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How can I search my family tree online?

Couple looking at computer and book

Genealogy is an absorbing pastime, and the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ programme has inspired many people to start tracing their family’s roots. The online world is a great tool to help you find out more about your background. This short guide should give you a few pointers on where to start.

WebWise Team | 10th October 2012

One of the first things to say about tracing your family roots online is that the process will often get started of its own accord when you log on to a social networking site for the first time.

That’s if you have a reasonably uncommon name. I was on Facebook for about six months and a whole troop of Clappertons started to get in touch asking whether we were related. People called Smith will of course find this happens to them a lot less – that’s not supposed to sound snobbish, it’s just that there are a lot of you out there.

Spread the word

If you want to be a bit more proactive, then the BBC's Family History website is a good place to begin. Alongside information about the programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, there’s a good common sense guide to starting your research, including advice like writing down things you already know and talking to all your relatives.

Let people on social networking sites know you’re looking into your family history. Some of your acquaintances might know someone with the same name who’s doing the same thing.

Then have a look at some of the other genealogy websites. One of the first social networking sites in the UK, Friends Reunited, spawned a genealogy cousin called Genes Reunited. Many people contact people with the same surname here, comparing families and eliminating people who are clearly not related. The Society of Genealogists also welcomes enquiries.

Archives and census info

You may have seen people on television checking the national archives and, in particular, the census details. This is something you can do online - the Office for National Statistics holds current information. But check Freecen, the project that is making archive census information available without charge.

The real interest in genealogy for many people is the social history and how people lived, rather than a static list of names telling you when people were born, married and died.

As unusual names come up in your ancestry, don’t forget the real basics like Googling them – you never know when you might come up with someone who’s done something extraordinary!

Genealogy is an interest that absorbs millions. Have a great time finding out where you come from.

The WebWise 'W'

WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.