Nine Kinds of Ancestors You Could Find on Your Family Tree

Family History
20 August 2019
by Jessica Morgan

Family trees often have a kaleidoscope of different people who led fascinating, inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking lives. If you’d like an idea of the many types ancestors you can discover on your tree, here’s a list of nine kinds of ancestors frequently found in family trees.

Also check out the Ancestry collections below, which can start you on the road of discovery for your ancestor’s story.

Irish Famine Immigrant

The Irish Potato Famine started in 1845. In less than five years, more than a million Irish people died of starvation. About a million more immigrated to England, Canada, Australia, and America to escape the famine.

Horse-drawn cart with family riding in the back.

Today many people around the world can trace their ancestry back to Ireland. Notable people like John F. Kennedy, Walt Disney, and George Clooney all have Irish ancestors.

Do you have an ancestor who escaped the Famine? Look at these collections in your quest to find out:

Revolutionary War Soldier

Throughout the Revolutionary War, about 230,000 soldiers and 145,000 militiamen (i.e. non-professional combatants) served in the Continental Army. Any able male between ages 16 and 55 could enlist, and was paid $6-8 per month.

Band and flag carriers marching in colonial re-enactment parade.

Those who fought in the Continental Army came from many backgrounds, from English merchants to German farmers to African Americans hoping to win their freedom.

If you have colonial ties, you may have an ancestor who fought for America’s freedom. Check out these collections to find out if your ancestor fought for America’s independence:


In the 18th century, the British government sent thousands of convicts to the American colonies to free up overcrowded prisons in England. Once America gained independence, convicts were sent to penal colonies in Australia.

Convict mugshot, unknown date.

British ships transported over 160,000 convicts to Australia between 1788 and 1868. Most of these convicts had been charged for petty crimes like theft or forgery.

Do you have a black sheep in your family? Take a look at convict transportation records and weekly newspapers (gazettes) published to report crimes and wanted criminal to find out more about your convict-ancestor:


What’s more exhilarating than traveling the world? When sailing ships dominated the Atlantic and Pacific, there were many reasons for a man to try a life at sea: profit, career-advancement, or simply adventure.

Sailors peeling potatoes aboard the USS Arkansas.

Prospective sailors could join the Navy (the arm of a nation’s military that operated at sea), or the Merchant Navy (mercantile fleets owned by governments or private shipping companies).

Explore these collections to maybe discover if one of your ancestors sailed the seas:


If you have colonial ancestors, you might have British king and queens in your family tree. Over 600 colonists who settled in America have been confirmed as descendants of royalty.

Many high-status colonists were the younger sons of aristocratic families in England. By law they could not inherit land, so they struck out for America for better opportunities. Their aristocratic families often trace back to medieval royalty through female lines or children born out of wedlock.

Ancestry has databases for the 600 colonists with royal ties and for Burke’s Peerage, which catalogues families of nobility in England. Find out if you could descend from royalty:

Your last name could also hold some clues that could help along your journey of royal roots discovery:


Did your ancestor think outside the box? The 19th and 20thcenturies boomed with advancements in science, technology, and medicine.

19th century inventor in his shop.

The creation of the U.S. Patent Office allowed inventors to safeguard the rights to their innovations, and those documents are accessible today. The very first U.S. patent was given to Samuel Hopkins in 1790, for the process of an ingredient used in fertilizer.

Find out if your ancestor innovated with the Ancestry collection of U.S. patents:

Freedman (or Freedwoman)

In 1865—the end of the Civil War— nearly 3.9 million African Americans became liberated from slavery. They were referred to as “freedmen.”

Freedmen had U.S. citizenship and, in 1870, were granted the right to vote. While some freedmen chose to stay on plantations, others decided to build freedmen’s towns, often built in frontier states like Oklahoma and Texas.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was created by the U.S. government to help establish schools, health care, and legal representation for freedmen. While the Bureau was short-lived (disbanding in the 1870s), freedmen continued looking after their communities by establishing African American churches and civic organizations.

Ancestry has collections of papers from the Freedmen’s Bureau, which documented the day-to-day of many freedmen communities. See what the collections say about your ancestors and how they exercised their new freedom.


Sports have deep roots in American history, especially America’s national pastime: baseball. As early as the 1850s, crowds packed the seats in New York City to watch baseball games.

Women's baseball team.

Professional leagues were developed and soon the sport spread across the country like wildfire. The rise of various sports led to students forming athletic clubs across the U.S. in the 19th century. By the 20th century, sports teams had developed on every level, from professional leagues to colleges to high schools.

Was your ancestor a professional athlete, or maybe they were the jock in high school? Check out these Ancestry collections to investigate:


When the Spanish brought their cattle-ranching traditions to Mexico in the 16th century, they introduced the role of the vaquero: cattle-herders on horseback.

Vaquero family in Mexico.

Skillful riders, vaqueros were typically Native Americans working for Spanish mission outposts and haciendas (estates). They passed their knowledge of cattle herding to Anglo-American riders, which started the tradition of the cowboy.

While the cowboy has come to symbolize the American “Old West,” the vaquero was the inception to this legendary icon.

Check out some of the Ancestry collections from Mexico to see if one of your ancestors trail-blazed as a vaquero:


Which types of ancestors will you find? Start your journey of discovery with an Ancestry free trial today.