I have tried some of the genealogy and ancestry websites to try and build my family tree but have encountered considerable limitations due to the foreign status of most of the families.

Let me clarify. My immediate family I (mom, dad, sister, kids, wife) are pretty well known to me, no problem there, but when you start going down the parents' side of the family or my wife's side of the family things get quickly impossible. My parents even have a hard time identifying, properly ordering and categorizing the members of their family, they are in their late sixties and the family were all over the old country, so its a mess to say the least. My wife, she was young when she left hope and knows parents and brother but anything further as to grandparents, uncles, aunts and so on, is a mystery to her, most of them she has never met.

My mother's side goes back to 16 century central Iran, and my dad's side of the family goes back to 13 century southwest Iran and northwest Iran. My wife's family goes back to Hong Kong but further back to mainland China, Canton region probably and oldest daughter's mother's goes back in the midwest to southeast (such as Carolina's, Indiana, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee).

So my question is how to go about finding resources to help build this family tree before its too late, most of them are dead already but I am hoping somehow to use and supplement the ones who are alive to getting to the root of the rest and build a relatively accurate family tree, feels like time is fading.

  • @PolyGeo, I will thank you, I have just been hitting all the resources and family records to try and close some gaps and then when all else fails, I may need to reach out for some suggestions. Thank you. Feb 28, 2015 at 0:33

2 Answers 2


Every genealogy starts with talking to parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents; anyone who is old enough to remember something of your family history. From what you say, I assume you've talked with your parents about this. Record anything and everything you can get from them. If they have old pictures, make copies of them. If they have any records, make copies of them too. If they say anything about family history, write it down, regardless of how contradictory it is. Anywhere in this information, you could find a gem that could lead you down the right trail.

Now, from what you have said, your relatives have difficulty identifying their extended family. Try to identify locations instead. Where did they grow up? Did they move around? Any location will help, the more specific, the better. If they remember where they went to school, write that down. You could find school records. If they remember where they hung out, you could get a good idea where about they lived. Time-frames are also helpful.

From this information, you can find what types of records there are to look through. As I said before, more specific locations are better because they mean less records to look through. If you can find a helpful record, you are well on your way to establishing your family tree.

Remember, any bit of information could lead you to the information you need. Try and make copies of what you can, and take detailed notes of everything you hear from them, even if it doesn't seem to be directly related to genealogy. How do I encourage older folk to provide information? might give you some good ideas for coaxing information.

More specific information as to what you know would help us be able to give a more useful and relevant answer.

  • Thank you for that, I have tried much of it by pumping any member I can find but its certainly been difficult to keep track of them. I will give your suggestions a try and see if that helps me. I feel like I am losing too many people and getting less and less of my past documented and its sad (its an understatement of how I feel actually) Nov 9, 2013 at 23:45
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    Finding locations and place names of schools, businesses, neighbourhoods, etc. as @American Luke suggests are great. They will help you to find the family unit on a census, or two, or four and eventually you will be able to determine when people came over the ocean to here :) Naturalization papers may also be lurking in the bottom of a jewellery box. Even though your parents or in-laws' memories may be fading, their important documents will probably still be found tucked away safely somewhere. Nov 11, 2013 at 1:22

The other answer has focused on ways to gather the available information specific to your family. You will need this information to make the transition to overseas research. Know where to focus your foreign-record searches and have enough information to recognize who you are trying to connect with when you find them.

However, there is another facet to research. That is having the historical and geographic background for the ancestral regions. Explore the languages and religions and traditions. University libraries tend to have reference works and periodicals on many world regions, and of course, more and more is on-line. Having this background will give insight to personal records and flesh out what your ancestors and relatives were doing in the absence of specific names and dates.

Check for regional genealogy help sites that give specific help. (WorldGenWeb tends to be entry level and English; look also for non-English sites that go into more detail). Check out official archive websites to get an overview of available records.

And a final component: support and interaction. Find specific mailing-lists or message boards for your regions and surnames. Look for regional sociology or cultural history periodicals. Join a genealogy society or a least check out their publications and advice forums. A lot of regions have ex-pat communities that promote cultural events, and can provide contacts for translation assistance.

Recent (within 50yrs) immigrant families usually have the advantage of knowing exactly where they came from, but the disadvantage that physical distance and language loss make further information harder to access.

  • Thank you for the valuable information and taking time to provide it. Nov 12, 2013 at 2:18

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