Build on a strong foundation: top tips for sleuthing the past

The Family Tree

Warning: family history can lead to emotional discoveries.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you begin at the end! That is, you begin with you.

Check your birth certificate, verify your parents. It may seem like a given, but just sometimes people find they are adopted, or their mum is really their grandma. It pays to check.

Check your parents birth certificates, to verify your grandparents. Then work your way back through the generations, verifying birth certificates.

These first steps build the strong foundation of your family tree, so worth doing well.

It is not a case of how far back you can go, but the quality of your data

You may wish to answer a family question. I knew my parents were second cousins, so wanted to find out about this link. Set yourself a goal to work towards. Whatever your motivation, make sure you verify each generation of grandparents.  Birth certificates are the key.

A process

Gather all the information you have about your family.
All the birth certificates, letters cards, photos. Even your grandmothers’ old vase or jewellery, may hold some family clue.
For instance, I have silver topped rouge pot. It t had belonged to my grandmother, a gift from her sweetheart, my grandfather. It proved useful, as it has a silver hallmark circa 1910. My grandfather died in 1915, so by deduction she received this gift between 1910 and 1915. The hallmark is English. This narrowed the probability down, to the years they lived in London, 1910 to 1911.


rouge pot

Filing and filling in the gaps

It is helpful to file the information in clear pockets. Put them in date ordered, starting with the youngest first and working back, is helpful.
Start filling in the gaps by ordering birth certificates.
If you are in the USA, please check out this site for research tips:

US National Archive

For free US birth record search Fee Mormon Genealogy


Use a FREE  search engine to find missing birth information. In the UK use FreeBMD

BDM info

It is a basic form. You don’t have to add all the information. But as much as you can. There is no SEARCH button. Hit RETURN, to activate the search.


Verify you have the correct record and make note of the District, Vol and Page

In this example the District is Bath, the Vol (short for volume) is 7c, the Page is 57. Also note the month ie Births Dec 1957.

You will need this information to order birth certificates online.

Money saving tip: The certificates are half the price from the Gov.UK site than if purchased through any family history website. I’m sure the same is true in the USA.

Order birth certificates, here in the UK you can buy them from the Registry Office Gov.UK 

In the USA please check US National Archive

Getting these certificates correct, is of paramount importance. The the validity of your family tree, hangs on verified information of the grandparent line.

Choosing a family history search engine

Its very exciting receiving your ancestors birth certificates.  They hold so much information. Other than the date, it has names and occupations of the parents and grandparents. also the addresses and ages of the parents. This verifies your next generation, and perhaps more birth certificates to order.

Once armed with verified data, of names, dates of birth, you can consider documenting your family tree on a website. They all have their pros and cons, and for research purposes, I have used most of them over the years. I have my family tree documented on as this was the most advanced when I first began my wonder down Ancestry Lane.

Warning: do not be seduced by the hints facility provided by many ancestry websites. You much check each one out, usually by ordering certificates, before accepting them. Many are incorrect. They are merely useful hints and suggestions, not proven data.

I hope this gives some hints on best practice and advise on where to start. If you would like some more in-depth insights, let me know. Comments are always welcome. Have you have any tips you would like to add?

Many thanks to DA-Al for suggesting the theme of this post.


25 thoughts on “Build on a strong foundation: top tips for sleuthing the past

  1. These tips are so useful! I get overwhelmed thinking about “sleuthing the past,” but it’s so worth it. Since two of my sisters already did some work. I’ll have to see what they’ve found so far.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Yes your findings can bring emotional reactions from other family members, especially older family members. I remember once saying to my brother in law that I wondered what on earth my father thought I would find out, getting so upset about my researching our family history. He suggested that I had already found it. further thought and discussion among my own generation brought the realisation that different generations view things differently from each other. We realised that an episode that was not major to us was major to the older generation, who refused to discuss it with us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your comment is so true. We have to handle our findings with care and respect for the older generations point of view. This is why I have written my family story in a memoir. My family have been more able to assimilate the information, disguised in a novel format. Thank you for your comment. All the best with your research.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment. Loved your recent holiday pictures. I believe the hints on ancestry websites are computer generated. They are relational data bases, so do have the ability to cross reference say, name, location, date of birth. This information can be useful, I would say, 50% of the time. The algorithm the data bases use, are not that accurate yet. My nerd side is peaking out. Relational data bases used to be my field of expertise, as an IT consultant. Say hi to your lovely wife. I’m keeping an ear out for some other melodic English moments to share.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you. The nerd side is always good, learning and understanding how things work is one of the joys of life. My philosophy is usually, ‘don’t understand it? Poke it with a stick’.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Happiness Between Tails by da-AL and commented:
    Guest Blog Post: Tips for Sleuthing the Past by Margaret Lossi

    Writers and readers alike, for times we’d like to look into our histories, author Margaret Lossi offers tips for how to get started. Be prepared for surprises…

    Who’ll your search turn up? Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire of

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting post.I too am trying to chart out our family tree, but in India it is much more difficult in the absence of official
    birth certificates since birth registry was not compulsory about150 years ago.I have been able to go back only up to the time of my great great grandfather, circa 1820, based upon the details available in family journals. Beyond that I can only go back four more generations of my paternal ancestors.No details of their spouses or families are available.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. I know how you feel. I could only go back to 1860 with my Henseluck family. They came from Neu Stettin Germany, which is now a part of Poland. To progress, I will have to visit this now Polish city. I will do so, but at the moment I am telling my vivid family story in my books. Currently, I’m writing about WW2.
      Congratulations on all your family sleuthing. Wishing you all the best with your future endeavours.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your wishes,which I heartily reciprocate, Happy to know about your German ancestory. Just by the way, I have studied in Germany and have many German friends, our friendship going back to 66 years!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Wow that’s amazing. My mother’s family come from Hamburg, and my father’s from Munich. You can check out my books on my site I have my books listed with reviews and links. Lovely to get to know you.


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