Researching ancestors and genealogical research can be a very rewarding task, although it can also be hard work. Genealogical and ancestry research is not easy unless you know the right way to go about it, and all of that data you have found can be a millstone around your neck if you cannot find a way to put it all together into a coherent form, and attach all the dots to come up with a family tree.
Many people eventually just give up, but if you are reaching that stage stop for a minute, regroup and go back to the beginning – to the beginning of where your family is now and work back.
Nobody ever completed a family tree – they only ever got so far back, and if you want to get as far back as you possibly can then you need a plan – and you need some help. Write down the names and dates you know in chronological order, and then write down the resources you can use to fit them together and go even further back. Here are some tips that will help you, and persuade you to carry on and complete this task you have set yourself.
Your Relatives Can Help
Get the elder members of your family together and speak to them about their past. While some old people can’t remember where they put their spectacles, they often have a vivid memory of events over 50 years ago. Ask them questions about their childhood – what stories did their parents tell them about their relatives? Who was in the war, and who perhaps never came back.
Give them some ‘aides memoire’, such as old artifacts or keepsakes, or even old photographs. You can ask whose ring this was that your mother had handed down to you. If you have an old photograph album, then get that out and ask them who certain people were. Perhaps you have some old wedding albums where the older generation features – either as grandparents of the couple or just guests. Your older relatives might remember faces and give you some names to work within your research – you never know.
As with all genealogical research, keep taking notes and write down every name and date you can. Perhaps where they lived – even if that is just the name of a village, town or city. If you have several elderly relatives all talking at once a voice recorder would be useful – many modern mobile phones have one and some MP3 players also double as voice recorders. This could be invaluable information for you because it’s first-hand information about your ancestors.
Remember, however, that although their memories might be clear at times, at other times old people can get confused and some of the dates and names might not match, or they may have attached an old memory to the wrong person. Generally however, such information should give you a bit more to go on in your quest.
Many people researching ancestors go straight to the internet, but the net can only give you back what has already been stored on it. There should be nothing available online that is not also available offline, so offline research should ultimately be the more rewarding. However, you should be able to find a lot online that will save you time later with physical searches.
When researching ancestors, you can use the internet in two fundamental ways. First, you can try to access records directly, and here are some of the records you can easily research online:
Census Records: UK 10-year census records are available online from 1841 to the present date, and many other countries offer the same service. A census is a good source of information if you know the names you are seeking and also their approximate addresses. If you aren’t sure of the address, then knowing the names can at last give you alternative addresses for further research.
Civil Registrations: It is also possible to research civil registrations online. In the UK, where records of birth, marriages and deaths were faithfully maintained, it is possible to access these if you have a name. Without a first and second name, however, you will be unable to find the information you want – you might be lucky if you have a surname that is not too popular. This service is available online in the UK from 1837.
Parish and Probate Records: Available online in the UK, this is treasure trove for those researching family trees. You will find records of baptisms, burials, marriages, inscriptions on tombstones, obituaries, tax lists and parish records for the whole of the UK. Many people find all they need to know from this type of website which differs between countries.
Online Genealogy Websites and Software
There is a wealth of information available through online websites such as Genes Reunited and Ancestry which use databanks such as those mentioned above and also contact sites to enable you both to research your ancestry and contact living relatives that have lost touch with you.
Let’s say a relative moved to Australia during the period just after the Great War (WW1) which happened quite frequently. Just as frequently, contact would be lost because communications systems in the 1920s were not as intercontinental as they are now. By using Genes Reunited it is possible to find such relatives, or their families, and get back in touch. You then have a whole new side of your family to research that you knew little about.
Another possibility is using genealogy software, designed not only to connect you to the most useful genealogy research sites, but also provide databases and forms to enable you to store the information you find in a logical and easily-retrieved manner. The software enables you to begin building the traditional style of family tree, and help you fill in the blanks. Once you get that far you feel you are achieving something.
By using a combination of the above online searches and software you should be able to break the back of your family research. Most websites are free to use, though some may charge a small fee, and you may also have to pay for copies of the records concerned. However, this is the ideal way to take a name given to you by an elderly relative, and then research deeper into their antecedents and dig really deep into the ancestry of a family.
The same information you can get online is also available offline – that’s only to be expected of course, because online data comes from their corresponding offline sources. Just as the voter’s roll is available to the public offline, you can also access it online to find who lives where. However, the electoral roll only goes back so far – to 2002 in the UK.
Parish church records are useful for historical information about families, and they can date back to as far as the parish does. Much depends on whether or not the records were passed on as new churches were built, but many people researching family trees find parish records of inestimable value. It is also possible to carry out your research using the records held by civil registration authorities, many of which have public areas for research and access to record by microfiche and computer.
Genetic genealogy research is another way of establishing relationships between families. If families have the same surname and feel they may be related, DNA sampling and private relationship or ancestry testing will establish that for definite – it can even estimate the time period since they were directly related.
By combining all of these research facilities that millstone will fall off your neck, and you should be able to out all of that information into the form of a formal family tree. You can then know better your ancestors and genealogy through genealogical research.