Beginners Guide to Genealogy

So you have decided to learn about your family history and where you came from! It is a wonderful experience and a journey you will never forget. Now, we know where you stand right now as genealogy beginner. You don’t know where to begin your family tree, what to look for or how to obtain that information, but do not worry as we have compiled a beginners guide here for you with easy to follow steps.

A Beginners First Steps

Step 1 – Write down anything that you currently know about your family history or your current family tree. Whether that be your current generation of family, one random story you heard about your great-grandad in World War 1, anything that you know about your family as you read this. This shall give you an underlying foundation and a good basis to build and expand your knowledge from. It would also be a good idea to verify this information with your family. Ask older generations anything that they may know and WRITE IT DOWN. Write down anything and everything, no matter how absurd. It may come in handy at a later date.

Step 2 – Once you have built your foundations, start to work backwards. Find out names and dates of the next generation, any information that you feel could help you build a timeline. Check free ancestry records through websites such as FreeBMD. This is a helpful website for finding where ancestors were registered regarding any certificates that they may possess. Some certificates (if not all) will require purchasing if you do not currently own them. But it is all worth it on the journey of expanding your family tree knowledge. You can also check the General Register Office for any online certificates as well.

Step 3 – Once you reach around the 1900’s, certificates will be slightly harder to obtain, so we strongly recommend following census information about your ancestors. You can access censuses through FreeCEN, FindMyPast, Ancestry and other helpful websites. Census information is available as early as 1841. There is some information for 1831, however householders weren’t listed by name so this might not be of much use. More specific information can be found at Hugh Wallis’s website as these are extracted records from the IGI (international Genealogical Index).

Step 4– Beware of jumping to conclusions. Just because you desperately want something to be true, doesn’t mean it actually is. Wait until you find hard evidence that is proof for what you want to be true. There is nothing wrong with putting the information to side and waiting. You never know, it could come of use at a later time.

Step 5 – In some cases, you may be contacted by another researcher saying that they have information on your family. This isn’t a scam no, but it would be wise to check the information to make sure that it has come from a credible source. If there is some incorrect information, it doesn’t mean that they are trying to corrupt your search, it was just an honest mistake. You can politely inform them that the information is incorrect, so that they are able to change their own records accordingly. This means that everyone is a winner.

Step 6– If in doubt, Google it. You’d be amazed at how much information it contains.

Step 7 – Don’t give up! At times it is going to get difficult. But look at what you have achieved. You have learnt so much about where you have come from so why stop now. It could be a wise option to put the branch you are currently working on, on hold. You already know how to start a branch off and you can always come back to the original branch later. As you get more experienced, you may find that you missed something in your original search and it may lead to a whole new branch. So whatever you do, keep on going!

Step 8 – Most importantly, have fun! It will get frustrating sometimes and that is a part of the journey, but at the end of the day, you will have learnt so much about your family history and all of the people you have come across, learning about their lives. It is a life changing experience that is there to be enjoyed.

If you are researching Scottish ancestors, you will most likely need to use the Scotlands People website. This is the official website of the General Register Office of Scotland. It is a pay-per-view concept but credits last a long time and the information on the Scottish certificates are a lot more comprehensive than English records.

Sign up for a free Beginners Account

Now, every family tree is different, so these steps may have to be taken in different orders or tampered with a bit, but on the whole, this should be enough to get you at least up and running. If there is still more doubt you can sign up for a free account at and you can ask any question into our forums where we have thousands of others waiting to answer your queries.