How do I get started?

Are you ready to give genealogy a try? The skills of family history research have changed a great deal over recent decades, and the internet has opened up genealogy as a hobby to more people than ever before. Millions of documents are now available online, and can be accessed either for free, or through subscriptions to genealogy websites.

Genealogy Websites

Most of today’s sophisticated genealogy websites combine the dual functions of acting as a organised depository for your research, and providing access to documents. These sites include Ancestry, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch. Websites are also particularly useful if you want to enlist help from a genealogist, or you want to collaborate with other family members and share your research with them.

You’ll notice my website Twiggli is not on this list. That’s because Twiggli is not designed for carrying out ongoing research. It is just a presentation tool.

Ancestry is probably the most popular website choice in the UK. Although the website will steer you towards creating a subscription account, it is possible to set up a free Ancestry account where you can build your tree using the documents you already have.

World Family Trees

Another option is to add your research to a world family tree. There are a handful of contenders at the moment, and which you use is largely a matter of preference. I have written a post about world family trees here.

Genealogy Software

You can carry also out your research using genealogy software like FamilyHistorian, Heredis, FamilyTreeMaker, RootsMagic or LegacyFamilyTree. Software is ideal if you are happy to work alone, have limited internet access, or if you prefer not to store your family history in the cloud.

Family History Classes and Societies

Another option is to attend a local family history class, society, or club. You can obtain details from your nearest Local Studies Library or your local Family History Society. Many of these have drop in sessions where you can make a start on your family tree. I run a drop-in myself in Wootton Bassett. Many libraries also provide free access to Ancestry Library Edition or FindMyPast.

The advantages to using a Professional Genealogist

If you think learning to use new software or a genealogy website is too daunting, you could employ a professional genealogist who will be able to research your family tree for you. This route has many advantages:

  • Speed – professional genealogists are familiar with a wide range of techniques and can make progress much more quickly than a novice.
  • Resources – professional genealogists will have normally have a range of subscriptions to genealogy sites, giving them access to a huge variety of resources. They are also expert gatekeepers to the undigitised materials held by archives.
  • Expertise – professional genealogists have significant knowledge of the records kept by the church, the state, and other organisations. They may also have specialist training in particular genealogical skills, such as palaeography, poor law records, one place studies, one name studies, military history, house history, ecclesiastical records, educational records, and many more.
  • Experience – professional genealogists will not fall into the many traps which lurk in wait for the unwary novice – they are unlikely to make mistakes.
  • Contacts – professional genealogists frequently network with each other and can seek help from other specialists if required.
  • Professionalism – professional genealogists work to high standards, ensuring that their findings are subjected to genealogical proofs, and presenting their research in properly sourced reports.

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