- Start with what you know. Start with your parents and grandparents and work backwards in time. For your family tree to have any real meaning you must be able to prove every step, every generation, every birth and every set of parents. If you start with the member of the royal family you are supposed to be related to and work down you will never be able to prove the connection.
- Talk to relatives. There may be someone in your extended family who has done the hard work already, or there may be someone in the family who knows all the family stories and relatives. Talk to your grandparents before it is too late! If you can find another researcher who is willing to share their information you can get a huge head start, but be wary of the information if it doesn't include sources - where the information came from. Check the information for yourself to be sure - don't just accept it as fact. Many people just choose the "most likely" of a range of possibilities and go on from there, ending up on a wrong branch entirely.
- Get the birth, death and marriage certificates. Although they can be expensive, certificates are priceless in terms of the information they provide and the proof they give. In Australia they give a wealth of information about parents, children and places of birth, and can supply clues to find the previous generation. Certified copies can be obtained directly from the Registrar in each State, or transcription agents can supply the same information more cheaply. Indexes are available online for some Australian States, and on CD for all States from many libraries and Family History Centres, and can be used to supply a direct reference to the registration required, thus avoiding search fees.
- Find the arrival of your first immigrant to Australia. Eventually your trail through the births, deaths and marriages will point to someone whose place of birth was not Australia, or perhaps whose marriage was approved by the Governor. This person either immigrated freely, and was assisted to do so if you are lucky, or arrived by courtesy of one of His Majesty's convict ships. The death certificate may state how long the deceased has been in the colony, in which case you have an estimated date of arrival to work from. The NSW State Records website has indexes to assisted immigrants and many convict records, from which you may be able to find likely candidates and then check the records themselves. Many libraries have these records on microfilm, or you can order copies from State Records. If your ancestor was an assisted immigrant s/he may have had to state parents names and other relatives already in the colony - especially helpful if the informant of the death registration did not know.
- Collect all your information in some some sort of system. Many people use family tree programs, and others use Word documents or spreadsheets, or paper files and index cards to keep track of all their research and what they have found. Whatever you decide to use, make sure you record the sources of your information, and the more sources the better. This is your proof! You know your great-grandmother's maiden name and parents because they were listed on her death certificate (perhaps by her son-in-law) and on her assisted immigrant passenger list (perhaps by herself). This is primary evidence, the best kind! Even if your source is the say-so of Aunty Mary, write it down so you know how reliable the information is. When you later get a conflicting version of the date or place or story from another source you can decide for yourself which one is more likely to be true.
Compiling a family tree is a very ebtertaining and rewarding pastime, but for it to have any meaning for future generations it must be true. So please, please, try to make sure your family tree is accurate and has sources cited.