A professional freelance researcher since 2005, I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute an article for beginners wanting to research their family history. I hope you’ll be inspired to begin today!
Draw up a rough tree showing yourself, your parents, your siblings;
Add your grandparents and their siblings (if you know their names);
If possible, ask your parents for further details of their parents, their aunts and uncles and their grandparents – any recollection may prove useful;
Arrange to meet up to look through family papers and photos – on the day, take a notebook, slips of paper and camera. Photograph anything which might be useful, including in the photo a label recording the subject of the photo, the approximate date, the possible location and who has it in their possession.
Now revise your rough tree and continue:
To help build your information contact any elderly relatives, explaining you’re researching the family tree, to ask whether they can tell you anything about their own family group: parents, brother, sisters, aunts, uncles and especially whether they can remember their grandparents or any great-uncles or great-aunts. Can they remember where relatives lived or any occupations?
Do they have any old photos, family bibles, marriage, birth or death certificates, war memorabilia, newspaper cuttings, memorial cards, school records or photos, or any family papers which might provide further information?
Arrange to visit – don’t forget your camera!
To avoid duplication, contact other family members, as you may find a relative has already started researching your family.
By now, hopefully you’ll have a mass of notes and photos or copies of documents to help you build your family history.
Update your rough tree, taking care to differentiate between facts which are backed by documentary evidence and information which is currently based on oral family history (if you’re using paper, record facts using pen and non-proven information in pencil);
Should you buy a genealogy computer programme?
To help you develop your family tree you might want to consider purchasing a genealogy computer program, so that you can easily build your family tree as you go along, adding facts, notes and to-do lists and producing charts. With many on the market, try before you buy to see which one you prefer. Some companies offer a trial or demonstration; others showcase their products at family history shows.
Some products are offered in different packages: you may not need everything offered in the more expensive versions and may find that some of the data subscriptions you’re paying for are time-limited. If you prefer to continue on paper, that’s fine. Card indexes can be used to keep track of people and ring binders and dividers to file your research notes. Number your notebooks and always record the notebook number on your research notes so that, if necessary, you can double check the data.
Now you’re ready to trace your family tree! It’s tempting to research all lines at the same time. It’s far better to begin with one branch, working back as far as you can before switching to another. When choosing the line with which to begin, try to select a name that’s neither too frequently-occurring nor too unusual. A very unusual name is likely to be constantly mis-spelt. A name such as Brown or Jones is more difficult to research, especially for a beginner. Check the Guild of One-Name Studies http://www.one-name.org/ before you start, in case your name is included.
There are many, many resources available when researching your family history, too numerous to include here. Link to Geneology research for my suggestions on where you might start.
If you hit a brick wall, don’t give up! Try contacting a local researcher who may be able to suggest a search of locally-held records. Consider joining a family history society in your area, as well as a local family society based in the area you’re researching (published finding aids and other resources may be available). Local and national record offices hold talks, walks, workshops and training days; a chance to meet others with similar interests, to exchange knowledge and learn new strategies and skills.
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