The Burgum family history society is a member of the Guild of one name studies and researches the names

Where Do I Start?

You've already started! By clicking onto this website, and onto this page, you have taken a significant step towards doing your family tree. But be warned, Genealogy (or family history research to you and me) can be addictive! Even the Betty Ford Clinic doesn't have a cure for it. OK, enough of the chat. You want to get started and I am going to tell you how do your family tree.
My grandparents, Rose and Whit Burgum

First of all, what do you know? Don't say "nothing"! You've got a name, haven’t you? Do you know your date of birth? Any brothers or sisters? Do you know the name of your folks? (Not everybody does!). What about your grandparents? These are mine on the left. If only I had spoken to them more about our history.

This is where you begin. Write it down. Write down now what you know on a piece of paper. Write down anything you can. Don't worry too much about presentation; we can deal with that later. Write down everything you already know about yourself, your parents, and your grandparents. Don't worry if, once you have it written down, you realize you do not know very much. By writing down what you know, you are taking that first step.

OK. What’s next? What records do you have? Birth certificate, marriage certificate, school reports? Take a look for any old letters, diaries, family photographs, perhaps even a family bible. Gather all the information you can. Then speak to the old folks. They might be parents, or grandparents, uncles or aunts. The important thing is to do it now! It's a sad fact of life that we don't last forever and, if you put it off, it might be too late.

One of the greatest resources we have available to us are the older generations of our family. They might have family papers of their own. Or a diary with everyone's birthday in it! Sit down with them and get them to tell you stories. Where did they live? What schools did they go to? How many uncles and aunts did they have? What were their names? What did they do for a living? If you do the things I suggest, you will soon be on your way to creating a family history.

Just a word of warning. If you write something down, also note where you got the information from. Copying someone's birth certificate details is great (but always try and get a photocopy). Also be aware that if an old person tells you a birthday, someone’s age, or their job, they could be making a mistake (we all do forget things, or get things muddled). So by making a note of who told you what and whe, you will save yourself a lot of grief later.

You might also need to check the facts people tell you. You'd be surprised how many family stories are "urban legends" - stories handed down, which somehow got changed, exaggerated, or were just plain lies. Some things were just not spoken about, such as babies born to unmarried mothers. A family might adopt a baby when, in fact, it belonged to an unmarried sister. Elaborate stories were sometimes concocted to hide an illegitimate child, or the fact that someone ended up in prison. Don't take everything at face value!

Remember, make a note of who told you what and when. Check stories with someone else; ask for their version of events. Be discrete. Being a family historian is not the same as a journalist. You are not looking for "shock-horror" exposure!

That is me in the tub! Don't expect you will be able to get all the information at one time. People will talk more willingly if it doesn't sound like an interrogation. Chat naturally, ask questions and take short notes. Maybe just sit with them and go through their family albums. "Where was that Granddad?" "Who's that naked boy in the tub?" (Actually that’s me, but don’t tell anyone!

It may be that some relatives will write things down for you, but many will not have the time or the inclination. What about old family friends? They might know something, too.

"Tell me you life history" will probably not get you very far. "Where were you born?" or "How did you meet Granny?" is more likely to get an answer. Stories are great. Facts are better (even if you have to check up on them later).

"Where were you born?" "What school did you go to?" "Were you the oldest or the youngest?" Each fact is another small part of the jigsaw and, believe me, the jigsaw will gradually grown bigger and bigger.

Recording or videoing your interviews can be efficient, but many people will clam up if they have to speak into a machine. Just chat naturally. You may find that when you come to write up your notes, you will think of others things you wished you had asked. Write them down for next time (but don't leave it too long). While we are on that subject, maybe you feel you really don't have time to do family history at the moment.

Ok, that's fine, but still try and talk to the older family members now. Make your notes and put them somewhere safe, for later. If you wait another year, or two, it may be too late.

Don't forget - names, dates, addresses, jobs, military service, relationships; these are the all important facts that will make up your family tree. Sure you want to hear the stories, but it is the facts that will help you research the earlier generations. The facts will lead you to a time now dim, or lost, in the memory. They will lead you to a time beyond the knowledge of your family members. When you uncover new ancestors, new locations, or new facts from the past, tell your family members about it. That may jog further memories from them. "Oh, yes, Gran always said her father had run away to sea!"
I was just helping her out of the Hammock!

“I was just helping her out of the Hammock!”

There is really no limit to what you might be able to find out, but before long you will want to explore those earlier generations. A knowledge of history is useful, too. Your ancestors will have lived through two World Wars, through the Victorian era and through the Industrial Revolution. You didn't just appear. For each century that has passed, generations of your family will have been born, got married, and died. Many will have struggled to survive, but their very existence is why you are here today.

So where did they live? When did they live? Did they leave any records or any significant trace? While searching the long roots of my family tree, I have uncovered many, many amazing stories, but my family isn't particularly special. It's a normal family in extraordinary times. Your family lived through those same times.

A final thought before you go on to the next chapter of our Guide to Family History.

Family history (Genealogy) is not the same as stamp collecting. Its not about "what's your oldest stamp?" or "how many have you got?". However, you definitely will be asked - "How far back have you got?" or "How many names have you got?".

A cool guy collecting autographs. Me!

That's fine.

Collecting names and dates will give you a basic family tree. However, that is only the skeleton. You will want to put the meat on the bones!

Who were these people?

What did they do?

Where did they go?

What amazing stories are waiting to be uncovered?

Follow my Guide to Family History and with patience and some luck, you will uncover history.

Your family history.

Finally, that naked boy in the tub, what ever happened to him?

Well he became cool and sophisticated. He wore sunglasses, got autographs at Butlins and became an 747 BA Airline Captain. Honest!