Learning about your family history can be enlightening and also challenging. Asking relatives for all the family names they can recall is a great way to start.
If you want to discover your family’s history outside of personal tales, there are numerous resources available to learn about who your ancestors are, where they lived and how they came to the U.S.
You may even end up tracking down a long-lost relative. Fortunately, there are resources and tips that can help in your search.
Interview your family members
Asking your oldest relatives for all of the family names they can recall is a good way to start gathering information.
Here are some questions you can ask them to get started, according to Ancestry.com:
Who were the oldest members of your family that you knew personally?
Where did you grow up?
How long did your family live in the area?
What was your house or apartment like?
What was your family’s religious affiliation?
Where did you go to school?
Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
Did anyone in your family serve in the military?
What stories did you tell your children when they were growing up?
Use available public archives to learn about your ancestry
If you’re from Charlotte or have relatives who lived here, you can use these local resources to find information about them such as the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Other sources include:
Central Piedmont Community College Archives: print and digitized materials related to CPCC and its history in the county can be found at the location.
Charlotte History Toolkit: This guide helps people use freely available sources to research the history of their own home or neighborhood.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission: Information is provided about historic buildings in Mecklenburg County.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story: Images and exhibits on Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are featured there.
Johnson C. Smith University Archives: A cache of manuscripts, journals, scrapbooks, photographs and artifacts with a focus on Black neighborhoods in Charlotte.
UNC Charlotte Archives: A collection of rare books, archives and oral history interviews related to Charlotte.
Polaris 3G: Information on property and real estate and property in Mecklenburg County.
Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds: A database with deeds recorded on or after March 1, 1990.
Mecklenburg County Historical Land Records: A database with property deeds recorded on or before Feb. 28, 1990.
West Boulevard Branch Library: This branch of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library includes a circulating genealogy collection and FamilySearch affiliate access. A library card is required for computer use.
Use North Carolina-based history resources
These websites have aggregated information on all-things related to North Carolina history:
State Library of North Carolina – Genealogy Section: A resource with family records and access to online genealogy databases.
State Archives of North Carolina: A collection of county, land, military and death records that can be ordered from the state.
Special Collections Research Center at NC State University: Focuses on agriculture, engineering and architecture as it relates to the history of North Carolina.
Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill: Includes collections of Southern history and folklife.
DigitalNC: an online database of historical materials such as digitized maps, newspapers, yearbooks and city directories.
Ways to learn about your ancestry for free
Government records can help with tracing heritage. You can use these free resources to research and build your family tree:
Census data from 1790-1940. The U.S. Census Bureau can provide census data from 1950-2010 to the person named in the record or their legal heir.
Records of military service from the Revolutionary War to present-day.
The database of passenger records from The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.
The Nationwide Gravesite Locator can help you find burial locations of veterans.
Search free genealogy databases online
There are many free online genealogy databases with thousands of ancestry records available to access. A few of them include:
Access Genealogy: A database with ancestry information from Southern states, military records and small-town newspaper archives
FamilySearch: An international, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people discover their family story
Olive Tree Genealogy: A website with more than 1,900 pages of free genealogy records, including ship passenger lists, and documents on Huguenots, Native Americans, Canadian immigration and even European Palatines.
RootsWeb: A site with how-to articles, databases of surnames and U.S. locations, mailing lists and pedigree files.
USGenWeb: A project that started in 1996 has grown into a network of more than 3,000 linked genealogy websites, all individually created and maintained by a community of volunteers.
Pay for a DNA test
There are a number of DNA tests on the market you can purchase to gain insight on who your ancestors are, where they lived and when they came to the U.S.
Here is some information on DNA tests you can take from the comfort of your home, including how much they cost, what they offer and how long it takes to get your results:
23andMe offers a comprehensive genetic breakdown, including the origin of your DNA from more than 2,000 regions of the world, a DNA relative where you can find out and message those who share your DNA, and an ancestry timeline where you find out where your relatives lived and when they lived there that goes back more than eight generations.
Each kit comes with instructions on how to provide your DNA (a saliva sample) for the test. Results typically take 3-5 weeks from the time a registered sample is received at the lab.
AncestryDNA can identify which country your family originated with specific regions within them. Results include a pie chart and percentages of ethnic makeup and details from 1,500 different regions from around the world. The service also sometimes provides a description of how and why your ancestors moved.
Similar to 23andMe, your DNA is collected through a saliva sample. It usually takes six to eight weeks for to process the sample after it is received.
With the MyHeritage DNA test, it can reveal your ethnic background and discover specific groups you descend from among 2,114 geographic regions. The service can also match you with newfound relatives and provides access to billions of family records.
DNA for the MyHeritage test is collected through a cheek swab. Once your test kit arrives at the lab, it usually takes about four weeks for the results to be ready.
FamilyTreeDNA offers four DNA tests: Maternal, Paternal, Family and Family + myDNA wellness. With the family ancestry package, you can receive a breakdown of your origins, connect with your DNA relatives within the last five generations and learn whether there are connections with ancient European groups. The maternal and paternal kits allow you to explore your heritage on your mother’s and father’s side, and follow the migration paths of your male and female ancestors.
Results from the cheek swab typically take six-to-eight weeks to process.
FindMyPast looks for the countries your DNA is found, and shows how your family migrated throughout the world from 80,000 years ago until today. The service also accepts DNA tests from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA to connect you to your living relatives for free.
Like MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, DNA gathered from a cheek swab. In six-to-eight weeks, your analysis will be uploaded to a personal private portal.
With the Nebula Genomics DNA test, not only can you learn about your ancestry and find new relatives, but you can also decode all your genes and identify mutations. The test also provided insights to determine an optimal diet, find the right exercise plan to lose weight and learn about the genetics of your mind, behavior and personality.
Results should be available in about 12-14 weeks.