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Family History Guide

This guide is designed to help with family history research and provides suggestions for resources from other institutions and organisations.


Conducting research imageThere are 2 different stages to organsing the information you have discovered, gathering and synthesising. Both are needed when conducting thorough family history research.

The golden rule of information gathering is to keep everything together. If all your notes are in the same place it makes it easier to find what you are looking for. If your information about Uncle Jack are in the same place but information about Aunty Mary is scattered across areas of your office and computer, you will find Uncle Jack's information but potentially lose vital information about Aunty Mary. This could be the clue you need to find that last bit of information that connects it all together.

Synthesising means "putting your information together to create something". This is when you use the information you have found to make your family tree (or whatever else  you may be trying to create).


The major steps for gathering information are:

  • Create a file for each person and keep all papers/pictures related to the person in the file
  • If some papers are connected to more than one person make a copy for the other file or include a note saying which person's file the papers are in. This allows information to be cross-referenced
  • Create summary cards for each person which lists the main details - name; birth, death and marriage details; parents', children's and spouses' name (and if they have cards). Keep one copy of the card with the person's file, and have another copy on your computer (or somewhere else) so that you can quickly look through the cards to find out what information you are missing.

The cards will be particularly useful when it comes to synthesising your information.

You can also use a wide variety of charts and forms to coordinate your information and work out how each person is related to the others.


There are a number of things you can do with your information and it is a good idea to think about what you want to create while you are still in your gathering phase. For example:

A "Family Tree", following a line of ancestors back through time

This will show the spouses and siblings of the ancestors, but largely ignore the "cousins". It is the most common and easiest form of a family tree.

The easiest and most effective way to do this is to follow the male line (father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc).

Even if you are following your maternal line, you will still find better records for the males in the family (maternal grandfather, etc).

An "Extended Family Tree", showing all of the descendants of a particular ancestor

This will branch out to show all of the children, grandchildren, etc of a single person, and will extend to many distant cousins.

This will involve many branches, and might be more easily undertaken using genealogy software or some other computer program.

An "Ancestry Chart", showing all of your ancestors through every line

This is like the Extended Family Tree, it is wide-ranging, and may require genealogy software to compile.

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