Basics of Family History

By | August 24, 2016

Genealogy, or family history as you may call it is both an interesting and rewarding hobby. You never know what new information you will find or where it will lead you to. As you build your family history you will have created something that you can pass onto future generations. You can feel proud that you were the one who was responsible for this. But there are basics of family history that you will need to be aware of.

Basics of Family History

If you are beginning your family history journey then it is well worth reading the following tips. But if you have been researching your family tree for a number of years though these tips still be of use to you.


Start With What You Know

Start your family tree by adding your information such as your birth, marriage, etc. You can then add relatives such as your siblings, parents and grandparents. Knowing your ancestors details will help you later when coming to search for certificates and censuses. You will be able to find these documents by providing full names, dates and places where events took place.

Sources of Information

After you have started on your family tree you can try to find useful information all around your home. There is a wealth of documents and records that you can find in cupboards, drawers and even the attic. You will be surprised at just how much you will find that will be of use to you.

Your relatives and friends who knew your family are also a great resource that you can tap into. Not only can they give you details about your ancestors but they may also give you useful documents that will help with your research,. I will talk about this more later in this post.

==> What Sources of Information At Home Can You Find? <==


Paying For Materials

Genealogy is not a cheap hobby as you will need to spend money in obtaining certificates. Do consider purchasing certificates of relatives as the information they will hold can further your research. Subscribing to genealogist sites such as Ancestry is also a good investment as it can help you grow your family tree.

Paying for materials

You may also wish to consider joining a local family history society or visit a local archives. Both of these are a valuable resource for the family historian. In order for your family tree to grow you must be willing to part with money. That is the same with any hobby or pastime.

If you only want to go back a few generations then sure you may possibly do this for free. But soon, like me, you catch the genealogy bug and you want to find out as much as you can about your ancestors. And this undoubtedly involves money.

==> How To Use Ancestry.com – The Ancestry.com Mega Collection <==


Interview Relations

Ask relatives if they have any information that will be of use to you. Older relations may have details of ancestors further back so this will help you greatly in your research. Before visiting your relative it is a good idea to prepare questions in ready for the interview.

Ask Our Relatives For Help

Of course not all the details you need may be gathered in one interview. Before a second or third interview is arranged you will need to assimilate the information you have collected from your relative. By doing this you may think of other questions you may not have initially thought of.

You can assure them that the information that I provided will remain confidential. Try to be as open as possible and warm as well. Your relative will then be more willing to share information about your ancestors.

==> Check Out My Top 20 Family History Interview Questions <==


Previous Family Research

It is also possible that work has already been started on your family tree. You may find this through another family member or a tree that has been uploaded to a genealogy website such as Ancestry.com.

How To Preserve Your Family Treasures

I have benefitted greatly from both these resources. My father conducted years of research before I was interested in doing my own. This saved me an enormous amount of time. This therefore meant that I did not have to research the same names and dates. I have also been fortunate to find family trees on Ancestry where I was able to prove connections and use these to trace further back.

You can then therefore use these tree and build on them further. Do note though if you are using someone else’s tree you need to check their references. Too many times have I seen a tree with inaccuracies. Use them by all means but treat them with a pinch of salt.

Besides names, dates and stories your relatives may also possess other interesting items such as photographs, letters and other heirlooms. There is always the chance that they may even have certificates which will save you time and money purchasing them yourself.

==> Check Out How To Preserve Your Family Treasures <==


Working On Your Research

Set time aside to do your family history research. There is nothing worse than sitting down to start your fact finding only to be interrupted by friends and family. Either do your work when you know you will not be disturbed or tell people you just need an hour or two.

Desk Work

Trying to work on your family history is not a five minute job. You cannot just sit down and pick off ancestors one by one. You need to settle down, get your work in front of you and settle into the mindset.

It does help though if you have a dedicated work area where you can research your genealogy. You can have your work laid out all in front of you. The benefit of this is that you do not have to bring out folders or notes each time that you want to work on it. It also helps if you tell people that your work is important and you do not want it to be disturbed.


Which Way To Do It?

There is no right or wrong way when researching your family tree. The way you do it is the way that is best for you. You may want to first discover the names of your ancestors through relatives and censuses in order to build the branches of your family tree.

Which Way To Do It

Then you can obtain certificates and parish register documents and other sources of data to further learn more about them. You may however want to focus on one person at a time. Collect all there is on that person and then moving onto the next relative. It is entirely up to you how you conduct your research.

That is the way that I first conducted my genealogy research. I was fascinated with collecting names, dates and places. I wanted to create my tree and build the branches higher and higher. There came a time though when I wanted to learn more about the person I was researching. Then I looked into parish registers and will, etc.

After I had found my way as it were I decided to follow a ten step guide. This helped me focus my efforts and help me conduct a more efficient strategy of research.

==> Check Out My Ten Step Guide <==


Hitting Brick Walls

Sometimes though you may hit a brick wall while doing your fact finding. If you cannot break through this brick wall then it is always a good idea to leave this troublesome ancestor and come back to them later with a fresh mind. You can either stop doing your research for a little while or explore another branch of your family tree.

Breaking Through Brick Wall

Please note though that you will always encounter a brick wall during your research. It is inevitable. I have encountered many of these during my research. Usually these were because I was working late at night on an ancestor and I couldn’t backtrack any further. After much needed rest I returned to my work and could see things more clearly.

Sometimes though a helping hand is something that you need and you shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help. There are plenty of people out there who can help you. Remember they were once in your shoes and a beginner themselves. My motto is always give back, and hence that is why I have created this site.

If you cannot find a way to break down a brick wall then consider joining a local library or family history society. Both of these I will discuss below.


Need Some Help?

Joining a family history society can also be beneficial as they may help you with brick walls that you may have faced during your research. Not only are the staff of these societies quite helpful but also the members as well. These societies also publish useful guides with tips and strategies that you can use. An annual subscription is usually paid to become a member.

Family History Society

There are monthly meetings held by family history societies. There will usually be a guest speaker who will give a talk about their current research. A question and answer session will normally conclude the talk. This will obviously be another opportunity for you to gain some much needed advice from experts in the field of genealogy.

You can also attend open days and fairs that are held annually. Here you can pick up guide books and also chat to staff and fellow members and researchers. You could also show your support and volunteer your services for these events.

==> Join A Family History Society <==


The Local Library or Archives

A library is also a good source of information. By joining a library you will have access to books about the area as well as records. You can also use the computers at the library which will have access to genealogy sites such as Ancestry, FindMyPast or MyHeritage.

Join A Library

I have benefited greatly from using these sites at the library where I have made many family connections that has helped build my tree.

Libraries may also run workshops on various courses which will help you further with your research. The classes can also help you with any brick walls that you may have encountered during your research. You can also exchange tips and strategies with other library members. They may have years of research behind them so they will have useful advice that they can pass on.

The local archives will also help you immensely with your family history research. They will have certificates, as well as wills, probates, electoral rolls, street directories and so on. Checking out the archives nearest to your ancestors is well worth it as it is possible they will have records concerning your ancestors.

==> Plan A Visit To The Archives <==


And Finally!

Whenever you research your family history there will always be a ton of information that you will find. The further back you go then obviously the more that you will encounter. Although do note that the older the information is then the harder it maybe to decipher the handwriting on these records. Errors may also have crept into the records by the registrar at the time.

Genealogy Software Overview

It can be overwhelming at times just how much information there is out there. My advice is to collect your data first. Once you have done this then you can take your time to enter it into your genealogy software.

==> Check Out The Best Genealogy Software Programs <==


 

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this article regarding the basics of family history. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

 

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

24 thoughts on “Basics of Family History

  1. Craig

    I have always been interested in researching my family history but have never really had the tools or the know how to go and do it. I definitely think that something like Ancestry will help a lot, I can’t wait to check it out.

    I know that my roots are mainly based in the North East of Scotland, but there are definitely relatives of mine that can be tracked back to Australia and it would be awesome to find out how that came about.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      That is certainly interesting that they came from Australia. Usually hear of people to Australia so it would be interesting to know why. If you knock ancestors they were then you could find out what was happening in North East of Scotland at that time. Maybe there’s a connection.

      Please check out the rest of the site as there is plenty of information and guides to help you on your way.All the best with your family history research.

      Reply
  2. George

    You have some good resources and references. I’m still trying to find the roots of my grandparents (father’s side). It really is challenging when there is little documentation or personal items to guide you. I may have to do a bit of travelling for more research….!

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      That’s a shame about finding little documentation. May I suggest that before you travel you are prepared when you get to archives or wherever you need to go. Have an itenary and know what you are going to accomplish from your visit.

      Reply
  3. David

    I have a uncle who is obsessed by genealogy. He builds our family tree and it is really amazing. How far could you get? He is now 1 generation before first world war.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      With the help of my father and cousins of mine who I have found during my research I have gone back to mid 1700s. That is as far back as I can go on a few different branches. I am waiting on some certificates though which will help me go back with other branches.

      Reply
  4. ToveL

    Hi, and thanks for sharing this information with me,
    I have thought about starting with something like this some years ago now. But I didn’t know that it will be such hard work. You’re telling about tons of information so I can imagine that it will take a long time gather all the information I need for each relative.
    Do you find this stressful sometimes when it’s so much information out there?

    Tove

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      To be honest I have found it overwhelming at times. On these few occasions though I have dug down and got on with entering all the information into my genealogy program to make sense of it all. I then got on with writing up what I have found out in a book. This article – How To Create A Family History Book will be of interest. The important thing is that when you’ve assimilated all the information you will feel proud of what you have accomplished.

      Reply
  5. Mary Burns

    This is really awesome. I have always been interested in genealogy. This has some really helpful information. I know that my family has a lot of Cherokee Indian in our family line.

    From my understanding my great grand daddy was a full blooded Cherokee. My grandfather and my oldest uncle both look as though they stepped right out of the trib. I would love to learn even more of how I could find out more.

    I have been told that with having a Indian blood line can come with it’s fair share of perks. This has defiantly giving me the drive to find out more.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      That is interesting that you have some Cherokee blood in you. It’s is fascinating what we may find when researching our family history, or what we are told by our relatives. It’s makes us want to learn more.

      I hope that this website proves useful for you. I am adding more content all the time so please come by again and check.

      All the best with your family history research.
      Owain

      Reply
  6. Netta

    Hey Owain:

    Another good source of information sometimes (if your ancestors owned land) are often the old-style hand-written real estate tax records and deed transfers and such. In Hawaii, at least, the old property records at the Bureau of Conveyances contain a wealth of information.

    In Hawaii, if you happen to be Mormon, there are geneological records that go back to when the missionaries first showed up. The Brigham Young University at Laie on Oahu is a really good source. Other old church records (if your family lived in one place for a long time and if the church records didn’t meet with some catastrophe or other) is also likely to be good sources as well.

    My sister-in-law, who is into this sort of thing treats it like a treasure hunt, following the trails backwards from one ancestor to another one before that and so on… She has a lot of fun with it.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you very much for that information. It is all quite interesting and useful.

      I’m glad that your sister-in-law feels like it’s a treasure hunt. For me I feel like a detective and that I use logic to make sense of all the information in front of me while I join the dots.

      Reply
  7. Alan

    Great information. Thanks for taking the time to produce it. My aunt researched our history and found some distant ancestry who were Irish convicts (they weren’t really convicts – just gathered for government tasks in unusual ways) that were shipped to Australia.

    Reply
  8. Helen

    Hi Owain, thanks for this article. These are great tips to help me expand what I have already found from within my family. This is truly an exciting hobby and is sometime very overwhelming however I have found sometimes I have had to take a break, just so I can slowly take it all in. I have also enjoy your clear and easy to navigate site. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      You speak from experience. You are right that it can be both exciting yet overwhelming at times. It is always good to take break and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

      I am glad that you have enjoyed the website. As I had more and more content I will want to keep the easy navigation for visitors

      Reply
  9. AngeN

    Hi Owain.
    I spent some time about 10 years ago looking into my family history, but then life got in the way and got quite a bit too busy. You’ve sparked my interest again by this article. Organising the information is one of my areas of struggle. We span across large sibling families through a few generations so compiling it can be tricky. I’m lucky I am in touch with an aunt on my Dad’s side of the family who has been dabbling with it and gave me a lot of information. Unfortunately there is not much information for me from my mother’s side. I am in touch with an adopted cousin who does not have any contact with the other part of my mother’s side and my mother’s brothers have both passed away so I am stuck on filling in that side of the family. What do you suggest might help me organise the wide spreading of my family in terms of how to draw a tree?
    Thanks
    Ange

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      I am glad that I have sparked your interest in this wonderful hobby. These two posts may help you – How Do I Start My Family History In 10 Steps and Top 20 Family History Interview Questions.

      As for drawing your family tree then there is nothing better than a genealogy software program. Whenever you add new people and branches, or edit something you can do so quite quickly and easily. This post – Best Genealogy Software Programs – Your Top 5 will help you decide.

      Let me know how you get on

      Reply
  10. Nancy

    Wow, really great content, and a lot of relevant information, without going down rabbit holes. Having recently studied my family’s genealogy, I can honestly say that I wish I had found your site first!!! I love that you take your reader step-by-step through the process, offering advise, and guiding your reader to research sites that will help with their search.

    Reply
  11. Tiago

    What a great article and opportune as well!
    I have a extensively gigantic family, that is almost impossible to make a “picture” of the family tree!
    But like you said, has to start with the basics, dig in and show on to future generations where it all started!

    Thanks for sharing Owain!

    Reply
  12. Linda

    What an interesting and informative site. I am impressed with how much information you have given the reader without over load! I have recently inherited a lot of certificates, pieces of history, etc and have wondered what to do with it. Your idea of a book intrigues me. Now I plan on hanging on to them and organizing for future reference. I am bookmarking your site so I can visit more!

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you for enjoying the site. I try to write clear and understandable content. A book is a great way to showcase what you have got. Also, by writing up about them you start to think about what you have in front of you and the lives of your ancestors. If you don’t understand me now then you will when you start to write the book.

      My How To Create A Family History Book – Part 1 will help you on your way.

      All the best,
      Owain

      Reply

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