Tracing your ancestors

Article last reviewed and part revised December 2018

How do you start your research?

When you are 'new' to family history research, there seems so much to take on board.

It is never quite so straightforward as they make it look in those TV programmes. No one just produces the information for you! This short article provides a practical approach to get you started and establishes some sound working principles to guide your research.

Most people know something of their parents and grandparents (maybe even something of certain great-grandparents). But do you know where they lived? Or what they did? What traces of their lives still exist today that can tell you more about them? When you trace your family tree, you begin a journey back into the past - a journey back into local history, social history and general historical events and not just into a series of names and dates. The quest might take you back no more than 50 or 100 years before the search 'goes cold', or it might take you back 500 years or more.

Family history research is like a cross between a good detective story and a jig-saw puzzle (with no straight-edge bits), and you are the 'family detective' and 'puzzle manager'. Find a person - what else is there to find about them? And now who are their parents? Are there, maybe, siblings to find as well? Family history research will take you to new and unexpected places, provide sometimes joyful and sometimes harrowing moments of discovery, and will often give you new insights and perspectives into local, political, social and economic history through the lives of ordinary people

And, as you explore different avenues and archives, you will meet and make many new friends along the way.

Always work backwards...

...from what you know to what you do not know


Whether you have lots of relatives, or perhaps just a few, your search begins with yourself. And then your parents. And then their parents (your grandparents) and so on moving backwards.


Additional information