What is a Family Tree?

Family RecordsMost people have heard of family trees and are aware that they are part of the genealogy group. However, they have changed from the former child's paintings of their immediate family that used to be done at school. They are a far more sophisticated creation which is informed by international, national and local historical records. Indeed with many of the barriers to genealogy being lifted family trees can be created in a far more historical sense, with greater accuracy and extend further back in time.

Family trees are a genealogical tool which records information from searches into family history. It is intended to give an overview of any given family either as far back as they can be researched or the family name originates. It shows which people belong to the family by adding them on to different 'branches'. Some choose to create a family tree with these branches by putting the ancestors as the 'roots' and the descendants as various branches. This is not an ideal way of creating the tree unless you already have the details of the ancestor you wish to begin with. Most people beginning from scratch are better off beginning with their immediate family. The first person to be placed on this family tree should be the youngest member of the family. The tree is easier to create from this starting point.

Family trees are more easily created now and anyone, rather than just experts, can produce a professional looking tree today. There are many tools available on the internet to buy or use for free to create a tree. The software packages and templates are relatively simple to use and you can easily access packages and personalise them.

You can also use research tools on the internet to look up family members. The easiest place to begin is with births and deaths which are found in the Family Records Centre which has records online and also gives its address for the original documents if you wish to verify your findings online. After looking up the births and deaths you can begin plotting out a family ancestral line and fill in the gaps with further research. At this point it is worth developing and using a working family tree to track your research and a master copy to record definite known or verified records of family history. Each time the master copy is updated you should record the date and ensure the working one matches it at this point. This is more easily done using a computer which can prevent the working document from becoming very messy and potentially confusing, even illegible in parts. This is why templates and software packages can come in very handy. You should also record individual information on separate sheets/documents which is easier to do using IT.

You can proceed with further research online to fill in your family tree. There are many genealogy websites available including ancestry.com, familyrecords.gov.uk and familyhistory.com. Many of these contain indexes online to allow you to access the Censuses from 1901 or earlier. It is very simple to use because you simply input details such as names or areas and conduct a search. It costs just a few pounds to get information on the individuals you want to look at. The Census has details of names, addresses, marital status and some health records too. It is not entirely accurate and it is important to remember the modification of language and culture over time which affects spellings of names, although phonetic spellings are known to be useful sometimes. The Census online is not the only records that can be easily accessed. Shipping, emigration and immigration records are also available as are adoption records (although these were only recorded as legal documents from the earlier half of the twentieth century). You can also look at the Latter Day Saints records which may provide further information. Contacting local parishes is another way of building your family tree.

Family trees must also be read in a certain way as much of the information on them is abbreviated to give a clear overview. You should develop your own glossary with these for your own tree but it is also a good idea to use known abbreviations. It is common to use b for born and d for death and bur is short for buried. Marriage is recorded as m or (=) and (1) and (2) refers to a first and second marriage. Using these basic guidelines will enable your tree to be readable and easily understood. You are now ready to begin creating your own using these tools and guidelines as a starting point.

Next: What is Genealogy?