Family Tree – Helping people trace their ancestors since 1984

Family TreeTurn back in time to the mid-1980s, and family history was fast becoming a mainstream hobby. Family history societies were being rapidly established around the country, a telly series had inspired viewers to look at their own family tree, and those early computers were being cranked into action by innovative family history researchers, keen to make use of the latest tools to sort and store their family history findings.

But it was a hobby without a magazine. As long-time Family Tree contributor, Iain Swinnerton, said: ‘Photographers, fishermen, campers, railway modellers, golfers and computer buffs, to name but a few, all have one – why not us?’

It was now that former fish & chip owner, paramedic and ceramic painter, Michael Armstrong stepped into the fray, launching Family Tree magazine in the autumn of 1984.

What was going on in the family history world at the time?

Many of the elements that we, as family historians today, would recognise about our hobby were becoming firmly established. 1979 had seen the TV series, ‘Family History’, aired; 1983 saw the first publication from Ancestry – a genealogy newsletter, and in the coming years their first floppy disks of family history data would become available. In 1999 the FamilySearch website launched, and, in 2002, the 1901 Census came online – and immediately crashed, due to massive popularity.

While that was frustrating at the time, it just demonstrated the thirst for knowledge about ancestors that people have – and continue to have.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, online access to birth, marriage and death indexes, censuses, and now DNA results too, has seen many more people become able to join in with the hobby of family history and trace their family trees.

How does Family Tree continue to help in a changing world?

Set against the rapidly changing backdrop of the ‘Internet Era’, how has Family Tree magazine continued to help family historians over the years?

In some ways the magazine is just the same – readers’ letters, questions and stories, expert articles, useful information. But if you flick through an early copy, you’ll notice pages and pages of lists of names: people seeking relations, looking for ancestors. In the age before the internet took off as a communication channel, in the era before there were copious quantities of digitised and indexed family history records online, finding the barest details for a family tree required putting pen to paper and planning trips to archives and graveyards.

Now, however – while only a small proportion of the nation’s archival material is online – those core records (BMDs and census, as mentioned above) are. This means that people can make rapid progress with their research initially, scouring the online databases. And this is where Family Tree steps in. Whether it’s providing information for beginners to the hobby – so that they can learn how to research their family tree methodically and accurately; to providing information about research skills, new records and lesser-known ones, for more advanced readers  –  the aim of Family Tree is to give informative, friendly advice.

In addition to the letters, questions, in-depth research guides and more, as mentioned above, within the pages of the magazine we have new features too, to meet the needs of today’s family researcher, and to help them become the best genealogists they can be.

  • There’s the Family Tree Academy – providing readers with monthly challenges, giving them hands-on experience and tips for using an expanding range of historical records.
  • There’s the tech tips (to help people maximise the use of their mobile phone, for family history, out and about).
  • There’s the ‘lunch hour genealogist’ with quick tips and a crossword – giving busy people (which we all seem to be today!) the chance for bite-size learning, even if they just have a few minutes to spare.
  • And, new to the magazine is our ‘Taken a DNA test? Now what?’ series – helping people make sense of their results – in layman’s language – and so put them to use to learn that bit more about their family history.

Over the years, Family Tree has grown – now published 13 times a year, with more pages than ever, and today the Family Tree team provides readers with not just a magazine, but help via our social media channels and our website, which is jam-packed with a growing range of guides. Find out more at and pick up copy of the latest magazine in all good newsagents. To check out our latest subscription offers, please see

Did you know?

The organisations behind the Secret Lives Conference have a long history of expertise, the oldest of which was established 107 years ago!

  • Society of Genealogists – est 1911
  • Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives – est 1968
  • Guild of One-Name Studies – est 1979
  • Halsted Trust – est 2001

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