A lot of family history research costs money, there’s no escaping it: document copies, website subscriptions, travel costs and so on.
However, there are some free resources to get you started. Here are some of our tips, including some free family tree charts.
When you take a Pharos genealogy course, you find yourself armed with plenty of information to expand your family tree. Charts summarise your research in a visual way. They help you identify problems and plan future steps and they are fun to fill out – use charts to get your kids or grandchildren involved in family history.
The Pedigree Chart is a great way to summarise your family history research so far, focusing on your ancestors. Start by filling it in with yourself or your chosen ancestor on the left and then add the details of the parents, grandparents, etc. in the spaces to the right. This is your research road map, or skeleton.
Family Group Sheet
A Family Group Sheet is useful when you start work on a new family. It is also great to act as a prompt when talking to living relatives and wanting to make sure you have not missed any detail. This chart looks at a single couple and their children.
When you are stuck it is handy to have some places to look for help. Here are some great general resources:
There are so many books about sources, methods, strategy, history and geography and it is impossible to recommend just one book. Here are some of our favourites:
England and Wales
- Amanda Bevan, Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives, The Website and Beyond, (7th ed. The National Archives, 2006)
- C R Cheney, (ed.) Handbook of Dates for Students of English History (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
- T. Fitzhugh and S. Lumas, Dictionary of Genealogy. (A. & C. Black, 1998)
- Jeremy Gibson and Stuart Raymond, Probate Jurisdictions – Where to look for wills. , (Family History Partnership, 6th ed, 2016)
- Mark D. Herber, Ancestral Trails (The History Press Ltd; 2nd Rev Ed edition, 2004)
- David Hey (ed), The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (OUP, 2008)
- C. Humphery-Smith, Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers (3rd ed., Phillimore, 2003)
- Helen Osborn, Genealogy: Essential Research Methods. (Hale, 2012)
- Colin D. Rogers, The Family Tree Detective (Manchester University Press, 3rd ed. 1997)
- John and Sheila Rowlands (eds), Welsh Family History: A Guide to Research (FFHS and Genealogical Publishing Company, 2nd edition, 1999)
- W.E. Tate, The Parish Chest (Phillimore, 1983)
- Andrew Todd, Family History Nuts and Bolts Problem Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques (Allen and Todd, 2015)
- Bruce Durie, Scottish Genealogy, (The History Press, 3rd ed., 2017)
- National Archives staff, Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives of Scotland (Mercat Publishing, 2005)
- Michael Lynch, Oxford Companion to Scottish History (Oxford, 2001)
- Chris Paton, Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry through Church and States Records: A Guide for Family Historians (Pen & Sword, 2019)
- Chris Paton, Tracing Your Scottish Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians (Pen & Sword, 2020)
- The Parishes, Registers and Registrars of Scotland. Scottish Association of Family History Societies. (SAFHS, 1993, rep. many times)
- John Grenham, Grenham’s Irish Surnames (Eneclann CD)
- John Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors (Genealogical Publishing Company, 3rd edition, 2005)
- George Handran (ed), Handran’s Townlands in Poor Law Unions (Archive CD book at Eneclann)
- Richard Killeen, Short History of Ireland (Gill and Macmillan, 1994)
- Brian Mitchell, The New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland (Genealogical Publishing Company, 2002, reprinted 2008)
- Chris Paton, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians (Pen & Sword, 2nd ed., 2019)
Part of the richness of family history research is the variety. It can take you into any part of a library looking up information on almost anything. Similarly you may want to search full-text books online on a wide range of subjects in addition to history and genealogy.
There are some websites for historians and family historians that either include full-text books or lead you to them. These are a few suggestions.
- Institute for Historical Research, British History Online
- Medieval Genealogy – http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/
- Ancestry has lots of books in its family and local histories sections for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland; access these via the Search page, here – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/search/ – and click on the appropriate part of the interactive map, or use the Card Catalogue.
- National Library of Scotland Digital Library https://www.nls.uk/collections/digital-collections
- Library Ireland – https://www.libraryireland.com/
For those who want to wander off into other topics and search more widely for online books, try these resources:
- Project Gutenberg – www.gutenberg.org
- University of Pennsylvania Online Books Page – https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu
- Google Books – https://books.google.com
- Hathi Trust – https://www.hathitrust.org/
Interlibrary loans are available at most public and university libraries throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand and countless other countries. This is an inexpensive way to access books needed for research that are not available locally.
You can borrow from other libraries outside your library system if the item you want cannot be found its catalogue. All libraries ask that you check the catalogue of your own system before placing an interlibrary loan request.
Certain items may be restricted and unavailable via interlibrary loan:
- Old books in poor condition
- Books less than 12 months old
- Books that cost less than a stated amount
- Audio or video tapes, CDs
- Any other book that a library considers must not be loaned
Your library may have limits on how many interloan books can be in process at one time. The lending library determines the period of the loan. There may be a fee charged by your home library and by the lending library, and charges for a late return are likely to be higher than the usual rate. Expect to wait for a while, particularly if the book must come a considerable distance.
Check the website of your own library system for local information or ask at your library.
There are many, many more. If you have your own recommendations please leave a comment below.