How to start your family tree

It’s a project that some of us had to do at school – build your family tree. Except that back then it consisted of thinking about siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. But what if you would like to go back further in history in order to cast the net wider?

Genealogy has become a popular topic in the past few years, and there are now websites dedicated to helping you both build your family tree and find long lost family members.

Ancestry is the biggest and most popular site, but others include My Heritage, Find my Past and Family Search.

Each website has slightly different pricing structures so below we have outlined the general approach, some of these elements there may be additional costs for.

Many ancestry search websites offer free trials so that you can check it’s the site for you. Once you have decided which website you would like to use, sign up and you will be able to get started immediately.

Start by entering what you know, such as names and dates of birth. On many sites, even guesses can help with finding clues and piecing together information. You will also have the ability to upload photographs that you have.

If you know the following information, then you can start by entering:

  • Names of family members you know
  • Dates of births
  • Location of birth
  • Previous addresses; cities, towns or countries they lived in
  • Marriage certificates
  • Children’s names

To help along the way, the sites also have records that you can search and use, for example the census and electoral rolls or birth, marriage and death certificate logs. The websites will also automatically start looking through these records and will usually give you a notification if it thinks it has found something. If distant relatives have begun building their family tree, then some sites will link your tree with theirs to give you an even bigger picture of your family.

You will be given the option of completing a DNA test. You simply order your kit and send back a small saliva sample. The company’s lab will then analyse the results against thousands of genetic markers before emailing you a link to your online results. We’ve been assured by Ancestry that they are still running these tests even in the current climate. An alternative company who offer DNA tests is 23andMe.

If you would like to read some more about the topic before you start for yourself, here are some more links for guidance:

Unfortunately, at the moment there are no full episodes available to watch on iPlayer but there are lots of short clips available to give you a flavour from BBC.

All around the world people have an opinion about us Brits – our accents, our culture, the rain, the current political disarray. Some of those opinions paint us in a better light than others, but they all make us who we are!