Search tips

Family history is one of Britain’s fastest growing hobbies. Finding out about the history of your family can be fascinating, but it can also be also time-consuming and demanding.

Here are our top tips for beginning your research.

Start by interviewing any relatives about what they remember about their parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Make a note of everything no matter how strange it seems and who told you the fact. Although everything might not fit together at first it may later. Memories can play tricks over time so you will need to check these facts against other records.

Look for any birth, marriage and death certificates you or other family members have. Do you have a family bible; a photograph album or postcard collection; has anyone in the family collected newspaper reports; did anyone have any war medals? All these things can tell you something about your family.

Write down everything you have already found out, making a note if you have any hard evidence like a marriage certificate. If you aren’t sure of anything put a question mark next to it, these are the things you will need to search for.

Once you have collected your information and made a start on writing things down you should be able to see what information you need to start looking for.

Your local library will have a number of books on how to research your family tree that you can borrow. These will help you find out what records are available to you and what sort of information you can find from them.

Think about joining your local family history society for a year to meet up with other people who are interested in family history, they could help with your research. If your family are not local to this area think about joining a society from their area instead.

You could even look to see if there is a beginner’s class in family history in the area, this would give you basic help and advice to get you started.

Start with yourself and work backwards checking with original documents every time you can rather than relying on other people’s work.

Don’t make large jumps and assume you will fill in the gap later. Don’t exclude a name because the spelling isn’t the same, as spelling has changed over time or someone may have written the name as they heard it rather than asking how to spell it.

You may also have to accept that errors or omissions are sometimes made when original resources are recorded and transcribed.

You need to make sure that you keep good records by making a note of what information you have found and where you found it. Things may be easy at first, but as time passes and your files grow you may not be able to remember where something came from and you might need to recheck your facts. Also you need to keep a record of what you have looked at so you don’t end up checking things more than once.

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