Top Ten Family History Tips

Some valuable tips for researching you Family History.

1. Be Organized
When searching online it is very easy to randomly jump from website to website in your eagerness to find that vital piece of missing information. Or perhaps it’s the excitement of finding that potential name match that you need to make a missing link. Make a note of where you’ve looked and organize your bookmarks carefully.

2. Talk to Your Family
If you have older family members who are still alive, their reminiscences can be invaluable. Be aware though that some stories that have passed down through the generations may have got embellished along the way.

3. Surname Spellings
Don’t ignore alternative surname spellings. They may come to your rescue if you reach a dead end in your researches.
See: Missing Ancestors.

4. Find the Evidence
Don’t make assumptions. If you are unsure about a find and don’t have the time to check the evidence there and then, make a note that it still needs to be verified. Imagine yourself having to prove your findings in a court of law – would you be able to? Okay, that’s maybe a little extreme, but a good rule of thumb all the same. A slip-up early on might mean a lot wasted time and/or wasted opportunities in the future.

5. Widen Your Search
Although this website is primarily about researching your family history online, if possible visit the places that your ancestors used to inhabit and even find out where they actually lived (if the buildings have survived). It’s an almost breathtaking experience to get so close to your past. If you do visit, be sure to check the local cemetery for the surname you’re researching.
See: Memorial Inscriptions.

6. Get the Most From the Internet
There are other websites than just database providers. You will usually find a Family History Society or Family History Centre if you make a search online for most regions, counties or states. These are especially useful as they often have surname indexes compiled by local residents, or by people who have an interest in the area and know it very well. These websites will also usually publish requests and replies to family tree queries specific to a surname of that area, and if that surname is one that you’re researching, you might just learn something new.

7. Think Outside the Box
Try to get a feel for how your ancestors lived their lives and with whom they were acquainted. For example, I found that a witness name to a signature of one of my ancestors in a register, also had the same name as the landlord to another member of my family, who lived in another parish. That landlord then popped up in the Poll Book records for the parish I was searching in at that time. All these little things can help to provide evidence of descendancy or of connections to people and places.

8. Dig Deeper
Almost everyone has had their names published at some point in their lives. In newspapers, school pupil lists, fallen comrades rolls, ships passenger lists, electoral rolls, census returns etc etc. All of these findings and documentations add greatly to your knowledge of your ancestor’s lives and to the sense of history and connection that you will feel on discovering and seeing some of these documents.

9. A Picture Paints a 1,000 Words
If you have an extended family, ask all of your relations if they have any old family photos. If they do, ask if you can make copies for your family history files. There is nothing quite like being able to see the ancestors you are finding out about. Although invented in the late 1830’s, photography didn’t become commercially viable until around the 1860’s However, at 25 years a generation as a rough measure, that’s nearly seven generations worth of your ancestry who might have been photographed!

10. Never give up!
It’s quite likely that your family tree will probably never be finished. But that’s not the point. It’s the journey and not the destination that’s important, and everything that you discover on that journey.