Tracing your family tree

Take up genealogy as a hobby and it might just spark imagination and adventure – have you ever wondered about your own family history?

While it’s common that noble families with stately homes keep an extensive archive of their family tree, for most of us we know little more than the names and details of the one or two generations that came before us. Genealogy is a wonderful way to trace your roots and uncover hidden facts you never knew before.

Before the internet there was little point researching your roots unless you were committed to spending months in an archive going through registers and reels of microfilm looking for details and clues such as birth and death certificates and marriage registers.

Happily, you can now undertake the whole project from the comfort of your own home on your sofa with little more than an iPad and internet connection.

As more and more records become digitised, it’s easier than ever to uncover the secrets of your family tree.

Want to give it a go yourself? Here’s a few apps, hints and tips to get you going.

Get organised

At the very least you’ll need a notebook and large folder or binder to store details and notes as you begin your research. Make copies of important documents and find a way to order and organise everything in a way that makes sense to you.

Start with the living generation

There are more clues hidden with your living relatives than you might believe. Start your search by writing down the current generations of family members and everything you know about them. A simple voice recorder – or even better, voice recording app on your smartphone – will help you interview family members and gather essential information and record stories in their own words.

See what’s digital

Once you’ve filled as much of the family tree as possible on your own, the next step is to start accessing records. This is the moment online services like Ancestry really come into their own – for a reasonable subscription fee the service will provide you access to UK census records, birth, marriage and death indexes and even let you build your tree online. A premium membership also offers access to overseas records and worldwide emigration records, so you can continue to trace your relatives around the world.

Get some expert advice

If you’ve never undertaken such an extensive research project before, uncovering your family tree can feel daunting at first – luckily, there are dozens of excellent resources online to help you along and offer expert advice. The Who Do You Think You Are magazine website is a great place to start; there are guides to getting started, tutorials and a useful forum where you can ask questions and get tips from other members. The BBC also offers a useful online guide to tracing your family history, and covers everything from working in the archives to using libraries and creating timelines.

Have you ever tried tracing your family tree? Do you have any tips to share?


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Rachel - Silversurfers Assistant Editor

Hello there! I’m Rachel and I’m the Assistant Editor for Silversurfers. I work behind the scenes to bring interesting, informative and entertaining subject matter to the Silversurfers community. I hope you enjoy the features we have shared with you. Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with us, we love to hear from you!

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13th Jul 2017
Thanks for voting!
Family History can be extremely interesting, addictive, surprising, boring, frustrating and rewarding. You never quite know what is coming next - a bit like the weather, almost! You might find, as I did, a connection to a gold mine, labouring, land ownership, high office, military service and scandal - who knows what these discoveries could reveal.
10th Oct 2016
Thanks for voting!
A friend of mine has done an amazing amount of research into my family history for me, but at the moment this is in the form of hand written notes and JPEG files of certificates and documents.
I'm now looking for a software package that I can enter all the information into, to either view on-screen or print off sections.
My father will be 90 in February and my aim is to surprise him with what we have managed to find out about his history. Does anyone out there have any suggestions as to what package would be most suitable? (I have Windows 10).
Lesley Walsh
2nd Sep 2016
Thanks for voting!
There are free online resources, such as FreeBMD where you can search for Births, Marriages and Deaths (1837-1984); FreeCEN where you can search for census records and FreeREG for parish records. The first resource is very good (the subscription sites often use it) the others are still being transcribed but you can be lucky. FamilySearch has worldwide records which you can search and see transcriptions for free. You can then go to the library and use their computers to access Ancestry and often Find My Past too, and email documents to your home computer.
Sue B
28th Jun 2016
Thanks for voting!
Really great things thank you Rachel. I often share articles & info.
Thanks for voting!
Thank you Sue B .. really glad you enjoy Rachel's features 🙂
13th May 2016
Thanks for voting!
I've been tracing my family history (on both sides of my family) for over 10 years now, and I find it both completely absorbing and fascinating. To do it properly, you do need to spend some money acquiring certificates of birth, marriage and death, and census info etc. Also be careful which online sites you use as some of them really aren't all that helpful. Ancestry is one of the better ones, but the transcriptions are sometimes full of mistakes, so buy as many actual certificates as you can afford, or trade them (for free) with other researchers.

Scotlands People is 'the' site for Scottish ancestry, and acquiring copies of birth, marriage and death certificates is cheap, unlike acquiring English ones which cost a fortune! My family is half Scottish and half English so I have experience of buying both.

Another bit of advice I'd give to anyone starting out in this fascinating hobby is to be careful of info given to you by other researchers. They mean well, but check the info they give you very carefully from the actual records as if they have got it wrong yours will be wrong too!

Also check locations on maps. If you look at maps and can see where the person lived, but the info you've been given by another researcher has them living 150 miles from there, there's a fair chance they could be wrong! People generally didn't really move all that far away from their childhood home in previous centuries! Some did, but not many.

Don't just collect names, dates and places, try to find out if there's anything special or particularly interesting about an ancestor. Were they the only doctor/vet in their small town/village? Are they famous for anything? For example, my great grandmother's brother was a famous footballer, and I eventually found on the internet a piece of live Pathe film of him from the 1920s when he and his team-mates won the FA Cup! Blimey, their shorts were long in those days!
15th Feb 2016
Thanks for voting!
I have been tracing my family trees for about 4 years now, and love it. Me and my husband subscribe to Ancestry and Find your Past. I find that at times you get swamped with hints and information, and you 'plateau' for a while. My tips are to double check dates and information. I have gone back about 800 years on some branches and about a 100 on others. I find it fascinating but very frustrating at times. 🙂

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