Learning about your family history is not just educational but can potential give you fascinating insights into a past that might not be so distant from you than you might think.

Whether you are genuinely curious about your origins or you're hoping to find that long lost connection proving that you are in fact related to that Hollywood actor who've always felt a certain kinship for: The way to do it is getting into family research or genealogy.

While it would take years of study and practice to come anywhere close to the level of actual genealogists, there is a surprising amount of information that is relatively accessible and that you can use to shed some light on your own family history.

DO start with your closest relatives. Creating a family tree can seem like a daunting task, but it becomes a lot easier if you focus on small parts. In that sense: Start with what you know! Add your closest relatives and – if possible – ask them if they can think of other family members to add. If your grandparents are still alive, they are usually a treasure trove of knowledge when it comes to family members.

However, once you've exhausted these personal testimonies DO make use of online databases. There is no denying that building a family tree has become a lot easier over the past decades thanks to digitalisation. While in the past, researching your family history involved a lot of travelling and looking through civil and church records (provided you could even find those), a substantial amount of information is nowadays available in digital form through online databases. Using one or several of these services can potentially allow you to see farther into the past than you ever thought possible.

But with ease of access come certain risks: DON'T blindly copy & paste from anywhere. As always with the internet, having access to such a huge amount of information means that you have to be particularly sceptical regarding the info you find. If you decide to sign up for one of the many online services that are supposed to help you create a family tree, you will find that how a lot of them work is by cross matching your family tree with those of other users. Features like this can be very useful but you should keep in mind that this also means that another's misinformation could end up messing your own tree up.

In a similar vein, DON'T fill in the gaps yourself. Sometimes it might be tempting to grow your family tree at the expense of reliable information. This can happen in particular when you are working with information provided by other private individuals. As a general rule of thumb, you should only add a relative to your tree, if their link to your family is backed up by an official source, e.g., a birth or death certificate, or other official document. This ensures that your family tree does not end up riddled with discrepancies and inconsistencies.

DON'T underestimate the workload. If you do end up finding a lot of ancestors, first off: Congrats, that's great! However, you will quickly find out that once your family tree reaches a certain size, the time you spent on maintenance and further research will rapidly increase. Especially if you use software to compare your tree with those of other people and/or digitalised public records, it is not uncommon to add several new relatives at the same time. And if you ignored the previous advice and have added questionable connections to your tree, you might suddenly end up with hundreds of discrepancies (family tree websites often offer a feature to scan your family tree for discrepancies).

Finally, DO share your work. Researching your family history is not just a fun activity on its own, but it can lead to some really interesting conversations with all sorts of relatives. If you end up finding something interesting (hopefully backed up by official sources), share your findings! If you have a digital family tree, you can even use that data and convert it into a full genealogical report that you can print and distribute during family gatherings or as very special gifts on special occasions. And once you have built a reputation as the family historian, people might even share some old documents or pictures with you that were just waiting to be discovered in their attic.