Building a Family Tree: Where do I start?

I have over 6,000 names on my tree and that has taken over 20 years worth of research to build, but I still remember when I first started out. Even though I thought I came from the smallest family in existence, I was still dumbfounded as to where to start. And, really, where to start is the easiest question you have to face in genealogy.

You start with yourself!

Who knows more about you than…well, you? Maybe your parents, but generally speaking you know everything you need to know to get started.

But let’s back up a bit before you start jotting down information. At the beginning, drawing up little charts can be fun and exciting, but you’ll soon realise that those charts are not good enough. You’ll soon be looking for a better way to document the information you gather and I recommend you start out the way you will want to carry on – by using excellent genealogy software.

I use and recommend Legacy. I’ve used it for years and find it not only easy to use, but easy to carry around on a flash card so that it can be used on any computer, which I find handy. In the past, I have created a family tree website with it too and it also allows me to search resource websites from within the program. Everything you’ll need to accomplish with it, can be done.

Once you’ve settled on the software you are going to use, open it to a fresh, blank tree and enter the first person – you! From there, enter the details of your husband/wife/partner (if you have one) and then the details of your children and grand children (if any). See how quickly your tree is growing? I’m sure you’ll feel inspired by that alone. When you’ve finished with your descendants, it’s time to look at your ancestors. Add your parents and then your grandparents. From there you’ll be able to add your parent’s siblings and their children. And you’ll also be able to add your parents aunts and uncles.

In a couple of hours you could go from a blank family tree to one with a couple of dozen people on it, if not more.

It is that easy.

Of course, getting started is the simple part. You’ll soon realise that you don’t know all the details you need for your aunts and uncles, let alone your great aunts and uncles and all your cousins. But how to get around that is something to discuss in another post. *grin*

Author Interview: Sean Williams

This month I have the honour of interviewing Sean Williams, author of several publications including The Change trilogy, the Broken Land series and several Star Wars novels.

Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Sean. Tell us about your latest publication.

I’ve had two series finish this year, giving me double cause to be anxious. Endings are hard enough when you’re writing just one book; over three or four the target can become very hard to hit. The Grand Conjunction concludes a gender-bending gothic-noir space opera set well over a million years in the future. The series, Astropolis, is full of all sorts of odd things, including a character who speaks solely in the lyrics of Gary Numan, and I was never entirely sure that I could pull it off. Reviews have been glowing, though, so I’m beginning to relax a little now.


The Scarecrow ends my “Broken Land” series for kids. It’s inspired by South Australian landscapes (like all my fantasy novels) and draws a lot of its characterisation and concerns from my own childhood. I felt very close to my young protagonists, and it’s been hard leaving them behind. I’ve since found the opportunity to continue their story as adults in a couple of sequel novellas, so I haven’t quite let them go yet.


Having read a couple of your books, I know how real your characters become so it’s no wonder you’ve grown attached to them. What project are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished a new Star Wars novel, but I can’t reveal the title, alas. The deadline for that was very tight, so I’m just beginning to catch up on all the things that have built up in the last few months. One is an introduction to a reissue of Arthur J Rees’s classic mystery novel The Shrieking Pit, which required a lot of research. Another is a series of linked poems for an anthology celebrating the work of Charles Darwin. When I’m working on a book, particularly when time is tight, I don’t like to do anything else but write when I’m at the computer, so everything else gets put on hold. Then my brain breaks as I try to do nine different things at once, all of them usually late. Then it’s on to re-writes or the next book. It keeps life interesting.

It sounds exhausting. Is your life reflected in the stories you write?

In all sorts of odd ways, and probably ways you wouldn’t recognise. Some of it’s up-front: the landscape of my fantasy novels, for instance, which is very clearly modelled on places I have spent a lot of time in down the years. There are themes that return many times because they’re themes I’ve struggled with all my life. Some of them I’m still struggling with now–like the nature of fatherhood, and love, and one’s place in the world; those old favourites. My friends pop in the books, as names or in certain behaviours, but it’s like meat in hot dogs: you’d never see them in the finished products. I’ve occasionally destroyed Adelaide, my home town, just for fun.

The one area of my life that I haven’t included in a story is writing. It feels a little….obvious. And a little too close to home, perhaps.

Do you know how the story will end when you first start writing it?

I like to. Otherwise I risk getting lost. Given I write at least two books a year, there isn’t any time to waste. As far back as I can remember–back to when I was writing novels in high school instead of doing my homework–I liked to work that way. I always make sure there’s some room to have fun in along the way, but I don’t like to set out without knowing exactly where I’m going first.

That makes a lot of sense. How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s one I’ve struggled with several times in the last twenty years. It’s such an all-consuming vocation–or can be, if you let it. I totally dived in at first, to the detriment of lots of things, from my love-life to my mental health. Eventually it occurred to me that, while it was great I was doing something I loved, I also needed to live a healthy life. So I started taking time off, going out, rejoining the world. Now, with a wife and family, the pendulum sometimes swings the other way, but I still write every day, and I still meet my deadlines. Since I’ve never been happier, I’d say I’ve got the balance about right. Touchwood/

That’s something I’m still struggling with so I admire you for finding the right balance. What advice would you give to a newcomer to writing?

Read a lot and write a lot. They’re the first two of the ten-and-a-half “commandments”–my attempt to compile every piece of writing advice that doesn’t need to be qualified. (link: I also have an A-Z of writing that might help. (link: But as long as you’re reading and writing, you’re on the right trick. Weird to think that some people want to be writers without ever actually reading. They just think it’d be a good way to make a living. As the late great Charles Brown used to say: “Everyone wants to be a writer. It’s the writing that’s the hard part.”

Well, he certainly was right. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why?

Some people definitely suffer from it. I don’t know why. There have been periods where I’ve found writing on a particular project very hard, but that can be worked through. I mean, accountants have to go to the office whether they’re feeling inspired or not, right? Musicians have to perform if they’re booked play in a concert. Why should writers be any different? Finding your way through that feeling is one of the great challenges of writing. If you can’t do it, you’re in big trouble.

Well said. What are your writing goals for the future?

To keep loving what I write, and to write better books. That’s it.

I wish you the best of luck with that too. Thank you for your time.

If you would like to know more about Sean and his books, please visit him at his website.