How Do I Start My Family History In 10 Steps

By | July 6, 2016

Are you inspired to research your ancestry? If so you maybe wondering just how do I start my family history? With a mass of family heirlooms, stories, documents and all sorts of records that is available to you you may not know where to begin. Well read on and I will help you start your journey.

How Do I Start My Family History

I touched upon this topic in my previous post explaining what is genealogy. I do though want to expand on this further so that you have more of an idea of where to begin and what is involved.

Well, the journey of finding out your family history begins with ten steps which I will explain here. There are also links provided for further posts covering the steps in more detail. So whatever step you are currently at please check out these further links for more information and help.


1. Start With Yourself

Do you have anything in your possession relating to your family history? This could be certificates, letters, documents, photographs and any family heirlooms. You may have them in a cupboard, in the attic, or even at the back of a drawer.

Sources of Information

You probably have them though all this stuff all around your home.

Collect them all and put them in a place or room in the house where you will be doing your family history research. Having a central place where you can do your research will make it easier for you.

Once you have done this you can then ask if whether your relatives have anything to help you. Be prepared to make copies as they may want to keep their originals.

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


2. Ask Your Relatives

Your next step in exploring your family history is to interview your relatives about your ancestors. You will need to prepare a questionnaire for this step of your genealogy research.

Ask Our Relatives For Help

Not only can you ask them about names, dates and places, but also information such as occupations, significant events, memories and stories that have been passed on through generations. Try to ask open-ended questions so that they can give you more details.

==> Top 20 Questions To Ask Your Relatives <==

Don’t be afraid to visit your relatives again for more answers!

Later when new information arises during your research you may have to re-visit your relatives and ask them new questions. They may have forgotten something and so you can re-jog their memories with what you have found out.

You will though need to verify all of this data as memories can be faded, or misinformation could have been passed on through the generations. It is your job to check all that you have collected so far.


3. Write What You Have So Far

By this stage you have amassed quite an assortment of material that will be used for your family history research. To make sense of all of the names, dates and stories you can draw up family charts. You will then know who is who and what relation they are to you.

Write A Family History Book

With a mass of information it can be quite overwhelming where to begin. Having a chart in front of you will help you make sense of it all. You will be able to see names and their connections to you.

From this step you will know what blanks you have. You may also decide which direction you will want to take next.

==> How To Create A Family History Book <==


4. Concentrate On An Individual

You now have your family chart and want to further your fact finding, but what’s next? At this step you will want to focus your research on a particular ancestor. You may have blanks concerning your relation or a story that you are fascinated with and want to check out. Newspaper archives and records can help provide the answers to your questions.

Meme Attention Deficit Genealogy Disorder

It is important to focus your attention first on a particular ancestor before moving onto the next. Why? Well, if you do this then you may not return to your ancestor and so there will be holes in your research and it will not be complete.

You can come back to your tricky ancestor later with a new fresh pair of eyes.

You may though hit a brick wall with one ancestor. This is quite normal during genealogy research. Take note of this ancestor and research another. I probably sound like I am contradicting myself here, but you do not want to become frustrated and give up your research.


5. Search Online

You have made quite a lot of progress by this stage of your family history research. You have all sorts of documents and materials, charts, memories and stories. Searching online can throw up some quite unexpected leads.

Computer

It is quite possible that even plugging your ancestor’s name into Google may bring you some results. These can be from forums or online trees that people have put up about their ancestry.

They will probably though only touch upon your chosen ancestor, but they can help you immensely going further with your family history.

Try checking out genealogy search websites!

Other online sources can include FamilySearch which is a free website that includes births, deaths, marriages, and censuses, etc. You may also want to subscribe to the Ancestry site where you can find the same information, but also wills, probates, and even other member’s family trees.

==> What Do Genealogy Search Websites Offer? <==


6. Research Where Your Ancestors Lived

You can find a lot more information if you explore the time period and the location that your ancestor lived in. Google is always a good starting point. You can enter location and dates and see what comes up.

Google Search

There may have been an important event in history that may have affected your ancestors lives.

Conducting this research may throw up new light on their lives and help you write their story in more detail. Newspapers from yesteryear are also being put online all the time, so it is also worth checking these out as well.

==> How To Start A Google Genealogy Search <==


7. Visit Archives and Family History Society

From here you will be able to obtain certificates concerning your ancestors, such as birth, death and marriage. Electoral registers, business and residence addresses, passenger lists and even more records are also available.

visit-to-the-archives-big

The archives may also offer some help with researching your family history. This is usually done by appointment so you may want to call before you make your visit. You will need to plan your visit to the archives to get the most out of it.

Finding a local family history society may prove invaluable to as they may have details on the area where your ancestor lived.


8. Enter Your Collected Information

By now you will have gathered even more information on your ancestor than you did from the third step. You will want to enter what you have so far to make sense of it all. For this you can use a genealogy software program.

Genealogy Software Overview

Genealogy Software Issues will need to be considered when chosing a computer program to enter your information. My Genealogy Software Overview post will also explain what you will need to consider before purchasing a software program to conduct your family history research.

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

Chronologically ordering events in your ancestors lives is the usual approach. This will help build up a story their lives from birth to death. Once you have done this you will then be able to plan your next step.


9. Visit Your Ancestors Area

More information can be learned by actually stepping outside and travelling to where your ancestors lived. You may want to visit where they lived address and also where they worked. In essence you can put yourself in their shoes and see the sights, and maybe sounds, that they experienced.

House and Land

By doing so you can get a feel of the area and what it was like for them living in the time that they did. However, be prepared that these sites may now longer be standing. You can then add to their story with descriptions of these places.

This will make your story come alive with these descriptions. People reading your family story will start to visualizing what your writing and enjoy it more.


10. Repeat The Steps

By now you have probably learned all that you can from a particular ancestor of yours. You may though start to feel a little burnt out with all this research and want to take a break. That is quite understandable. Genealogy is supposed to be a fun activity that you and your family can do together.

Repeat The Steps

If you do feel tired researching your family and it is giving you a headache then by all means stop researching. Come back to it when you have a clear head. By doing so you will be refocused and make good progress researching your family. I know because this is what I have done from time to time.

You don’t want to be burnt out and give up on all that hard work that you have done. The research that you have compiled can be passed down through the generations and preserved forever. You just need to pace yourself.

When you are feeling more relaxed then revisit step 4 and chose another relation to research. Practice what you have learned along the way, and use all of the strategies and techniques that you have honed since the first time around.


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed reading this article about how do I start my family history in 10 steps. 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.

22 thoughts on “How Do I Start My Family History In 10 Steps

  1. James Kelly

    Good information here on tracing your family tree. Have tried this before but discovered a stumbling block as all Irish birth, death and marriage records prior to 1921 were destroyed in a fire in Dublin so my genealogy search on my Irish father’s side ended at that point! A point that probably should be mentioned is that the earlier in life you start such a search the better as you probably still have your parents and grandparents alive and they can give you vital information to aid your search. Your task is made far more difficult when you are in your 70’s and those relatives are no longer alive to help you

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately there may be brick walls which may not be able to be knocked down. It is a shame with regard to your father’s side that this is the case. I started quite young in my life researching my family history. This was because of my father and the fascinating stories he would recite. Luckily I had the foresight to document these stories now, and build on the research that he has done with our family tree. It is a shame that I myself didn’t do this earlier when my father’s mother was still alive as this is where the majority of the stories came from. But I have done so now and I have come across many interesting facts on my own as a result of my research.

      Reply
  2. Jagi

    I have always been interested in genealogy. But I was born in a country where information was not collected until months later, some information was lost.

    For my children I would love to have this information. It would be great for them to be able to look back into where their ancestors come from.

    Do you have any idea how I would go about doing that?

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      As information is so available to you then you could try interviewing living relatives. Have a look at this article where I cover what questions to ask relatives. When you can then start writing a family history book. This articlewill help you with that.

      Reply
  3. Netta

    Great post, Owain. It really is amazing how much stuff my sister-in-law has amassed over the years. It does seem to take a lot of digging and a lot of organizing. We are all most grateful for her efforts.

    Sometimes little stories and scandals come to light that some of the older ones would prefer to keep buried and that’s a really delicate situation. For the most part, though, people seem to be very sharing.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      When you come to writing about your family history you have to respect people’s wishes. If it concerns them then they may have to be tactful with how you write it or leave it out completely. But you’re right most people are willing to share. They can see what a great accomplishment it is

      Reply
  4. Franklin

    I have always been interested in researching on my family tree. It is not easy having in mind the technology in the past was not as good as the current one and information was not properly stored. I agree with your tips on discovering my family history. However, i don’t believe it will apply to every one. I love your website, great work!!

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      People can use whatever points that I have discussed and what’s best for them. If they can cover all of these points then they will surely have a rich family history that they can cherish

      Reply
  5. Barbara

    I thought a few times to start a research. I’m Italian and all my family is in Italy, but I know of some relatives whho migrated to the US in the last century, and now that I moved to America would be cool to find the traces of those relatives! I’ll try it one day!

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      It’s interesting that you have made the move now. If you don’t already know you may want to know what their story was for migrating and also document it. All the best with your family history research.

      Reply
  6. Ian

    Great post! I am also very much into genealogy and have done a lot of work on mine. I have learned so much about my family and the kind of people that my ancestors were. It’s absolutely fascinating especially if you have royal or noble ancestry.
    Thanks for sharing this, I think your approach is spot on in this article.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks very much. People try different ways of researching their family history and at times will get muddled. It’s important to follow a plan. That way you know where you are and that you are checking all sources of information

      Reply
  7. Girl

    This is interesting. Thoughts of learning more of my genealogy have come up for me from time to time.

    Being too busy in the present, sometimes we forget every one of us “comes from somewhere”. We should endeavour to discover, understand and honour our roots.

    I’m assuming my ancestors come are from China, since I am Chinese. And due to my dialect group, they will be from a certain village in China.

    My husband’s would be more interesting though. He tells me he possibly has some ancestors of mixed blood/race from earlier in the blood line.

    Thanks for your step-by-step guide. I’ve heard of more expensive ways like deciphering one’s full ethnicity range using our blood? I guess I’ll stick to your guide for now!

    – Girl @ girlintherapy

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      You can always set aside some time a week to do family history research.

      Although I haven’t covered it as yet in my guides there is DNA testing which is performed upon a sample of your saliva. Which is an option for you further down the road of your research.

      All the best

      Reply
  8. lynnsamuelson

    Hi Owain,
    Trying to find out more about my family roots has always been something I’ve been interested in. You provide some really excellent tips on how to go about doing so. I was curious if you have any knowledge of the 23&Me; program that’s currently being marketed in the US. It’s something I’ve considered doing to further my research.
    Erica

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you for finding this article interesting. As for 23&Me you may know that this DNA kit requires you to provide a saliva sample. You will then receive results within a few weeks, and these may help you further with your genealogy research. I plan to write about this particular service in the near future

      Reply
  9. Jolita

    I found this to be really interesting. It should be really exciting to find out something about your ancestors. I was wondering to do that couple times in my life but I didn’t start. Probably because I had no idea from where to start and I think you have to be very dedicated to finding out something and put your time and efforts into that.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      You do have to be dedicated, but you do also have to have the time to make it work. If you know you have some free time to do some research then go for it. There’s no need trying to do something in 5 or 10 mins. You need to sit down for a while and research.

      You can always start with yourself and work back, parents, grandparents. Or if you heard a fascinating stories or stories about one ancestor then try to learn all you can about their life. Things such as where they were born, what was their job, any brothers and sisters, etc

      Reply
  10. Courtney

    Thanks for sharing a topic that should be of interest to everyone,The 10 steps are a useful guide for anyone wanting to undertake the exercise. I found the TV shows by Professor Henry Louis Gates very compelling to watch. I think the exercise is useful for health purposes; recently a MRI discovered a disorder that the neurologist said was hereditary. we have since discovered five other close family members with the same disorder. the technology and information is available for us to lead a more healthier lifestyle.we just need to keep promoting and sharing articles like this.Best wishes and good health.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      If you trace your ancestors then you can also obtain their death certificates. These can show you obviously how they died and whether they suffered from any illnesses. You could then see if this illness occurs frequently in the family. It’s good to know who your ancestors were but it can also be useful too

      Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks Judy,

      There is plenty of useful guides, tips and strategies that is on this site already. There is also some interesting origin stories as well. Keep checking back regularly as I am frequently adding new posts to the site all the time.

      Reply

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