Genealogy FAQ

Genealogy FAQ

Below you'll find the answers to commonly asked genealogy questions. For answers to more questions about Family Tree Magazine, visit our magazine FAQ.

Where can I find my genealogy online?
Unless you’re a former president, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a complete, accurate history of your family online. You may be able to find quite a bit of information online, though, in both free and fee-based genealogy databases. Two popular free sites are, which has a database of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island; and FamilySearch, which has information from a variety of sources. A few well-known fee-based database sites are , Footnote and World Vital Records. See’s Online Genealogy section for more information.

My ancestor’s name was changed at Ellis Island, right?
It’s a myth that Ellis Island immigration officials changed immigrants’ names. Passenger lists were created at the port of departure when an immigrant bought his ticket; the ticket agent recorded the name the immigrant provided. On Ellis Island, an official merely asked each passenger his name and ensured it matched the passenger list. Many immigrants changed their own names to sound more “American” or make them easier for others to spell—that may be what happened in your case.

How can I prove I’m related to a historical figure or celebrity?
You’ll need to carefully research your own family tree and then find a well-documented tree for the famous person in question. Then look for people common to both trees.

Can I do genealogy without a computer?
Yes, you can! Start with yourself and work backward. Go through the papers you have and gather information about yourself, your children and your parents, and organize the information on forms and charts.

Once you’ve recorded what you know, call or write to relatives to learn more about your family’s past. Interview them for more details to fill out your charts. With the help of the local librarian, find the addresses of where to write for birth, marriage and death records.

Most genealogical treasures are still hidden away on microfilm or in county courthouses. You can borrow microfilm at a Family History Center or take a trip to local record repositories.

Although many techniques to find your forebears don’t require a computer, remember that free computer access is almost always available at public libraries and most Family History Centers across the country. To find a center near you, download our directory or look in the phone book under Churches: Latter-day Saints. If the local church doesn’t have an FHC, they’ll direct you to one that does.

I can’t find this person. Can you help me?
Family Tree Magazine focuses on helping you develop the skills you need to find and use records on your ancestor. Therefore, we don’t collect information on specific individuals and we can’t assist readers personally with their research.

You can, however, post queries on our forum, or submit general research questions for our genealogy gurus to answer in the Now What? blog or in the magazine.

Can you recommend a professional genealogist?
We can’t, but you can search a directory of certified genealogists at the Board for Certification of Genealogists Web site or the Association of Professional Genealogists Web site.

What’s the best genealogy software to use?
It depends on your needs, your computer’s capabilities and your own computer expertise. You can see all our software reviews here. You can also visit our forum to see what software programs our readers are talking about.

Do you make Family Tree Maker software?
Family Tree Magazine is not affiliated with Family Tree Maker. The software is owned by The Generations Network. For support issues, call (800) 262-3787 or visit

Are you affiliated with the British Family Tree Magazine?

No. That magazine’s Web site is

Can I write an article for Family Tree Magazine?
We use freelance material, but we rarely accept completed manuscripts. See our Writer’s Guidelines for details on how to send a query for your article.

Note: We do NOT publish personal experience stories (except in Everything’s Relative) or the histories of specific families. Nor do we publish generic family or parenting articles.

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