It can seem really daunting if you want to start researching your family history but don’t know how to get started.
The best place to start is with yourself, and a pen(cil) and paper! Click on the image above to see a summary of how to fill in the pedigree chart.
Even though lots of family history records are now available on the internet, it’s still a good idea to write down what you already know before jumping in and searching websites. Otherwise, you may easily end up barking up the wrong family tree! It’s worth taking time at the beginning to get your tree as accurate as possible, otherwise you may spend a long time researching someone else’s family and then having to unpick it all later.
I’ve previously posted a template for you to add your direct ancestors, if you prefer to type in the information rather than writing it.
Either way, start with yourself and fill in as much information as you know. Women are always referred to in family history by their maiden names so, if you don’t know a woman’s maiden name, just add her first name(s) to start with and leave the surname blank.
When you’ve completed your first draft of the family tree, show it to family members and ask if they can add anything. It’s often easier for people to correct information if prompted by something written down, rather than starting with a blank sheet and trying to get them to remember everything they know. Contact as many family members as you can – even quite distant relatives can have useful information that can help you. This may be hard evidence such as copies of certificates or newspaper cuttings about significant family events, or it can be stories that can help direct your research (though you may need to treat the stories with some caution and think of them as a guide, rather than accepting them as the absolute truth!).
When you’ve asked everyone in the family for information, you are likely to want to start looking at official records such as birth, marriage and death certificates and census returns. If you’re not sure where to start, do get in touch with us – email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0121 704 6934. You’re welcome to email your draft pedigree chart so that we can advise what to do next.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian