The golden rule with all family history research is that you should start with yourself and work backwards. Don’t be tempted to skip a few generations in the belief that you know all about your parents and grandparents as you may end up researching someone else’s family tree.
You should always:
- Work from the known to the unknown and resist the temptation to jump back another generation before you’ve proven the information you’ve found.
- Concentrate on one line at a time.
- Document your information and record where you found something. You can’t build a family tree based on indexes and other people’s research which you’ve received second or third hand.
- You need documentation to prove each fact you record in your tree, and that means every birth, death and marriage. Sometimes that will require purchasing copies of certificates, although often the proof you need may come from other sources. Experienced researchers can guide you in this.
- Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Just because someone has listed a person or an event in their online tree does not mean it is right. By all means make a note of what they’ve recorded but then undertake your own research to ensure it is correct. An online tree which doesn’t show sources cannot be trusted until you’ve done your own checks to make sure it is accurate.
- Don’t wear blinkers. The name Clark may be listed as Clarke, Clerk or Klark – and each spelling might be found in the same family tree. The 1885 burial you’ve located in the Catholic portion of a cemetery shouldn’t be disregarded because you’re certain the family was always Church of England.
- Don’t be too hasty to take your research overseas – the best clues about someone’s origins may come from the Australian records so concentrate on gathering these first.
- Talk to family members, contact distant cousins and find out if anyone else in the family has already done some research – they may be willing to share what they already know which might save you time and money. Always ask about photographs or old certificates too.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. The Society of Australian Genealogists has been helping Australians trace their ancestry since 1932 and has a wonderful collection of published family history books and manuscript material relating to thousands of families. Check its online catalogues to make sure that the information you’re trying to find hasn’t already been lodged in our collection. Perhaps someone wrote up the family history in the 1950s and gave it to us?
- Learn about the records you find and how to interpret what they tell you. The SAG education program (including its webinar program for members) is a great way to do this and includes sessions aimed specifically at beginners.
- Seek help from the experts. A visit to the SAG library is a great way to get help if you’re stuck and to try out resources you won’t have access to at home. Come along for the day or think about joining – we’re here to help.
- Our guide for beginners – Compiling Your Family History has many useful tips and is well worth reading. You’ll find it in our library and in our online shop.
- You'll can also download a free guide to starting your Australian research from the Federation of FHS here