Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

How to become a family history detective!


If you want to discover your family history then you’ll need to get all sorts of skills under your belt, and employ all sorts of strategies to track down those vital bits of evidence you need. On your mission to learn about your family’s past, you may well feel like a bit of a detective investigating a case – and indeed you are! Read on for Helen Tovey’s handy hints to help you become the best family history super-sleuth you can be!

1 The notebook

Just as a policeman traditionally records all his findings in his little black book, so it’s vital that you make sure you record all those clues you find:

The names and dates you might hear

The whereabouts of a family heirloom

The memories and stories

2 The interview

While tracing back the clues of the past, be sure to speak to your relations. With luck you will be amazed (and delighted) at the stories they might recall about previous generations, the clues they can share, and the insights they can give you about your family in times gone by.

3 Witnesses

Just as a policeman doesn’t take one witness’s account as the indisputable truth, so must you seek to find corroborating evidence. If possible speak to several family members about the same events from the past – each will have a different take on the past, and each will shed new light both on what happened in the past and how different people felt about it.

4 The evidence

With family history you’ll soon find yourself accumulating all sorts of papers and documents. Once fellow family members realise that you’re into family history, they may step forward with items you might like to look at or even store for them in your (growing) family archive. As with all evidence on a case, it’s provenance is very important. Be sure to keep a note of things such as:

Who an item belonged to and how it came into their possession?

Who are the people shown in a family photo and what was the occasion?

And lastly, do take scans of family papers and photos of family treasures – then you can share them with family members, and also provide a means of preserving the memories, should the worst happen to your family archive (think fire, flood, etc).

5 Write it all up

With family history it’s easy to feel that you don’t know enough to start writing down your family story, that you don’t have a sense of ‘case closed’. However, do be sure to write down your research, making a note of what you’ve searched for, what you found and what you didn’t found. Include your conclusions so far, and what you would like to search for the next time you sit down to investigate that family tree of yours a little bit further.

Back to "Family History Week" Category

21/04/2018 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Thousands of Roman Catholic records added to FindMyPast database

Thousands of Roman Catholic records for the Diocese of Middlesbrough have been added to the FindMyPast ...

New DNA regions in Ireland launched by Ancestry

Ancestry has announced that it has added 73 new regions in Ireland to its DNA database, making 92 regions in ...

Missing parish church marriages – 3 websites to help you find the records

There may be several reasons why you can’t find the parish record of your ancestors' marriage pre-civil ...

How to trace your Canadian ancestors at MyHeritage

Find your Canadian ancestors using the wealth of records on the MyHeritage genealogy website. ...

Other Articles

How to organise your family tree research

It's a new year, so why not get make this the year you get your family history research organised? Our tips ...

144,000 Worcestershire baptism records added to TheGenealogist

The records of 144,793 individuals, with a further 20,000 individuals named on headstones, have been released ...

Over 100,000 Norfolk family history records added to FindMyPast genealogy website

FindMyPast has announced that it has added thousands of Norfolk baptism, marriage and burial records to its ...

Family Tree Christmas quiz & crossword answers

Discover how you got on in the Family Tree Christmas issue quiz and crossword. Find the answers below