How do i trace my family tree uk

Tracing your Family Tree for Free

Do you ever wonder where you came from? Who your ancestors were?

Perhaps you want to understand what your ancestors were like – did they share common traits with you, perhaps worked in similar occupations?

In the age of the internet, it’s never been easier to trace your family tree and in this guide we’re going to show you how to go about doing just that… and all for free!

  • Step 1: Ask your family members
  • Step 2: Use online tools, census, registers
  • Step 3: Use other people’s research
  • Step 4: Use the free online BMD directories
  • Step 5: Search parish records and visit churchyards
  • Our own case study


Step 1: Ask your family members

This is the quickest way to begin assembling your family tree. Ask everyone in the family for their stories; some may be based in truth and help with your research, others however may be a little off the mark! An example of this; when asking an elderly relative about the family, one researcher (namely the one writing this guide!) was told with great certainty that her husband’s family came from Westmorland, Cumbria. On further investigation, it transpired they came from the West Country – Cornwall!

Nevertheless, you should be able to construct a simple family tree from this information. A tree usually takes one of two forms: either horizontal:

Or vertical:

Choose the style that seems right for you.

To fill in the gaps and to go further back in time, the easiest way to progress is via an online family research site.


Step 2: Use Online Tools

Sites such as Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage all offer a free trial period, after which a small monthly fee is to be paid depending on the amount of access you require from their databases.

To begin, simply start by entering all the details you know about one of your relatives: their full name, where they lived, their date of birth (if known) and then you’re off!

It is perhaps easiest to start with the censuses and registers, the most recent of which is the 1939 register. However as this is the beginning of World War Two, some family members may have been called up and some children may have been evacuated away from home and so will not be included.

The following is an example of an entry from the 1939 register:

The house number is in the left hand column, then the number of people in the household at that time, their names, their gender, date of birth, age, marital status and occupation. An entry blacked out with the words “This record is officially closed” means that that person is still living.

The other main sources of information are the censuses. These began in 1841 with very basic information, often just the names of those living at an address.

The 1851 to 1901 census forms, produced every ten years, give us more information. This is an example of an 1851 census:

More information is provided here than on the previous 1841 census. You will find the address, name, relation to head of family, marital status, age and gender, occupation, where born and then – strange to our 21st century eyes – the final column entitled “Whether blind or deaf and dumb”.

The last one available to view online, the 1911 census offers extra information, including the total number of children born, how many are still living and how many have died.

From the census records, you can find the names of the rest of the family living at the home address. This allows you to follow new leads and grow your tree.

There is much more information available online than just the censuses. Through the online search tools you can also browse immigration and passenger lists, military records, wills and probate, criminal records and more. If you are looking for information on ancestors in the military, Forces War Records is a good resource.


Step 3: Use other people’s research

A great way to quickly fill in some of the blanks on your family tree is to use research done by others. On for example, if distant relations have created an open family tree, you can access their research. Please bear in mind not all information gained this way may be correct.

Often as you search further back through the censuses, surnames can get corrupted from those of today. This is largely because in the days when a large proportion of the population could neither read nor write, the census compiler would enter their names phonetically. Similarly for the forenames; quite often a child’s baptismal name may not be that by which the child is known to family and friends, and so may be recorded differently on the census.


Step 4: Use the free online BMD directories

However if you need to corroborate your findings, or if you are searching further back in time than the 1841 census, you may find the Birth Marriage and Death (BMD) registers of use. You can search for information and also request copies of certificates for a small fee. These certificates can offer a great deal of information to the researcher.

Death certificates include date and place of death, as well as the age at death, the cause of death and information on the informant: whether they were present at the death, their relationship to the deceased, their name and address.

Marriage certificates include date of marriage, names of those getting wed, their ages, professions, addresses at time of marriage, as well as the names and occupations of their fathers.

Birth certificates give date and where born, child’s name, name of father (sometimes blank), name of mother, father’s occupation (if applicable), name, address and relationship to the child of the informant, and in rare cases, any changes or amendment to the name of the child after registration.

Using these certificates can help confirm (or not!) the facts found from other sources.


Step 5: Search parish records and visit churchyards

There are online resources to help in finding gravestones, such as and but these still have limited databases.

When you have exhausted the online resources, a good way of going even further back is to consult parish records or to actually visit the family graveyard and search for headstones.

To search a graveyard and then finally find the gravestone or gravestones really does bring your research to life. You may feel a connection to the people behind the names on your tree as you read the stone, especially if there is an epitaph. You may also discover further ancestors: the stone may commemorate others unknown to you!


Our own case study

Researching your family tree can be fascinating. A search into the Jones line of one family led to the discovery of some intriguing and little known historical facts.

One ancestor, born in 1815, was a coal miner from a small village in North Wales. Whilst researching his part of the family tree, the 1851 census entry was unexpected and fascinating. Here it showed him at his home address in Wales, but married to a woman from Todmorden in Lancashire and with a child born in 1846 in Rouen in France!

And so the question arose – how did a miner from a small Welsh village meet a girl from Todmorden and then end up in France with his family? The clue turned out to be in his occupation: coal miner.

At the time of his marriage, the construction of the Summit Tunnel near Todmorden, part of the Manchester and Leeds Railway, was underway. Begun in 1838 and completed in 1841, it was the longest railway tunnel in the world at that time. Miners were employed to excavate the tunnel and it would appear this ancestor had left his small community in Wales to take up work on the railway.

So that was how he met his wife. But why Rouen? Investigation on the internet led to the discovery that the construction of railways in Northern France in the mid 1800s was largely undertaken by British companies as they had the experience and expertise. Joseph Locke was appointed engineer on the Paris and Rouen Railway and thousands of British navvies, miners and bricklayers were brought over to build it – including this ancestor, it would seem.

Work began on the railway in 1841 (same year as work on the Summit Tunnel was completed) and finished in 1847. Many workers stayed on in France afterwards, finding work on other railway projects. However revolution was to put an end to the British workers’ employment in early 1848. Unemployment and low wages had led to civil unrest in Paris and later in Rouen in April, when bad feeling towards the thousands of British and immigrant workers in the north of France boiled over into rioting. The railway companies were forced to evacuate thousands of their workers, who fled to the ports often with only what they could carry in way of possessions. There were harrowing tales of men, women and children starving on the roadside trying to get to the ports and back to Britain.

Whether the family returned to Wales after the completion of the Paris and Rouen railway in 1847 or stayed on in France, we do not know. However had they been caught up in the rioting and revolution of 1848, they would have had little option but to flee home to friends and relatives.

This is just one example of how tracing your family tree can bring your ancestors to life. To travel so far afield for work, even taking his family with him to France, shows this ancestor must have been a man of great courage and drive, determined to provide for his family.

If this has whetted your appetite to find out more about your own past, then now is the time to start your own research. Happy hunting – but beware, it can become addictive!

Trace your family tree | Travel and hobbies

Have you ever wondered who your ancestors were and what life was like for them?

Researching family history is a hobby that’s booming in popularity, especially since archives became accessible online and TV shows such as ‘Who do you think you are’.

We aim to answer your questions about genealogy, and look at what's involved and how you can get started.

  • What’s genealogy all about?
  • How do I get started?
  • Isn't it a lot of hard work?
  • What do I do with all the information?
  • What do I do next?

The word Genealogy stems from the Greek for 'generation' and 'knowledge'. Essentially, it’s the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history.

Your approach to genealogy will depend on your particular interests. For instance, you might want to find out if you’re related to somebody famous, or discover the truth about a family legend.

For example, Mary, who has been researching her family history, has found out there’s something special about visiting the place where your ancestors lived.

She said, ‘I can imagine the scene and walk across the same land that they did. To see a place through the eyes of your ancestors gives you a great sense of connection’.

It can be tempting to dive straight in and search for a particular ancestor but this tends to produce a lot of results which can be confusing. So it’s best to start with yourself and then work backwards, finding proof that connects each generation together.

Through public records you can find evidence in birth certificates, marriage certificates and Wills for instance. Talking to people and writing to relatives could also provide clues and ultimately your detective work could take you anywhere from local graveyards and memorials to record offices abroad.

Get more information about the official archive in Kew.

Start now

Yes, tracing your family tree can be a very time-consuming hobby, but don't underestimate the thrill of unearthing results! Some days will be more successful than others so you can expect peaks and troughs as you gradually piece parts of the puzzle together.

You may also find that you can share some of the work load when your research over-laps with someone else's. That's just one reason to make contact with people who are connected to your family tree.

In fact, a large part of the fun is about sharing research and stories, so it's not all about paperwork.

Take care to keep all of your research well organised so you can come back to it at any time. Many of the dedicated websites will guide you through the process of building a family tree online which you can update as your research progresses.

These websites can also alert you to anyone else researching the same people as you, giving you the opportunity to share your work.

What else you do with the information will depend on which aspects take your interest. You may decide to learn more about a particular ancestor, or the social history of a certain time or even connect with living relatives from a different family line.

The UK government's official archive holds records which can help you find out about people's lives, deaths and careers. There are also a lot of websites that charge for information.

  • Visit the National Archive website
  • Visit the General Register Office

For more information call the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 678 1602.
We’re open 8am to 7pm, every day of the year.

Find your ancestors in Family Tree

Are you trying to find an ancestor or deceased family member? If so, we encourage you to search our Family Tree, the largest single family tree in the world. It contains over a billion names. The tree is free and public, and the ancestor you're looking for may already be in it.

Gather everything you know about your deceased relative - their full name, birth or death information, if possible the names of parents, spouses or children - and follow these steps to find out if they are listed on Family Tree. Or click on the button below and go directly to our "Search" page.

Family Tree Search is a quick way to start building or adding more information to your family tree

If you want to find a relative who might be in the Family Tree, go to the FamilySearch website and then in the Family Tree tab select Find . Get ready to sign in or create a free FamilySearch account. (You can also access this page via the tab Search and select Family tree . )

On the Find page, enter what you know about your deceased relative. The system will open a page with a simplified search bar that works for the initial search. However, for best results, we recommend that you open the advanced search function by clicking More Options .

Tree Search looks and functions much like the FamilySearch Historical Record Search tool. We did it on purpose, of course. Any search strategies you have learned for this page will be equally useful here. Let's go through each filter individually and see how they work.

1. Names

Let's consider some recommendations for filling in the fields for full name.

  • Enter the person's last name in the Last Name field.
  • Use the Name Variation tab to list maiden names, nicknames, aliases, other spellings of the first name, middle surnames, and any name changes that may have occurred during the person's lifetime.
  • 2nd floor

    Entering the gender of a person Male or Female if known, will narrow your search results.

    3. Events from life

    In the line "Add event from life" enter the information you know about where this person was during his life. Be sure to change the filter from Any to Birth , Marriage , Residence or Death . This will probably make your search more accurate.

    4. Family members

    In section Add family members , enter what you know about the person's spouse, father, mother, or other relationship. You can use the same guidelines and strategies for entering names here as before.

    5. Exact Search

    Directly below the Family Members section is the radio button Show exact search . Be careful using this option. Use it only when the system produces search results in such a volume that you cannot analyze. The actual data in Family Tree may differ slightly from the names, dates, and places you enter, so it's best to be flexible with your search criteria.

    It is important to note that by enabling the checkbox Show exact search , it is not necessary to immediately search for exact criteria. The system opens fields opposite all search filters on the screen, which you can select or leave blank. It is strongly recommended that you fill in only those fields for which you absolutely need to search by exact criteria. Start your search using a small number of these fields. In other words, you can search for exact criteria for a specific date of birth without using other fields.

    After entering the information you know, press Search to search for your ancestor's profile in Family Tree. When the system returns the search results, click on the name to see a summary of that person's information. Then click on the name in the dropdown box to go to the person's page.

    Helpful Hints for Finding the Right Person

    Too Many Results

    Use the gray button filters at the top of the page to quickly narrow your search results:

    In the search, as shown in these screenshots, I first enter my great-grandfather's name. As you can see, this broad search brought up a lot of results - too many to explore. If I click on the filter Birth and select a specific region of the world, I can immediately decrease that number.

    No results or matches

    If your initial search was unsuccessful, use the search bar on the right side of the screen to change your criteria. Note: Depending on your screen size, the search bar may be initially hidden. If so, press Search in the right corner to open it.

    To broaden your search, you can change things that might be too specific, such as the exact year. Increasing the date range for a particular event can be an effective way. You can also try selecting Birth or Place of residence instead of Any in the Life Event section. If applicable, use the "Name Option" line to enter your maiden name, alias, or other spelling of the first name. Then press Search .

    If you still can't find the person you want after editing your search, that person may not have been added to Family Tree. In this case, you can add this person yourself.

    To add a person to the Tree, you will need their name, and then you can enter as much additional information about them as possible, such as where the person was born or where they lived.

    Hint: If you are missing information about your ancestor, try to find it in the historical record, for example, in a birth certificate, marriage certificate, military card or death certificate.

    Using the "Settings" option to customize your search results

    Experienced researchers will certainly appreciate the functionality of the "Settings" section that appears at the top of the search results page. In Preferences, you can make important decisions about formatting and exporting search results.

    For example, the first option in the "Settings" section is the choice of displaying search results as a data page or as a fixed table: data page. The format makes it easy to scroll through and find matching results.

    In contrast, with a fixed table, we can analyze a small subset of the search results that we think are promising and see how they match what we knew about the person.

    Next in the Preferences panel is the Language Options section. Here you can choose to view the information as it was originally entered into FamilySearch, or view it with minor edits, which we call "translations," to make it easier to read. A simple example would be "January 1855" which, if refined or translated, would be "January 1855".

    Last but not least in the Preferences panel is the option to download search results to your computer. Perhaps you have your own methods of accounting and filtering information. If yes, then you can download the information in any of the following file formats: XLS, XLSX, CSV, ODS, TSV and ODS.

    Find your ancestors in FamilySearch Family Tree!

    Ready to learn something new about your ancestors? There is room for everyone in our Family Tree. We want everyone to help in its creation!

    Select a deceased ancestor and see if their name is among the 1.2 billion names in the FamilySearch Family Tree! Find a person's profile and enjoy stories, photos, timelines and more about them. Then think about what you know about this person and what you can add to their profile. Perhaps one of the relatives will thank you in the future!

    British Royal Family Tree: A New Claimant to the Throne

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    Photo copyright, Anna Liebovitz/PA

    Photo caption,

    Queen Elizabeth II with her great-grandchildren Savannah Phillips, Princess Charlotte and Prince George

    The firstborn of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex Harry and Meghan has arrived in the royal family.

    The baby boy was born on the morning of Monday 6 May. He was seventh in line to the throne.

    Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor decided to name him.

    His birth is a good reason to remember the family tree of the British royal family.

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