How to trace your family tree
Genealogy is a fascinating hobby and thanks to the records on line, it’s incredibly easy to get started. But it is a good idea to join your local family history society for support and advice, which you cannot obtain sitting at a computer on your own!
Begin your family history research today by following these simple steps:
‘www’ below means that you should consult the main online resources such as: www.findmypast.co.uk or www.ancestry.co.uk but you need to be aware that they do charge for information beyond initial searches.
- Begin your family tree (download PDFs below)
- Begin writing up or building your family tree, starting with yourself.
- Write down what you already know about your ancestors – just the facts, not the rumours, but be aware that ‘memories’ can be faulty, and sometimes misleading.
- Draw on all the family photos and documents in your possession to build up the tree.
- Speak to your family – can they add any names or birth, marriage and death dates to your tree?
Discover birth, marriage and death dates – www
- Use birth, marriage and death records to fill in the gaps in your tree. www.freebmd.org.uk www.ukbmd.org.uk
- When you’ve found an ancestor, use the information to order their birth, marriage or death certificate. Choose those that will expand your knowledge first, as they are expensive (£9.25 each), but you can order PDFs of some birth and death certificates for £6. Certificates can be ordered from www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates
- Certificates provide lots of extra detail, such as parents’ names, occupations and address.
Gather information from census records – www
- Find your relatives in the 1911 census. Who were they living with? What job did they have?
- Add any new information to your family tree, including rough dates of birth and parents’ names.
- Repeat this with each census taken 10 years earlier. There are eight available to search, from 1841-1911.
1939 register – www
- The 1939 Register of inhabitants of England and Wales was prepared in September 1939 and formed the basis of the NHS Register when this was being set up from 1948. It was updated with the surnames of women who subsequently married, until 1991.
- Anyone born in the past 100 years will not appear, even if they were living in England or Wales in 1939, unless evidence has been provided that they have died.
- It is only available on subscription at www.findmypast.co.uk and www.ancestry.co.uk/ or www.ancestry.com but it can provide a useful bridge between the 1911 census and living relatives.
Find additional detail in newspaper reports – www
- Search for your ancestors in millions of pages of historical local newspapers. You can subscribe to The British Newspaper Archive or access the collection with a FindMyPast subscription
- Discover what life was like and add more detail to what you know about your family history.
- Newspapers reported both local and national news, inquests, obituaries, scandals and criminal trials.
Get back further with parish records – www
- Search for your ancestor’s baptism, marriage or burial in parish records.
- Parish records go back to 1538 – much earlier than birth, marriage, death or census records.
- These records can reveal who your ancestor married, where they lived, parents’ names and occupations.
Greater depth in tracing your ancestors and links to useful sites can be accessed here.
The Federation of Family History Societies
The FFHS represent, advise and support family history societies, see First Steps in Family History. Also their really useful information leaflet gets updated regularly.
Visit the BBC Web Site
The Family History section of the BBC History web site provides an excellent introduction to researching your family history complete with video guide and case studies. Visiting the site will provide you with a sound understanding of what is involved in tracing your ancestors in an entertaining and easy to understand form.
Once you have gone back more than a few generations, you will probably find it helpful to buy a genealogical software package to help keep your data in order. This will also enable you to generate genealogical charts and family trees. This website compares some of the free programmes available. There are also many commercial packages, for reviews of the most popular see here.
Don’t forget that the help and advice of SDFHS Volunteers is only an e-mail away.