Getting started with your family history

There are many reasons why a person would chose to learn more about their family history. If you decide to learn about your family history, this guide should help you get started with your research.

Where to start

A good way to start your research is to write down details about your immediate family:

  • Document their full names and dates of birth.
  • Other details such as place of birth and your mothers’ maiden name may also be useful.
  • Find birth, death and marriage certificates for your immediate family.
  • Certificates will not only give details on the person the certificate belongs to, but may also provide information on their parents or partners.
  • If you do not have copies of the appropriate certificates, they can be ordered from places such as the Family Records Centre or the General Register Office.
  • Speak to old relatives, such as your grandparents, and ask them about their lives, memories and names of their parents and grandparents.
  • Ask your relatives if they have previously completed any genealogical research. This could save you a lot of time and effort if research has already been done.
  • Search your belongings for old photographs or diaries, ask your relatives if they have any items that might be useful in your research.
  • You can gain a lot of information from relatives, so make sure you ask around and document anything useful that you find out.


You should organise your findings and documentations well, this will help when it comes to analysis of your research later on.

  • Store certificates, photographs, letters, etc. in labelled folders.
  • You may find it useful to photocopy some of your documentation to keep as a back up in case the original documents are lost.
  • You should start charting your family tree; genealogy software for the computer may be useful for this.
  • If you have a scanner, you could scan any documents and store them on your computer.
  • Genealogy software is available to help you organise your documents as well as create your family tree.

Finding Records

There are many different types of records available that will help you learn more about your family history. There are a number of principles to remember regarding official records that may help you in your research.

  • Don’t be worried about the number of records available. There are many different places around to help you in your research.
  • Different types of official records available:
    • Birth, death, marriage certificates
    • Immigration and emigration records
    • Adoption certificates
    • Wills
    • Census
    • Military records
    • Religious records
    • Maps
  • Don’t be scared of visiting places such as record offices, libraries and family history centres. There are also places on the web where records and family history advice is available.

Tracing back your family line

It will be necessary for you to find records about your ancestors in order to chart your family tree and trace back your family line.

  • The civil register of birth, deaths, etc, was created in the 1830’s. This would be a good place to find out general information about your ancestors after this time.
  • For tracing back your family line before the 1930’s you would need to use other sources such as wills, parish register entries or military records.

Where to find help

There are many people out there who, just like you, want to learn about their family history.

  • There are numerous websites available that give help and advice on how to learn about family history.
  • There are many groups and societies that you could join, allowing you to keep up to date with research techniques and gain help from many people with similar interests. See our groups and societies section for further details.