Guidance on where to start when searching your family tree.
Decide what it is you are looking for
The initial decision is important because it is easy to get side tracked. Once you have achieved your initial requirement you may like to expand your search. There are multiple reasons why people are looking into there family history and what they are hoping to achieve. Here are some of them:
- Probably the most common is a "name". You have a family name which you think is unique and you want to research it more. You will find that this is pretty common. In my tree alone I have several unique names, and no I'm not talking about the Polish ones I wouldn't have a clue if they are unique, not yet anyway. Following a unique name can lead to some very interesting discoveries particularly the different permutations.
- "I was told by my grandmother that her father was a bastard with a twin brother" Scenarios like this are quite common. People have been given information from older relatives and they want to see whether if it is true. Based upon my experience, so far, they are probably 85% accurate. There usually is a further twist, black sheep stories always have twists.
- "I was given a whole pile of birth certificates and photos from a relative and I thought I would just have fun chasing down the lines." This was mine. I have no real interested in any particular name or any particular story. I find each generation gives me a story and every line's story is unique. My initial plan, being 7th generation Australian, was to go back to all entries into Australia. This has been a hard slog in itself and I have still got problems with a couple of these lines. To get to some entries I had to go overseas and come down. All a bit complicated.
Where do you go?
Good question. If you are doing research in Australia the Links web page will help but here is a list of where you could go.
- Find a starting point (yourself is the best) and work out parents, date of birth, date of marriage, date of death (if applicable) then go back a step further. My relative who started me off gave me a piece of paper with all the tree information she had been able to collect so far. You need to document the information as you collect it or you will forget where you are up to and where you should be looking next. Dates get very complicated as well. A piece of advice I gave someone a couple of days ago may help, while the dates on all certificates are accurate the validity of other information is based upon who registered it and what they new, so ages can be all over the place and if the person who registers it can't read or write (very common in the case of the Irish) it depends upon the understanding/spelling of the registerer:
- Birth Certificates is the closest to the truth about someone. It is what there parents new and believed.
- Marriage Certificates are the next best thing as they are what the person new and believed.
- Death Certificates are good but out of the three the least reliable. This is because the person who registers the death only knows what they have been told. So it is what the relative (usually) knows and believes.
- In all the information I have collected so far the only money I have spent is on the occasional certificate. The rest is easily accessible online. I bought the certificates to get that extra information to go back one step further (ie father and mothers names on marriage certificates to find birth certificates). I've made a couple of mistake purchases as I was getting desperate but in most cases, based upon elimination, I got it right.
- Join Genes Reunited, it is free and it helps when you are working out the basics. They also have a few data areas you can search ie British Census, you have to pay (which I didn't) to get the full record, but for preliminary searches it can be very useful.
- The local libraries in Australia have a version of ancestor.com which you can do census searches, electoral searches etc. You can also view the full record. I found ancestor.com useful but vague. Sadly you really have to have quite a bit of information before you start as you could be there for hours trolling through gumf.