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ADULT SOS Challenge  A-3   

Research the Life of a Chosen Ancestor
or Ancestral Family

Here is a week-by-week list of tasks for you to do to research the life of your ancestor and prepare to write their life story. Some of these may not apply to your project. Complete every task that does apply. Remember to keep a journal of your progress, your experiences, and your feelings about completing this challenge.  If you get behind a week, no worry, just pick up where you left off and go on!

Week 1:

  1. Complete at least a four-generation pedigree chart (five-generations if at least two of your grandparents were born in the 20th century) of your family with you on line one. You may do this task and the next on computer using Personal Ancestral File (PAF) or another genealogy program.

  2. Select an ancestor or a family from your chart (one who is now deceased and who was born before 1908) that you would like to learn more about. It does not have to be a direct-line ancestor.

  3. File your charts and records in a sturdy folder or binder or on your computer.

  4. Create a timeline of your ancestor’s or family’s life and add to it as you progress with your research.

Week 2:

  1. If you have living relatives who would have known your ancestor, or would know more about him/her than you, interview that relative about your ancestor. Write down a list of questions before the interview. You may want to make an audio recording of their answers and comments. Interview more than one relative if possible.

  2. Find out if anyone knows of any personal writings of your ancestor, and if they do, obtain copies of those writings.

  3. Look for compiled family history. A compiled family history is one which has been researched by someone else and compiled or published into a book or a searchable computer database. Visit the Family History Library and see what compiled information the library has on your chosen ancestor or family. Published histories are listed in the Family History Library Catalog which is available at the library as well as online at You can also look for databases of compiled information on the Internet. Start with those on the website. Ask the library staff for assistance. Do any of these compiled sources contain more information than you already have?

  4. Print copies of any documents you find, then file them in your folder or binder or computer files. To avoid punching holes in document copies, you can use archival-safe sheet protectors with holes on the side.

  5. Look for distant cousins you can write to or email, and find out if they have "inherited" any photos, letters or family Bibles (etc.) pertaining to that family.  You can find "distant cousins"  at  Click on the "Family Trees" tab then search for the name of the ancestors you are gathering information on.

Week 3:

  1. Newspapers are a great source of information about everyday life. See if the Family History Library has a newspaper for the area and time period where and when your ancestor lived. Choose dates of key events in your ancestor’s life, such as their birth, marriage, or death and see if you can find information relating to your ancestor. See what was going on in their community at the time. Ask for assistance with this task. Add new information to your notes and record the source on your research log.

NOTE: If the library does not have a newspaper you need, you may be able to find a digital copy online. One resource for finding digitized newspapers is

  1. Find your ancestor in census records—for every available census during their life time. Censuses have been taken in the U.S. every ten years since 1790. They are available to the public through 1930. Indexes and images of U.S. census records are available online at the Family History Library through This is a subscription service that is FREE at the library through the "Family History Portal" but costs money to use at home.  Make copies or digitally save copies of the census entries,and file them in your folder. If you need census records for other countries, ask for assistance.

  2. See if the Library has a published history of the town or county where your ancestor lived and browse through the history for information relative to the time in which they lived there. What was going on in the town, county, state or country that would have affected their lives? Does the history contain biographical information on your ancestor? If your ancestor moved around, check for histories of the different places where they lived. Add information to your notes and new sources to your research log.  Some of those historical books are available online (digitally) at Click on the "Search Records" tab and choose "Record Search".  Search by the name of the town or county your ancestors lived in.

Week 4:

Find your ancestor or family members in other official records available for their locality and time period. These can include vital records, church records, court records, land records, military records, probate records, and tax records. Make copies of the records, note them on your research log, and file them in your folder. Organize your folder as your collection grows. Ask for assistance with this task at the Family History Library.

Week 5:

  1. Continue to work on any unfinished tasks from a previous week.

  2. Using the timeline you have created of your ancestor’s life, write an outline for you to follow as you write of their life.

  3. Look at all the information you have collected on your ancestor and begin to see how and where information will fit into your outline and history.

Week 6:

Following your outline, and incorporating information from all the sources you have found, write a brief history of your ancestor’s life. Make copies of the history to distribute to family members.


At the ward summer social, bring your journal and a copy of your story for the concluding awards ceremony