Researching your genealogy is a great interest to pursue. Uncovering the secrets of your family’s past can feel like digging up buried treasure, with the rewards offering you fascinating insight into your roots. But how does one go about building their family tree? The following article will outline the first steps needed in order to research your family’s ancestry.

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Start With Your Living Relatives

A great place to start your research is by gathering as much information on your family as you can. Talk to your parents, grandparents and other relatives and ask for photos, documents and anecdotes that will lead you into other avenues of information, such as military records.

The idea at the start is to get your bearings before you start trawling the huge bank of census records.

Make A Tree Diagram

There are numerous family tree templates online that can be downloaded for free and filled out, so that would be the next step in your genealogy project.  By organising the research into diagrams as you go, you can better keep track of all of the titbits of information you find.

One Branch at a Time

From your interviews with both sides of your family, you may have already identified one side that may be slightly more interesting than the other. No offence to your other, more ‘boring’ relatives, but researching one branch of your family tree at a time makes sense. You’ll do a better job and it will give you more headspace to consider things like surname spelling variations or tracing your family’s migratory movements over time.

The Search

You may wish to subscribe to an ancestry website, where you pay a subscription fee to view old census records, and find your family ties that way, or you may want to weigh up your free online options first. There are a number of free record databases online where you can search not only census information but also birth, death and marriage documents dating as far back as the 1830’s. However, you may find that the free information doesn’t go back far enough to satisfy your family history curiosity, so make sure you are aware of your budget for this exercise.

File Your Research Carefully

When checking historical records for your family tree research, make sure that you organise the information carefully and systematically, as you go, so as not to lose your way and end up researching the wrong family. Many surnames of the past referred to the occupation the person carried out during their lifetime, or where they originated from, so there is every opportunity for you to become confused during your search.

Gather Supplementary Data

Your search at this point may have unearthed some juicy information that you can’t wait to share with your family members. However, turning up to a family party with reams and reams of census data isn’t exactly appealing to an uninitiated reader, so dig up some detail that puts the information into context. Look at old newspaper archives online, find photographs or drawings or maps of the area your family came from, anything that will illustrate your report and make sure you take photocopies to use instead of the real thing.

Research Bar
Research Bar (Photo credit: Rice-Aron Library)

Detailed Research

Once you have the bare bones of your family tree research i.e. names, dates of birth and addresses, you may want to explore specialist information avenues such as military records, apprentice records, or even the archive of famous, well-to-do people dating back as far as 1785. Specialist research is best to do after you have built and double checked your basic family tree, because you will be better versed in the nuances of checking old records by then, making your task easier.

Share Your Results

After you feel like you have collected and collated your ancestry research to the best of your abilities, it’s time to share the results with your family. Ask them their opinions on what you have uncovered and ask them if there are any other areas of research they feel needs to be carried out, in order to get a better picture of your genealogy. Your research may have even uncovered some long lost relatives that you had no idea existed, so it may be worth getting in touch with them using a people finding tool and see what they have to contribute to your family tree research.

So that is how you can start to build your family tree. Have you got any other tips on researching your ancestry? Leave them in comments below.

Estelle has traced her own family history in the past. She believes that genealogical study can reveal a lot to a person and is definitely worth doing. She writes for White Pages.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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