Discovering our own family history can be both a rewarding and emotional experience. Whether you’re interested in learning about your ancestors as a fun hobby, or are keen to find out more about yourself and where you come from, starting a family tree is a perfect way to document your journey.
There’s an abundance of resources out there to get your family tree started; however, the best way to find out more about your family history is to sit down with relatives and see what they know. Logging your family tree shouldn’t just be about facts and statistics; the most engaging part is exploring all the incredible stories that have come together – enjoy the process and bond with the people in your life. When chatting to your family, don’t just ask about births, deaths and marriages. Dig a little deeper: what school did they attend? What was their upbringing like? Do they have any memories of major events during their life? Do they have any memorable stories of older relatives they had when they were young? From here, you’ll source some of your richest content.
When you’re ready to start gathering more information, you can access thousands of records from the comfort of your own home. Head to archival sites like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com to search databases and create your family tree on the one site. If you’re wanting to do more independent research and steer away from subscription services, MyAncestors.com.au hosts free records of Australian ancestors. Otherwise, head to your local library to start your documentation! Depending on where your family lived, you might have to seek out online library resources. Regardless, many libraries – such as the National Library of Australia – house all kinds of archives and records ready for you to sink your teeth into.
Australia is a magnificent multicultural country, and it’s likely most of us need to trace our lineage globally. Check out Australian immigration records, as well as national databases from different countries around the world, and reach out to distant relatives once you find them! You never know, you could find yourself with a new penpal and an insight into your lineage.
With all this newfound information, it can be a little overwhelming to know how to start organising everything. Whether you’d prefer an online family tree or a hand-drawn one, the choice is yours. You might like to categorise your family members on an Excel spreadsheet or keep a notebook for each side of your family. Some people prefer to trace their lineage one generation at a time, while others like to focus on one side of their family at a time. There’s no right or wrong way to navigate your family tree; it’s yours, after all, so do what works best for you.
When curating your family tree, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll hit a roadblock at some point – you can’t find anymore information, you’ve looked everywhere, and you’re starting to think that your family members didn’t even exist at this point!
When you’re stuck on where to go next, rewind. Is there anything you might have missed or skipped? If so, rethink your approach – is it best to slow down and go through records again with a fine-toothed comb?
Otherwise, thinking a little out of the box might help with your research. Maybe try searching for first names instead of surnames, or look into maiden names. Another way to aid in your search is by looking at locations, not just people! Perhaps you can find church records that will give you more insight, or even paperwork from workplaces. Also, don’t rule out siblings of your direct ancestors. Don’t just trace your exact lineage; figure out if they had family members, too. You might find that there’s a birth certificate for your great-great-great uncle instead of your direct grandparent!
The most important thing to remember when starting your family tree is to have fun. Happy tracing!