Family History: Start

Family History: Start

It’s a new year. Maybe it’s time to start a new hobby? If you’ve never delved into the world of family history, now is the time to start. If you’ve dipped your toe into the world of genealogy, but ground to a halt, now is the time to start afresh. Even if another family member has started a family tree, don’t take it as gospel. Start your own research, include your spouse’s family, venture up or down other family branches. The possibilities are endless. But where do you start?

Start with yourself

Write down what you know about yourself. Many people forget this part, but your family history should begin with you. Where you were born, lived, went to school, worked, married, associated with. Make it easier for future generations to discover your history. If you have a spouse and/or children, write down their details too.

Start your way up the tree

Once you have documented your own life, work up through the generations starting with your parents, then grandparents and great-grandparents. Ask questions (although not everyone will give answers), but back up details with (birth, marriage and death certificates, parish records, census records). It’s tempting, but don’t rush past the closer generations, otherwise you might find yourself researching the wrong people.

Start branching out

If you’ve hit a brick wall with your direct ancestors, start researching other branches of your family tree. You never know who or what you might discover.

Start questioning everything

Found a family tree which includes your ancestors? Don’t just take their word for it that their research is correct. Don’t just copy it. Question it… Do they have the records to back it up? Does it make sense? If their information differs to yours, question it! Don’t automatically assume it’s the other person who’s wrong either, you may well have made a mistake somewhere along the line.

Start fleshing out the data

Your ancestors were more than just data. Flesh out names, dates and locations with stories from family members and from newspapers. Through newspaper archives I discovered my four-times great-grandfather regularly appeared in local newspapers for being “Drunk and Riotous”, but I also discovered that he wasn’t just an old drunk… A magistrate who had known him for many years described him as “a respectable, inoffensive man when sober”. He just had a tendency to have a drink or two at the market and it would all go wrong after that!

Need some help starting?

Websites such as FindMyPast and Ancestry have free trials and records. Also be sure to check out Family Search and FreeBMD (birth, marriage and deaths in England & Wales) which are free to use. Web forums and Facebook groups will also prove useful.


This post was written as part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.
I’ll be honest and say it’s very unlikely I’ll manage all 52 weeks, but I’ll give it a go! Why not join in?


  1. Kelly says:

    I’m one of those who finds it interesting as long as someone else does the research. 😉 Fortunately, I’ve had folks on both sides of my family who have done so.

  2. Jo says:

    One of the things I’ve loved when researching my family tree is contacting, and being contacted by, other family members. I’ve made some great friends along the way and we’ve been able to share information, documents and photos.

  3. My mother-in-law is the one member of the family interested in tracing family trees, although she has hit brick walls on more than one occasion and now is really at the point when she needs to be out and about going through Parish registers, which is a little more difficult and costly for her.

    Some of the information she has amassed about individual family members is quite amazing, although contacting long lost relatives can have the opposite affect to the one you would like.

    She discovered that a certain family member she had always been led to believe was an uncle, was in fact a brother, although his family (the gentleman in question was quite elderly and had recently passed away) were less than pleased to have her contact them and very politely but firmly, asked that she didn’t contact them again, as thet wanted to let sleeping dogs lie and would rather not have the truth dragged out into the public domain.

    Still, she did find some interesting facts out about my family too, so I was more than pleased to have her dig around a little.

    I hope that you have fun with the challenge and find some interesting facts which you might like to share.

    Have a very Happy New Year 🙂


  4. Sue says:

    Hi Nikki,
    It is so important to start researching correctly by beginning with yourself and working out one generation at a time. My paper trail, after 40+ years of researching, is proving true on my mother’s side of the tree. But by using DNA, much of my father’s paper trail is proving false. Oh why do people keep secrets when all we want is the truth whatever it might lead us to.

  5. rashbre says:

    I’m a ‘helper-outer’ for our family tree, which uses that Family Tree Maker system and links to The newspaper archives are also very useful and add colour to the whole thing. We’ve found alleged knife fights, drunkenness and other such deeds as well as the more normal stuff.

  6. Barbara says:

    I hit a brick wall some months ago and rather gave up, but I hope to start again this year and perhaps I need to start with me. Thanks for this post I hope it will inspire me.

  7. Deb says:

    I like the fact that as each year passes, more information is released and becomes accessible. Each new year is a reason to start re-looking at records and individuals you are still compiling facts on.

  8. CherryPie says:

    Family history research is fascinating and reveals some quite unexpected things. One branch of my family I have so far drawn a blank on and would like to know more.

  9. Teresa says:

    Great post 🙂 I love how you adapted the prompt! I may link to it for my genealogy patrons at the library where I work, assuming that’s ok with you.

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