How To Build Your Family Tree Using Birth, Marriage And Death Certificates

05 Sep, 2015

How to: build your family tree using birth, marriage and death certificates

Building your family tree is an interesting and fascinating process. When you start your research, you will soon find out that birth and marriage certificates are the cornerstone of genealogical research. In fact, by using them, you can quickly go back in time and uncover the many generations of your family.

Start by collecting information from relatives

The first step when undertaking genealogical research is to build the roots of your family tree. Begin with the information that you and your relatives can provide, such as immediate family, i.e parents, children, cousins.

A good method to do so is to survey each relative with the same set of questions and then collate the information. Such example questions could be: do you remember your grandparents? Do you remember their birth date, profession…?

The information collected this way will provide the basic structure of your family tree.

Fill the gaps by consulting documents

Once you have some basic information that covers a few generations, you can start identifying the gaps in your knowledge and starting to fill them. Your first step on the paper trail should be connected to the oldest ancestor you have definitively correct information on.

For example, if you know all the details of your grandfather's life, you can order his birth certificate. This is not to verify his identity, but to have equally solid information about his parents. Every birth certificate includes the names of a person's parents, or whoever is known.

You can then add this information to your growing family tree.

Move from a birth certificate to a marriage certificate

Once you have put names to the next generation up, you can move on to their marriage certificates. Marriage certificates are a mine of information as they contain birth dates, occupations and address of the spouses, as well as the name of their fathers and their personal details.

Once you have this information, you can request more birth certificates as you have done for your ancestors'. Going from certificate to certificate will help you build your family tree fast and avoiding inaccuracies and mistakes.

Avoid errors by checking certificates

Another way documents can help you is by confirming that you are following the tracks of the correct ancestor. You might in fact experience some difficulties when you are researching a common surname: there might have been several, even dozens of people with the same name living at the same time.

This becomes particularly relevant (and frequent) as you delve deeper in the past, as it was common for many generations of a family to share the same few names: it is not unusual to find, for example, a grandfather, father and child sharing the same full name.