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Get started with a family history search online

Genealogy – tracking your family history – is easier than ever thanks to the internet. If you’re interested in getting started on your own ancestral journey using online tools, this article will show you how to get started.

Once upon a time, starting your family history search involved heading to a physical location where records are kept and trawling through archives until you found relevant information.

Those days, for better or worse, have passed, and the internet is your new genealogical best friend.

Where to begin?

The first step in tracking your family history is to gather as many records and pieces of information as you can.

Some of this you may already have in your possession, while other pieces of information you may be able to source either from your own knowledge, or by talking to other family members.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to turn to the internet, which will be able to help you fill in some of the gaps and continue on your search.

You can use the internet to search for the names of your relatives, and there are many online services that can do a lot of the work for you.

  • Some of them are free, while others are paid services.
  • Some help you do research, while others help with organising and presenting the information you collect.
  • And some work “in the cloud” (ie. on the internet, or in other words, online), while others you can install “locally” (ie. on your own computer). 

Some of the free tools you can use to organise and present your family information include: 

Some of the paid services you can access include: 

  • – probably the most famous genealogy service on the web, it includes both free and paid-for options.
  • – another online service that features free and paid-for options.
  • – an Australian-specific family history service.

Sometimes, the free options offered by these paid services may be enough, but usually taking the step into a membership allows you to access far more in-depth records which, as you get further into your family history search, you will probably need. 

Note also that many of these online services will offer you a free trial period. However, to sign up for this you’ll need to enter your credit card details. Be aware that, in almost all cases, if you don’t cancel the service before your free trial period is up, the service will automatically charge you with membership fees.

Why do you need online services?

At the end of the day, family history is all about making links and connections that you didn’t know were there. At first it can be easy to keep track of these, but after a while it becomes difficult to keep up. This is where online services come in handy.

These paid services will research your family history for you, either by harnessing computing power to automatically trawl through extensive public databases, or by hiring a professional genealogist to do the legwork for you. Usually, the latter (professional genealogist services) are a bit more expensive.

Paid services are probably most useful for those who are starting out in their family history journey because they save loads of research time and provide a great starting point for your family history research.

Bear in mind, however, that when you sign up for a paid service, you’re giving that service information about you and your family, which it may use to help others in their own family history searches. 

Some individuals and families have more privacy concerns than others, so make sure you consider your personal circumstances before proceeding and always read the Terms & Conditions of a website or app to make sure you understand what you’re signing up for.