Knowing your ethnicity and where your ancestors came from is more than just an advertising gimmick for DNA testing companies. It is vital context for your family history research. If you know where your ancestors came from, then you know where to search for documents that might contain information about them. And if you know when they arrived in the country where you live now, you know when to start looking for documents there.
Here are some suggestions of ways that you can take stock of your ancestral origins and their arrival dates.
If you have had your DNA tested, check what your ethnicity results tell you. They can only give you a broad picture of your origins, but they may still provide an insight. My DNA results confirmed what I knew about my Chinese, English, Scottish and European origins but the one third Irish was a surprise because, as far as I knew, the only Irish I had was about four generations back. Since then I have discovered that my father was adopted and his birth mother was Irish. Ethnicity results can support your documentary research, or suggest research leads to explore.
Australian genealogists are lucky to live on an island continent. All of our ancestors, with the exception of any indigenous ancestors, had to arrive here on ships or planes which usually recorded their arrival. The date of arrival and their country of origin from shipping or air travel records are a vital piece of information. You can record these in a spreadsheet.
Another handy research tool is a table or chart showing the surnames in your family tree and their country of origin.
Maps are also useful. In a recent webinar about Irish ancestry we were discussing which parts of Ireland our ancestors came from and I drew up this map. It is just a rough map, made by pasting an outline map into Paint and adding colours, but it does the job. Maps like this give you a good indication not just of the locations where you need to look for records, but also the time periods and historical events that may have impacted on your family.
If you use family history software, you can also print out a location report or create a tailored report using the search functions.