Genealogy – How to start your Family Tree

Tree stock for Genealogy

Do you want to start your family tree but you’re unsure where to begin? See these steps below to get you on your path


A family tree is a wonderful, terrifying and addictive hobby to get into.

You get to learn so much about the history of your family. With the tools and resources available online this can all be done from the comfort of your sofa. Just bare in mind, what you find out may not be what you’re looking for.

I’ve mention this due to my own family history. Revolutions, Court cases, Death sentences. If you dig into it enough you will find out it’s not all going to be happy farmers. And this leads into Step 1.

Step 1. Are you prepared?

I don’t mean with a pen and paper ready to start jotting down information, I mean are you prepared?

Do you have a plague doctor in your family tree?

When starting out your journey into genealogy, one thing you may not realise is you’re searching for death. To put it bluntly as well, the more gruesome the death, the more information will be available.

In the UK the last death sentence was as late as 1968, The last public execution was 1868.

As you’ll be researching further back you may come across some relatives doing some quite heinous crimes.

There’s always two sides to every coin though. You may discover your 6th Great uncle was the ring leader of a revolution or you’ll have several generations of farmers just living out their day to day lives.

Step 2. What do you know about your family tree already?

You’ve come to terms with Step 1 and you would like to carry on? Grab a pen and paper and start jotting down everyone you currently know and all the links in your family.

The main information you will need is:

  • Birth date
  • Birth location
  • Death date
  • Death location
  • Approximate age
  • Gender

Sounds easy right? You’ll be surprised how often an age or death date is actually forgotten.

Step 3. Quiz your relatives

You now have the above information, Let’s go quiz your relatives. They can be an invaluable resource to the process.

If you have Grandparents, quiz them as much as you can. I found they’re a fountain of knowledge when it comes to family history. It makes the process that little bit easier and you can discover some quite interesting facts about the family as well.

Ask them similar questions to the ones above and make sure the links are correct, Brother/Sister, Aunt/Uncle, Cousin etc… If the links are not correct, this can trip you up majorly in the next few steps.

Step 4. Consolidate your data

By this step you should have a good start of your family tree. If you’ve been writing this down into a family tree style grid from the beginning you can skip this step.

I didn’t… I had scraps of paper with links to relatives, lists of names, ages and dates, It got messy.

Get a journal and write it all in properly with yourself as the seed of the tree. I would also suggest splitting it between families as well, this makes it a lot easier to read.

Split it between your mother and father and keep them separate. After you’ve added hundreds or thousands of people in your tree, it makes it much easier to read.

Step 5. Go online

You have now completed the first few steps, now the research begins.

Sign up to a website like or and take advantage of their free trials. Ancestry will allow you a 14 day free trial to their site and MyHeritage allows you to add 250 links completely free.

Personally I went with at the time, it allowed me to start my family tree and the quality and ease of pulling the records back allowed me to research other things as well.

Ancestry Hints
The Ancestry hints soon build up.

Enter in all the details you have gathered so far then sit back and wait.

Ancestry has an algorithm which automatically matches you to records, photos, stories and even other members trees. This makes the process much easier in the long run.

Although you will still need to check if they’re a match. It can occasionally throw you a curve ball which can completely skew the data in your tree.

Step 5. Check, Check and Triple check the data

While the above websites are a great resource to get started with, the hints can end up quite confusing.

Make sure the data adds up as you’re going through them, Birth certificates and Death certificates are usually set in stone, Census data on the other hand can be a bit more tricky…

Some weird information is usually found on census data due to how they used to be taken a couple hundred years ago. The data relied on Census Detectives going door to door to collect the information, some of this would be down to interpretation.

As an example, John Smith & Family is at home, The census detectives come around and write down everyone’s name, age and profession. As the detective doesn’t have a great grasp of the English language he writes his name as Jon Smyth.

John’s young lad who has been recorded at home then runs to his friends house after the census has taken place. A knock comes at his friends door and Little John Smith is recorded again.

Step 6. Back to the Internet – Further family tree resources

The above will provide you with a vast amount of information and resources to get you going on your quest to find your family history. But don’t disregard other areas of the Internet, it is a vast place with many different resources.

  • Find a Grave – Excellent resource to find and see gravestones, You’ll be surprised how much information they can tell you.
  • General Registry Office (UK Gov) – Here you can search for Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates, you can also order copies of them dating back to 1837.
  • The National Archives (UK Gov) – The online UK Archive resource based at Kew
  • – Excellent site to search through years worth of newspaper records
  • Family Search – or the Church of Jesus Christ and the latter day saints, They have billions of records which are accessible and can come in quite handy for research.
  • Family Tree Magazine – These have tons of resources available, Definitely one to check out if you ever get stuck. They helped me no end.

Step 7. Don’t get distracted

It’s easily done, you start looking at your fathers side of the tree then remember that link on your mothers side. It’s easily possible to get distracted but that’s where it’s also easy to start making mistakes. Take each branch at a time and focus on that, make sure all the information is correct then move to the next.

Family trees can easily branch out to the 1000’s, go back 10 Generations (Around 1700’s) and you have 1024 direct ancestors. Keep doubling these up for each generation you wish to go back. This doesn’t include any Aunts or Uncles , Cousins etc… This is direct relatives. You can see how big this will become.

Step 8 – Display your family tree

By this point you would have spent hours, if not days working through links and census forms. Don’t let all that go to waste and display what you have created. I’ve put together a short list here of some finds from Etsy. Not your typical displays for Family trees, something a little more unique but beautiful at the same time.

In Conclusion…

The family tree is a wonderful thing to start and the amount of information which you can find out about your family will be immense. Even from the comfort of your own home.

Branches will confuse you, bore you, excite you and maybe cause a shudder to go down your spine. It can be a rollercoaster of emotions but one which is definitely worth your time.

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