Uncovering your family’s past is simple when you follow Orla Thomas's, from BBC's Who Do You Think You Are series, step-by-step guide. Orla's excellent insight offers vital research tips and helps you avoid the potential pitfalls.
Set out with what you already know
Whether you are well-versed in your family folklore or not, it is important to start by setting down all the information you already have. Sketching out a rough family tree is a good way to begin - or you could start building one online. A number of commercial sites let you build your family tree online for free, including www.ancestry.co.uk, www.findmypast.com and www.genesreunited.com. Start with yourself and your immediate family then work backwards methodically. Each time you go back a generation, your number of direct ancestors will double. Keep adding names and any other biographical details you’ve mustered until you run out of information. These “gaps” will alert you to where your research should begin.
When sketching out your tree, common terms can be abbreviated to save on space and keep things clear:
- Born = b
- Baptised = bapt
- Marriage = m
- An “=” between two names denotes that those people were married
- A  or  above the “=” indicates a first or second marriage
- Died = d
- Buried = bur
Dates about which you are unsure should be prefixed with c (for circa).