Top tips to consider when building a family tree

So you’ve decided to create your family tree, the first step on a path of discovery. This quick guide shows you how to research and build a family tree and develop into a budding genealogist.

Free family history

First, ask your immediate family questions! Before you go digging around online write your name at the bottom of your family tree, add your immediate family and outline who is related to whom to start building the picture of your family structure. This will help you to ask the most useful questions when you catch up with more distant family members.

Start to trace your family records!

Once you’ve got a better picture of your family and its structure, you can look for vital records and information in places such as keepsake boxes, photo albums and scrapbooks to find documents such as birth certificates, letters, diaries, school and church records. Bring out your inner detective – there are many places that can give clues!

Found ancestors? Prove it.

Substantiate every bit of evidence and record your sources. Tracing your ancestors can take a lot of time, and unless you record the sources substantiating your link to each family member, you might find yourself following blind alleys, or researching people with no link to you. Once you’ve substantiated your findings you can start building your family tree.

How will your genealogical records look?

Now this is the bit you’ve been waiting for, the family tree! Decide how far you want to go back into your family’s history, and remember that it’s called a tree because it grows from one tiny point and branches out.

The style of the tree is down to your personal preference; you may be recording every piece of information you discover and need a lot of room or be simply recording name, D.O.B and family links.

Choosing a Family tree structure or provider.

When people think of starting a family tree they often automatically think of a single scroll like piece of paper with painstakingly written records. Nowadays you can choose from a variety of free genealogical websites offering many choices of structure, style and formats. Generally the options available to you are:

  • Record your findings on home computing software such as Powerpoint, word or Excel.
  • Sign-up to a free or subscription based family/ancestry research website
  • Create a blog or website dedicated to your branch of the family

Genealogical records and resources to search

There are literally billions of free family records out there, a lot are provided by governmental records offices, others by subscription services and the rest by individual genealogists who can be reached via forums like this one. There is no doubt that some services will save you a lot of time, but you need to know what you are looking for in the first place to save time and money. There are free services available such as The National Archives and War Office records, but genuine subscription services have put in the leg-work for you by transcribing millions of hand-written records from the past centuries that are otherwise difficult to access.

Here are some good starting points:

  1. Forces-War-Records.com – A unique collection of British and commonwealth military service records including WW2, WW1, Crimean War and the Boer War to mention a few! Free to join and interact with, but a small subscription to view and collate the records.
  2. discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk – Discovery is The National Archives’ catalogue. It lists records relating to Britain and British history, some of which date back centuries, others of which are quite recent, held at The National Archives, local archives and institutions across the UK including some archives and institutions abroad
  3. Gov.uk/electoral-register/view-electoral-register – The electoral register lists everyone who’s registered to vote, you may need to visit your local Electoral registration office.

Enjoy building your unique and treasured family tree, it is something that will grow with you, and can be passed down from generation to generation but most of all have fun!