hints and tips

Top 10 Tips for Starting Your Family History

1. Work backwards in time

It’s easier to work methodically from a fact such as the date of birth or a marriage of a relative than to try and trace down from a person you don’t know much about.

2. Ask the family

Ask other relatives what they remember about their families. Make a note of any nicknames or name changes. Ask them to tell you any family stories, what their ancestors did for a living, or what they looked like. Ask if they have any photos, letters or documents relating to your ancestors

3. Take notes

You never know what information will come in use in your research so get into the habit of taking notes on what you have looked for and what you found. There are many useful computer software packages that will help you keep your records in an orderly manner and help draw up pedigrees and family groups sheets so you know who you are dealing with.

4. Check out the Web

The Internet can be a useful tool for contacting relatives and finding data.  The Society of Genealogists’ website has useful free information leaflets with guides to starting your family history and links to useful websites. Additionally, the GENUKI website has lots of free information and links to local experts and sources for the United Kingdom and Ireland. Of course, many records themselves are now online at such sites as: Ancestry , Find My Past, The Genealogist or My Heritage.

5. Meet other family historians

Family Historians are incredible help to each other. There is a network of local societies with regular meetings up and down the country. Here you can meet like minded people with the same interests and local expertise. The Society of Genealogists is the largest genealogical society with a remarkable library and education programme.  Details of local societies can be found through the Federation of Family History Societies.

6. What’s been done before?

It’s worth checking if anyone else is doing research into your family before you start. Social network sites like RootsWeb, Familyrelatives, LostCousins or GenesReunited  where people can register their research interests and could be a way of finding information. The Society of Genealogists library collects published and unpublished family histories and research notes. It’s free library catalogue can be found on the library pages of this website which also list the surnames names in its various collections

7. Read up on the subject

There are many good  books and magazines devoted to family history. The Society of Genealogists and The National Archives have good online bookshops with plenty of titles to help you.

8. Ask questions

Who are you dealing with? You must at least know a name. Where did your ancestors live? Most records are associated with a place. When were they alive? Records and research will differ depending on the period you are interested in. What did your ancestors do in their lives and will that affect what information you can find?

9. Get some documentary evidence

Your family history will be drawn from myriad of records and sources throughout history in which your ancestors will be mentioned. Birth, marriage and death records, censuses 1841-1921, wills, church records occupational records, education and apprenticeship, military service records, tax records, criminal records, poor law, newspapers, trade directories, ecclesiastical licences, church records,  court records, tombstones etc might all throw up valuable information.

10. Stay focussed

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information that’s available to family historians. Remember to have a clear idea of what you are looking for and why you started the search in the first place. Family history is fun and thoroughly absorbing. If you like detective stories and have a mind for solving puzzles then it’s definitely the hobby for you. Good hunting.

This document was written by Else Churchill

© Society of Genealogists 2017

Become a member

Join us

As a member, you can make the most of our resources, access our experts, and find a welcoming community of people interested in family history and genealogy.

We all have roots. Let’s find them together.

Keep up to date with news and events

Subscribe to The Genealogy Gazette

Sign up today to receive regular updates including The Genealogy Gazette, a monthly newsletter packed with family history news from around the community, hints, tips, and more. Receive information on upcoming events, talks and lectures, and special offers!

Thankyou! Please look out for an email from events@sog.org.uk to validate your email address, after which you'll be added to our Newsletter subscription.