Steps in Genealogical research
- Talk to all living members of your family, find out what they can recall.
- Write down everything they tell you and note who told you what. You might find that they don't all
tell you the same thing, people's memories are not perfect!
- My suggestion is that you use a notebook - or if you prefer a computer program, then you could use
a spreadsheet, or failing that a program like "Notepad", but keep the facts (or stories) that one
person tells you separate from those that other people tell you.
- You may wish to use a program which creates family trees for you. I use Family Tree Maker, but
there are many other very good programs.
- You have probably now got enough information to take you back to your grandparents, or if you were
lucky, like me, you have found someone else in your family who has already done a bit (lot) of
research. If they didn't document their sources, then note that this information came from this
person. If they have the sources then make a note of both the original source and the secondary
source. This enables you to check the source later if you have doubts as to the accuracy of the
- Have you, or someone in your family, got a Family Bible? These used to be used to record
births, marriages and deaths in a family - but be careful, people make mistakes!
- The information that you need depends on your interests. Your aim may be to make a basic family
tree with names and the dates of birth, marriage and death. However you might find your research much more
rewarding to collect anecdotes or short stories or even biographies about each person in the family.
- Of course some dates, especially as you go further back in time, may not be easy to find. This
is where "alternative" dates come in very useful. The date of baptism will probably be within
a few weeks of birth, but remember, some people are even baptised as adults (or not at all).
The date of burial will usually be within a week to ten days of the date of death.
- The place of each event will probably help you to find other members of the family.
- O.K. So now you are stuck. You know that your grandfather married your grandmother probably
a year or so before their first child was born. If you look for their marriage certificate
if will usually not only tell you the exact date and location, but whether this was their
first marriage (bachelor & spinster) or a subsequent marriage (for example, widow). It should
also list the names of the fathers of each person - this takes you back a further generation.
These contain records of entire families, that is the people who were living in a house on the
day of the census, usually about the beginning of April. They are readily available, in Britain,
from the year 1841 and censuses have been taken every ten years
since then. The problem is that they did not have indexes, so to find someone you need to know where they
were living at the time of the census.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, have created an index for the whole of the 1881
census and this is available both on CD and online. But don't be too surprised if you can't find
the person for whom you are looking. Some people were on holiday or business outside the country
and so were excluded. Some people, somehow, have been completed omitted.
The 1901 census is available online and is indexed.
Some other British censuses are starting to be indexed. The first project was a partial index
for some of the 1851 records, but since then records are now becoming available on CD or DVD,
and are gradually being indexed as well
Censuses were taken before 1841, but few still exist (as far as I know). I believe that they started
in the year 1801. Some are available for 1831 and even 1821. (Would someone please tell me where
these can be found?)
The American censuses also take place every ten years, but they are one year earlier.
Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates
These are available from 1837 in Registry offices all over the country and also online for
Yorkshire and a few others.
- see Certificates.
However to get back further, before 1841 or 1837, then you will have to delve into all sorts of other
records. In parish records can be found records of baptisms and burials in particular, but don't forget
that not everybody was of the same religion. You may have to look in the Quaker records, the Baptists
records and many others as well as the Church of England records. And then, of course, not everybody
This should get you back to about 1650. Prior to this period, records are more difficult to find,
not all clergymen kept them, some destroyed their records and others have been destroyed.
Here is a quotation from a letter (received in 1906) from a German Pastor:
I am sorry to say I cannot find the Marriage Register of 1747.
I have not even ever seen it. Although the Baptismal Registers go back
a long way, the Marriage Register begins with 1859. The earlier ones
This was just a start to help those who ask the question "Where do I start?"
Please contact me if you would like to suggest the next steps a new genealogist should take
to find his or her family.
Here are a few useful links found on the internet:
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