Researching your family tree for free – getting started

Many people assume that you must buy a subscription to one of the genealogy websites in order to start researching your family. You don’t have to spend much to get started. All you need is a pencil, paper and an eraser which you may have already.

Sketch out your family history at the bottom of the sheet; add your parents and your partners (if applicable). Add your siblings with lines joining them all together, to each of your parents. You can add your two sets of grandparents and join them all together as per the diagram below.

The next step is to talk to your parents and grandparents and record their history. You will be shown old photographs and documents so try to copy these. Some will talk freely and some will be reluctant to talk – you just have to be a good listener while giving gentle prompts. You may be told things that they don’t want other family members to hear about so be aware that some memories may not always be happy ones.

You may not know your grandparents or you may want to go further back in time. You can use FreeBMD to find any birth, marriage or death from around 1975 back to the September quarter 1837. You will see a reference against these records from which you can order certificates from the gov.uk website; these are around £11 but you only need these to prove a difficult connection. FreeBMD have another facility for limited parish records and census returns.

The other free website is FamilySearch and you have to register your details. These same BMD records are available, in additional to census and parish records. Be aware that some of the submitted family trees lack rigorous construction. You can submit your own family tree on this site but deceased ancestors are available for everyone to see.

Another misconception you may come across is that you must have a program to record your family names, especially if your tree starts to grow. You can use a simple spreadsheet available on most computer Microsoft Office packages. You can even do a family tree diagram in Excel with a bit of practice. Alternatively, you can simply draw your names out on an A3 sheet which will cost almost nothing. The most important thing is to interview all your relatives and record as much of their memories as possible before they disappear forever.