Prior Family History Research
within the Family

It is possible that some family history research has already been done by someone in your extended family, which you could reference in beginning your family tree.

For me, this was the case on both sides of the family. I recall my parents receiving a little yellow-covered, hand-written book containing a massive piece of family tree research.

The booklet detailed the descendants of a couple who had come to Canada from Scotland in the early 1800s, up to approximately the year 1975. This included my maternal great-grandmother and grandmother, as well as all of my mother’s siblings – and, of course, me.

I remember excitedly pouring over this family tree to see where my family and I were listed, and my mother telling me about some of the cousins listed in there that I had not met.

Family Tree Painted on Wall
Wikimedia Commons
Family Tree Painted on Wall

A few years earlier, a similar family history research study was done on my father’s paternal line. It traced my great-grandfather’s ancestry back to the late 1700s in Norfolk, England, and showed his descendants and their spouses in North America up to approximately 1963.

Rather than a booklet, this one was in the form of a family tree, with dates of birth, marriage, and death. Its 20+ pages had to be laid out end to end on a table to get the full impact of the information it contained. I was fascinated.

It also had supporting documentation, in the form of certified copies from the General Register Office, for many of the family births, marriages, and deaths in England.

However, it appears that the US-based materials that the author collected must have come from the families themselves, rather than from public records, as I have since discovered a number of marriages which ended in divorce, prior to the date of that document, which are not mentioned in his tree.

Nevertheless, it was a great starting point for my family history research. It just needed to be expanded somewhat.

A few pages of the handwritten Tree. Source: Sue Fenn
A few pages of the hand-written tree

Both of these documents were the results of family history research done prior to the use of computers, which has greatly simplified the process of searching for information, and reduced the time required to find the necessary records.

If you choose to use family tree information that others have produced, don’t forget that, in family history, you start with the known and proceed to the unknown.

You must assume that nothing in the tree has been verified (unless you have copies of the certificates, or other documentation, to prove the entry), and check absolutely every entry in the tree.

In a world where, due to naming conventions, a man with six married sons would have one son and six grandsons bearing the same name as he had (assuming each son had at least one son), it is very easy to take a wrong turn and go off in a wrong direction.

Before adding a particular entry from that person's family tree into yours, find documents that are dated close to the time period of the events listed for a person's life, which will corroborate what the existing tree says, and make sure that the information in it is correct.


In conclusion, family history projects undertaken by other family members can be very useful pieces of information.

However, do not take anything at face value. Verify the entries in those records before entering them in your family tree, by finding documentation that corroborates that this is, in fact, the correct individual to enter in that position on your family tree.

Go from "Prior Family History Research within the Family" to "Family Tree Research: Getting Started"

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