Research Tips

Before you start your journey I would offer a word of warning for what may lie ahead. This sort of research can be time consuming, absorbing and deeply upsetting and you need to be aware of this before starting. For this reason I would always advocate getting someone in the family to assist you. All families are unique and you never know what you are going to encounter, very few ancestors have ever had good lives. You will often find that most of our ancestors had to endure hardships that don’t exist today so we can often find it hard to understand the past without the historical context.

Family History is about bringing relatives back to life from an unknown past. You discover their birth, you see them leave school and start work, often you see them married and eventually witness the children arrive. The 1911 census records for the first time how many children born to a couple died, and often it is a surprise. You see your relatives get old and the children marry and you can tell then if their aspirations have been achieved. Then they die and you feel the loss because for every relative you have resurrected there has been a relationship. You don’t think all this would affect you but they are family – and it does.

My parents and grandparents knew little about their background, in those days families rarely talked about it, certainly not to children, so it came as a surprise to find relatives in the workhouse and relatives who were murdered. More upsetting still were the stories of those relatives who went ‘to do their bit’ in the First World War thinking it would not take long. So many of those poor brave souls never came back and we see the impact that their loss had on the family. Almost as an act of closure I have visited every relative’s grave I have resurrected in this way and said my goodbyes.

Before you begin your search you need to resolve to be as organised as you possibly can be and to document, scan and record everything. Purchase folders and note books and maintain them as you go. A good voice recorder is important and with it you can sit the eldest members of the family down over a cup of tea, one at a time or it can get out of control, and let them talk about the ‘old days’. It is often surprising at just what information comes to the surface when memory is stimulated.

if you visit places where your ancestors used to live, see if you can get the oldest inhabitant, like I did, to talk to you about what things were like in the village in the “old days”. He knew things even my family did not know and he really enjoyed the opportunity of just talking about the past. The information people possess is seldom written down but so vital because when they go it is lost. I would also ask members of the family for photographs, particularly the eldest ones. Scan them into the computer and make sure they are all clearly recorded as to who, what and when the photo was taken

Family History magazines can be very informative when you are starting out. They have helpful articles and good at offering tips and mentioning websites that will help. They also publish research so you can see how other people have conducted their research. They also have adverts for software and storage folders and the like.

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