1.                 Where to begin

Where to start

Start with yourself. Write down your details, birth, baptism, school, marriage, and your CV. All in date order.

Then look at your parents. Write down their details in date order and add the dates and where children were born and service records.

Collect birth, marriage and death certificates that may be held in the family. Copy these and return the originals to their owners.

Collect photos identify the persons, places and dates. Copy these and return the originals to their owners.

Explore your home for old objects and their origins.  Clocks often have inscriptions and gold watches were given as retirement presents. The stories of objects might help you recall stories you may have forgotten.

Store your information in individual files for each person or families until you are able to enter it in a document or on the internet.  If you don’t you may end up with lots of bits of paper that is hard to sort out.

Talking to the family and friends

Write down information collected with approximate dates and the relationship of the teller to the person they are talking about.  The age of the person telling the tale may give indication of date. i.e. when I was about 7, I used to visit my Granddad .  (Add 7 to tellers’ birth date) make sure you know which granddad.

Neighbours or friends were often referred to as Uncle or Aunt but are in fact not related.

Prompt sheet for interviews

How often do we say I wish I had asked…..?

When going to talk to a relative or someone who knows about your relative it’s useful to have a prompt sheet.

Always use separate pages for each person or family. People, when talking about the past, often flit from one person to another and from one generation to another, so separate pages often helps sort out facts and avoids confusion.

Establish who was married to whom and who their children were. What were the occupations and where did they live? 

Write down any interesting stories identifying the person and their ages, at the time (or take a tape).  If you leave it until later you may have forgotten details and you can not clarify it with the person.

Always record who told you the story.

Asking questions

Below is a list of questions you may wish to start with when asking about a specific ancestor. Of course this is only a guide and you may have other, more specific, queries that you would like answered.

  • What was their full name? Did they have a middle name or nickname that they preferred?

  • When did they die? What was the cause of their death? Where were they buried or cremated?

  • Were they married? If so, what was the name of their spouse? When and where did their spouse die?

  • When did they marry? Where did the marriage occur? Was this the only marriage for both parties?

  • Where did they live?

  • Did they have children? If so, what were their children's names?

  • Did their children marry and where did or do they live? If they are deceased where and when did they die?

  • What was their occupation? Where did they work? Did they serve in the military?

  • Where and when were they born?

  • What school or schools did they attend? Did they attend university?

  • Were they a member of a religious community, or parish? Which religious denomination were they?

  • Do you have any documentation of their life, such as birth, marriage or death certificates, their Will or other written records?

  • Do you have any photographs or newspaper clippings of them? Do you know anything about their physical appearance or accent?

  • Would any other relatives have further information, memories, or records relating to them?

  • Do you have childhood memories of relatives? Are they blood relatives?

  • Can you remember any christenings, weddings or funerals and where they where held?

Good interviewing techniques are essential.

Relatives usually relish the chance to tell stories from their past.  But there maybe sensitive topics that they do not wish to talk about.  Every family has its hidden secrets.

Some tales have been elaborated over the years of telling so the true facts may be well hidden and may warrant further research.

Record as much detail as you can: dates of birth, death and marriage, and add photos and notes. It is important to record your sources - later, if you hit a brick wall, they may offer new avenues of research.

You might not have exact dates yet, or full names, or details of spouses. You may also have a relative who seems to have 'disappeared', whose marriage or death you cannot trace. This is normal at this early stage and you should nonetheless note everything you know, and every source you consult. Even rumours and legend often have their uses and can help to narrow down a search.

Collecting photos and news paper cuttings

There is a lot of information on line that can be copied including old post cards.  Scan photos and news paper clipping to computer or photo copy if no computer.  People are often reluctant to give away old photos.

News paper articles are notorious for inaccuracies so keep an open mind.

Is there a family bible?

A family bible is usually an accurate source of events.  Birthday books may give the day and month of a person’s birth and annerversaries but not often the year.

How far can you get back?

In 1837 it became law that you register Birth marriages and deaths, so it’s reasonable to expect to trace a family back to this time.  Records before this date are baptisms, marriages and burials, not every one was baptised or married in church.  Because before this time there were few documents to prove your identity and few people could read and write.  Names often changed or were not spelt in the way we accept as correct.

Some parish records may go back many centuries, others were poorly written and the ink has faded, others have been destroyed by fire, water damage, poor storage or wartime bombing. Some vicars gave plenty of details, others the bare essentials. Many of the records or now on line either on the genealogy search sites or on a local history group site.

Land records, title deeds and tenancy records may establish that a person lived in an area.  Wills and probate give useful information, but your ancestor would have to have had money or been a tenant.

There are good records for the nobility, especially when property is involved, so if your ancestors came from nobility or a royal house you could get back to William the Conquer.

The census may help to establish family groups, the earliest on the internet is 1841, but earlier censuses were mainly land records rather than family units.

How far you can trace your family back is just a matter of luck

Starting from scratch

Even if you have no, living relatives, you can still start creating your family tree.  Begin by looking at your birth certificate.  From this you might be able to get parents names and address at the time of your birth. 

Rules of registering births have varied over the years.  Sometimes the fathers name is left blank because it is unknown or the father was not present at time of registration.

The address on the birth certificate could indicate which parish the family lived in and which parish records to look at.

Parent’s marriage often took place around the time of first child’s birth so, 5 year either side of this child’s birth could give the parents marriage date

The marriage certificate would give details of the couple’s father and his occupation and the address at the time of marriage. If however someone was illegitimate and did not want to admit it, a false father’s name might have