As with any job you need to equip yourself with the right tools, including a way of recording the information you gather. This can be as simple as using a pencil and notepad. Alternatively, you may prefer to use a folder with separate sheets or record cards. Some publishers of genealogical material also produce specific stationery for use in family research. Dedicated family research software might be useful if you prefer to gather information on a computer. Several websites allow you to record family research information online. A small tape recorder can also prove useful when interviewing relatives or recording information on the move.
Information from elderly relatives
Initially, the best sources of information are elderly relatives. Ask them about names, dates, places, occupations and important events. This is where a tape recorder can be helpful in recording the information. You could ask them if they have any old photographs and if they can they identify the people in them. You could also ask for copies of certificates or documents they have that could help. Beware of family stories that link you to someone famous, but don't ignore the more eccentric stories entirely, as there may be a kernel of truth about them. Try to corroborate information if you can.
Always remember some people can be sensitive about events in their past. Older generations often have different attitudes to things than younger people today. They might have strong opinions to things such as marriage, divorce, sex, race or religion, amongst others. You will have to be aware that a possible sensitive situation may arise from your research and act appropriately.
With the information you gather from your immediate family, you should be able to draw up a basic family tree.
Help from your local library
Even the smallest library will have access to books on how to trace your family tree. You may also want to read up on the social history of where your family lived. Books not in stock can be requested through the inter-library loan system.
There are also other sources of information you can use as you as your research progresses. Libraries can provide a wide variety of information and various indexes are available in printed form, on microfiche or on CD. You might also find out if someone has already published information on your family.
Staff in all North Yorkshire libraries will be happy to help you start looking into your family history. All the libraries provide free access to the internet.
Information from the North Yorkshire county record office
The county record office collects, preserves, and makes available a wealth of archive material relating to the history of the county of North Yorkshire.
Searching birth, marriage and death records
If you are searching for official records, the best source, to begin with, is birth, marriage and death certificates. The civil registration system from which these certificates are extracted began in England and Wales on 1 July 1837, in Scotland on 1 January 1855 and in Ireland in 1864. This part of your research can be expensive as you will have to pay for access to the records, either through a dedicated website or by postal applications. Searching through the indexes held at Northallerton Library and Scarborough Library can help reduce these costs
Certificates for North Yorkshire records can be ordered using our online certificates form. Other English and Welsh certificates can be ordered through the Office of National Statistics. Those with Scottish ancestry have to apply to the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh. A fire at the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922 destroyed many records, which makes tracing Irish ancestors more difficult.
Searching census records
A census has been taken every ten years since 1841, except in 1941 during the Second World War. Those from 1851 onwards can give you names, addresses, ages, family relationships, occupations and places of birth. Some indexes are available which will greatly aid your research, particularly the index for 1881 that is available in some libraries. The 1901 census for England and Wales is available online, as are the 1891 and 1901 Scottish censuses.
Searching parish registers
Parish registers are one of the most useful and widely known sources for researching family history. They are primarily a record of baptisms, marriages and burials of your ancestors who attended the parish church.
Some parish registers are still kept by the local church but most are now kept at the local county record offices. To protect records many are now available for viewing on microfiche or microfilm and booking is usually required.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints has produced the International Genealogical Index which contains millions of parish and other record entries. It is by no means complete and you are advised to check the original parish record. Access to the index is available online at all North Yorkshire libraries.
Joining a family history society
Another way to get help and information is to join a family history society. Even if you do not originate from the area in which you live, you will meet like-minded people and hear interesting talks. They often produce their own magazine and publish their own list of membership interests, indexes of censuses and monumental inscriptions for their areas.
An example of what a family history society can offer is the Scarborough family history help desk, run by the East Yorkshire Family History Society. The help desk operates in Scarborough Library on the second Saturday of every month from 10am to 3.30pm. Members of the society are available to talk to you about tracing your family tree and researching your local family history.
Recording your information
Take care to record the source of your findings. This not only acts as a reference if you have to recheck your information, but it prevents duplication of work. If you record something from a secondary source such as a transcribed index or from someone else's chart on the internet, you are advised to check the original source yourself. Family history often requires quite a bit of detective work. Don't assume that someone with the same surname in the same area is yours and check all variations of your surname spelling. Ages on census records can be unreliable so always look for further evidence.