Begin with Yourself and Your Immediate Family

First write down everything you know about yourself. Your birthdate, where you were born, christened, married, check your official certificates. Then write down any details of your parents, Grand-parents, your children, and any other relatives you can think of. Seek out, and collect information from as many, Birth, Marriage, and Death (BMD) Certificates as you can.

Draw out a rough family tree that you can refer to and add to later. Don't worry about any unknowns - you can fill these in later. Remember to include dates and places of births, marriages, deaths, burials etc. In the beginning it is best to keep a loose leaf folder with separate sheets for each family. Keep the roughed out tree in the front of the folder. This may be the best start that you can make in this area of recording all those loose bits of information and scribbled notes. Later, you may wish to utilise a computer or word processor to help in this task and packages are available to assist you as your collection of information increases.

Next, talk to Your Relatives

Ask your oldest relatives to help you - they are your first, best, link with your ancestors - they may have been a youngster when your Great-Grandfather went to War and remember a great deal about him and the events of that time. They may have their own collections of certificates/letters of interest. Always offer to photocopy any important pieces. It is possible that information given in the beginning later proves to be incorrect. But, if you keep asking, more memories may be forthcoming and the accuracy of the information you collect may well improve. This is particularly so if you take along old photographs, documents and your outline Family Tree. They may spot errors, or mention relationships, and other people, that were previously unknown to you. Ask around the family as to whether any of your other relatives have been researching the family - you may save each other quite some time.

Get some background material

Visit your local library or Discovery Centre. They will have a leaflet or brochure relating to first steps in Family History and Genealogy. You will find a number of books listed that will help you. Try to borrow some of them. There are scores of books devoted to the subject, some very specific, some general and, many very suitable for beginners.

Browse the bookshelf of your local large Newsagents. There are a number of monthly magazines devoted to this absorbing hobby. There are many excellent articles and everyone should read and digest the very sound advice given.

Others can help too!

Even if you have no relatives in the area in you live or work the advice is, from many people deeply involved in researching Family History, to seek out and join your nearest Family History Society (FHS). It is through meeting other 'like-minded' individuals that you can gain new insights and guidance on the next steps to take. Most societies cost under £10 a year to belong to, providing you with membership, a society magazine, and access to search services. It will then be useful to join the County Society where you will be doing research. They will have their own indexes and search services, and as a member, either preferential rates for those services, or perhaps access to member-only services. You may only belong to a distant Society for a few years, but it can be well worth the small investment. Many researchers remain as members of distant societies, learning more about the area in which their ancestors lived and worked.

Some FHS's have their own Computer Group. This is where you can go to ask questions about, and learn how to use, computer packages that can assist in drawing Family Trees and record your family history information.

Official Certificates

Seek out and collect information from Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates (BMD). A visit to the Directgov website will help you to find out how to search BMD indexes, together with information on adoptions and civil partnerships. Alternatively, many large reference libraries have all/some of the indexes and certificates/copies can be ordered from some societies using their courier services, or direct from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

What is in the Census?

Records of the census from over 100 years ago are available and can be a much cheaper source of family history information. The census was taken every 10 years, the most useful being the 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901. The 1881 census is also available as a set of CD-ROM's from the LDS. All census returns can be found through The National Archives website.

What about Wills?

Wills are a tremendous source of very specific information. They can reveal many details of which you may have been unaware. Sometimes, complete families are listed (in Birth order too!), although beware that there may be people missing from a Will that were alive, either due to being out of favour with the Testator (the one writing the Will), or perhaps of independent means. Yearly indexes to wills are available in most large libraries and through The National Archives website for anyone leaving a will after 1858. A marvellous source of information.

Where Next?

That's up to you. You may only wish to find out your Great-Grand-Parents and that may be enough to satisfy your initial curiosity. Although, once started, you may wish to go back even further. You could perhaps study for qualifications in family/local history or research. Others find a particular place, ancestor, or occupation, that interests them. They then explore this aspect for many years. Many Family Historians try to put the raw information collected over the years into a historical context, and for many people, this is where their interest takes them.

Wherever you choose to take it, or perhaps more likely, wherever your family history takes you, you can be assured of a fascinating hobby that will intrigue, educate, sometimes astound, and will often exasperate you. Along the way you will learn a great deal about your ancestors, the past, and you in your time will be able to teach a great deal to those that follow in your footsteps.

Useful Links:

Family History Societies and Related Sources via GENUKI
Directgov Website (previously the GRO)
The National Archives (NA)


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