Genealogy research – my top 10 tips when starting out

Over the past seven years, I have been painstakingly trying to build my family tree. My parents had no real interest so it was pretty much up to me to dig for any information out there. My parents could tell me some key things about their parents  but after that, very, very little about their grandparents onwards.

I’m lucky in that my parents are still together so I only need to research four direct lines, however, coming from smaller villages rather than the big cities, it has meant finding information online has been a struggle.

I had no clue what I was doing when I started and have learnt many lessons along the way, which I want to share…so, here is my top 10 best practise/tips for starting your journey!

1) decide how you want to keep and store your information BEFORE you start. This will pay dividends later in your journey as you’ll be able to dig out that vital key document quickly and logically! 

For me, I have two systems; one online and one physical library.

I use to store build my tree online. It is easy to use, can save documents, photos and it has thousands of worldwide records in one place. I also love the visual aspect of using Ancestry. You can build a timeline for each person and can see the entire family line with ease. (DISCLOSURE: I am not sponsored and these opinions are my own).

I then keep original documents and print offs in large ring binders. There are many ways you can systemise these so my advice would be to use a structure that works for you. I personally have four folders (one for each family line) & use birth dates to organise each individual (most recent births at the front). 

If you would like me to do another post showing my physical system in more details, please let me know in the comments box below!

2) Start by plugging in all the details YOU know are fact. Where you have uncertainty or gaps, note them in a book to refer back to later in your research. 

3) Speak to family members interview style! Record conversation, take notes – show them your tree (I find visual tools help jog people’s memory) and ask about uncertainties/gaps. Ask for family stories – these are often rich with valuable information to help with your search.

4) Research one family line at a time. I made the mistake of trying to research all four lines at the same time – my BIGGEST mistake so far! As I started with very little information I thought researching all four would make it more fun – in fact, I experienced the opposite. I found I was mixing families up, making mistakes on my written notes and hitting walls with pretty much every search.

By sticking to one family line at a time, you get a greater sense of how they lived and interacted together, encounter less confusion and will be able to put together stories which may have otherwise been forgotten.

5) Concentrate on one person in your tree at a time – for the same reasons mentioned in tip number 3. I’ve also found when I have done this, I feel a greater connection to that individual and their life.

6) Organise your physical system as you go and update every time you do some research – even if that means noting down a site you visited which had no useful information. This will give you confidence in the information you have collated and that you’ve not misplaced anything.

7) Date stamp every single physical print-out and page of notes. Where print-out or note information is from a website, also include the web address – this will save you duplicating your search efforts before additional info is added to that source (e.g. New records added to a genealogy site like Ancestry or Find My Past).

8) Headstones and family bibles are great sources of information. It was/is common for families to have a family bible handed down through the generations. Ask family members to see if your family has one and if you do – glean as much information as possible! You often find birth, marriage and death info & sometime divorce dates too.

Going to cemeteries to find family headstones. I was very lucky that my family are all buried in small churches and am able to wander around. By doing that I was also able to find others with the family name – I noted these and was often able to link these after further research

9) Take photos! Any documentation you can not keep (e.g. Family bibles, headstones etc) take photos and keep these in your physical system. That way you can refer back to them when required later down the line (in my case this has saved me many a two hour journey home!

10) Don’t pay any membership for the first year. I get it…you start seeing potential hints/links to evidence relating to your family when building online, but trust me, get all the information you have at your disposal into your tree first – that way, you are more likely to verify hints with greater certainty and quickly!

I hope you find these helpful in starting your quest! Do you have any tips not listed? Please feel free to share in the comments below – I love hearing people’s stories – it’s a rare occasion if you do not learn something new!



One thought on “Genealogy research – my top 10 tips when starting out

  1. I researched some of my family tree a few years ago, I loved it but I agree, I wish I’d created a better organsiation system! I need to make the time to continue it!


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