Get back to basics with the key family history records
Researching your family history is a wonderfully absorbing – not to say addictive! – hobby but, if you are a beginner, it can be a little daunting. However, never fear, we are here to help with expert advice on how to start tracing your family tree.
If you've already taken the plunge and got the basic research skills under your belt, we're convinced it'll be worth spending a few minutes brushing up on your knowledge by downloading and reading our exclusive free 5-page guide on how to get the best out of the key family history documents you know and love so well.
If you're just starting to research your ancestors, it’s a good idea to first make a record of what you already know about your family history, and who you know.
Next, you might like to contact living relatives to gather as much information as you can from them. If you can, visit cousins or elderly relatives to talk to them about your shared history and perhaps – with their consent – record your conversations on audio or film, using your smartphone, computer tablet or video camera. Ask them to get out any photo albums or family memorabilia, perhaps even birth, marriage or death certificates (this could save you a small fortune, if you don't have to buy copies from the General Register Office or local record office).
If you have relatives overseas, contact them quickly and cheaply via Facebook or Skype or perhaps set up a WhatsApp group.
• You may find this video guide useful: Why record your life story?
Next, you will need to start delving into the key family history documents that form the bedrock of our family trees.
Genealogist Mary Evans has researched celebrities’ ancestors on much-loved BBC TV series Who Do You Think You Are? and is one of our trusted Q&A experts here at Family Tree magazine.
In our essential expert guide to family history, which you can download using the link to the free guide above, Mary explains how to get started with the ‘go-to’ key family history documents – that’s to say, your ancestors’ birth, marriage and death certificates along with records of them on the census.
We can use birth, marriage and death certificates to trace our families back to 1837, when civil registration began in England and Wales (it began in 1855 in Scotland and 1864 in Ireland).
• Watch our 60-second video guide: How to use birth certificates for family history
The census takes place every 10 years and can be searched on the major genealogy websites from 1911, just three years before the start of the First World War, right back to 1841, when the young Queen Victoria was on the throne.
• Find out more about the census in this article: How to use census records for family tree research
So whether you are just starting out on your family history, or would like to refresh your research skills, our simple guide will make sure you are getting the most from the key family history sources available to today’s ancestor hunters. We hope you enjoy the journey as much as we do!
• Download our digital guide, How to Start Your Family Tree (only £4.99)