Starting Your Family History


Although we often have heard family stories about links to famous people it is always important to start your family history with yourself and work back in time. Take a note of the family stories as you may be able to prove them with your research.

Gather together what documents you have around the home. These could be birth, marriage and death certificates, newspaper clippings, birthday books, address books, family letters, diaries and bibles. Don't forget the photos. Once you have everything together in one place you are ready to start working through the information that you have. 

There are two main forms that genealogists use to record their family history. The Ancestry Chart and the Family Group Sheet.

The Ancestry Chart records your direct ancestors, parents, grandparents and so on.

Ancestry Chart Example

The Family Group Sheet records the siblings of each of these couples and can also be created for the descendants as well. Each couple on the Ancestry Chart should have a Family Group Sheet to record further details and their children.

Family Groups Sheet Example

You can download a copy of these forms from here:

Ancestry Chart

Family Group Sheet

The Family Group Sheet is a fillable PDF's, so you can either type in it on your computer, save and print or print a copy and hand write on it. 

There are some basic rules for filling in your forms. 

  • If you are handwriting on the forms then using a pen is great for the information you are sure about and using a pencil when you are not so sure. If you are typing on the forms then using a question mark to indicate that you are not sure of something is a good idea.
  • It helps to use capital letters for surnames as this stops any confusion when a surname could also be a christian name eg Thomas.
  • While we are talking about surnames, women on either of these forms should always use their maiden name.
  • When you enter a date it's a good idea to write the month in letters. This stops any confusion with the American date pattern of month/day/year. It also helps if you write June in full to prevent confusion with Jan.
  • Places also benefit from having a longer description which includes at the least the country, but even better the region or county. If I had just put Oxford down, where would you think I meant?
  • On the Ancestry Chart, number 1 should be yourself (or whoever you are creating the family tree for), after that traditionally even numbers should be males and odd numbers females.

After recording what you know, your next step is to talk to your family and find out what they know and what information they may have in the form of documents, photographs and family stories.

I've sent these forms out to family members before and asked them to complete them and send them back in the stamped self addressed envelope that I sent them (remember the bigger the envelope, the less creases in what gets returned). I've had a great response and now is the perfect time for you to have a go.

If you want to learn more about how to trace your family history then check out our Workshops and Presentations or Contact Us for a mentoring session.