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
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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.

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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?

Researching English ancestors

Another great chat about researching English ancestors at #ANZAncestryTime

  1. What record sets have you found helpful for researching English ancestors?
  2. Have you visited any English record offices or repositories or used their online catalogues? Was this helpful?
  3. What websites, societies, books or course have you found useful for researching English ancestors?
  4. Has your research revealed why your ancestors or relatives left England?
fotobias / Pixabay

There were many record sets and websites mentioned:

GENUKI, FreeBMD. FreeCen, OPC (online parish clerks), The Genealogist, Family Search, National Archives,

Carmel mentioned the AJCP which gives links to record offices etc throughout England.

AncestryChat: Another awesome resource is: familysearch.org/mapp/ I often use this to find which parishes existed in a civil registration district.

Helen: I love that Cornwall OPC! It’s the best! It’s great to be able to douse the noise of the bigger search engines and easier to see patterns

Michelle: All the FreeBMD etc already mentioned. I use the GRO index a lot to find children born and died between censuses or to find maiden names. FS have a lot of Northumberland Parish Registers – some indexed, others you need to browse.

The Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is excellent, with a good online catalogue. But also, lots of local family history societies have research centres too, worth checking out.

Absolutely! #OnePlaceStudy websites haven’t helped me with my own ancestors, but from feedback I’ve received I know my own OPS site has helped others with theirs!

SOPs: FreeBMD; local BMD sites for Shropshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire; GRO birth/death indexes; Lancashire OPC site; GENUKI; Find A Grave / Billion Graves; Google + Google Books/Images; Internet Archive; Hathi Trust; plus the big genie/newspaper/map websites.

Sharn: My Phillimore’s Atlas and Index of Parishes is an all time go to book. I always have it handy

ANZ: It’s been a research bible for years hasn’t it? Do you find yourself defaulting to a book rather than search online?

SOPs: For English ancestors and people in my #OneNameStudy and #OnePlaceStudy, primarily BMD indexes/records, parish registers, censuses, wills, military records, newspapers, county archive catalogues, MI records.

Jane: I use the Lancashire Online Parish Clerks quite a lot … lan-opc.org.uk

Maggie: I’ve done the Higher Cert through @TheIHGS which gave me a wonderful grounding for researching my English ancestors, plus some @PharosTutors courses. Useful books: Herber’s Ancestral Trails, plus all the Gibson guides.

Sandra: I did a pharos’ course once a very long time ago – but not sure how useful it was at the time, maybe might be better to do one now that I have more experience. I don’t have that many books on English research – google does it for me if I don’t know something

Pauline: Books: The National Archives (Colwell), Hertfordshire Muster Rolls, Hertfordshire Icknield Way, Tracing your family history in Herts (HALS), Hertfordshire Brewers, Tracing your northern Ancestors, Behind the Plough (Agar). journals and local history books

Hilary: Check out the local societies use GENUKI or Family Search Wiki many have websites or Facebook groups local knowledge is worth its weight

Tara: Any local FHS I’ve contacted has been helpful. I’ve an old copy of Ancestral Trails, which I found useful in the beginning (many sources mentioned are now online). But I’ve also got texts on Equity Courts and Title Deeds – more specialist/rarely used, even now

Sharn: Using Essex Archives online I took a branch of family back to the early 1500’s a few years ago! They were ahead of their time

Fran: Cousin and I found loads of interesting rental archives, real estate and rent records there. The turn around to get documents was fast too.

Sandra: I think they are the only ones that have the full parish registers on line (not just an index)

Shauna: always look for the family history society website for your county or research – they can be so helpful and often resources are online too

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Visiting offices etc

SOPs: I have visited TNA plus county archives for Northamptonshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire, all of which were very helpful. Online catalogues with good descriptions have also helped enormously, Shropshire Archives’ in particular for me.

Fran: Walking in the footsteps of your ancestors is so important!!!

Pauleen: We all need time, more time…and more money for travel and accommodation!

Chronomarchie / Pixabay

Reasons for leaving??

Helen: I wondered about the climate thing when I was in Cornwall June 2017. Stood in front of my ancestors’ house on Marine Terrace, the Prom, Penzance – why would they ever leave somewhere so beautiful, overlooking Mount’s Bay. Winter was the answer!

Jenny: my Rich branch came from Bristol in 1858 chasing gold, Cordeaux from Yorkshire was in Commissariat in 1817, his future wife came from London with her brother in 1815 who was the 1st non convict govt appointed solicitor

SOPs: In the main it seems people in my family tree, one-name study or #OnePlaceStudy who left England did so for better employment/farming opportunities, or sometimes to make a fresh start after bankruptcy proceedings.

Margaret: My guess it was to have a better life – and they certainly did. Left Kent in 1839 and ended up owning a large house and lots of land in the Hutt. Difficult times at first as the first settlers, but they succeeded

Sharn: My two times great grandmother left England after her husband died. I don’t know what brought her here with her 10 year old son in 1860

Tara: One of my more colourful ancestors entered ministry, then joined up (WW1) and then was sent to minister in Kentucky, where he discovered jazz 🙂

Sharn: I had English ancestors who migrated to NZ as Albertlanders in 1862. Albertland was a non-conformist settlement

Jane: One or two transportees and others presumably looking for a better life. One family went to Australia because they already had relatives there and ended up looking for gold in Bendigo

Pauleen: It seems my Kent family may have left due to bankruptcy with their pub ownership plus opportunities for the family.

Jennifer: This is the big question I’d like answered. My 2 x great grandfather supposedly jumped ship in SA. He left a wife in England and married here so there’s questions around that.

Shauna: no nothing specific but I can see those from Cornwall would be looking for employment, better climate while those from the Black Country of the English midlands would want to get away from the smoke and grime

Sharn: I have been researching English ancestors who established patterns of county hopping to marry. I’ve found patterns of generations of this so now know to look over the border for missing persons

Blog posts:

Pauleen about her first migrants, Enclosure recordtithe records and maps

Readers: What English records have you found useful when researching English ancestors?