Four questions to ask when starting your family tree

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08 October 2021
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Would you like to trace your family tree and find out who your ancestors were? Family Tree’s four questions will get you off to a good start, focusing in on exactly what you need to find out…

Family Tree editor Helen Tovey welcomes us to the wonderful world of genealogy, with her simple tactics for getting started.

1. What do you wish to find out?

This is a great question to ask as it will keep your thoughts organised: you are setting yourself a research goal. You can break your goal down into bitesize chunks. For instance:

Q: ‘What do I wish to find out?’

A: ‘To trace my mother’s family.’

This can be broken down into: 

a) Finding your mother’s birth certificate – and noting the names of the parents on the birth certificate – i.e. finding the names of your grandparents.

b) Finding your mother’s marriage certificate – and noting the occupation of her father and any addresses provided. Be sure to look at the names of the witnesses (are they friends or relations?).

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2. Where can I find family history records?

This depends where in the world your ancestors were. Each country organizes its records differently: some have many national collections, whereas others are held at a more localized level. An excellent place to start finding out about the records available for your country/countries of interest is the FamilySearch wiki. It has more than 91,000 genealogy topics worldwide that you can explore by place or record.

Typically the sorts of records you are looking for are:

• census records

• birth, marriage and death records

• newspapers

• Plus: electoral registers, phone books and trade directories, maps, military records, parish registers, passenger lists.

These are just a tiny selection of the many sorts of records that can be used for genealogy.

3. Where can I create an online family tree?

There are numerous places to create a free online family tree, examples include:

FamilySearch

Ancestry

Findmypast

MyHeritage

TreeView

Wikitree

Wherever you build your online tree it’s important to think about protecting the privacy of living people. Most online trees will do this automatically (hiding living people from public view, so that only you, as the tree creator, can see them).

4. Can DNA help me?

Definitely yes. DNA will help you learn more about your family history. It will help you verify the family tree you are building and it will also be of vital assistance if you are seeking an unknown parent or grandparent, for instance. It is also extremely enjoyable to make connections with DNA matches – distant cousins with whom you may never have made contact otherwise.

As with all types of family history research, with DNA research you do need to be very aware that you may receive unexpected information about your relatives – or may find new relatives. If you were to receive such information you need to have a think about how you would feel, and if/how you might share such information with any relevant family members.

That said, for millions of people DNA testing is simply an excellent addition to the range of tools and resources that family historians use to trace their family trees

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