If you’ve always fancied delving into your family history but were put off by the time and effort involved, we’ve got news for you. No longer does researching your ancestry involve spending ages travelling the length and breadth of the country in search of information held in parish records and at local record offices.

Instead of searching through paper records that could be located many miles from home, all this information and so much more can now be accessed online. As a result, interest in family history is currently at an all time high.

According to a 2012 report by market research firm Global Industry Analysts, family history is now the second most searched subject online, magazines on the subject abound, and adverts for genealogical services appear on primetime TV.

While much easier searching is undoubtedly the main reason for the phenomenal growth, it doesn’t end there. In addition, so many other online services and software packages are now available to cater for this huge demand. The previous generation of family history enthusiasts had to draw family trees on huge sheets of paper, but today software makes light of this task and provides a much better result in the process.

Here we take a look at some of the online services and software packages that could assist you in your quest. If you’ve yet to take your first steps in discovering your family’s past, we hope that this roundup will serve to illustrate the wealth of resources that are available and, in so doing, provide you with the incentive to make a start. If, on the other hand, you’re already underway, we trust that there are new products and services in our guide that can further assist you in your pursuit.

Family history

Family history: the basics

Right at the outset we need to make it clear that the purpose of this article is to provide an overview of software and online service that are available to the family history enthusiast. It isn’t our aim to provide detailed instructions on how to go about researching your genealogy.

This is the domain of specialist books and magazines and, if you’re new to researching your heritage, we recommend that read up on the subject first. You might also like to make contact with a local family history society – the Federation of Family History Societies will be your first port of call. However, just to put our overview of products and services into perspective, let’s take a very quick look at the basics to see where our main themes fit in.

The very first step is to record everything you already know about your family history. In the days that family trees had to be drawn by hand and additions or changes could mean starting again from scratch, it made sense to collect a lot of information before starting to create a family tree. However, with the ease of editing provided by software solutions, we suggest that you enter information into a genealogical database as you go. Genealogy software – that provides a database and a means of displaying the data as a family tree – is one of our main topics.

Now it’s time to go a bit further afield by talking to your relatives who will be able to start filling in some of the gaps. If you’re able to talk to parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and great-uncles and aunts, you could probably end up going back another generation or two. Remember that a family tree is a very good way of communicating relationships that pretty much everyone understands.

Family history basics

This being the case, it would be a good idea to take the story so far with you on a laptop when you talk to your relatives. Initially you might want to record just the basic relationships, dates and places so that you can draw a family tree but, as you progress, you’ll probably find that you want to add much more background information. So take the opportunity to ask if your relatives have got photographs or old movies of the people they’re telling you about.

Also ask them for stories about your these people you never knew and, if they’re happy for you to do so, you could also and record your conversations so that you don’t miss anything. Many of the better family tree packages allow you to add media of all sorts and handling media is another of our main themes.

Once you’ve exhausted the information that is readily at hand it will be necessary to start consulting official records of various types. Included here are the obvious ones such as birth, death and marriage certificates, census and electoral rolls, school and military records and more. Some of this information is freely available whereas you’ll need to pay a fee to access more detailed information.

At one time you had to understand how to search through all these types of record although, increasingly, a few of dedicated subscription sites for family history enthusiasts are providing means to search through all these information sources automatically. Online sources of information is another subject that we look at in some detail.

Relatives and official records aren’t your only resource for information, though. Around the country, indeed probably around the word, there will be people who have information that could help fill the gaps in your family tree. At one time, making contact with these people would have been a near impossible task but today, thanks to social networking, you stand a much better change of hooking up with them.

So another topic we’ll investigate is using social networking in your quest. In addition to the usual social networking sites like Facebook that everyone has heard of, we’ll also take a look at specialist social networking sites that have been set up specifically for those researching their family history.

In all probability, your pursuit will never end in the sense that you’ll always want to add one more name to the extremities of your family tree. Even so, there will undoubtedly come a time when you’ll want to share your work with others.

Our final theme, therefore, is publishing the results of your endeavours. Methods include creating a dedicated website or perhaps a Facebook presence for your family, having your family tree printed out on a large format printer, or even publishing a book of your family history.