Family history 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.
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 then these tips still be of use to you.
Keep to the genealogy path!
For me it is important to just refresh myself with good practices and to generally make sure that I am on the right path.
Genealogy can sometimes throw us off as we can get too easily distracted by the people we discover in old documents and records.
So, every once in a while stick your head up and take a break from it for a while. You will feel more invigorated when you get back to it.
This is especially true if you have been up in the early hours trying to search for that elusive ancestor.
Trust me I have been there!
Back to Basics!
Before I continue with this guide I thought that I would share with you a video by Crista Cowan from Ancestry.
Here, she takes right to the basics of what you should be doing with your research and how you should proceed in order to get the most from this hobby.
After the video you may also like to check out the Family History for Beginners guide from Family Search.
There is a ton of information there that you will help you get you on your journey.
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.
Discover details in the sources!
You will be able to find these documents by providing full names, dates and places where events took place.
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.
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.
Paying for resources and services helps!
Subscribing to genealogist sites such as Ancestry is also a good investment as it can help you grow your family tree.
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!
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.
Why not revisit your relative?
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 asked.
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.
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.
Carrying on previous genealogy research!
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.
Be careful with trees found online!
You can then therefore use these trees to build on your tree.
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.
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.
You need to concentrate!
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.
Work on one ancestor at a time!
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.
This was my approach!
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.
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.
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.
Get some help!
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.
So much help for you!
These societies also publish useful guides with tips and strategies that you can use. An annual subscription is usually paid to become a member.
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.
Local Library and 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.
These resources have helped me!
I have benefited greatly from using these sites at the library where I have also 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.
What’s at your local archives?
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.
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.
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.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
I hope you enjoyed this article regarding the basics of family history. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.
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