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Writing your family tree

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01 May 2020

In recent years genealogy has become a popular interest. Many of us have watched celebrities dive into their own history in the BBC programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, which has only fuelled the popularity of people making their own discoveries. If it’s a topic you’ve been planning to think about but not had a chance to, perhaps now’s the time.

There are websites which can help you create your own tree based on information you know, help expand it with information you don’t know and with many you can even share your DNA to find matches with others across the globe.

The most popular, and biggest site is Ancestry, but others include My Heritage, Find my Past and Family Search. The cost to use each site varies, as does what they offer and are help with. In this post we have outlined the various options available to you, so you can start thinking about which website might be best for what you want to find out. A lot of them have free trials so you can check you’ll get what you want from it before committing to payment.



To start with, you’ll be asked to include what you do know – this could include names and locations of birth. It’s worth guessing if you have a rough idea because on many sites even guesses can help to piece information together. If you have photographs then make sure you have these to hand because you’ll be able to upload them as well.

Start by entering the following information, if you know it:

• Names of family members you know 
• Dates and locations of births 
• Previous addresses. You don’t need to know the full address – even cities, towns or countries they lived in can help 
• Marriage and death certificates (some sites have a search function for these) 
• Children’s names

Most of the websites have a search function which you can make use of, including birth, marriage and death certificate logs or census and electoral rolls. The websites will also be looking through the information in the background and will suggest options to you if it thinks it has found something, or someone, of interest. To help you see a bigger picture of your family, then some sites will link your family tree to distant relatives as well.

Earlier in this post we mentioned DNA tests. They are incredibly simple to do and can help expand your tree. The company will post you a kit to do at home, you’ll just need to send back a small saliva sample. The company analyse the results in their lab against thousands of genetic markers and will then share the results with you. Ancestry has confirmed to us they are still running these tests, or an alternative company is 23andMe.

If you aren’t quite ready to make a start yourself and would like to do some more research, there is a guide from the BBC or you can watch some clips of Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC iPlayer here.