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Thinking of starting a family tree?

 

Thinking of starting a family tree but unsure where to begin with your family history? Our step by step guide will help you get started!

1. Start with your own family

Begin by writing down the date and place of your birth (and marriage if applicable) for yourself, spouse and children, and the crucial dates for your parents, including birth, marriage and death. This is the start of your family tree and you can now work back generation-by-generation.

2. Gather family history records

Search your attic and ask other family members for family history treasures such as photos, birth, certificates, apprenticeship records, etc. These will form the basis of your research and will give you clues to start you on your journey of discovering the next generation of your ancestors.

3. Draw up a family tree

Now that you’ve collected some information, it’s time to draw up a basic family tree. Plot the youngest generation of the family at the bottom of the page, allocating a box to each person, with the oldest child on the left and subsequent siblings listed to the right of the previous name.

Next, create vertical lines to connect each sibling to the two parents (with the father shown to the left of the mother) and write the parents’ crucial dates as in generation one, creating a new horizontal line of ancestors for each generation.

Photos are a great way to start your family tree

4. Work backwards

However tempting it might be to try to prove a link to someone far in the past, always work backwards from yourself when creating your family tree, finding your parents, then their parents, and so on.

If you discover information about one of your ancestors on an internet forum or online tree, always double check the facts before adding the data to your own tree.

5. Discover those first crucial records

With your fledgeling tree drawn up, it’s now time to start exploring birth, marriage and death records to discover more ancestors. You can search for certificates for each of these events using the free General Register Office indexes at websites such as Freereg.org.uk

A birth certificate will give you the names and occupation of the parents (your next generation of ancestors); marriage certificates provide age and occupations, plus details of the father of the bride and groom (another generation); whilst death certificates give age and cause of death.

6. Explore the internet

Family history doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, there are lots of free of charge websites to get you started.

The National Archives allows you to search 32 million records to find out where in the UK and online more than 2,500 different archives are located. Cyndi’s List is another great starting point for exploring family history online.

7. Keep track of your research

As you discover new ancestors, it’s all too easy to lose track of your paperwork or online research. Start a research log as soon as you can and use this to record which ancestors you’ve searched for and where you looked; saving yourself from repeating the same search further down the line.

If your findings are mainly recorded electronically, use a memory stick as a safeguard should you lose access to your data.

8. Join a family history society

Consider joining a family history sociey, either in your local area, or the society that covers the area where your ancestors lived.

Not only will you benefit from a regular journal, talks and events, you’ll also be able to socialise and share tips with other enthusiasts, both in person and online.

9. Break through that brick wall

If you reach what seems like a dead end with our family tree, don’t despair! Even the most experienced family historians face research challenges. Online forums can be a great source of help and encouragement, or consider leaving the query and moving to another branch of your tree, coming back to look at the problem with a fresh eye further down the line.

10. Visit an archive

Now that you’ve mastered the basics, plan a trip to your local history or library, where you can consult original documents, browse maps and plans, or perhaps attend a help session or workshop.

What next?

One of the best things about tracing your ancestors is that this is a quest which you can enjoy for years to come. We wish you the very best on your ancestral adventures and we’re always here to help you along the way.


links to Family tree resource websites

  1. the National Archives genealogy page
  2. New England Historic Genealogical Society
  3. Boston Public Library genealogy Department
  4. Ellis Island (New York)
  5. The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation – (Passenger Search)
  6. CyndisList.com
  7. Plymouth County Genealogists, Inc.
  8. Webinar Library: Beginners
  9. June’s Genealogy Tip of the Day
  10. Why Use Family Tree in FamilySearch.org
  11. Check for Books Online before Visiting the Library
  12. How to Obtain a Library Card from the Massachusetts Law Library System
  13. Sons of the American Revolution Images
  14. The Original Versus the Transcribed Image
  15. Unbound Exuberance
  16. World War I Draft Records
  17. The Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts
  18. CyndisList.com Massachusetts resource website list
  19. FindaGrave.com
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