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First steps in researching your family history

Here is a helpful guide to starting your family research. You can also request the ‘Getting Started’ pack from the General Register Office, a full introduction to family history research and using birth, marriage and death certificates to build your family tree.

Order ‘Getting started’ – an introduction to family history research

If you would like a free copy of the General Register Office’s ‘Getting Started’ pack, email your name, address and contact details to:


Please include "GQ Starter Pack" in the subject field of your email to ensure an auto text response is not generated.

Use official government records for your family research

Starting with yourself, note all the dates and events you are certain of concerning your immediate family and work back carefully generation by generation. Birth, marriage and death certificates will give you vital information to help you continue your research - eg, your mother’s maiden name.

Civil registration started in July 1837. To trace back further you will need to look at parish records which are available from some websites, local churches or archives offices.

You can keep track of your research by formally recording information as you find it and keeping files of the documents you have collected.

Talk to relatives

Ask members of your family about what they can remember and make notes or recordings (using a dictaphone or video camera) of what each person says to make comparisons. Ask more knowledgeable relatives to go over their memories more than once. Nobody recalls everything of use in one sitting.

Search for as many family records and as much memorabilia as possible. Look in your attic and ask your elderly relatives if you can look in theirs.

Ask elderly relatives to identify people in old family photographs – writing names on the back - and scour the records for clues and make a note of any firm information you find together with where you found it.

Show your findings to elderly relatives, as they may jog a series of fresh memories. You should also create a list of questions that come out of your research so far.

Get help and advice

You may want to join a local family history society where you can share your experiences and receive help with any problems you encounter. Use the link below to find your local group.

You could enrol in a family history course. Many adult education centres run these courses and they are inexpensive and extremely helpful.

Don’t despair if you can’t find out much - the minimum information you need to get started is your own place and date of birth.

Additional links

Order certificates online

Apply for birth, marriage and death certificates

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