British Columbia

Tips for how to trace one's family history, from a genealogical expert

Surrey Public Library manager Laurie Cooke helps people track down their ancestry

Surrey Public Library manager Laurie Cooke helps people track down their ancestry

Vintage family photo album and documents (Getty Images)

Mapping one's family tree and discovering one's ancestors can be a thrilling experience, says a Surrey genealogical expert.

"You're on a path to discovery that doesn't stop — one thing leads to another and it's really hard to put that down. It can even be described as an addiction," said Laurie Cooke, the branch manager of the Cloverdale branch of the Surrey Public Library.

"You're expecting your history to line up to what you've been told for most of your life, most people will find it's not quite right."

Cooke, who  helps people track down their family histories, joined B.C. Almanac guest host Jodie Martinson to explain what people can do to start their searches:

1. Organize the information you have

"I highly recommend people decide how they're going to organize what they find before they even start," Cooke said.

"Get your filing cabinet together, decide what sort of tree you'd like to use, or online tree, then get your own information and then start gathering everything that other people have, before searching other record searches."

2. Interview family members

Once you've searched all the records you have, you should interview your family members, Cooke said.

She said that family members who are reluctant to get involved may come around once a person has already gathered some information they might not have known.

"My Irish side of the family had zero interest, I could not get any information from my father," said Cooke, of her own family tree search.

"I started poking around to see what he might like. He was a police officer in Toronto for a long time, and one of the first things that I found was many, if not all of his uncles, great uncles etc. were Royal Irish Constabulary

"The minute I told him that, he came around and got involved in it."

3. Use free or paid ancestry resources

Libraries and groups like the British Columbia Genealogical Society can offer information for those searching for their family trees, said Cooke, who helps clients at the Surrey Public Library.

There are also free websites such as, and paid services such as,, and, she said.

These websites also offer DNA tests, which check maternal and paternal lines and can check for cousins and siblings.

"It's not an exacting science at times," said Cooke, who added that the results can help people find others who could offer them even more information.

"You get a match list. One of the first things you find is a list of people who match, how they match you, by what percentage, and an estimate of whether they're a second or third or fourth cousin to you."

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Two genealogy experts explain how to seek out one's ancestors


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