How to make a family tree online

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16 December 2020
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Learn how to create a great online tree with our guide to the dos and don'ts of building a family tree.

Here are some of the key dos & don’ts when making an online family tree, to help ensure that yours is a great tree that you can by truly proud of.

How do I start to build a family tree?

When starting your online tree you just need to add details to your tree, as and when you have found clues and evidence, so that you can be sure that the details you’re adding really are those of your ancestor (not just someone with the same name etc).

Although it can be really tempting to use auto-prompts from the main family history websites to grow your tree rapidly, you will thank yourself and avoid a muddle if you progress carefully, ensuring each piece of information is correct before adding another one.

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Why do I need an online family tree?

There are many different websites to choose from, on which you can build your online family tree and many of them are free to use. Such online trees are an extremely valuable family history tool enabling you to:

• access your research wherever you are

• collaborate and compare notes with fellow family researchers

• add photos and pictures of memorabilia, enabling you to create an online archive to share with family

• and include documentation and sources, helping you to keep your research organised.

Using sources for family history

Sources are the proof of your research, providing evidence of your research steps
and deductions.

When you are searching for your ancestor online you may see that the search results return a mixture of items: some will be original records for you to follow up (such as census entries) and others will be entries in other people’s family trees.

Both are valuable and interesting to look at, but if you skip the original records and solely rely on other people’s trees you not only risk unwittingly including errors in your own tree, you also miss the pleasure and satisfaction of studying the original documents yourself. Most of these will be records created in your ancestors’ own times.

By studying the originals you may spot additional clues of interest that the other people haven’t noted in their research. A witness’s name on a marriage certificate, for example, or one of the neighbour’s names on a census page – these can all be valuable to study in person yourself.

Should my family tree be public or private?

While many of our vital details – birthdays, addresses, and more – are already readily available online, we would always advise that it is good etiquette not to publish the details of living people in your online family tree without their permission.

Many online tree building websites ask you to specify whether someone is alive or deceased, and privatise living people automatically. Some trees allow you to choose whether to privatise your entire tree.

The decision as to how public to be is up to you. Keeping your tree private keeps prevents you seeing the fruits of your many years of hard work used wholesale, without credit to you, in someone else’s family tree. Sharing your tree publically, however, allows others to see your research, thus you can collaborate, perhaps find distant kin, share solutions to common problems, swap copies of family photos and more.

There is no right or wrong approach, but if you would like to protect your research perhaps the answer is to just publish part of your research online.

If you are happy to share all your research online, we would still recommend keeping a copy of your findings on your computer, by way of a back-up. 

Want to learn more about building a family tree and tracing your ancestors? Visit our Get Started section.