How to start researching

your family history


Many people express an interest in learning more about their families and their history but don't know where to start. These notes may help them and, hopefully, encourage some of the family to begin their research.

The single most valuable resource for any genealogical research is people, especially older people. They have a vast reservoir of knowledge, accumulated over the years. Some of it may not be completely accurate, but it will give good pointers as to where to find more precise data. Regrettably, only too often this resource is not tapped in time and the information is lost when they pass on.

So, the first step in any project is to contact the oldest people in the family first and persuade them to start talking, or better still, for them to write down what they know. It is usually not too difficult to get them talking, although stopping them may be more of a problem! Ideally if a tape recorder can be used, discussions can be much more free flowing and all the information analysed afterwards, with very little lost. These chats will often point the way to other material. Younger family members should not be ignored, but it is usually best to start with the oldest.

The key information that should be collected is the full names of ancestors and siblings and descendants, as well as their 'known' names if these differ. Many families have nicknames; many people do not like their given name and use others. And be aware of the duplication of names in families, especially between generations. Try to find place and dates of birth, marriage and death as this will make it easier to get confirmation of these key events. 

Many people, especially in our family, move a fair deal throughout their lives, so try to establish where family members have lived, what schools and universities they went to, where they worked and who for. So many records are becoming available on the Internet now that it is becoming easier to trace people, but knowing where to start is important. This kind of information is also important to put some meat on the bones of the research, to get some kind of feeling for what kind of people our family and ancestors were; why they did what they did.For anyone interested in Genealogy and South African families in particular, Francois Greef has drawn up an index which may be useful. 

It may also be an idea to contact Steve Herbert or Fay Lea - their e-mail addresses are below - to see if they have any information for you. Steve tends to keep information on the Flemmer line only at the moment, but Fay has a deal of family related data.

Once you have started gathering information, it is important to start recording it and keeping track of it. There is good software for this, Family Tree Maker being one of the better ones. It is a very versatile program and allows you to link the ancillary information about any entry as well as providing space for you to note which facts have been verified and how. This can be important because some sources of information are more accurate than others.

You will also be able to have your information loaded onto this site. We would like to expand the site to include information on other branches of the family, because it would be very useful for other researchers to have a centralised information base. So any information collected and collated should be forwarded to







Steve and Fay are the researchers and would be particularly interested in family tree data, old photographs and such information, while Colleen is responsible for getting the information onto the web site.

For an example of how this might be developed is shown using the basic information that Anthea (Woolridge) Herbert has about her paternal family go to Family Index below. 

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