How to Start Researching Your Family History Online - dummies

How to Start Researching Your Family History Online

Researching your family history online can seem like a challenge: There are lots of electronic and archival resources to explore, and it’s easy to get lost in the maze of wills and census records, not to mention birth, marriage and death certificates. The key to success is to spend time planning your research and to approach your investigations in an organised way.

Planning your ancestry Internet research

Planning your research will save you valuable time and energy, and will provide you with a sense of direction. Think about what kind of information you want to find out about your family (such as how far you want to go back, how detailed you want the information to be), and how much time you’ll be able to spend on the project.

Consider what you already know about the individual or group of people you’re researching, and ask relatives to fill in as many gaps as possible. This could help you to distinguish your ancestor from other individuals.

To get a sense of the online resources available, conduct a search for a relative using one of the larger genealogy websites, such as British Origins and The results you obtain will give you an idea of the range of resources available. Next, prioritise the resources you want to use. A useful starting point is to use a website such as, which provides access to civil registration documents.

Starting to investigate your family history

With this done, you can move on to interviewing family members, who may know important details about recent generations of your family. You can normally get more of interviews when conducting them personally rather than sending questionnaires through the post. Information passed on can be highly personal and closely guarded, so you’ve a better chance in discovering what you want to know if you meet your relatives in person.

After this, you can progress to hunting for documentation which supports and broadens your family history. Some of the important civil registration sources out there are birth, marriage and death certificates. Beyond these, you can search for parish records (records of baptisms, marriages, and burials) which are usually less detailed than civil registration certificates. There are hundreds of other online resources which deal with varied aspects of a person’s life – wills; trade directories; military, criminal, immigration and apprenticeship records; newspaper articles.

In addition to online material, there are lots of other resources to use. Delve into libraries and archives to collect background information about your ancestors’ lives. At a local level, you might be able to find detailed histories of a particular area. Local history groups, newspapers and maps can also be very valuable sources of information.