Top Tips for Family Trees

Leeds Libraries have recently made Ancestry available to all Leeds library card holders, free of charge and accessible from home with a library card and pin number.* To complement this exciting development we will be publishing a series of blogs about starting your own family tree, both by using Ancestry and other genealogical websites. Starting this week, with Librarian Helen Skilbeck, with some top family-friendly tips for beginning your family tree…

*If you do not already have a Leeds Libraries card, please visit our catalogue and select register for online resources; we will then send you a temporary library card number with which you will be able to access such exciting online resources as eBooks, newspapers, and the Britannica reference library, as well as Ancestry.

Starting your family tree can be a daunting prospect but before you leap into action using Ancestry, here are some things you can do with your family to get your research off to a good start.

  1.  Dig out as many documents as possible especially birth, marriage and death certificates. Each paper certificate will cost upwards of £11 so see what you can already locate in your family and save your money.  A family bible will be invaluable but any written documents might hold some clues.
  2. Find your old old family photos. These might jog a few memories and may have dates, names or places written on the back.
  3. Make a basic family tree. Find an old piece of wallpaper or a couple of pieces of A3 paper as you will need space to expand. Start with yourself and include brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents and so on – as far back as you can remember. Ancestry have some templates that you may like to use or ask children in the family to design one.

    Family tree example
    Example of a home-created family tree. Start at the top and work your way down.
  4. Show your tree to relatives. Can they fill in any gaps? Even half remembered facts might be useful at some point. Check for family nicknames or middle names used as first names as these will affect your search results.
  5. While you’re at it, ask them if you can make copies of any certificates and other documents they may have. Old letters and diaries might hold a lot of useful information and help fill in the background to your ancestors lives.
  6. Borrow or buy a book on family history. You’ll always have something to refer to when you get stuck. Obviously getting into a library is impossible at the moment but Leeds Libraries have ebooks that can be downloaded for free.

    Example of a blank family tree
    Example of a blank family tree
  7. Get online. There are lots of useful websites out there, so make sure your computer skills are up to the challenge! For local information try Yorkshirebmd and for international searches try familysearch.org (free but requires a login) as well as Ancestry.
  8. Write down your surname. Beneath it, write as many spelling variations as you can. Spell it phonetically. Think of how it would sound in a strong regional accent or Irish or Scottish lilt. You’ll need to try all of these different spellings on websites.
  9. Pick which branch of the family you’re going to start with – father or mother – and stick with it or you’ll quickly get confused! You’ll be surprised at how many of the same names may appear on each side, sometimes even the same surnames. Eventually you will hit a brick wall with your research so that is the time to develop the other side.
  10. Be specific when asking people for help. Local history libraries, archives and family history societies are all willing to help but keep your tree handy and your questions to the point, or they’ll lose the plot!
  11. Bonus tip! We are often asked the best way to record a family tree but the answer is – there is no wrong or right way! Some people prefer to start with themselves and work outwards and upwards on paper, others prefer to document their trees online using specialist software. A quick google search will show you the various forms a family tree can take so choose one that you feel comfortable with. The most important tip is to record the information in a way that is easy to understand and works well if you need to find details in a hurry.

Good luck with your research and may your family be easy to find!

Ancestry can be accessed on our library catalogue home page or follow the link here.  For any difficulties in accessing Ancestry please contact the Local and Family History Library: localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk or 0113 378 6982 and leave a voicemail.

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