It used to be that genealogy was a time-consuming task but now that there's so much data available online, the job is much easier.

If you want to get started with tracing your family history, here are the sites and services you should check out.

1. Build your family tree

As you research your ancestry, there are a lot of names, dates and facts to take in. Therefore you need to keep a record of what you find out and gradually build up your family tree.

RootsMagic

There are plenty of software packages that can help you do this, many of which you'll have to pay to use. However, there are free options, such as RootsMagic Essentials and Legacy Standard Edition, which offer enough features to get started with.

2. Chat to your relatives

Early on in your research, one of the best ways to find out about your family's history is to actually speak to various members of your family, since they may know something about those who have passed away.

Genes reunited

You can do this in person, on the phone and via Windows Mail – perfect for those far-flung aunts and uncles. In addition, a great online service to try is Genes Reunited, which enables you to view other people's family trees and also allows you to contact anyone who seems to have matches to your own.

3. Search the archives

The key task of tracing any family history is scouring old records and documents for mentions of your ancestors. These include the national censuses that are taken every 10 years, service records of the armed forces, wills, church registers and more.

Ancestry

Until recently, you had to spend hours painstakingly reading these at archives around the country. Nowadays, however, you can perform quick and effective searches at a range of excellent websites.

Begin your search at Ancestry, The Genealogist and FindMyPast.

4. Order family certificates

Some of the most informative records are the certificates of births, marriages and deaths. Since 1837, these have been registered with the General Register Office and you can order certificates from here.

Certificates

Use the births, marriages and deaths (BMD) indexes at the genealogy sites listed to get reference numbers, then visit this page, fill in the details, and wait for the certificates to arrive.

5. Get tips from the experts

Another governmental organisation that can help with genealogy is The National Archives (TNA). This is the official holder of our national records, which you can consult in person at its buildings in Kew and, for some collections, online here.

The national archives

This site contains a wealth of information, and should be one of your first ports of call if you're new to the hobby.

6. Scan in records

As you collect certificates and other physical documents, it makes sense to combine them with the digital resources on your PC. The easiest way to do this is to scan them. Companies such as Epson, HP and Canon make excellent scanners, which are perfect for preserving the intricate details of ancient records.

Scanning records

You can compare different models and read reviews, and buy a scanner online through the likes of Dabs.com or Amazon.

7. Identify your old photos

You may well have photos of your ancestors stored in old albums, or in boxes in your attic. If you can combine the information you've found in records with clues from the photos themselves, you may be able to identify the people in them and put faces to the names you've been researching.

Identify old photos

Your PC can help too. If you scan the images in, you can then use Windows Photo Gallery to organise the photos, adding useful tags, such as names and places.

8. Find out what is happening

In any given month, there's a host of activities going on in the genealogy world. These include fairs, where you can buy equipment and meet up with fellow enthusiasts; seminars, where you can learn more about the different records; or trips to important archives or historical centres.

One of the most active groups is the Society of Genealogists. Its website has details of upcoming events and how you can get involved.

9. Join a local group

Another great way to meet other family historians, and share research tips and findings, is to join a local family history society. These local groups operate all over the country and can often provide easy access to important records and facilities.

Local group

The quickest way to track down your nearest society is through the Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS). Its website has a full list of all member societies and further details of what they all have to offer.

10. Trace long-lost family

As well as learning about deceased relatives, you may want to trace members of your family you've lost touch with, be that naturally, or through events such as a name change or adoption.

192.com

The best resources are the electoral roll and the telephone directory, which are available at www.192.com. Be careful if you do discover a long-lost relative, though, particularly if they were adopted – there's no guarantee they'll be pleased to hear from you.

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First published in Windows: The Official Magazine Issue 42

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