Bon voyage!

Bon voyage!

If you’re new to family history, here are some useful tips to get you started, followed by a guide to the main types of records that you’ll want to look at first

Research Advice, Discover Your Ancestors

Research Advice

Discover Your Ancestors

There are many different pathways to take through your family history, and as you progress you will find ever more avenues opening up, and of course ever more ancestors to explore.

You’ll need a starting point, however. It could be yourself, working back through your parents and grandparents; or perhaps you have a family mystery you would like to solve.

Whichever path you want to follow, the golden rule of genealogy is to work backwards. There can be special exceptions to this as you become more experienced, but in general it is the safest way to be sure you’re tracking the right people. Most family historians, especially when tracing people with common surnames, have been led astray at one time or another by making too quick a leap – is that birth certificate really for your George Smith?

So to get going you’ll need a few pieces of information – ideally a date and a place for someone whose roots you’d like to explore. How you get that information can come in many guises. One route is to ask older members of your existing family – when were they, their siblings or their parents born? Someone else in the family may also have compiled a family tree you can build on. However, always take family accounts with a pinch of salt! Another way into the subject is through family documents you may have found, such as letters, photographs, wills or newspaper cuttings. In either case, take careful note of whatever facts you can glean, and always be methodical as your research proceeds.

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You will always need to corroborate what you find with actual records. It’s not so long ago that this involved trudging around archives throughout the country, but now most people start on the internet: key sites include The National Archives which has lots of useful, free guides to researching people from different walks of life; FamilySearch, a US-based site with huge numbers of transcribed records from around the world; and, one of the subscription-based sites which has all of the key types of record you will need to make progress (discussed on the pages that follow).

Each type of record can help you make connections with others as you piece together the jigsaw puzzle of your personal heritage. A death record can help you find someone’s birth, for example, or a census return will tell you what job they did. There will often be gaps, or indeed inconsistencies, but the detective work in resolving them can be hugely rewarding, and you’ll learn fascinating things about history in general as well as your own forebears as you proceed. Good luck!

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