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By Stephen Miller


HOME > ARTICLES > Family History Basics (Part 1)


After many years of research, it is very easy to forget that not everyone knows how to research his or her family history or in fact where to begin. Most journals take for granted that the reader is a hardened researcher and knows everything there is to know about Family History. This article is the beginning of a series aimed at those people whom are just starting out in family history. It is by no means a definitive guide, purely a series of fact sheets to point them in the right direction. In family history the goals and sources are infinite, as are the methods used. Having said that, the basics are roughly the same.

The most commonly asked question, by someone wishing to start researching his or her family history, is how do I begin?

Decide a line

Before commencing, the researcher needs to decide to what extent they wish to research their family.

[ The most common approach is to record their family history through a given line. Paternal - the link to ancestors through the paternal line (Ancestors - through the male line Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather etc.). Maternal - link to ancestors through the maternal line (Mothers ancestors).
[ Others research all known ancestors; this can produce an infinite Family Tree. People often record the details on concentric circles, the number of ancestors doubling with each generation (with the exceptions of the marriage of cousins, or incestuous relationships).
[ Some researchers also include all siblings of their ancestors and or their lines of descent.
There are many different reasons for conducting research including pleasure, medical grounds (including tracing genetic illnesses), financial (including tracing recipients of wills) and tracing lost family members. The majority of researchers are purely hobbyists.

'Cite your Sources'

So once the user has decided on a line to research how do they start? Truth be known, they will already have a wealth of information at their fingertips, it is merely a question of deciphering it into a useful format and ensuring the information is recorded accurately. Although there are numerous publications detailing how to record the information, the basics are the same. The rest is down to personal preference. Computer programs have been written to store and display this type of information, pre printed sheets for filling in the details is another option and the list goes on. The important point to remember is to include where the information came from i.e. its source. Write down sufficient detail that, if required, the researcher can return to the source to check the information. If the source of information is a book from the library, record the name and location of the Library, the title of the book, author, publisher, Library reference, page number and the date you looked at the book. Although it may seem obvious, many researchers have fallen foul of this trap in the past. If possible make a photocopy of the page-it may save you a return trip at a later stage.

The Start

What do you know already? Start with yourself and record you own details, wife/husband, children and grand children. Then start to work backwards, write down the information that you already know, record details of your parents, list known dates of important events such as births, marriages and deaths. You may want to draw a pictorial view of your family to assist. Use whichever system you find most comfortable to record the information so you can retrieve it easily. This may be held on a computer program, card index or recorded in a book. There are a large number of pre-printed forms and computer programs for recording such information available, from a wide variety of places. Speak to friends and ask them which system they use, ask members of a society. If you have access to a computer try looking on the Internet. A good starting point is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS):


They provide forms that can be freely downloaded and printed, also a freely available computer program to record such information. If you don't have a computer yourself ask a friend or relative, or even pop down to your local library.

Two forms that are included on the LDS Website are a 'Pedigree Chart' - for recording your ancestors and a 'Family Group Record' - for recording details about an individual (including dates and places of events and details of their spouse(s), children and parents.

Some of the Local / Family History Libraries now contain 'starter packs' for family history research and contain forms and other useful information to get you up and running.

Other possible resources to such material include some Family History Groups/Societies; there is also commercial companies selling such products. These can be found listed in Family History Magazines or at Family History Fairs. The Internet contains a wealth of such material, which is available both freely and commercially.

If you can't find anything you like why not make your own forms or record the details in a book.

There are numerous articles and publications showing people how to record their family history, but it is down to personal preference.

To be continued...






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