Six steps to starting your trip back in time

What is family history all about? Basically it’s about you and all the people who went in to making you who you are. It also
means becoming a detective – you have to find the clues to lead you stage by stage through your family tree. If you are starting out on the trail of your ancestors then there are six basic steps which will get you on the right path.

Step One:

Begin at the end — this means start with yourself because family history works backwards.

Write down everything you know about yourself, full name, birth date and place, schools, work, marriage, addresses etc.

Now do the same for your parents, grandparents and any other member of your family.

Step two:

Ask the family. Talk to other members of the family, especially older relations, after all one of them may have done some research, or know of an ancestor who started researching the family.

This could save time and money, especially if they have already obtained official certificates or other documents.

Make out a list of questions before you start and don’t forget to take notes. Also ask if they have any old documents, photographs, letters etc.

Step three:

Check the registers of births, marriages and deaths and census records. The certificates recording births, marriages and deaths are legal documents and the information provided will include exact dates and locations of the events as well as other family information, such as occupations, parents’ names, ages.

Civil registration started in England on July 1, 1837, but in the early days there was no compulsion to register births or deaths.

Census returns provide family groupings with details of age, occupation and marital status.

The census as we know it today began in 1841 and has taken place every 10 years (except during the second world war).

Information on individuals is released for public scrutiny 100 years after the original publication. This means the details from the censuses of 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 are now available.

Indexes to both sets of documents are available at local record offices and at the Family Records Centre in London. Some of these records can be viewed on the internet.

Step four:

Parish registers are the next port of call giving details of baptisms, marriages and deaths, not only before 1837 but also helping to fill in the gaps for the period from the start of registration until some registrations (such as births) became compulsory.

They were started in 1538 but not many survive before 1600. They are kept at county record offices and a national collection of copies is available at the Society of Genealogists in London.

Step five:

Cemeteries can provide added information and sometimes give you clues to other ancestors.

Not all graves have markers or headstones these days but there are often cemetery records that can provide information.

Many churchyards and cemeteries have had the names from graves indexed and these are often held by family history societies and are sometimes published on the internet.

Step six:

Wills can provide information on addresses and other relations and will also pad out the bare bones of the names you have discovered so far.

These can be found in public record archives but nowadays some are also available on the internet.

And don't forget...

Once you take these first six steps on the journey into the past the rest will follow. The path isn’t always easy but the finds along the way can make up for the pitfalls and blind alleys you might stumble into.

Remember to keep proper records. This includes noting where you obtained the information, who from and when. Never throw away the original notes as sometimes you can make errors in copying them on.

You will also need some form of files to store the various certificates, photographs, documents, photocopies etc.

Now might also be the time to consider whether you are going to use a computer to keep your records and look around for an appropriate software package.

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