Top tips for family history research

While doing some research this week using the website, I came across what I thought was a very handy list of tips to keep in mind while researching your family history.

The following was written by Jeremy Palmer and can be found in more detail at I have recorded some of my own thoughts after each tip.

Tip 1 – Talk to elderly relatives.

Unfortunately I think this is an important task that many of us only think about after it is too late. Much of the inital work on my own family tree was completed by my mother and passed down to me after her death in 2005. It was only after I started working on our tree in 2006 that I realised there were many questions that I should have asked her while I had the chance. I am fortunate that her cousin is still alive and has been able to answer some questions but I often regret not having more conversations with my mother and grandmother while they were still here.

Tip 2 – Work from the known to the unknown

Research is very much a step-by-step process and as much as you would like to jump ahead, you really are best to follow a linear path starting with what you already know. It is amazing how quickly your tree will open up and you will find clues along the way.

Tip 3 – Record your progress

It is an excellent idea to record any supporting evidence you find whether it be a certificate no from the BDM Index or whether it be information from a relative. So often I am contacted and asked how I came across certain information and I am always annoyed with myself when I have been forgetful or just sometimes a little lazy and have not recorded the source of my information. Recording BDM certificate numbers is also very handy if you would like to order certificates in the future as you will need as much information as possible.

Tip 4 – Record your searches

It’s a grea idea to keep track of what you have researched so that you don’t waste time going back over information you have already looked at or start using records that you have previously used without success.

Tip 5 – Get a map

Google Map is a great friend of mine. This is particularly true when researching ancestors from overseas. It is very handy to be able to locate two towns on a map and see the distance between them. Many times this has led me on the right path in terms of tracking relatives through census records.

Tip 6 – Consider spelling variants

Even the simplest of names can be spelt a multitude of ways. I often wonder how researchers years from now will cope with all the odd variations of names we use these days. My great grandfather’s surname was Sneddon and I have seen it spelt Sneddin, Snaddon, Snedden etc. It also was not uncommon for a family member to simply change the spelling of their surname, particularly after emigration. One example in my family is Braidley changed to Bradley.

Tip 7 – Do not make assumptions

I have to admit that sometimes I would really love to make assumptions but it usually gets me in trouble. Try and back up everything with credible sources and if you aren’t sure, maybe make a note or comment rather than necessarily adding the information to your famiy tree.

Tip 8 – Work as effectively as possible

Family history research is incredibly time-consuming. You can spend many hours researching a single person or fact and still not come up with a satisfactory answer. So many resources are now available online for little or no cost so make use of everything that is available to you. I have found that making contact with other people who are researching the same ancestors has been a very efficient way of adding to my research. Use websites like Ancestry to make mutually benefical contacts and join online communities.

Tip 9 – Share your findings

I now have almost 30 other people that I share my Ancestry tree with and I have met some fantastic people through my research who have been very generous with sharing their information. I am always happy to be contacted and I appreciate how beneficial it can be to make contact with others and share your research. I have been able to add large amounts of information to my tree this way.

Tip 10 – Join a family history society

There are a large no of local family history societies all around Australia and the World. Apart from the opportunity to meet like-minded people, your local family history society will usually have an extensive number of resources available for you to use for very little cost.

Here is a link to groups around Australia (courtesy of Coraweb) –

Robert Sneddon (1873-1954)


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Filed under Australian history, Research tools

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