Starting your family tree

By Jon Bauckham, 31 July 2013 - 11:00pm

Actress Sheridan Smith, who appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? in 2014

Researching your family history is a life-enhancing experience that anyone can enjoy. And watching celebrities such as Sheridan Smith (above) uncover family secrets can be just the inspiration you need to launch yourself into this fascinating hobby.

We've invited Laura Berry, the lead genealogist on the Who Do You Think You Are? television series, to share her tips on how the WDYTYA? team uncovers the celebrities’ family histories and the first steps you need to take to uncover your own. 

We’ve broken the guide down into six simple steps that will make your journey as easy as possible. To navigate, simply click on items in the menu at the top of every page or from the links we've created directly below:

Gathering evidence

Starting your research is easier than you would think. Learn how to build your family tree from scratch with help from living relatives and your own mementoes.

Click here to skip to this section >

Choosing a website

There are dozens of genealogy sites on the web – some requiring users to pay a subscription and others available to access free of charge. Find out which website will best suit your research and how to get the most from your money.

Click here to skip to this section >

Births, marriages and deaths

Discover how researchers use birth, marriage and death records – the ‘building blocks’ of genealogy. Learn what the certificates can tell you and view detailed annotated examples.

Click here to skip to this section >

Using the census

The census is one of the most important resources that genealogists have to hand. Find out how it has evolved over the years and get tips on tracking down elusive ancestors.

Click here to skip to this section >

Other useful records

Your journey doesn’t end there – find out how to put flesh on the bones and add some context to your ancestors’ lives with parish registers, wills, newspapers, military records and more.

Click here to skip to this section >

Best free websites

Want to save your pennies? Consult our list of the 10 best free genealogy websites on the internet and take your research further.

Click here to skip to this section >

Five golden rules of family history

  1. Begin with known facts and work backwards – checking the validity of each new piece of information against an original record.
  2. Document your sources at each stage, whether that’s a person, or a piece of paper.
  3. Always keep a record, even if an avenue of research proves to be fruitless – it will stop you making the same mistake again at a later stage.
  4. Do your own research. Don’t assume that information supplied to you by another party is accurate, and always check the authenticity of information you find online.
  5. Take advantage of others’ expertise. When you hit a brick wall, solicit the help of professional organisations, family history societies, specialist publications such as Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, and forums like our own.


We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here