Culture et Littérature
The Essential Guide to Family History

The Essential Guide to Family History

The Essential Guide to Family History

The Essential Guide to Family History includes 20 simple steps to get you started on your journey of discovery, followed by in-depth articles to help you overcome any stumbling blocks and take your research further. From the basics of birth, marriage and death to the best techniques for tracing military records and the latest online resources, this easy-to-follow guide is all you need to give yourself the Who Do You Think You Are? treatment.

United Kingdom
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1 min.

Tracing your family history has never been easier. With more and more documents going online, the door has been opened to anyone who wants to trace their family's past. Although what you see in an hour's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? has often taken months to research, there is no reason why you can't also give yourself the Who Do You Think You Are? treatment and uncover real stories of heroes and villains (as well as the ordinary folk, just trying to make a living) in your own family tree. We have put together a series of articles that will help you on your quest, many of them written by researchers who work on Who Do You Think You Are? and all of them experts in their field.…

3 min.
step 1 start with yourself

The golden rule of family history research is to start with what you know, so you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s you who is destined to be the first entry on your family tree. Start by thinking about yourself and write down some of your key details. For example, when and where were you born? Who are your parents? Do you have siblings, a spouse or children? Sketching out a rough family tree is a good way to begin. Fill in as much information as you can about your parents, and – if you can – your grandparents and earlier generations. Write down all of the names, dates of birth, marriage and death, occupations, locations and any other information that you can remember about earlier generations of your family. It’s…

1 min.
step 2 contact family

You’ve done what brainstorming you can by yourself, so it’s time to get other family members involved. Some relations will know things that you don’t about the family, perhaps because they are older and remember ancestors that you never met, or knew them at a different stage in their lives; or because they grew up with different relatives and were present at conversations when precious nuggets of information were revealed. Email as many family members as you can and tell them what you are doing. Ask them if they have contact details of other family members you might not have. You may well find that somebody else within you family has already done some research that you can share. You may find someone who would like to get involved in the…

3 min.
step 3 interview relations

Sometimes one family member is regarded as the guardian of the family history – someone who has photographs and memories and keeps in touch with more distant relatives. Decide who would be good to talk to, and then arrange a visit. You should work your way round as many relatives as possible. You might even hold a small gathering where you can interview several relations in one day. For those who live further away, why not try emailing them questionnaires? When you talk to family members, you should record the same kind of information that you did about yourself – names, dates and life details, as well as stories, characters, physical descriptions and anecdotes. It can be helpful to have a list of questions prepared – it is wonderful to let your…

1 min.
step 4 what do you want to achieve?

You have written down what you know, you have contacted family members and hopefully spoken to some of them. You have sketched out a basic family tree. Now is the time to step back and decide where to go next. Every generation you go back, your ancestors will double and you can’t do everything at once. Is there a family story or mystery that you would like to get to the bottom of? Perhaps you feel that there is a particular branch of the family that you would like to know more about? You may just want to follow your family surname (although if you have a very common surname, you may be better off trying a different branch). Set yourself a target and look at where the gaps in your knowledge…

2 min.
step 5 now get online

You have probably been keen to go online from the start, and now that you know some of the basics about your family tree, it’s time to have an initial browse. You will be using the internet a lot during your research, either from home or at a library or record office. It’s amazing what you can find by simply entering the information you already know into a search engine such as Google. You might be able to find out more about your ancestor’s profession, their town or village – or even pick up on a story about your ancestor themselves. This kind of searching is much easier if your ancestor had an unusual name. This is also a great opportunity to see if someone else is researching your family (see boxout…