Find the meaning of your surname:

Tracing your family tree is all about finding answers to your family history questions. Our friends at Family Tree magazine help with advice on these top ten family history questions. Happy family history researching!

I always want to do find answers to my family history questions but I just don’t know where to begin.

1. Where shall I start?

It can seem bewildering finding answers to your family history questions, start with yourself – writing down the details that you know about your name, date and place of birth (DoB). Then do the same for your parents, and grandparents.

Ask your relations for details they know. Do they have family papers and photos you could copy? You could now have the basic facts of your family tree.

Don’t worry about gaps in your knowledge. Everyone has them at every stage of their research. The thing about family history is to try and find those answers and fill those gaps.

2. How do I draw up a family tree chart to show my ancestors?

Another key point is to lay out the names, use our free downloadable pedigree chart.

3. I’ve just started – why do I keep hearing about birth, marriage and death certificates?

These certificates contain the key details you need to construct your family tree: names, dates, places, and – vitally – details of how people are related to one another. They are available back to the mid-1800s for the British Isles.

It is compulsory for births, marriages and deaths to be registered, so the majority of our ancestors will be included in these records – and the records are Government ones which have survived the passage of time.

4. Do I really need BMD certificates?

You will be able to gather some details for free from BMD indexes – but not the full details. Working with limited clues, you may also make wrong assumptions and you will be missing out on valuable additional information.

5. How do I order birth, marriage and death certificates?

You can order certificates from general register office websites (with access to the entire country’s records):

The General Register Office (England & Wales)

Irish Genealogy

General Register Office, Northern Ireland

Health Service Executive

Scotland’s People

See also local register offices (with access to records for that area): find useful links via

6. I am adopted – can I trace my family history?

Yes. You need to be 18 years old or over then you can order a copy of your original birth certificate. If you were adopted before 1975 you will need to have a counselling session. There are also intermediary agencies to help you. The Adoption Contact Register is a means for birth parents and children to make contact with each other – providing both parties opt in to contact via the register. It costs £15 for the adopted person to register, £30 for each relative.

7. My father/mother was adopted – how can I research their family history?

You can also ask for information from the adoption services of your local council at The Barnardo’s Making Connections service will help you trace ancestors formerly in its care. See also the British Association for Adoption and Fostering ‘Adoption Search Reunion’ website.

8. How can the census help me?

The census records your family at home – with other family members, so helping you build up that picture of your family tree. This is particularly so as, from 1851, the relationships of the inhabitants in the household to the head of the household were recorded.

Census records were taken every 10 years and those of use to family historians cover 1841-1911 for England, Wales and Scotland too, and primarily 1901 and 1911 for Ireland. It is certainly possible to use the census to find names, ages, places of birth, occupations and addresses.

9. Family history questions can be very expensive – How can I spend less?

Easily! Instead of buying BMD certificates, see whether relatives have certificates you can make copies of. Here are a few other tips:

• Use your local library for access to some subscription websites and family history books, since this can be a cheap way of finding information.

• Explore the website for numerous free guides and links to free websites.

• Find records on key free genealogy sites: and

• Ask Family Tree for free advice at their facebook page

10. What does my surname mean?

Have a think – might it have orginated from a first name? For instance: (eg Williamson), a place (Wood), an occupation (Thatcher) or a nickname (Little). Does it have a prefix (eg Mac/Mc or Ap – meaning son of) or a suffix with clues (eg -ton, from a placename origin; or -er from an occupation name origin)?

In addition, don’t forget you can also search for your surname history here at Hall of Names which are especially great for gifts!

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