Just when I think Who Do You Think You Are? can’t get any better, they blow me away with last night’s episode. The show, sponsored by Ancestry.com, had so many fantastic twists and turns it was almost breathtaking. When they hit a wall, they turned to alternatives like DNA testing to discover distant relatives and genetic ethnicity. When they had newspaper articles that appeared on the surface to tell the story, they kept looking—going to other types of records for additional historical context. And Blair Underwood’s family story continued to grow. If you missed last night’s episode, you can catch it on NBC.com.
Family history is like that. There are often multiple ways to find an answer or uncover a story. When you run into the void caused by the loss of the 1890 U.S. Census, you can sidestep to other records. (Click here to read about some resources to help bridge the 1890 gap.)
Sometimes the obstacle is the lack of (or inability to find) a record for a direct ancestor. In those situations, you can sidestep to another family member whose record may include the information you’re looking for. Or take advantage of advancements in technology with new DNA testing to help fill the gap. An AncestryDNA™ test could connect you with a distant cousin that has just the treasure you’re looking for.
In other cases, the key to understanding the records and stories you uncover lies in historical context. Historical newspapers, local histories, and geographical tools can put your discoveries into perspective and give you a more accurate view of the times—and of your ancestors’ lives.
Researchers today are fortunate to have so many tools available and easy access to a wide variety of records. Everyone runs into challenges when researching family history, but if you take a cue from this episode and use all the tools at hand, you can overcome some pretty big obstacles. And when you put all your resources together and use them creatively, you also get a well-rounded view of family history that goes beyond names and dates to create a more complete and vibrant story.
P.S. Want a few more ideas? Join experts from Ancestry.com and ProGenealogists for a live Q&A on Tuesday, February 28 at 2 p.m. Eastern, when they’ll answer questions and share some of their favorite research tips. Learn more here.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.