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Start Family History

Primary resources - First Steps

If you have just started out on your Family history research you will first have to decide which of your four grandparent's family names you are going to trace. You can draw a small tree of what you know, and note what you need to discover about those four family surnames.  You will then need to ask your family members for fuller details. Ask everyone you can think of and family friends too. Having various descriptions of the same events from different people is helpful as melded together they will give you lots of clues to using official resources. Most of us when starting our research immediately hit a brick wall, as many of us don't know what grandma's maiden name was or where she came from. The family have always known her as 'Grannie' [? maiden surname ?].

Don't rely solely on nformation gleaned from your family and friends but set out to prove what you have been told and discover if they have the correct and full story. Many are the family stories which have errors or omissions and embellishments. After ascertaining some dates of family events, perhaps a death, see if you can discover a report or an obituary from a newspaper or search for a death certificate.

How can you prove or disprove your family story? Let's assume that you have now drawn out on paper a small family tree with some dates and places. After speaking to your relations and/or long time family friends, it is more than likely that you are able to add to this basic family tree.

You could now look at the census for the area that your family had lived in, by giving or  a two week  trial and see what you are able to discover. If you are not online at home then go along to your local library, which should have Ancestry and FindmyPast available for you to look at. It may be a good idea to telephone the Library first of all and book a session. Looking at the census, newspapers and purchasing or acquiring from the family copies of Birth, marriages and deaths will be extremely helpful and will add to your family tree.

Gather together what you have such as photographs, books with the owners' names and addresses; and old letters. Ask your relations if they have any family papers, such as newspaper cuttings, certificates, medals, photographs, diaries, wills or school certificates, Bibles or anything which will help you add to your family knowledge and add to your tree.

Look up your family in a Local or Trade directory - some of these are online too or are available to purchase on CDs from Family History Societies and companies allied to the Family History world.

 From the information that you have gained on the census you could order Birth Marriage and Death certificates. You can search here at Free BMD for the certificate indexes.  The search is free but it is not yet a complete index. There are though many other websites that hold the whole of the General Registrar's Office Index [GRO] of Births, Marriages and Deaths, including a free search at though many others can be accessed for a small fee.  The General Register Office Indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths, are also available in Central Libraries and many Record Offices on film or fiche. This is now available from 1837-1915 at

You can search for Births, this gives the mother's maiden surname and Deaths which show age at death.

Having found who you believe to be the correct person's details in the General Registrar's Office Index [GRO], you may wish to order these through the registrar who covers the area where your ancestor came from.  You could try Genuki for the address of the local registrar. Using a local registrar is best as you are using someone with local knowledge and I have always found that they are extremely helpful and are often able to make suggestions to direct you.

Do read a book on Family History. Find one in your local library or wander into a larger Newsagent and pick up a magazine on Family history - there are excellent magazines for Family History Beginners  - such as 'Practical Family History'  Find some books here

Join a Genealogical Mailing List for your country or county. Many counties have mailing lists which you can join and ask questions regarding your family history as it pertains to that particular county. These Genealogical Mailing Lists are an absolute boon when you don't live in your ancestors area. Many people on the mailing List are local to the area and you will be met with generous help and friendliness. There is also a Rootsweb forum, '' which is here and many Family History Societies have a Facebook page and web site.

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Unreliable Source Material

Beware of internet family histories. Take all you read with a pinch of salt. Not all family trees and histories are drawn up by reliable and knowledgeable family historians. I know also that exchange of your well researched family history with someone, does not always mean that they treat your family tree information as well as they should.  I am sure that most don't mean to be misleading but they really can get things terribly wrong. 

Many people rely too on poorly transcribed indexes and leap to the incorrect conjectures and lots of guess work.  You need to check all research that you find and prove the theories for yourself.  Don't rely too heavily on the International Genealogical Index [I.G.I].  This is indeed a great index, but it has many errors and every thing needs to be checked at the source, which is the Parish Register for your town or village parish church. Lately the website FamilySearch has been updated and is now a really good place for discovering baptisms and marriages and even some census.

If you have to employ a genealogical researcher for some work, do make sure that you engage a reliable one. Many Central Libraries and County Record Offices keep a list of known researchers and their charges per hour and of course both the Library Staff and Record Office staff will also do paid research for you.

For more details on how to start family history, go here.