogy through oral tradition?

If you have the time and expertise, you can endeavor to record your family’s genealogy.

This enterprise, while time-consuming, is also a labor of love.

After all, sifting through old photographs and mementos and talking to relatives can be quite rewarding.

However, there are occasions when going about this project may become overwhelming.

For some, taking on a project of this nature exceeds their experience. Naturally, not everyone is a trained genealogist and writer. Furthermore, the time needed to go about research can become increasingly demanding.

Many people choose to forego their desire to chronicle their family’s genealogy due to the obstacles to recording oral tradition.

But here is where a ghostwriter can bring this project to fruition.

Professional ghostwriters can tackle the heavy lifting. Ghostwriters have the tools and experience required to make family genealogy projects a reality.

Please bear in mind that a ghostwriter’s role can be as broad or limited as you would like it to be. For example, you can enlist a ghostwriter to handle every aspect of your family’s historical record. The ghostwriter can do research, conduct interviews, and cross-reference with official documents.

In contrast, you can give your records to a ghostwriter who can then go about translating your information into a working text.

Novelist Pearl S. Buck once remarked, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” As such, a ghostwriter can help you make this seemingly daunting task much easier to complete.

A ghostwriter can help you sift through the noise that comes from reams of information and articulate it into a coherent narrative of your family’s history.

Once you have completed your project, you will find that the finished product is much more valuable than you could have ever fathomed. The outcome will be your contribution to preserving the record of your community’s history.

How to Hire a Ghostwriter to Record Your Family’s Oral Tradition

On the surface, it might seem relatively straightforward to hire a ghostwriter.

Professional ghostwriters are adept at several topics and disciplines.

Great ghostwriters can tackle virtually any project that comes their way.

However, when it comes to recording your genealogy, it is not quite so simple.

Therefore, we must consider the following elements when hiring a ghostwriter to record your family’s oral tradition.

Area of Expertise

Initially, it would be best if you ascertained what the ghostwriter’s area of expertise is. If you contact a ghostwriter specializing in business or technology, they may not prove to be the best choice. In contrast, a ghostwriter who is also a trained historian may turn out to be the best choice you could make.

Also, please consider the ghostwriter’s portfolio. Suppose they have a track record in writing about history. In that case, you can rest assured they are familiar with the research that goes into a project such as this.

Conversely, it is not advisable to risk such a delicate project on someone whose expertise is not in history or genealogy.


Experience goes hand in hand with expertise. Ideally, your chosen ghostwriter would have plenty of experience writing about history, genealogy, and even oral tradition.

Nevertheless, those are highly specialized areas. Therefore, there may not be too many ghostwriters with that specific experience.

When hiring a ghostwriter, take the time to interview your candidates. During the interview, focus on projects they’ve completed. Ideally, your ghostwriter of choice should have experience in genealogy. Otherwise, make sure to discuss their previous projects.

If the candidate has relevant experience, then you may consider moving forward.

Additionally, please ensure the candidate has experience conducting interviews. Experience with interviews is highly desirable, particularly if you have elderly relatives. Moreover, you may want them to conduct interviews with other older folks in your community.

Consequently, experience with interviews is a great asset.


The best ghostwriters out there do not have a lot of time on their hands. In fact, many have a long waiting list. Therefore, you must ensure your chosen ghostwriter’s schedule can meet your expected timeline. While you may be keen on waiting for the right ghostwriter, waiting too long may kill your momentum.

A great rule of thumb is to have a shortlist of ghostwriters. A list of two or three ghostwriters will help you manage your project. As such, you can always go with someone else in case your first choice is unavailable.

A good alternative is to go with a ghostwriting company. Ghostwriting companies enlist more than one writer. Thus, a company could make the entire process much easier to manage.

If you do choose to go with a company, please ensure your point of contact is knowledgeable about your project’s scope and aims.

And whenever possible, maintain contact with the ghostwriter. In doing so, you can communicate your thoughts and intentions directly. This approach will greatly enhance your project’s chances for success.

Wrapping it Up

Our genealogy is a wonderful aspect of who we are. Without it, we wouldn’t exist. Thus, it is only fitting that we uncover who we truly are.

Oral tradition plays a pivotal role in discovering who we are. Moreover, it helps reveal the basis of our true identity.

By choosing to chronicle our family and community’s oral tradition, we can gain a much deeper understanding of those who came before us.

Naturally, this endeavor takes time and dedication.

While you surely desire to make it happen, you may not have the time or expertise to take on a project like this. Therefore, hiring a ghostwriter to record your genealogy can make a significant difference.

Hiring a professional ghostwriter can ease the workload that comes with a genealogy project. An experienced ghostwriter can take your ideas and translate them into an articulated family history.

Moreover, a great ghostwriter can conduct research, do interviews, and produce a finished product.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide on the best ghostwriter for your project. Therefore, finding the right ghostwriter boils down to experience, expertise, and availability.

Please bear in mind that your chosen ghostwriter’s personality also influences the overall outcome. So, make sure you both click on a personal level. After all, this ghostwriter will take your precious family history and transform it into a lasting record. So, it makes sense to find someone who can relate to who you are.

11 Tips for Conducting International Genealogy Research

Historically, the term “melting pot” has often been used to describe America. This is because, aside from the few who are of 100 percent Native American ancestry, all of our ancestors came to this country from somewhere else. And all of their different cultures came together in one big melting pot that is now the United States.

But have you ever wondered what culture(s) your ancestors contributed to the big melting pot of America? Have you stopped to think about the lives those ancestors led before they arrived in this country?

If you’ve ever yearned to discover your family roots, there is no better way than to travel to the places where your ancestors once lived. And doing genealogical research in those places can not only uncover information about your ancestors but can also make you feel more connected to your past than you ever thought possible.

Before you get started on your international research journey, here are 11 tips to help make your quest a success.


1. Do Your Research  

Before you can travel to your ancestral homeland, you first need to do the research to identify exactly where that is.

To get started, use online sources such as Ancestry or Family Search to build your family tree and research your family history.

From there, you can decide which area of your tree you want to focus your travel research on first.

2. Collect Stories

Much like the game “telephone,” family stories that are passed down from generation to generation are notorious for being twisted as they make their way through the family line.

It’s important to remember, though, that while they may be embellished, these stories originated from somewhere. So, there’s likely at least a little bit of truth to them.

Before you take off on your research journey, sit down with your family members and ask them what stories they’ve heard. You can use their answers as clues to help find the real truth.

3. Look Into Your Name

For a variety of reasons, surnames—and sometimes even first names—of immigrants were frequently changed when they moved to a new country.

Sometimes it was because of a lack of literacy (either on the part of the immigrant, or the official recording them), so names were spelled phonetically by whoever was writing them down. In these cases, surnames like “Forsyth” may have been spelled “Forsythe,” “Forsithe,” or any other possible way.

Other times, names were changed in an attempt to assimilate with the new country. In these cases, Johann Müller may have become John Miller, or Giuseppina Martino may have become Josephine Martin.

Additionally, many countries have traditions of giving their children multiple first, middle, and last names. Frequently, those names were shortened when people immigrated.

So, you may find baptism records for your ancestor “Fernando Lopez” under the name “Luis Fernando Manuel Lopez Ortega.”

When you are doing your research, keep this in mind and be sure to search for other possible variations of your ancestors’ names.

4. Know Your History

Geographical and political borders have changed greatly throughout the years. While you may know that your ancestors came from France, depending on when they immigrated, that could mean many different things.

For example, if they immigrated at the height of the Napoleonic era, they may have actually lived in what is now Italy, Belgium, or even Croatia.

Or, if your ancestors came from Russia prior to World War I, they may have originated in what we now know as Finland or Estonia.

Familiarizing yourself with the history of the area where your family lived is an essential step in finding their records. After all, chances are high that those records may not actually be in the country you think they are.

5. Plan To Be Flexible

When traveling to a foreign country, it’s natural to want to have some kind of plan. Showing up without a hotel booked or an itinerary planned can be a bit daunting, especially if you are not familiar with the country.

That being said, when making your travel plans, leave room for flexibility. You never know where your research might take you.

If possible, book flights that can be changed if needed. And when booking hotel rooms, make sure they offer free cancellations.

That way, if your plan is to spend four days in Tokyo, but your research shows that your ancestors actually lived in Osaka, you won’t waste money and time staying too long in the wrong place.

6. Watch Your Language

If you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t speak anything other than English (and maybe some high school French or Spanish). And, even if you do, your second (or third) language may not be the language of your ancestors.

Before you head out on your travels, take the time to learn some basic terminology in your ancestral language. Knowing the words for things like “birth,” “baptism,” and “surname” will be a huge help when you’re trying to navigate records.

Also be prepared for documents to be written in ancient forms of the language, such as Old English, Old German Gothic, or sometimes even Latin.

7. Make Appointments

Unlike some state archives and the National Archives in the United States, most places abroad require you to make an appointment in advance to do research. This is especially true if you are hoping to look through records at the local parish.

Luckily, a quick Google search can usually give you the contact information you need to email the person in charge of booking appointments (or the link for the online reservation database).

Be aware that some larger facilities require you to obtain a reader’s ticket in advance, as well as provide proof of your identity and address when you arrive.

Depending on the country, you may also have to have your documents translated into the local language.

Just be sure to check the website for each research facility, to make sure you are prepared before you go.


8. Talk to Strangers

As a kid, you may have been taught not to talk to strangers. Well, this is the time to throw that rule out the window!

While you are traveling and doing your research, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and talk to the locals. Even if there’s a language barrier, you will find that a smile—and an attempt at the local language—goes a long way. And, in many places, you’ll even discover that the people there speak at least a little English, as well.

Although the locals may not know anything about your ancestors, they may be able to fill you in on some of the area’s history or point you in the direction of places where you might find records.

9. Interview Distant Relatives

While the bulk of your travel research will be done in libraries and research facilities, don’t underestimate the power of in-person interviews.

If you’re lucky enough to track down relatives still living in your ancestral homeland, take the time to sit down with them and ask them questions about what they know.

Chances are, they may have some valuable information about your family’s history that you were not aware of.

Even if your relatives know nothing about your mutual ancestors, it’s still fun meeting people across the world who share your DNA — even if it’s just a small percentage.

10. Ask Questions

During one of my recent genealogical research trips, an archivist I met gave me some very basic but good advice. He said, “If you don’t ask the questions, you’ll never know the answers.”

As obvious as that may sound, it’s 100 percent accurate.

When you’re doing genealogical research in a foreign country, you can’t be afraid to ask questions. People who work at the local archives are frequently very knowledgeable about the records that they keep. And most of the time, if you are brave enough to reach out and ask the questions, they are more than happy to help you find the answers.

11. Don’t Get Discouraged

International research is tough. Not only are you dealing with language barriers and getting access to research facilities, but frequently you run into issues even finding where the records reside.

It can be extremely frustrating to travel halfway across the world, only to come up empty-handed in your quest.

Don’t give up, though. You just need to dig a little deeper and be open to looking in less obvious places.

And, if it all feels too overwhelming, consider hiring a professional genealogist or historian to help you with your search.

Family History Research— Searching Beyond the Internet

The internet is a great tool for family history research. Unlike the “olden days” when research consisted of searching through a card catalog in a library, and then spending hours thumbing through stacks of books, you can now find seemingly endless information with just the click of a mouse.

However, with family history research, there are times when the internet just doesn’t have the information you need. That doesn’t mean that you should give up on your search, though. It just means you may have to look a little harder–and actually leave your house.

To get started, here are eight great resources to help you locate those hard-to-find records and information that is not available online.

1. The Family History Expert

If your grandparents are anything like mine, they probably have a box somewhere full of old family documents and information.

And, if you’re lucky, that box may contain things like birth certificates and baptismal records, death certificates, or even old family bibles that can help you fill in the missing pieces of your family tree.

Or, if your grandparents are no longer living, check with your parents or your aunts and uncles.

Chances are the box of family treasures was passed down to one of them at some point.

While you may already know some of the data stored in those boxes, you may just get lucky and learn some new information!

2. Libraries

While some would argue that libraries are slowly becoming a thing of the past, there is no denying that they are still a great source for family history research.

Not only do libraries contain books full of historical information, many of them also offer free access to membership-only sites such as

3. State and National Archives

Are you looking for your ancestor’s military records from World War I? Census records from 1910?

Or how about the land records for the farm that your family owned for generations?

All of these can be accessed with a visit to a state archives or the National Archives.

The National Archives—which house a plethora of historical documents, including census records, ship manifests, land and title records, military records, and more—can be accessed by writing or calling ahead to make  an appointment, and then obtaining a research card upon arrival.

Just make sure that you do your research in advance, to confirm exactly which archive facility houses the information you are looking for.

And, if you are seeking records from countries other than the United States, you’ll need to contact their local or National Archives for access information.

4. Ellis Island

If your ancestors immigrated to the United States between 1855 and 1954, chances are they —along with more than 12 million other immigrants— may have gone through Ellis Island.

The island, which was once used to process incoming immigrants hoping for a better life in America, is now part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. And the building there that once handled thousands of optimistic immigrants a day is now the home of the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

If you’re hoping to find information about your ancestors who passed through the famous island, check out the Family History Center, located on the first floor of the museum.

There you’ll find 65 million searchable records, which include ship manifests as well as immigration documents.

5. Church or Parish Archives

Believe it or not, there was once a time when birth certificates, social security cards, marriage records, and death certificates did not exist.

If you’ve managed to research your family back as far as the early 1800s, you are likely to run into problems finding vital records for them. That’s because things like birth certificates were not required by most states until at least the late 1800s (and sometimes later).

So, without those important documents, how do you find out when your ancestors were born, when they got married, or when they died?

Luckily, prior to official vital records, church or parish archives kept track of a lot of that information. And a lot of those archives still hold those records today.

If you are able to track down the town in which your ancestors resided, there is probably some sort of record of them in the local church’s archives.

Just contact the church to see if they allow public access to those records. Or, if that is not possible, ask if they have someone there who can do a search for you and make copies of any relevant documents.

6. Courthouses

When most people think of courthouses, genealogical research is not usually what comes to mind.

So, it may come as a surprise to hear that courthouses can actually be a great resource for finding information about your family history.

While most courthouses don’t house vital records, (those can generally be found in a separate office within the state’s Department of Health), one thing that they do have is land and tax records.

They also frequently house estate records, probate records, and property records.

As long as you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do some page-by-page digging, these records can help you discover how much land and property your ancestors owned, what kinds of things they willed to their children, and frequently even the names of all of their children (as well as their spouses and children!).

7. Cemeteries

Cemeteries may not be a popular place to hang out, but they really are chock full of valuable information. Not only can they give you peace of mind knowing where your ancestors’ final resting place is, but the gravestones can also give you hints about their dates of birth and death.

They can also frequently clue you in to other things, like military service or religious and cultural associations.

But, before you can go sleuthing through the cemetery, you first need to figure out where your ancestors were buried. This information can frequently be found in obituaries, death certificates, and family bibles, or through sites like

If those resources don’t turn up any answers, check the local library for books on cemeteries in the area (and who is buried in them).

Once you have determined where your ancestors were buried, check with the cemetery’s office (if it has one) or the local city hall for a map of where the graves are located.

Just be aware that many smaller cemeteries do not have offices to help, and not all city halls are able to provide this information. In those cases, you may just need to dust off your hiking shoes and take a walk through the cemetery. Luckily, once you locate one family member’s grave, it’s likely that the others are somewhere nearby.

8. Genealogical and Historical Societies

For ancestry research, genealogical and historical societies can be a true goldmine of information.

These societies are charged with researching, preserving, collecting, and interpreting historical information for the areas in which they are located (and frequently beyond).

Many of them are staffed with experienced genealogists and historians who are happy to help you track down your long-lost ancestors.

And sometimes they even host free events and classes with tips and tricks for conducting genealogical research.

Just be sure to give them a call before you show up, to make sure that they are open for visitors.

10 Reasons to Write a Family History Book

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” —George Bernard Shaw

Researching family history is a sublime endeavor. All individuals are the product of their ancestors’ path through life. After all, every generation compounds the legacy of previous ones.

Indeed, family history is an indispensable element in everyone’s identity.

Family history is often an abstract concept, though. It can be quite complex to translate one’s ancestors into a tangible form. Naturally, photographs and video help capture family history. However, documentary evidence does not always exist.

There’s a plethora of reasons why chronicling family history is a worthwhile exercise.

Here are some of the reasons we think that writing a family history book is a marvelous way to preserve genealogy.

Top 10 Reasons to Write a Family History Book

1. Family History Matters

Undoubtedly, family history is a crucial element in a person’s identity. After all, understanding one’s roots is a fundamental element that comprises personal identity.

In a 2014 study, more than 60 percent of subjects surveyed indicated that “it has become more important than ever now to know their family history.” Moreover, the respondents indicated that “the past is important to understanding who they are today.”

As renowned American author Alex Haley once said, “In all of us, there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from.” For most people, deciphering their genealogical roots is at the forefront of their identity. Thus, uncovering family history fulfills this purpose.

Also, people who come from immigrant families often yearn to piece together their genealogy. Unfortunately, many details regarding ancestry get lost over the years.

However, the internet has now facilitated research. Additionally, companies specializing in genealogy have aided millions of individuals in piecing together their family histories. Indeed, family history matters now more than ever.

2. An Ongoing Narrative of Family History Connects Past and Present

When a person lacks knowledge of their ancestry, they tend to feel isolated in the world. Knowing one’s family history can remedy feelings of separation and disconnection.

By discovering ancestry, people can reconnect with their past. In doing so, they create an ongoing narrative.

The concept of an ongoing narrative suggests the need to preserve the past while writing new chapters in the present. Moreover, there is a sensation of projecting the future within the mesh of an uninterrupted continuum.

Finally, this continuum provides individuals with a sense of collectiveness.

American author Liam Callanan offers this pearl of wisdom: “We all carry inside us, people who came before us.” This statement is true both genetically and culturally.

All people walking on Earth today carry their ancestors’ genes. In addition, every human being is the result of cultural consciousness. This consciousness continues from generation to generation.

The sum of both culture and genetics leads to every unique human being. Whether aware or not, every individual on this planet is part of an ongoing narrative. Those who consciously add to the narrative can create wonderful chapters at every turn.

3. Documenting the Narrative is Worthwhile

Penning a family narrative may seem like a presumptuous endeavor. Some may feel that family histories belong to wealthy households. However, all families have a narrative that unfolds over time. The exciting part is documenting this narrative.

Current generations have a fantastic opportunity to document every aspect of their lives. After all, modern technology has made it easier than ever to record all facets of life.

However, previous generations did not have this luxury. As a result, writing a family history enables current generations to document the lives, challenges, struggles, and victories of previous generations. Most importantly, current generations can leave a foundational document for future generations to build on.

Documenting previous generations may include photos, letters, accounts, anecdotes, and various artifacts.

For instance, jewelry, furniture, books, or mementos all possess unquantifiable value.

In particular, the stories attached to each artifact help build the narrative surrounding individual family members or the family as a collective entity.

Ultimately, documenting family narrative provides substance to anecdotes. Moreover, family history gains remarkable depth by establishing a deeper link between an abstract past and a concrete present. It is akin to bringing the past back to life.

4. Families Are Important to Individuals and Communities

It’s no secret that families are important to individuals. At a broader level, though, families are also important to entire communities.

Uncovering family history can fill in the gaps of collective history. Thus, it is a process that starts from the inside and moves toward the outside. In other words, single families become the foundation for broader communities. Then, communities build nations.

Bestselling author Michael Crichton once remarked, “If you don’t know your history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” Indeed, every person is a leaf on a tree. Yet, sadly, many do not realize that their tree has roots deep into the ground.

In fact, descendants of immigrant families can frequently trace their ancestry back to a single family or group of families. By doing this, they can see the part their ancestors played in the development of entire towns and communities.

5. Family Trees Are Too Simple

Many families pride themselves on identifying their lineage. Indeed, having a clear and elaborate family tree can provide substance to an individual’s identity.

However, family trees are very simple devices.

While they require copious amounts of work to produce, they do not offer depth to a family’s history.

After all, family trees are names and sometimes pictures of people long gone. They cannot speak.

In contrast, a family history book can have as many voices as there are family members. A detailed family history can give voices to the names and faces on a tree. Moreover, family history books add a profound touch to an otherwise sterile genealogical exercise.

John Bond, the author of The Story of You, offers this insightful passage about writing a family history: “It makes names into real, live people. Family stories help you and your family become more than a birth and a death date.

Unfortunately, seeing ancestors solely in terms of dates robs their right to a voice. A family history book provides a voice to the names and dates on the tree.

6. Memories Fade and Fragment Over Time

Oral tradition is a stalwart of human history. Without it, much of the world’s history and knowledge would have disappeared long ago.

However, with oral history, there is no guarantee of the accuracy of all accounts. Instead, the issue lies in the fragmentation of stories and accounts over time. When generations hand stories down to the next, these stories often become distorted. While this distortion is hardly intentional, it occurs, nonetheless.

There is, however, a way to stop fragmenting stories.

Putting family stories into black and white preserves their integrity. It offers future generations the opportunity to discover their ancestry through the eyes and mouths of their ancestors. This approach provides tremendous insight into history as told by those who lived it.

In fact, many of the world’s greatest books, such as the Bible and Koran, have their roots in oral tradition. At some point, someone took the time to write down those oral accounts to preserve them forever.

A line from Janice T. Dixon’s 1997 book Family Focused peers into the minds of virtually all people: “I am not famous or rich, but I still want to be remembered.” Undoubtedly, people from all walks of life want their memory to endure.

7. Giving Voice to the Misrepresented Delivers Justice

There are instances in which history paints families, or entire communities, in an unfavorable light. Such is often the case of specific ethnic and minority groups.

Family history books provide an opportunity for current generations to set the record straight and allow misrepresented groups to have their turn to speak.

For example, minority groups such as African slaves and Native Americans have historically received unfair treatment in mainstream history textbooks.

Such unfair treatment can change with an appropriate family history book. Part of social and ethnic fairness involves giving victims of past injustices the voice they deserve.

Judy Barrington, author of Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, provides this meaningful thought: “For members of marginalized groups, speaking personally and truthfully about our lives plays a small part in erasing years of invisibility and interpretation by others.

As such, the time has come to give forgotten souls the voice they deserve.

Voices long suppressed by oblivion now have their turn to seek freedom. Today’s generation now has the chance to hear the other side of the story. Ultimately, doing justice is about returning the voice of those silenced by unfair history textbooks.

8. Representing Female Voices is Long Overdue

Traditionally, family histories take on a paternalistic tone. As such, lineage often follows male lines. After all, most families inherit male surnames.

This approach robs females of their rightful place in family histories.

Because of male-transmitted surnames, female presence tends to fade into the family genealogy.

Undoubtedly, female contributions are the backbone of all families.

However, simple diagrams like family trees cannot represent the scope of female contributions appropriately.

Therefore, family history books offer female voices the chance to take their rightful spot within the narrative.

Patricia Law Hatcher, in her book Producing a Quality Family History, offers this magnificent thought on female lines:

The traditional descendants of genealogy usually begin with the immigrant and follows descendants for some number of generations. Often, they have a paternalistic bend and follow only male descendants who bore the surname.”

This line of thinking clearly emphasizes the skew toward male lines. Therefore, female voices lose their place. As Law Hatcher concludes, “In the future we hope to see less short-changing of maternal lines and collateral lines in published material.”

“Short-changing female lines” is an understatement. Modern family history projects must strive to provide maternal lines the importance they deserve.

9. All Family Histories Matter

Generally speaking, affluent families tend to chronicle their histories. Moreover, biographers and historians gravitate toward families within upscale social circles. However, focusing merely on such families is a gross injustice.

Poor families from less-privileged backgrounds have so much to offer. These families are the ones that offer substance to reality. After all, wealthy families account for a small fraction of society’s overall population. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on those less-than-affluent families. Their stories reveal the real world beneath the glossy surface.

Patricia Law Hatcher mentions the following ideas about family histories:

Genealogical publishing was accessible primarily to the affluent. Modern genealogists are researching ancestors who are relatively recent immigrants, landless, illiterate, living on the frontier, or migrating. There seems to be a trend away from idealizing our ancestors.”

Indeed, the thought of romanticizing ancestors withers in the face of reality. For many people, their ancestry stems from adventurous folks who faced harsh conditions. These ancestors were the ones who laid the foundation for the prosperous lands known today. Consequently, they, too, deserve recognition for who they truly were.

10. Long Forgotten Ancestors Should be Reclaimed and Humanized

Forgetting ancestors is a sad reality. Unfortunately, the longer time passes, the easier it becomes to forget past generations.

Current generations tend to face recency bias; that is, they defer their respect to those family members they knew.

In contrast, current generations tend to let go of those ancestors they never met.

Family history books offer the opportunity to humanize long-forgotten individuals.

By humanizing them, ancestors re-emerge to claim their place within the family history. This allows current generations to truly understand those who came before them.

Janice T. Dixon had this to say about her experience with humanizing previous generations: “The generations slipped away as I shared her grief for a moment. In reading her words, I felt closer to my grandmother than I ever have.

This statement encapsulates the human nature that envelopes all ancestors. By transporting readers to the past, they can figuratively step into their ancestors’ shoes. Ultimately, there is room for a deeply personal experience.

Undoubtedly, a family history of this nature allows readers to come face to face with those who blazed the trail they now walk on.


Preserve your family history


Writing a family history book is an exercise in reviving the past. This exercise enables current generations to see how their ancestors shaped today’s society.

Most importantly, a thorough exercise into family history allows forgotten voices to come back to life.

In particular, family history is an exercise in justice. A great family history book allows misrepresented voices to have their day. It is now possible to give long-forgotten ancestors the chance to tell their side of the story.

Ultimately, a relatively sterile exercise of chronicling dates and names can come alive by humanizing those names and dates.

In the words of British cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant, “If you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve never been to a family reunion.”

Unquestionably, those ghosts come to life when families come together.