2. Ask questions
Family history begins at home. Your starting point for your family history is your family members, in particular the older members.
No research can replace hearing first-hand accounts from the people whose shared history you are trying to trace. There's a good chance that they will know the names of relatives whom it would otherwise take months to find by searching alone, as well as stories and legends that you won't find in any record.
Discovering whether such tales are accurate is one of the joys of building your family tree. Take comprehensive notes. Not only does this remind you of your source once your family tree begins to grow, but it is also a document of your personal history for future generations.
Family history is full of fascinating finds and new relatives, but be sensitive in your approach when speaking to older family members as investigating your family's past in detail may cause you to uncover some unpleasant surprises.
A list of questions to help you get started:
Here is a list of questions you may wish to start with when asking about a specific ancestor. This is only a guide and you may have more specific questions that you would like to ask.
- What was their full name? Did they have a middle name or nickname that they preferred?
- When did they die? What was the cause of their death? Where were they buried?
- Were they married? If so, what was the name of their spouse? When and where did their spouse die?
- When did they marry? Where did the marriage occur? Was this the only marriage for both parties?
- Where did they live?
- Did they have children? If so, what were their children's names?
- Did their children marry and where did or do they live? If they are deceased where and when did they die?
- What was their occupation? Where did they work? Did they serve in the military?
- Where and when were they born
- What school or schools did they attend? Did they attend university?
- Were they a member of a religious community, or parish? Which religious denomination were they?
- Do you have any documentation of their life, such as birth, marriage or death certificates, their Will or other written records?
- Do you have any photographs or newspaper clippings of them? Do you know anything about their physical appearance or accent?
- Would any other relatives have further information, memories, or records relating to them?
What's in the attic?
Starting at home doesn't simply mean speaking to those closest to you, but also examining the contents of your home itself. Often there will be old photographs, videos, letters and other heirlooms to discuss and investigate.
If you're fortunate, there may also be birth, marriage and death certificates for family members, which will save you time and the cost of ordering copy certificates.