I have recently been thinking a lot about the time I started my family history research, the mistakes I made, and the things I wish I had known then.
I made A LOT of mistakes and, 11 years on, I am still learning but I can certainly share my view on the first 5 steps to start your family tree.
Step 1 – Write down everything you know.
The first step to creating your own family tree is to write down names, dates of birth, places of birth of any family members you have.
Start with yourself at the centre then add your parents and siblings, then your grandparents. You may find it helpful to create a tree.
At this point you don’t have to go into too much detail but it’s good to write any additional information down because you may need it later.
Step 2 – Talk to family members
This should be something we all do, even if you don’t want to start bidding your family tree. The older generations have stories to tell, Stories that will get forgotten if they don’t get told.
But, I am not saying only talk to older generations younger family members may have heard different stories, they may have heard snippets of stories as children. Every family story can have a use in family research.
One thing you, as the family historian, need to remember is that some stones are embellished over the years. BUT in every embellished family story there is some truth.
The story of my husbands’ great grandmother is testament to this. Descendants were all told She went ‘doolally! However, the truth of this can’t be proven. She disappeared sometime around 1894 and I haven’t been able to locate her anywhere. The last reference to her is related to her giving evidence at her husband’s trial for bigamy. She vanished, and he lived out the rest of his life with his third wife.
Step 3 – Organise your research so far
After following the first few steps you will probably have more than you know what to do with and despite genealogy being about more than names and dates, these are the easiest bits to record.
Find yourself some family tree building software, Ancestry and Find My Past offer a free family tree builder with their free trials but there’s also a lot more dotted around the internet. You may prefer a programme you can run on your computer. There aren’t many free ones but I’m sure you can find a decent one that’s paid for. (I’ll be writing a post on this soon).
Also, store transcripts of stories on your computer and on paper. Remember to back up everything regularly.
Oh, and get into the habit of creating sources for everything asap. it may seem pointless and tedious, but you’ll be glad you did when you revisit some one months. or years after you researched them.
Step 4 – Start your online research.
Whether you want to sign up with the major research sites or try out the free sites (such as FREEBMD, free Reg or FreeCen) you can now start proving relationships, finding people, and discovering your ancestors’ stories.
Remember to start with what you know, don’t add everyone you come across until you know they probably do belong. Highlight guesses or uncertainties.
Step 5- Confirm your research and verify your findings
This is vital. If you make a mistake early on it’s ridiculously hard to rectify. I made a huge mistake in my early days and didn’t realise for ages. By that point the mistake was so huge, it was easier for me to start a new tree.
There are several ways you can verify information, but the main sources are civil registrations of births, marriages, and deaths
(from 1837) and parish records for baptisms, marriages, and burials (from around the 16th century to present day).
Over the coming weeks I’ll detail more of these resources and guide you through them one at a time.
Beth is a 30-something, self-employed Mum rediscovering her connection to British History and nature. Her loves include the discovery of knowledge, walking in the woods, and writing, among others. Beth is a Virtual Assistant at The Happy VA.