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Researching your Family History

By Edited Oct 28, 2015 2 3

Do you have a Family Tree?

Steps to making your first family tree

 I have been researching my family history for over 30 years now and there were a number of things I wish I had done right at the very begining. Family history is not just about dates and names, it is about discovering your heritage. What sort of people are you descended from? Where did they come from? What did they do? The stories and memories about these people are just as important as knowing when they were born or where they married.


The Glasswells

First Step - Interview your oldest living relatives.

An important thing to do as soon as you decide to research your family is to track down your oldest living relatives and interview them. It is extremely important that you do this as soon as possible, for obvious reasons. It is imperative you record these interviews and store the recordings safely. You must also take notes, checking spellings of names and places given to you, where you can. You will refer back to the interviews and the notes time and time again over the coming years. Do not expect to be in and out in a flash as these meetings will take time, and can be a very enjoyable experience for both you and your relative. The more relaxed the meeting the more the information will flow. Take a cake and arrange to talk over a cuppa.

Irish Beauty

Things to ask

Make a list of questions you would like to ask, and cross each of them off when you have an answer. This allows you to keep track of things as you will frequently find the conversation wanders and that the questions will not get answered in any recognisable order. It does however give you an idea of how much information you have already gathered, and how much more is still to be collected. Besides the basics of asking them to tell you their parents, names, dates of birth, marriage dates, death dates etc. Remember to ask about their grandparents, aunts, uncles or any other relatives they may know about.

Handsome Lad

It may help to get them talking about past times especially if they are confused or unable to remember easily. Ask if they remember any special Christmas and what they did? Who came to visit? Did they go visit anyone? What did their Dad/Granddad do for a living? Special birthdays? Family weddings? All these can elicit memories long forgotten and be a gold mine about information. You may learn of relatives you knew nothing about, or skeletons may slip out of that dusty cupboard that they have been in for so many years. Please, please, please be diplomatic. Some subjects can be a real mine field. It may be exciting, as a family historian, to hear some of these stories but there may be sensitive issues involved, and other people may have many more taboos than you do when it comes to family secrets. When you have finished the interview leave a pen and notepad behind and ask them to jot down any new memories and thoughts they may have after you leave.

Second Step - Interview younger relatives


Take all this information home and read and re-read your notes. Listen to the recordings until it has all sunk in and you are beginning to get a real feel for your family. Now enter it all into whatever program you have chosen to store your information in. Now go through the same process with younger relatives your parents, aunts, uncles etc. Ask the same or similar questions you asked before but you will now be able to use information gleaned from your previous interviews as a cross reference. Try not to put names into people’s mouths. If you want to verify the existence of their Great Uncle Edward, that your Grandma told you about, then ask if they remember any great uncles or aunts and what their names were. This way if they had a nick name, you may discover it, or you may even get a name you didn’t know and were not expecting at all. Again leave them pen and paper to record any after thoughts. Again re-read the notes and listen to the interviews and record all this new information in your chosen system. I use Family Tree Maker , but there are a huge amount of programs to choose from out there. The pedigree chart below is just one way you can look at your family.

Family Tree


Third Step - Repeat the interviews

Repeat the first and second steps. The first interviews may have prompted your relatives to think back and they may have much more information to impart. You may have a lot more information to enter in your tree.

Fourth Step

Now draw up or print out your tree. Return with a copy of your tree to the relatives who were kind enough to give you the information in the first place. You will probably find that after they have examined the tree that they have a lot more information to give you and you may have to make more than a few changes.

For a small cost of a few note pads and pens you should now have gathered enough information to grow a reasonably sized family tree. You may have invested in a Family Tree program but the expense will not have been great. You may be happy with this tree and do no more, but you may have been bitten by the Genealogy bug and want to go further. This information will be a great base for taking your research and progressing deeper and deeper into your family history. There are a myriad of good books out there to help you decide what to do next not least the famous Who Do You Think You Are. 

Good luck and happy hunting!

Please read Part Two about the information contained within Birth, Marriage and Death certificates.

Family Tree Maker


Family Tree Maker, Platinum
Amazon Price: $99.99 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 28, 2015)
Easy to use software to help you get started with your family tree.

Who do you think you are

Encyclopaedia of Genealogy

Middlesbrough, UK

Some interesting ancestors came from this area.

My Grandmother came from this area of the UK



Dec 8, 2013 10:52am
A very interesting and helpful article. I have been thinking about working on a family history, so I am bookmarking this article for future use. Thumbs Up!
Dec 8, 2013 10:59am
This comment has been deleted.
Dec 8, 2013 11:01am
Thank you very much. I am very new to InfoBarrel so it is good to know you found it interesting.
Mar 31, 2014 12:56am
Good helpful information. We researched a lot of our family history for years. The trouble is that one member of our family made up dates of birth and used his marriage for records to enlist in the army. If someone does not want anyone to know where or when they were born there is nothing to stop them from doing things like this.
Which is a shame. Otherwise you can find some very interesting information and sometimes learn thing you may not really want to know. But having said all that we enjoyed and met up with a few of our ancestors by researching our family history. So all good. I would definitely recommend doing the research which can take years.
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