Creating a family tree is just one process of genealogy. The others involve preparation, ancestry research and conformation of data. Many people go straight into creating the family tree or the research before carrying out the necessary preparation for genealogy research and then wonder why they are stuck.

One problem with the internet is that it can be a hindrance rather than a help unless you know how to use it to your advantage. The internet gives you exactly the information you ask it for – no less and no more.  The more specific you are in your request, the more specific the information, and the broader you are the more information you will receive.  Therefore, unless you are very specific in a request for ancestry information you are liable to receive more than you bargained for.

Search for a surname and you may be given hundreds of thousands of results. Add a forename and that might be reduced to thousands. Add a date of birth or an address and you will receive more specific information.  Most people can find information about themselves or their parents easily, but unless they know more details of their grandparents, then they will have a lot to trawl through. As for generations farther back – forget it!

So don’t go online right away or you will become depressed. Find out more about your direct ancestors from your elderly relatives that are still alive. Ask them to identify faces in photographs, and get as much information about them as you can. Old wedding albums, photo albums, black and white and sepia photographs stored in shoe boxes – all of these are extremely useful if you can find an old relative that remembers them. Old family bibles, keepsakes and so on – use everything you can think of and quiz your relatives until they can offer no more.

Then draw up a plan – check on the online services available to help you, such as Ancestry, Genes Reunited, Genuki and others, and decide which to use and in what order. Invest £30 ($50) or so on some good genealogy software that will not only connect you to the right ancestry research websites but also give you databases to store your data and the framework for creating a family tree.

Then, using all the information you have obtained, choose which side of the family to research first – do only one side at a time. Male or female -you are best to begin with the side you have most information about. The female side is sometimes referred as the distaff side, and the male equivalent is the spear side.  Never try to research both sides at the same time or you will become hopelessly bogged down.

Initially, search down your direct ancestors – those responsible for your birth. Aunts and great uncles, second cousins and so on can come later, but none of them were involved in your birth, so leave them till later.  Go as far down as many generations as you can, and then start filling out the indirect ancestors, better known as collateral relatives.

Once you have gone as far as possible online, you could travel and check out church records, parish records and so on that might not have been transferred to the internet. These are particularly useful for 19th century information and earlier, when people did not travel about so much, and you can find whole generation after generation recorded in the same towns and villages.

DNA testing and genealogy: Your family tree

Genetic genealogy using DNA testing to establish relationships is also available to the public. By use of this technique, families with the same family name can establish whether or not they were related somewhere down their ancestral line. If so, they can combine their ancestral research and share family trees. Ancestry testing, maternal lineage testing and paternal lineage testing are tests offered by some DNA testing companies – these tests give a more general overview of your ancestral past without linking you to specific people.

However, the whole message being given here is not just to jump into the internet without a good understanding of what you are looking for. Carry out as much preliminary ancestry research with living relatives as you can, and then draw up a plan. That’s when you will be ready to go online and ask some very specific and searching questions of the correct choice of website and use the right genealogy and ancestry software to collate your information and create a family tree.


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