Lesson 1 – How to get started




I have taught genealogy at all levels for many years and get great pleasure in helping people with this fascinating hobby so it seemed natural to write up and place on the Madaboutgenealogy website my lessons. So here’s how to start tracing your family history.

Organising your information from the very beginning.

It will pay dividends in the future if you establish some order in your notes and filing. I am sure that after a while you will come to see the advantage of using a computer programme such as Family Tree Maker or PAF to collate your finding, but you will still need old fashioned ring binders and box files.

I suggest to start with you buy a couple of cardboard box files and ring binders and a box of plastic copysafe pockets. These are all easily found at your local stationery shop. We won’t worry about archival standard materials at the moment, but if you have or are given precious old documents you may want to investigate ways to preserve them for the generations to come.

You know more than you think & you (probably) have more information than you realise.

The next task is akin to a treasure hunt. You probably don’t realise how much family information you have already in your own home. Go round and collect together all the documents, papers, old photos etc that you have lying around the house. Once you have done that I suggest that you go to the BBC History website site and print off several Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets, about 4 Pedigree Charts and 8 Family Groups Sheets are good to start with.


Click on this picture to go to the website.








Organise the papers you have found into date order and then beginning with the most recent start to fill in a Pedigree Chart. Use pen for information that you are getting from official documents, known as primary sources, such as births certificates and pencil for details found in unofficial papers, called secondary sources, such as letters or diaries. The pencilled in information can be replaced with inked entries when the information is discovered in a primary source.



Filling in your charts.

Using the BBC Pedigree Chart first fill in your own details where indicated as “Family Member”. Then moving onto the second column write in your fathers name and details in the first area and your mothers name and details below. The next column you put your grandparents details. Your father’s father first, then your fathers mother below him. Next you put in your mothers father and below him your mothers mother. In the last column of the chart you enter the details of your great grandparents continuing the order set previously.

You will notice that there is a place in each area for you to put an ancestor number, start with your self as 1, your father as 2, your mother as 3 and so on. The convention is that apart from person number 1 all males (father, grandfather, great grandfather etc) are even numbers (2,4,6 etc) and all females (mother, grand mother, great grand mother etc) are odd numbers (3,5,7 etc).

Another rule of genealogy is that on all charts and forms women even if they are married are written down and referred to by their maiden names. This makes it easy to keep track of whose daughter they are and link in the records from before their marriage. I have seen some charts where they put the married name in brackets, but this can become rather messy when a woman has had several husband. These genealogy conventions have evolved over the years because they are the simple and most straight forward way of doing things.

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You may be lucky enough to have information to hand of ancestors earlier than your great grandparents, if so simply fill out another Pedigree Chart starting with the great grandparent as the first person on the chart and enter the details of their parents as before. Number this person with the same number they were allocated on the first chart. I would also recommend that you number each chart in the top right hand corner so that it is easy to move from one chart to another and also if you have continued onto another chart to write in brackets the number of the continuation chart next to that great grandparents name.

This might sound complicated, but when you start filling in your charts all will become clear.

Again using the information from your home sources fill in a Family Group Sheet for each husband & wife on your Pedigree Chart and add any names & information about their children and their parents.

You will now have several Pedigree Charts & Family Group Sheets, place each of them in their own plastic copysafe envelope and file them one of your ring binders.

You may feel you don’t know very much at all and that there are far too many blanks in your chart, but don’t be disheartened most people start off knowing very little.

Grill your Granny and other family members!

Armed with this information visit, phone or email all your relations telling them of your interest in the family history and asking them if they have any certificates, photos, information that they would be willing to let you look at and perhaps copy or photograph. It is always a good idea if you offer to send them a copy of your fledgling pedigree chart so that they can see what you already have discovered. If you have made any mistakes you can be sure someone is going to delight in telling you that you have got it wrong!

You may find that some people aren’t too happy that you are wanting to “dig up the past”, often there is a fear that you might find out that a person was born before marriage, had a criminal conviction or some other part of their or their families past that they would prefer to keep away from the public gaze. Depending on the person concerned you might find that a visit and a friendly chat assuring them that you are willing to keep certain matters private might be enough to smooth the way to them disclosing exactly what the problem is. However sometimes you just have to accept that that person is not going to help you in any way and it is probably best not to raise the question of your research with them again. I am sure that there will be plenty of family members who will share your enthusiasm and will help all they can.

Now you will start to need to know about the various types of documents that you will need to examine so that you can move from the known on your family tree to the unknown. Firstly you will need to learn about Civil Registration; birth, marriage and death certificates.




Thanks to J’s Magic Galleries for the use of their graphics …………….