Advice for beginners

Another great #ANZAncestryTime twitterchat. Hope these tips and mistakes not to make help you in your journey as family historians.

Tips for starting your family history journey

Free-Photos / Pixabay

The most common tips were:

  • Start with yourself and work back one generation at a time.
  • Get proof for every fact by having documents, certificates, newspaper reports etc
  • Talk to the older members of your family including cousins – record these stories if possible with their permission; photos and newspapers are good prompts
  • Keep records using charts, notebooks, digital files, folders – whichever suits you best
  • Buy certificates if possible – check all information on these including witnesses; in New Zealand get printouts rather than certificates
  • Don’t believe everything that you see online without seeing the proof
  • Keep a note of where you searched (research log), and what you found (or didn’t).
  • Cite your sources so you find information again
  • For beginners listen to this brilliant podcast (see link at end of post)  it talks you through every single step in a logical sequence brilliant for beginners @AFHpodcast
  • There is not just one way to do family history research. We need to be able to adapt to the circumstances when necessary for better results.
  • BACK UP your research. You don’t want to lose all those hours of work!
  • Surround yourself with support by joining a local family history society
  • Do a workshop or course in the how.
  • Look for a list of questions to use when asking your elders about ancestors. eg
6689062 / Pixabay

How and where to record the information you find

Thinking about slow cooking, slow family history might be a thing. Many variations of way to record your family history being listed. Use the method that makes it easy for you such as paper, charts, or digital with software.

When I volunteer with people at the library, we start with pedigree chart, family group sheets then if they want to connect to others especially DNA, then online tree with ancestry

Can I be an alternate voice? I loathe being straight jacketed by those forms, even back in my earliest days decades ago. I probably kept the same info but in my own way.

Try a few genealogy software programs and pick one you like, where you record everything you find. Also, think about a digital filing system for your computer. I started out mostly using A5 notebooks, and I still use them, but am waaaay behind in transferring info

I decided to put all my digital stuff in one folder with useful file names. Searching for things on the mac has always been easy (according to me) and I only need one copy in one place. Not multiple versions for different people. (Make sense?)

I’d recommend a software program or spreadsheet at first to get started

A few people have suggested spreadsheets & I’m curious to know how you use them

I’ve used them for shipping data, census details, timelines and a checklist for possible sources and if I’ve checked them. Do as I say not as I always do 😉

I use them for my DNA matches adding them from every source where I have it. Add info on whether has tree, what likely family, & if added to my tree & the relationship. I download DNA data from some sites.

Spreadsheets for timeline of a persons life, or for downloading a range of search results for analysis and sorting or for keeping track of certificates bought, or #genealogy expenditure just a few for starters

One way I use them is for NZ electoral rolls, for example. I have all the names down the left and dates of electoral roll across the top. Black out cells when people to young to vote, migrated or dead. Then mark of in each cell when found with a ref. FH software.

I do this for UK census records – note the ages down for each census I’ve found them in, group with family, mark off years before born and after died, so I know who I’ve found in each census (and who I haven’t). Interesting to contrast ages across decades too!

I have columns for DOB,DOM, DOD, Where Living, Where died, Occupation. IF you’re clever, and I’m not you can have the spreadsheet do the calcuations of age etc and codes to cross ref

Export the names and info from your family tree software. It is so much easier to see the gaps with a spread sheet. Have another one with UK census info. It is easy to see families together and then when person moves.

Use 1. pedigree charts 2. family tree charts 3. research logs so you know what sources you have already consulted and when, this very much helps avoiding unnecessary repetition

I would suggest an online tree either public or subscription based plus family tree software for recording your tree. A research log for information and sources

Assuming you have a computer try various software programs or start a blog

Write it down and store it somewhere safe. I would say type it up too but PLEASE back it up.

Invest in the best family tree software you can afford e.g. if you think you might want to publish a book down the track, look for software that will help you do that. Also record on paper using standardised templates available for free on Ancestry. Back up!

Always & Everywhere. Go mobile – start with audio recording & scanning apps & build up to local family tree software alongside online platforms with confidence & affordability + keep a notebook or journal whether paper or online to record progress

join a free website such as @WikiTreers where you can keep living family private but connect to deceased ancestors

I started with a dedicated notebook, still precious to me, moved to a timeline format in Word, supplemented by narrative format in Word

depends on how comfortable one is with computers. Pen and paper initially is good start to see what info you have. Talk to other family historians before using genealogy software. Spreadsheets can a good way to record too.

Craig_Steffan / Pixabay

Mistakes to avoid when starting out

Remember no family is perfect. We all have black sheep ancestors and skeletons on the closet. Don’t ever assume all your discoveries will be happy.

Ensure you record all the details and look at first few pages and last pages of a book and for margin notes or errata message

And I use their bibliography for future reference.

Never assume family stories are correct, or that you are getting the full story. Details change, recollections alter over time and sometimes people muddy the truth for a variety of reasons

Don’t think that everything is online. Visit libraries, archives, societies

I have found that libraries in larger towns can have resources for other places. I used to spend time in the @Library_Vic doing NZ research. So pays to check in larger places.

When I lived in Darwin I would keep a running file for future research in QLd archives and libraries, then hit them hard when visiting. Did better then than I manage now.

Do not copy other people’s online trees or information. Research and find the evidence yourself

Don’t dismiss anything as hearsay make a note and look for proof

Assuming everyone in your own family will be excited as you about any if it – you need to find your people (we are your people)

The biggest mistake I made was not writing down where I found something for everything I found. Even acknowledging who told you is important. When you want to check it later it cannot.

1. Not accessing an original document when possible (#Digital or #Paper ) & just relying on #index entries helpful though they are. 2. Basing my own research on the research of others without verifying 2. Not citing/recording sources

when I started I recorded everything in one notebook at a time. Advantage: in one place to find. Disadvantage: separating out the families’ data later on. You won’t believe how much info you’ll accumulate over time!

Beginners should be wary of ordering anything through a third party try to order directly from the official office

Don’t go blindly accepting Ancestry hints assuming they are all the same person

And if someone goes out of their way to tell you you have the “wrong ” person in your tree, do yourself a favor and investigate their data. Don’t just immediately blow them off.

Absolutely!!! In one of the cases there were 14 or something people with the wrong one. I didn’t have the mental capacity to tell them all. I will when I have a chance.

Yes. Most ancestors have hints for records in the US. Only one ancestor ever went to America and that was when he worked on ships, he never stayed there.

Accepting hints on Ancestry and discoveries & smart matches on MyHeritage – both are often wrong. Assuming that anyone else’s tree is correct without doing your own research

Assume everyone in the family is interested and want to know all details – they don’t. Don’t assume all online tree owners have done research thoroughly – many haven’t, just copied from others and don’t even show any proof.

Biggest mistake: believing anything you read or anything anyone tells you – go and investigate, find out as much of the truth yourself as you can. Next biggest mistake: not listening, not reading between the lines.

procrastination can lose you personal knowledge as the older generation passes away. I got fabulous info from some but didn’t get round to all my contacts.

Thinking I’ll write down that source later. Or not having a plan. Or thinking you know the answer and not considering other options. Not asking for help is probably a biggie. And of course….thinking that it’s all online. It most definitely is not.

Keep record of sources; prove other’s work online – don’t believe everything is correct; visit archives and towns if possible for museums etc

you won’t remember where you found everything as your research progresses. Record when and where you found info and the name of the source. This lets you and others find it again.

listen to what you’re told by family, read and record what you find BUT also look at it critically. Test the consistency of the data and between what you find. Some stories may be 100% true, some 1% and some 0%. Follow up what you discover in other records
Where to find help when getting started


1. your local & other Genealogy family history societies 2. archives libraries 3. community groups 4. religious political & fraternal organisations … go where the journey takes you 😀

Find a genealogy friend to buddy up with who can help with where to look. Check out Family Search’s wikis for learning, attend seminars, webinars, read books. HAVE FUN!!

1. Get help by joining a local family history society. 2. Purchase a beginners book. 3. Check out YouTube. 4. Legacy Family Tree Webinars @legacyfamily. 5. @RootsTechConf sessions. 6. Many societies have Zoom meetings. 7. Family History magazines.

The wiki from @FamilySearch will have answers to most questions including a section for beginners. familysearch.org/wiki/en/How_to…

For those in Australia there is help on starting your family history info at the @nlagovau website. nla.gov.au/getting-starte…

Family history societies and libraries are a fab resource to begin with for the area you are researching as they have knowledge of the streets and general history.

Facebook groups, twitter groups like #ANZAncestryTime , Library, YouTube and other online sources.

locate a family history society near you and join up. There’s lots of knowledge in the membership + learning opportunities,seminars etc. they will usually have access to the big pay-to-view genie sites

Also join, or visit, a family history society where your ancestors lived. They know the local history and will likely have indexed local records.

If you need more information and thinking of buying certificates in England or Wales see if available as pdf and only use gro.gov.uk/gro/content/ho…

if in Hobart on a Friday, book in a one hour session with me (Sue) at Rosny Library haha

Not everything is online! There’s still mountains of info undigitised in archives and libraries. Learn the skills you need to explore them and don’t be intimidated. Use discoveries from Trove as clues about where to look.

Join a family history group Look at free websites such as @FamilySearch which has a Wiki Join @WikiTreers and check out their pages Join Genealogy Facebook groups

Help is everywhere families, books, libraries, local societies, YouTube, webinars, Facebook, Twitter etc.etc.

The #NZSG have three video tutorials available on their website, very useful when you’re starting out: genealogy.org.nz/Getting-It-Rig…

I actually learnt quite a lots from @AFHpodcast Andy’s brilliant podcast, stuff that I’m sure I really should have known!

Blogging posts

Hilary – importance of documenting what you do and find

Paul – Top ten sins of a genealogist

Daniel – Double check those Ancestry hints

Alona – 27 do’s and do not’s when researching family history.

Amanda from Geni – 5 Things to Do to Get Started on Your Family Tree

Amateur family historian – podcast about beginning your journey

Readers: What tips would you give to people starting their family history journey?

What a mess!

So you have been researching your family history for a while. You have lots of pieces of paper and photos. How are you keeping them in some organized fashion? Are you using both online and offline?

StockSnap / Pixabay

This week’s questions were:

  1. How organised is your research? Do you document as you go using research logs, family group sheets or proof arguments?
  2. What is your system for organising your family history research and naming files? Does it differ for paper and digital records? Include technology and software you use.
  3. What mistakes have you made in the past due to not being organised? Share your ideas or websites and blogs with tips for organising family history.
  4. Have you made any plans to pass your family history on? What steps could be taken to organise this?

Organizing research both online and offline

  • To design a good system for naming & organising my records, I used tips in e-books ‘Organizing Genealogy Research’ and ‘Cataloging Digital Family Photographs’ – Judy (see website  below)
  • I wrote about how I organise my digital files on my blog a several months ago. I don’t have paper files – just a box of a few copy photographs and some papers. – Dara
  • Sometimes I copy/paste from my blog (which is a first draft of #FamilyHistory) into a written booklet organized around a theme, such as military ancestors or ancestors from a certain country or siblings. And update with newer #Genealogy if needed – Marian
  • As much as I love digital I find it essential to have certificates in hard copy – Jill
  • @CyndisList has also been running #FilingFriday on The Genealogy Squad Facebook page with lots of great ideas for things to get sorted. – Fiona
  • I have two stages of writing up – the first is the chronologies I mentioned in A1, which are part narrative, part research log, and I try to do those as I go along. The second stage, the full narrative, can come much later, and will highlight further gaps. – Allie
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  • I may use notebooks but I love my computer folders! – Sharn
  • I put everything on my computer. I have named folders with subfolders for me, my father, mother and two husbands. Plus other folders for DNA, place information, other information, etc. I’ve been using folders on computers for 30 years. – Margaret
  • Harking back to my software development days, I used to make up all sorts of abbreviations & file naming patterns. Now I just go with real words. Admittedly, I usually start with the person’s name, event, & year – Brooke
  • Software : Family Historian desktop software, TNG for website, Evernote for links, notes etc. Google Docs/sheets, drive to access things anywhere, Dropbox for sharing, 8tb and 2x4tb external hdds for backup, Powerpoint for presentations, Canva for Graphics. – Jill
  • Used to use The Master Genealogist but now use Legacy on a laptop I can take when travelling. But have tree on Ancestry with lots of links and sources that have been proved – Sue
  • Programs most used: word, excel, access, photoshop, pocket, evernote (esp for emails re family history), powerpoint for presentations. Technology: computer/laptop, scanner, iPad – Pauleen
  • For my personal tree I use Reunion for Mac. I have naming method that starts with a number. Then any other versions of this piece of data including images start with this number. The source starts with the number also. So do references in Reunion. – Fran
  • Paper and digital are the same system. I have a free guide on my website that details my system. Main thing is to make it as simple as possible. I love using colour to help with this. – Fiona
  • I’d probably replace the notebooks with digital notes and images but keep the paper copies of documents. I find it too easy to lose my focus with digital documents. – Pauleen
  • Paul Chiddicks mentioned this a couple of weeks ago – here is his post for both online and offline organization
  • I’m almost entirely digital. I arrange my files via a folder for each pair of g-grandparents, then subfolders for each direct line couple or surname in that branch, with sub-sub-folders for their offspring (and so on). File names usually ‘name type date place – Allie
  • I got myself a very big screen now so that it is easy for me to look at stuff online. But if I need to add a lot of information, I print it. I have a box in which I keep printouts. – Margaret
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  • My naming is surname firstname year event for all my digital documents and photos. Each surname has a folder. – Sue
  • Part of the problem is that there is so much more online now and we revisit our research – hard to keep up sometimes – Shauna
  • Since I started researching over 30 years ago my system has been filing by surname then subsequent generation, subdivided by topic content eg military. – Pauleen
  • I keep it fairly simple! I use Excel for main sheets, and have a custom template set up to add new surname log sheets. I use a Git version control system to store & track file changes – invaluable for syncing b/w machines and retrieving old versions of files 👍 – Sophie
  • I’d like to be more organised but I do have some systems in place. Photos and documents are scanned and placed in folders on my laptop and backed up on a hard drive and the cloud. Originals are filed alphabetically in a filing cabinet – Sharn
  • I use ACDSee Pro to organise my photos. They are all categorised to the nth degree. – Jill
  • I record my research in different ways. For peripheral lines I use family sheets, but for my main line I create chronologies covering 2 or 3 generations – tables of events (with citations) in date order – they’re very useful for highlighting gaps and patterns – Allie
  • Perhaps once I get into some real nitty-gritty stuff I will have to be more rigorous. I think I would need to use timeline more productively first. – Fran
  • When working with clients at the library, we start with family group sheets and pedigree charts, add to a free tree they create on Ancestry and work on one name at a time – Sue
  • All my photos and documents are scanned and filed in digital folders. paper copies go in my archive boxes or filing cabinet. I need a system for filing emails – Sharn
  • On my blog I have a checklist of record sources to search and I’ve been working on a tick-a-box spreadsheet that lets me note which key records I’ve found. – Pauleen
  • Would not be without my #genealogy research logs for anything! I maintain a separate log for each surname (plus a separate sheet for each person) plus a master log where I document roughly what I’ve done each session – Sophie
  • I have lots of pieces of paper at my computer for doing quick and dirty type research, then I add to my family tree when proved and recycle the paper – Sue
  • I have a bad habit of grabbing a piece of paper and jotting down notes and then I end up having to paste the paper scraps into the relevant research log (exercise book) – Sharn
  • Proof arguments are for the pros. I am an amateur who does research for fun so I rarely write up a proof argument. I may use a timeline to document sources and find inconsistencies – Jill
  • My blog has become a type of proof argument when I do detailed research. It then also serves as my own “reference library”. – Pauleen
  • My problem is trying not to follow bright shiny objects in the middle of a research question – that’s when I start to not stay organised and methodical in my searches – Shauna
  • We are living in the 21st century so I use digital means wherever possible. I save as I go. I ditched my Excel research log because my Family Historian software manages this for me. – Jill
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Passing on your family history

  • A lot of discussion about leaving information in your will about who is to take on the ginormous task of continuing the family history.
  • Pauleen: And all those logins and passwords change over time which doesn’t help. As my genimate @travelgenee recommends, I need to use a password app and then I only have to pass on the one for it.
  • Also a lot of talk about printing books from blog posts as a way of passing on the information to family members. But then needing to know copyright laws about scanning documents and images, privacy laws when mentioning living people etc
  • Pauleen: Pretty sure that with Blog2Print you can select specific posts, eg on a topic like military, and have them slurped into the book. Worth a look?
  • If you have published books have you also added them to a local, state or national library somewhere so the information is spread further than just your immediate family.
  • I was intrigued also that many of those on the chat have their blogs archived through the National Library of Australia – wonder how that happens?
  • Jill: Both my Family website and my blog  are being preserved by the National Library in their web archive (formerly Pandora)
  • Margaret: My nephew has already got most of my stuff. I name him in my will. We work together. I’m putting as much as possible on @WikiTreers
  • Fran: I did a photo book for Stephen’s siblings as the siblings father was a photographer. I just wish they had been more helpful with naming people. I could not get past the “but we know who they are” attitude. At least there is a hard cover book.
  • Pauleen: My Kunkel family history is published as a book and shared widely through the extended family. Other family histories are in draft form but in the meantime the blog covers individual stories.
  • Sue: Only have one niece and one nephew, no children to leave mine to so that is why I am adding as much as possible to the blog so available to anyone in future who searches.
  • Maggie: I’m helping my father set up a website for his family history book, so he can update and amend his research. But I need to do more on the other family lines!
  • Jill: As for the heirlooms and jewellery. Offspring have volunteered!! to take on heirlooms. Jewellery allocation is in a letter with my will.
  • Shauna: Writing up family stories as blog posts is a great way of seeing what you have done and sharing with others. I need to do more.
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Do’s and don’ts

  • I’ve done this with newspaper searches. Not tagged them thinking I’ll find them again. Not that easy! – Sharn
  • Organising logins and passwords for all my digital family research subs etc is also one of my challenges – Shauna
  • Have we all left someone in charge of our Facebook, blogs and social media sites so they can be preserved? Hoping my daughters aren’t working long hours at day jobs when I pop my clogs. – Pauleen
  • I have hardly purchased a certificate over the last 2 years as I am sure I have some hidden away either digital or on paper that I have not documented yet. Avoiding paying for duplicates – Fran
  • Great hints about downloading and saving to correct folder – Fiona
  • I still haven’t learnt!! I go to a repository and take lots of images of documents, put them in a folder for later, back them up then forget. When I find them several months later I can’t remember their significance. – Jill
  • I started taking a photo of the covers, tickets from archives when they pick the item or other reference points. Sometimes even a note I have written. Then take the document images. Finish with an end image of some sort. Since doing this I have found it easier – Fran
  • I go back often over records as I find new information available and also I know better what to look for. I check my folders first. And I have a general folder I need to check out too to file. The paper is ignored. – Margaret
  • I’ve found a few things by re-doing a search after someone else had corrected the records. Made me double my efforts to correct mistaken entries when I came across them. – Allie
  • Before organising I couldn’t easily place my hand on documents. Now it’s easy. Biggest mistake was ordering some documents twice. – Fiona
TheAngryTeddy / Pixabay
  • Fairly typical “beginner’s error”, thinking I’d never forget where I found the record (name, date and location) and not recording same. Now I photograph the archival packet before I read anything – Pauleen
  • I start with writing my citation in the report, and then take a photo of the citation on my screen before I photograph the records. – Yvette
  • I really need to transcribe, document and/or write up archival discoveries soon after my visit. I have waaay too much “in limbo” ie #not-organised. – Pauleen
  • I’ve probably (temporarily) lost files after a bit scanning session, because I’ve downloaded them to a stupid place and/or not named them something useful straight away. – Brooke
  • The worst thing I think I have done is found interesting and valuable information and then not saved it straight away including the source information. Keep thinking where did I put that? – Fran
  • I failed to use a research log or proof arguments for one family and years later I had to redo the entire research as I couldn’t recall how I had reached my conclusion – Sharn
  • My notebooks going back 30 years are in chronological order. I need to go back through them all to see if I have missed something important #fresheyes then ditch them. – Jill
  • I try to avoid paper now because I’m still getting rid of boxes and boxes of it. I try to print out very little. I scanned most of my originals and sent them off to the next generation – Margaret
  • My research documentation has an underlying organisation BUT it’s staying on top of it that’s the problem – papers & photos & files – especially after an archive visit or scanning session – Pauleen
  • I use exercise books as research logs. I label them with a family name and number and date each.. I keep them in a filing cabinet labelled alphabetically – Sharn
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Websites relating to tonight’s discussion

Sassy Jane ebooks recommended by Judy

Planning a future for your family’s past – by Marian Burk Wood

Reflections on slow genealogy – Pauleen

Jill’s version of her filing system written up in a post that keeps being revised

Couple of posts from Family Tree Magazine relating to tonight’s chat

A couple of great posts from well known USA genealogists about creating filing naming patterns for saving your work online – Diane Gould Hall, Randy Seaver

Fiona’s Facebook post about sorting out that pile of papers

Pauleen likes this family group sheet to add all life’s complexities

Interesting quotes

When the archives changes its cataloguing system, as they do, especially in covid-times, do you go back there and then and change your referencing? I get tired just thinking about it – Pauleen

I am amazed at how similar our thinking is across many facets of organization. – Jill

I think the most important thing is to use a system that works for you … we tend to mentally organise things differently. Try the family search wiki, family tree magazine, or just google “organise genealogy” eg – Pauleen

Top tip I gleaned from a historical fiction writer re digital filing: We are not restricted these days to short filenames. Name your files in a way that makes sense to YOU, as long as you like, so that you can use your computer’s search function to find them – Brooke

Knowing everything’s in order with logs helps me relax and enjoy the amazing #genealogy narratives which emerge from the research, I think! – Sophie