How to Create Your Own Family Tree

How to Create Your Own Family Tree

I’m a medieval historian by trade, holding a PhD and specialising in gender and the crusades. I am accustomed to following family trees to find answers to questions. A while ago, I turned my hand to research of a different kind, my own history.

How To Create Your Own Family Tree

Researching my own family tree has been the ultimate labour of love. I first began to create my family tree about 10 years ago. I needed a project to sink my teeth into and I’ve always wanted to know more about my own family history. I’m so glad I started this when I did because my Grandmother passed away 6 years ago and thankfully before she died, I had the opportunity to ask her lots of questions about her Grandparents. If you’re interested in your own family history, waste no time, begin now. You never know what is just around the corner!

Starting this epic journey can be an overwhelming task. You might have already begun the process without even realising it in collecting information from family members. But wherever you are in this process, I have offered some guidance below on how to create your own family tree.

Talk to Family Members

This seems like an obvious point, but this is where my quest began. I took a notepad to my Grandparents house and over a coffee, I began to ask questions.

I found it really useful to have a list of questions I wanted to learn the answers to. Here is a suggested list to ask each person you interview:

What was your name at birth

When and where were you born

Where did you grow up – do you remember any addresses

When and where were you married

What are the names of your parents

Where and when were your parents married

What did your parents do for a living?

When and where did your parents die

Where are they buried

How many brothers and sisters do you have and what are their names and details of their birth

Do you remember anything about your grandaprents – when and where were they born? What were their occupations? Where did they live? Where and when did they die and where are they buried?

I asked all members of my family the same above questions. Sometimes I would receive duplicate information. However, it is remarkable how many times I received a different answer to the same question. Eg I asked my Grandfather where his grandparents were buried and he gave a totally different location than his sister did! My aunts and Uncles also had different memories of their grandparents which enabled me to build a really good picture of their lives.

Ultimately, your questions need to be focused on when and where for everything! Some people ask only for dates and forget to ask where. Locations are essential. If you get stuck at any point in your family tree, it’s always beneficial to have somewhere to start. Eg if your grandparents were born in a certain town, it’s likely their parents were married in that same place. It’s a good place to check first!

Dates were sometimes a few years off or even totally forgotten, for instance, my grandfather recalled his grandfather but had no idea when he died. This gave me something to work on as I knew he at least lived after the birth of my Grandfather so I could narrow down my search.

I took the information away and started to build the family tree.

Building Your Tree

The imagery of a tree is rather apt. Imagine yourself as the tree trunk. The bigger branches would be your parents, the further up the tree you go, the more branches there are. All of these branches are your ancestors.

Building your visual tree is really easy. You don’t need any fancy computer software programmes to physically create your own family tree. Get some sheets of paper or a notebook and write down the information. It is really useful to create the same headings for each individual. These are my original headings:

Name

Date of Birth

Place of Birth

Occupation

Marriage Details

Children (their names and dates of birth)

Death

Burial

Name of Parents

Records (Note down any records from where you have found your information, eg censuses or birth/marriage/death certificates).

Additional Information (eg any interesting stories or what that person did in the war etc.)

Make sure you keep all your papers together and in chronological order if possible.

If you prefer to keep all your information electronically, you could always use a computer programme. My Heritage was a resource I used to store my information. As I am a subscriber to Ancestry  I saved the information to the site as I collected it. Ancestry has a fabulous family tree builder which enables you to add all sorts of details pertaining to your ancestors.

Look out for my upcoming post on how to use Ancestry. 

Or alternatively, add all the information onto a spreadsheet.

Research

In order to create your own family tree, you’re going to have to do some additional research. The amount depends upon the amount of information you want to discover. I wanted to find out as much information as possible. Such as where and when each person was born, where they lived, their occupation, marriage and death details and also where they are buried. I wanted to go back as far in time as was possible, this took a huge amount of research.

If like me, you want to really delve into the past, you need to decide which part of your family tree you wish to explore first. When you begin to create your own family tree, I would advise choosing one ancestor, to begin with. Eg your Great-Grandfather. It is much easier to follow the male line (simply because women tend to marry and take their husband’s surname which leads to all sorts of complications). For instance, I followed my grandmother’s paternal line (so her father and his father and his father etc) until I reached difficulties. I then chose to look at my grandfather’s paternal line. As my skills in this field improved, I then had the confidence to follow the maternal lines of my grandparents (as noted above, this is much more difficult).

Where to Begin Your Additional Research

There are a few options here. I began my research in my local history library. The staff were extremely helpful. The library holds a wealth of documents that are not available online. Such as local detailed census records.

My local history library also holds local parish records. And so I could find out details unavailable elsewhere, such as baptism records.

The library also had access to ancestry.com (which quickly became the most invaluable tool).

You can conduct some or perhaps even all of your research from home. This is especially important if your family came from a different part of the county or indeed the world from yourself.

There are some excellent resources now available online. The field of genealogy has massively developed its online presence over the course of the decade I have been working on my tree.

Ancestry

One of the undeniably best resources is Ancestry. This online tool allows you to search through millions of records, such as birth, marriage and death records. A subscription is of course required, however, the charges are reasonable and if you’re spending a huge amount of time creating your tree, it’s well worth the money.  Subscriptions start at £10.99 per month. As noted above, your local history library ought to have its own subscription to this service and so you can use it there for free!

Family Search

I used family search alongside Ancestry to create the bulk of my family tree. This free online resource contains a wealth of information. It doesn’t always provide you with a copy of the records (as Ancestry quite often does) but it contained information I was unable to find elsewhere.

When you come to create your own family tree, you will find the above resources invaluable.

Patience, Endurance and Time

It is no easy task to create your own family tree! Indeed the project is never quite finished. In delving back just a few generations, you can add hundreds to your tree! My tree is the work of a decade. I’ve obviously not spent every day on my tree. Life takes over but I pick up my research whenever I can.

The process is extremely time-consuming. It’s not something that should be started lightly. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you won’t get very far. The rewards of the investment of my time have paid off. I’ve reached as far back as 1560 in one of my lines.

Have you managed to create your own family tree and have some tips for those who are new to this? Leave your comments below.

Look out for future posts on creating your own family tree, such as a guide to Ancestry and how to use Parish Records 

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20 Comments

  1. Bluforever
    January 8, 2019 / 5:23 pm

    Fantastic post

  2. January 8, 2019 / 8:23 pm

    This is so fascinating to me! My grandmother and her sister tried to do theirs about 15 years ago now but they only got back to the 1800s and the trail went cold. Obviously online research has come a very long way since then and I imagine it would be a lot easier to try and go back further now. I’d love to know more about mine! x

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

    • January 9, 2019 / 9:08 pm

      Hi Sophie, I would really recommend checking out the ancestry and family search links in the post – as you say, genealogy has come a long way this past decade and so you’ll probably be surprised by how much you can now find xxx

  3. January 9, 2019 / 6:46 am

    I’m saving this to come back to later 🙂 what an awesome post and so thorough too! Recently I discovered that someone I worked with was my great cousin. She gave me some pictures the other day of my Nanna when she was a young girl. It was amazing. So this post is just what I need. Thank you so much. Rach x

    https://rachaelhope.co.uk/

    • January 9, 2019 / 9:06 pm

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experience! You are so lucky to have some family photos – they are so precious 🙂

  4. January 9, 2019 / 10:10 am

    Great help and advice here. It’s amazing how much you can find out from chatting to family asking things you’ve never thought to ask about.
    My Dad did our family tree and found out we really should have a different surname but my grandad too this step dad’s name instead of his biological dad and so we have that name today still instead.
    Fascinating!
    Helen | http://www.helensjourney.com

    • January 9, 2019 / 8:49 pm

      That’s so interesting Helen! It’s surprising how often that happens! We had something similar in our tree (I had to ask my Grandmother some questions she clearly felt a little uncomfortable with) – thank goodness times have changed 🙂 xxx

      • January 23, 2019 / 11:12 am

        I totally relate Ashley lol. Only through doing the family tree did my Dad actually find out my Nans actual age was 10 years older than my Grandad’s. She said it was a big scandal in their day that is why she always kept her age to herself (she always answered us that she was 21 even at 80! lol)

        As you say thank goodness times have changed so they can feel open to talk about things without the same judgement that had to face in the past <3

        • January 23, 2019 / 9:19 pm

          Oh that’s amazing Helen! Lol! What amazing things we can find if we look into our past! xxx

  5. January 10, 2019 / 6:38 pm

    I love this post! My aunt is a writer and does a lot of genealogy – it’s so interesting to see where your family come from.

    • January 11, 2019 / 11:33 pm

      It’s such an interesting hobby to have xxx

  6. January 12, 2019 / 12:01 am

    I’ve found this so interesting I’ve always wanted to create a family tree but never known where to start and this is such a helpful guide and will definitely look I to create one!

    Sara | http://www.copperandsun.co.uk

    • January 13, 2019 / 10:44 pm

      Thank you Sara – so glad I was able to help xxx

  7. January 12, 2019 / 2:06 am

    Wonderful post and very informative! Would love to put together a family tree! Such an interesting project!

    • January 13, 2019 / 10:43 pm

      It was so interesting! I found out loads of interesting things xxx

  8. January 12, 2019 / 6:19 am

    It is always interesting to see where people’s families came from generations ago. It is cool that you made your own! These are great questions to ask to form a family tree. I don’t really have one and always had a hard time asking my parents for some reason. I love that there are so many resources out there to help. Thanks for sharing this useful information!!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

    • January 13, 2019 / 10:42 pm

      Thank you Nancy, it’s been such an enjoyable journey xxx

  9. January 12, 2019 / 7:21 pm

    Making a Family Tree is such a nice gift for relatives at Christmas. It is a lot of work that might have to be started at the beginning of the year for next Christmas. Some families require a load of research.

    • January 13, 2019 / 10:41 pm

      You’re right Deborah, this would actually make a beautiful Christmas gift xxx

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