7 steps to start your family history


05 January 2023
7 steps to start your family history
Interesting in tracing your family history? These 7 steps from FindMyPast will get you off to a great start.

Research conducted by leading UK family history website Findmypast has revealed a national family history knowledge gap, with only 10% of Brits know any general information about their ancestors beyond their grandparents’ generation, including names, addresses or what job they did. Nearly half (47%) have never even seen a photo of them. 

Is this you? And would you like to change this? Help is at hand. Read on for your first 7 steps to getting started with family history. 

STEP 1 Getting started – getting facts from the family 

First things first, sit down and make a note of everything you already know, focusing on names, dates and locations. This will form the basis of your initial research. 

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STEP 2 Search online  

The billions of records now available online contain a wealth of information for building out your family tree, with records covering countries and people across the globe.  

When searching for ancestors, it’s always best to start off broad by searching for a name and year of birth. Once you have a better idea of what and who you are looking for, you can narrow things down from there. 

STEP 3 Build a family tree 

The best place to store your discoveries is in an online family tree. 

Many online tree builders, including Findmypast’s, are free, easy to use, and jam-packed with useful features.   

Helpful ‘hints’ automatically match the names, dates and locations you have logged for each ancestor to potentially relevant records, speeding up your research and improving the accuracy of your tree.  

STEP 4: Investigate Birth, Marriage, Death and Parish Records 

Civil registration in England & Wales began in July 1837 and the General Register Office (GRO) has recorded the details of all births, marriages and deaths ever since. Their meticulously kept records are widely available online and will provide you with all the information you need to identify ancestors and uncover previous generations.  

STEP 5: Become a census detective 

Now easily accessible on many websites, censuses have been taken in Britain every decade since 1801 (barring 1941, when war prevented it). Due to data protection laws, the information contained within censuses is only made publicly available after 100 years. You can find complete Censuses for England and Wales online from 1841 up to 1921 on Findmypast. 

STEP 6: Check the news  

Historical newspapers are an incredible resource as they can provide rare insights into the daily lives of your ancestors.  

Local papers include more than just announcements of births, marriages, and deaths. You might find the family’s black sheep in accounts of criminal trials, tragic accidents that befell hapless ancestors, or advertisements for wares from the family business.

STEP 7: Uncover colourful stories  

Once you’ve grown your family tree, it’s time to add some colour to your research by taking a closer look at the life your ancestor lived.  

Amongst the billions of records available online, you will find a wide variety of documents that can help you learn a surprising amount about the defining moments of their lives.

Text extracted from an in-depth study of the census for family history, published in the February 2023 issue of Family Tree. Get your copy here

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