BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

18 September 2014
Accessibility help
Family History Trailbbc.co.uk/history

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Before You Start Your Family Tree

By Dr Nick Barratt
Getting going

Child, early 19th century
Start your family tree with the youngest members 
You just need pen and paper. Sketch out a rough plan of what you know about your family, following the pattern of the Hall family tree at the beginning of this article.

Place your immediate family at the start of your family tree, and work from there, with what you already know before doing any research at all. Start with yourself, your children or your grandchildren - it is usual to start with the youngest members. Then work through your siblings and their children, and then your parents. Thereafter, you will be working backwards through time.

'If you have a particularly complex family tree, you may want to make copies of various sections for ease of reference when you are researching.'

You will soon want to move on to more in-depth researches. When you are ready, go to the companion article to this one - 'Getting Started on Your Family Tree' (see right, for link).

It is best to work with two copies of your family tree as you go along. One should be a working copy that you can amend as you pursue lines of enquiry, and the other the master copy, on which you can record known or verified facts.

On your working copy, make a note in pencil of evidence gathered from talking to other family members, such as presumed birth, death and marriage dates of possible relations. These can then be researched and added to the master copy on confirmation.

Where possible, try to keep separate research notes for each family member. If you can develop some form of reference system that links your notes to people on the family tree - perhaps using a card index system if you are not working on a computer - it will help you keep a clear idea of where you are going.

Make sure that you keep abbreviations in notes and on the family tree as consistent as possible. Try to compile your own glossary of abbreviations as you go, adding new ones to the list as your family tree becomes more complex.

If you amend the master copy, remember to make a note of the date on the working copy - so that you know when you last transferred data from one to the other.

You may find your working copy gets quite confusing. When this happens, start again with a fresh version and date it. Keep the old one for reference, because accidents can happen, and notes do get lost.

If you have a particularly complex family tree, you may want to make copies of various sections for ease of reference when you are researching.

Remember, 'Getting Started on Your Family Tree' will help you with your next steps. Good luck!

About the author

Nick Barratt
Dr Nick Barratt worked at the Public Record Office (now The National Archives, or TNA) from 1996 to 2000, with the family history team. He has given many talks on family history, and has written frequently for the TNA's genealogy journal, Ancestors. He has worked for the BBC as a specialist researcher on programmes such as 'One Foot in the Past' and 'The People Detective'. His first book is Tracing the History of Your House (TNA Publications, 2003).

About the author

Dr Nick Barratt worked at the Public Record Office (now The National Archives, or TNA) from 1996 to 2000, with the family history team. He has given many talks on family history, and has written frequently for the TNA's genealogy journal, Ancestors. He has worked for the BBC as a specialist researcher on programmes such as 'One Foot in the Past','The People Detective' and 'Who Do You Think you Are?'.

Top

Published: 2004-09-13



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy