Last updated in May 2019
While DNA ancestry services can provide only very general info about our roots, a little time spent on genealogical research often provides rich details about our families. Some of us can easily identify specific relatives—and where they were born and lived—going back hundreds of years. Even if your research leads to a dead end after a few generations, there’s usually still much to learn. On Ancestry.com, I unearthed extensive notes from an oral history my grandmother gave to a relative. And I quickly and easily traced my maternal line to the first births in New Amsterdam. You won’t find these kinds of concrete facts and rich histories via any DNA reports.
Most of us can build detailed family trees for many generations with a little research. Many resources exist to help. Though it seems like a lot of work to trace your roots, several websites make it very easy. Most of us can use services like Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, MyHeritage.com, and WikiTree.com to find that our relatives have already done much of this work for us. Here are some websites that can help:
Ancestry.com—Lets you quickly and easily build family trees by linking to work done by your relatives, plus helps connect each family member on your tree to pieces of its vast collection of historical records. $198/year but the extras add up fast (total cost is $398–$498/year to add access to its international records, for example).
Cyndislist.com—Catalog of online genealogical resources. Free.
FamilySearch.org—Family-tree-building site run by LDS Church. Easy-to-use tools help you connect to searchable public records to find family. Free.
Findmypast.com—Family research and tree-building site that focuses on British and Irish records (the Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers amazingly chronicle skirmishes among neighbors, typically livestock-related). $129–$179/year.
LibertyEllisFoundation.org—Search passengers and manifests for ships arriving in New York from 1820 to 1957. Free.
MyHeritage.com—Lets you quickly and easily build family trees by connecting to work done by your relatives, plus helps connect each family member on your tree to pieces of its vast collection of historical records. Basic tree-building is free; $129–$299/year for premium memberships to access various historical records. Also now owns similar
WikiTree.com—No-frills site that invites anyone to contribute info from their family trees. Aims to create a free public single genealogical resource.
You can hire someone to do this homework. Most professional genealogists focus on a country, region, ethnicity, or lineage, or specialize in adoption inquiries. Ask pros you’re considering what they can do and to show you examples of reports they prepared for other clients.
Prices vary dramatically among consultants. Some charge as little as $75 to build a basic tree; most charge $75–$125 per hour and spend about 20 hours on full reports. Ancestry.com’s packages start at $2,500 for 20 hours; a “Family History Book” costs as much as $20,000.