Genealogical Advice for Beginners – First Steps

So, where do I start?

Without wishing to be overtly flippant, the right place to start is at the beginning, I hasten to add though, that the ‘beginning‘ from a genealogical perspective is not with some far-flung distant relatives, but with the one person whose life-story is known best to you 🙂 – you!

Yes, start with yourself and your direct family members who you can chat to and get information from.  Those same family members, hopefully, may let you have a look at some of their personal records, e.g. their birth and marriage certificates. If they do, copy them if they’ll allow it, or at least write down all the details shown on them into your notes; and I mean everything.  Some details may seem irrelevant to the beginner at the start, but later on, one or more those details will come in handy.  I speak from experience!

Do I need to have a computer?

You need very little, as regards equipment and resources; something to write notes on and with is about all that is essential.

However, I do think that having your own computer (or access to one) is pretty important too, as once you start recording details your in notebooks or on pieces of paper you will invariably find that paper records can be a bit of a bind. This is especially so when you’re trying to find a piece of data or you need to link one item to several others.  If you don’t have a pc, don’t worry, many highly respected family historians  started off with a pen and notebooks!

The pc certainly has advantages also, for apart from it providing you with a place to make and store your notes, it also enables you to send and receive emails, join in on-line user groups, and let’s not forgetting the amazing amount of information available on the internet including on-line databases.

DON’T forget to back-up your computerised data and files regularly!

Joining an on-line user group will provide you with access to a great human resource. Established members in such groups probably started doing the selfsame things that you are about to embark on, and those people are ever willing to help budding newcomers.

My own personal favourite, is the forum at (on that web page, click on forum -> home on the left hand side menu, to join). It’s totally free, and the users there are fantastic!  It may take you a while to learn your way around the forum, but there are plenty of users and groupings there that will happily show you the way!

Will I need a genealogy computer programme?

As to software, I started many years ago with a free genealogical computer programme and, I still use one!  Despite my family tree numbers having swollen to many, many hundreds. The one I use now, is called Gramps, and it’s available to download here.  It’s what is called ‘open source’ software, which means it is free to users for their personal use, and there are versions for most platforms, e.g. Linux, Ubuntu, windows, Mac etc

Gramps has good help and assistance on-line too.  It will enable you to record many details of each person on your tree. Not just text but images too.  It may look a little daunting at the start, but I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it with a bit of trial and error.

So that’s it really.

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