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Getting Started Guide

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  • Getting Started Guide

    The Family Tree Forum Guide to Getting Started with your family history contains step by step advice with links to useful resources on our site, and elsewhere online, together with further pages of advice written by our members.

    These include guides to the main areas of research such as census returns and certificates as well as some visual guides and case studies.
    Step One ~ Talk To Your Relatives


    Step Two ~ Going Back Before 1900

    You may be lucky enough to have enough information to take you back to 1901 and beyond. The 1911 census is the latest one which is available to family researchers in its entirety. You can search the census from the comfort of your computer chair through subscription websites such as Ancestry.









    There are also other sites which you can find on the FTF Guide: Online Research

    This page extends the search back to 1841:
    Family History Research ~ Step Two

    Write down all of your new found information. It would also be a good idea to save the census images you have found to a file on your computer.

    The FTF Guide: The Census will give you information about Census returns and advice for searching them.

    A Visual Guide to Tracking down your ancestors before 1900
    Step Three ~ How Do You Know They

    Certificates form an important part of genealogical research.

    Without them it is difficult to prove relationships and dates with accuracy, and there comes a time when you will need to order certificates to enable your research to continue.

    This section will help you find out all about certificates and how to go about obtaining them.

    FTF Guide: Certificates
    Step Four ~ Before Civil Registration

    Parish Registers began in 1538 when Thomas Cromwell, Vicar-General to King Henry VIII, instructed parish clergy to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. Before this date there were no records, except for a few created by monks who recorded these events for prominent families. Only some of these very early records from 1538 survive today, some parishes even chose not to record these events at first, so coverage will vary from parish to parish. You may be able to look at the original registers for later dates, however it is most unlikely that you will for the earlier ones. Most have been microfilmed and transcribed which you can view at the record office. You may also find transcribed registers in a local library. You can do research online however this should only be used as a guide as it is always preferable to refer to the actual parish registers for accuracy reasons.

    Sites such as: Ancestry, ScotlandsPeople, Find My Past, Family Relatives, Origins The Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) otherwise known as the Mormons, have gathered a vast amount of information which is of interest to family historians. You can view the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on their website, although this is renowned for its inaccuracies. You can look at microfilmed parish registers at one of their Family Record centres. For more information on the LDS go to A Guide to the LDS .

    You can buy some parish registers on microfiche or CD Rom. These are sold by family history societies and by companies online such as Parish Chest, GENfair, The Parish Register Transcription Society and Anguline Research Archives.
    Step Five ~ Finding Those Names

    Even in Victorian times many people could not read or write and therefore did not know how their name was spelled. Together with regional accents the vicar or registrar had no alternative but to record the name which they had heard spoken.

    If you are having difficulty finding a given surname, then think of an alternative spelling or how it would sound spoken in a local accent. The online census returns are an excellent resource for family researchers.

    FTF Guide: The Census.

    You can imagine what a mammoth task it must have been compiling all of this information on census night. Very often you will find christian names abbreviated, for example Jas for James or Fredk for Frederick.

    To find more christian name abbreviations go to Common Forename Abbreviations.

    Today we name our children according to our own personal choice. Our ancestors may have followed naming traditions.

    To find out more go to Naming Patterns.

    You must also bear in mind that your ancestors may not be using the name which they were registered with. If they had a first and a second christian name, then they may have been known as their second name. Also they may be recorded under a nickname such as Jack for John or James, or Nancy for Anne, Ann or Hannah.

    For more information about christian names and surnames go to Finding those names.

    If you are looking at very old registers written in Latin, you will find Latin names in Catholic Records useful.
    Step Six ~ Storing Your New Found Information By using a software package your information is held in a manageable and easy to access format. At the click of your computer mouse you can view all of the details you hold on a given person in your tree and clearly see their relationships within it. Many packages have excellent graphics enabling you to create professional looking family tree diagrams. There are numerous family tree software packages available to buy at varying prices. Some are even available as a free download: You may wish to scan your family photos, these images can then be held in a file on your computer. Some software packages allow you to link these photographs to individuals in your tree.

    All of the information which you have input into your family tree software is stored as a file on your hard drive of your computer. This file can then be uploaded and stored online on sites such as:
    Step Seven ~ Sorting Out Those Relationships

    As you research your family you will not only find your direct line ancestors, but also their brothers and sisters as well. The siblings of your grandparents are your great aunts and uncles, and of your great grandparents your great great aunts and uncles, and so on.

    You may wish to research these branches of your family to discover their descendants who are your cousins. Those who share your grandparents are your first cousins and those who share the same great grandparents as you are your second cousins, and again this continues. The children of your first cousins are your first cousins once removed. Their grandchildren will be your first cousin twice removed and so on. The same will apply to your second, third etc. cousins.

    Most family tree software packages will work out these relationships for you. To read more, go to Degrees of Kinship.

    A list of Forbidden Marriages
    Step Eight ~ Taking Your Research Further

    What you have discovered so far are the bare facts about your ancestors, so if you would like to understand more about their lives then you will need to take your research further.

    Firstly, you now know where your ancestors were born and where they lived. Perhaps they originated abroad, emigrated or spent some time in their lives living overseas.

    The World Index and UK County Index have links to many websites both in the UK and abroad which will assist in your research.

    You may also be able to identify where they lived from the websites listed on Maps and Photographs.

    Our General History Section has lots of links to many websites relating to specific occupations, together with other topics which you may come across in your research, such as finding ancestors who fought in the two World Wars.

    Our ancestors (like us) were shaped by the world they lived in and the sudden movement of a family, for example, from their birthplace to another part of the country could be explained by what was happening in the wider world. The Timeline will help you to put the personal life of your ancestors in context with the social and political situation of the time.

    To get some idea of how your ancestors lived you could visit many museums and other sites. Some recommendations and ideas for places to visit can be found on See How Your Ancestors Lived .

    The page Family History Books has recommendations of books which you may find interesting in putting your ancestors into historical context.

    The FTF Costume Gallery and Costume Past and Present will give you some idea of the fashions of their time.

    If you discover a sailor, airman or soldier in your tree, you will find our FTF Guide: Military and Maritime History Divorce and Annulments, Illegitimacy, Stillbirth or Adoption. These sections of our Reference Library can assist you further in your research.
    Step Nine ~ Contacting Other Researchers

    Genes Reunited
    , Lost Cousins, Curious Fox and Genealogists' Forum

    Social media
    As well as using the forums for making contact with potential relatives, there are more and more blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds coming online all the time which can give you ideas of other places to look for information. DNA projects

    Using DNA testing is becoming more and more popular for potential genealogical matches as the prices have come down. The following site has gathered together a comprehensive collection of links and resources which will tell you all you need to know!
    Step Ten ~ Asking For Help

    We have a very active Research Board on this site and there should be a helpful member around willing to offer their assistance.

    If you have a photograph which you require dating or advice on, then you can post this in a thread on the Family Tree Photos board.



    It does need to be remembered that Genealogy is not a purely computer based hobby.

    The National Archives.

    Some of the information held at other archives is available on A2A - Access to Archives.

    Our Records Office Guide has links to a variety of other sources of records:

    FTF Guide: Coroners' Records

    FTF Guide: Court Sessions and Victuallers Licences

    FTF Guide: Directories: Trade, Street and City

    FTF Guide: Electoral Registers and Poll Books

    FTF Guide: Emigration and Immigration

    FTF Guide: Hospital and Asylum Records

    FTF Guide: Manorial, Land and Estate Deeds

    FTF Guide: Maps

    FTF Guide: Military and Maritime Records

    FTF Guide: Newspapers

    FTF Guide: Photographs

    FTF Guide: Poor Laws and Workhouses

    FTF Guide: School Records

    FTF Guide: Taxation Records

    FTF Guide: Google

    Downloadable version of this guide: Getting Started Download - Family Tree Forum.pdf (currently unavailable.)
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