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Your guide to the ultimate family tree: How to trace your lineage back centuries

Minnah Arshad, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Parenting News

DETROIT – Jessica Trotter went from working on a heritage Girl Scouts badge in elementary school to tracing back her lineage three centuries.

Now, Trotter, 44, of Lansing, Michigan, is helping others do the same by exploring genealogy, the study of family and family history. Trotter authors a blog,, packed with advice. She often is tapped by places such as the Michigan History Center in Lansing to lead talks.

"I just really like finding out about, I guess, the lives that lead to mine," Trotter said.

Trotter and other genealogy experts shared their tips for unearthing your roots, from the use of archives to DNA tests and by tapping storytellers in the family:

'Start with what we know'

Blogger Judy Russell, famously known as "The Legal Genealogist," recommended to "start with what we know."


In an email to the Free Press, Russell said to "document our own lives. Then our parents. Then our grandparents. And so on. We move from the known to the unknown — and document every single fact so we're sure we're getting it right."

Looking to the elders in the family, even those not in your direct lineage can prove useful.

"Get as much of that info down, and then start trying to find records to support, or sometimes, refute the family stories," Trotter said.

Online databases


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