Genealogy services

How to trace your black ancestry and build your family tree


John Sadler browses and takes notes while researching his family history at his home in Charlotte on February 14, 2022. Sadler spent time on Monday researching information about a cousin and her husband who lived in Gastonia.

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Finding out more about your family history can be instructive and challenging too. Asking your loved ones all the last names they can remember is a great way to start.

If you want to learn about your family history outside of personal histories, there are many resources available to find out who your ancestors are, where they lived, and how they came to the United States.

You may even end up reuniting with a long-lost relative. Fortunately, there are resources and tips that can help you in your search.

Ask your family members

Asking your eldest relatives for all the surnames they can remember is a good way to start gathering information.

Here is some questions you can ask them to start, according to

  • Who were the oldest members of your family that you knew personally?

  • Where did you grow up?

  • How long has your family lived in the area?

  • How was your house or apartment?

  • What was your family’s religious affiliation?

  • Where did you go to school?

  • Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?

  • Has anyone in your family served in the military?

  • What stories did you tell your children when they were growing up?

Use available public records to find out more about your ancestry

If you are from Charlotte or have relatives who have lived here, you can use these local resources to find information about them like the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Other sources include:

Use historical resources based in North Carolina

These websites contain aggregated information on all things North Carolina history:

Ways to find out more about your ancestry for free

Government archives can help trace heritage. You can use these free resources to research and build your family tree:

The Ministry of the Interior has a guide on how to trace Native American heritage, and the Library of Congress offers history and genealogy reference services.

Search Free Genealogy Databases Online

There are many free online genealogy databases with thousands of ancestry records accessible. A few of them include:

  • Access to genealogy: A database containing ancestry information from Southern states, military records, and small town newspaper records

  • FamilySearch: An international non-profit organization dedicated to helping people discover their family history

  • Genealogy of the olive tree: A website with over 1,900 pages of free genealogy records, including ship passenger lists and records on Huguenots, Native Americans, Canadian immigration, and even European Palatines.

  • RootsWeb: A site with how-to articles, US surname and place databases, mailing lists and family tree files.

  • USGenWeb: A project that began in 1996 has grown into a network of over 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 that you can buy to better understand who your ancestors are, where they lived, and when they came to the United States.

Here’s some information about DNA tests you can perform from the comfort of your home, including how much they cost, what they offer, and how long it takes to get your results:


Cost: $99 to $199

23andMe offers a comprehensive genetic breakdown, including where your DNA originated in over 2,000 regions around the world, a DNA Parent where you can discover and message those who share your DNA, and an Ancestry Timeline where you find out where your loved ones lived and when they lived there, dating back over eight generations.

Each kit comes with instructions on how to provide your DNA (a saliva sample) for testing. Results typically take 3-5 weeks from the time a registered sample is received at the lab.


Cost: $99 to $199

AncestryDNA can identify your family’s country of origin with specific regions within it. The results include a pie chart and ethnic composition percentages and details for 1,500 different regions 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 to process the sample after it is received.

my legacy

Cost: $59

With the MyHeritage DNA test, it can reveal your ethnicity and discover specific groups you descend from among 2,114 geographic regions. The service can also connect you with new parents and provides access to billions of family records.

DNA for the MyHeritage test is collected using a buccal swab. Once your test kit arrives at the lab, it usually takes around four weeks for the results to be ready.

DNAFamily Tree

Cost: $79 to $159

FamilyTreeDNA offers four DNA tests: Maternal, Paternal, Familial, and Familial + myDNA Wellness. With the Family Ancestry Package, you can receive a breakdown of your origins, connect with your DNA relatives over the past five generations, and find out if there are any links to ancient European groups. The maternal and paternal kits allow you to explore your heritage from your mother’s and father’s side, and follow the migratory paths of your male and female ancestors.

The results of the buccal swab usually take six to eight weeks to process.


Cost: $89

FindMyPast searches for the countries where your DNA is found and shows how your family migrated across the world from 80,000 years ago to today. The service also accepts DNA testing from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA to connect you to your living relatives for free.

Like MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, the DNA was collected from a cheek swab. In six to eight weeks, your analysis will be uploaded to a personal private portal.

Nebula genomics

Cost: $99 to $999

With the Nebula Genomics DNA test, not only can you learn more about your ancestry and find new relatives, but you can also decode all your genes and identify mutations. The test also provided information for determining an optimal diet, finding the right exercise plan for weight loss, and learning more about the genetics of your mind, behavior, and personality.

Results should be available in approximately 12-14 weeks.

RELATED: Here’s a List of DNA Tests, NC Resources to Help You Trace Your Family History

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Evan Moore is a duty reporter for the Charlotte Observer. He grew up in Denver, North Carolina, where he previously worked as a reporter for the Denver Citizen, and graduated from UNC Charlotte.