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Finding your Ancestors
Research conducted by family history website Findmypast revealed that one in 10 (12%) Brits can’t trace their family tree back past their parents, and over a third (38%) can only trace it up to their grandparents.
Alex Cox, researcher at Findmypast, said; Family history is about so much more than just adding names and dates to a tree. It’s about exploring your roots and understanding the lives of your ancestors. You’ll find shocks and revelations, twists and turns. You may uncover mysteries and scandals. Most of all, it’s about going on a fascinating, sometimes emotional, always rewarding, journey of discovery that’s completely unique to you.
The celebrities appearing on Who Do You Think You Are? may seem incredibly lucky to have their family stories revealed, but most people don’t realise that almost anyone can now access the historical records used by the show’s experts.
Genealogy used to require careful study, cross country trips to local archives and hours spent pouring over dusty tomes. But now, with a wide variety of apps, websites and other resources your ancestors are now just a few clicks away.
Sit down and make a note of everything you already know Quiz your relatives to see what they remember Search the attic. Check old photographs, letters or documents and other heirlooms for clues to the past.
It’s always best to start off broadly by searching for a name and year of birth. Once you have a better idea of what and who you are looking for, you can narrow things down from there.
Build a family tree.
Many online tree builders, including, Findmypast’s, are free, easy to use and jam-packed with useful features including ‘hints’ which will do a lot of the hard work for you.
Birth, Marriage and Deaths – the essential building blocks.
These meticulously kept records are widely available online and will provide you with all the information you need to identify ancestors and uncover previous generations.
Become a census detective
Complete censuses for England and Wales are available online from 1841 and due to data protection laws, the latest census we can search online dates from 1911. Use the details from this to search for your family in 1901. After repeating this process going back decade by decade, you should find yourselves in the 1840s in no time!
The 1931 census was destroyed by fire. No census was taken in 1941 because of the war. The 1939 register is the only national census-like resource available for this period. Once war became inevitable the British Government knew they had to issue National Identity Cards. They planned for the wide-scale mobilisation of the population and the eventual introduction of rationing. The most recent census was now almost a decade old, so more up-to-date statistics were needed. Some preparations had already begun for the 1941 census, so the Government capitalised on this to take a register of the civilian population. They issued Identity cards immediately afterwards (which were used until 1952).
The register is immensely detailed and covers every household in England and Wales. Like a census, it can tell you a lot about how your ancestors actually lived or be used to explore the history of your home. You could find out if your ancestors had servants or staff, who their neighbours were, how many children they had and what they all did for a living.
Search Parish Records.
Parish records provide a fascinating look not just at your family history, but also at the history of our society, with details of baptisms, marriages and burials dating all the way back to the reign of Henry VIII.
Check the news.
Local papers include more than just announcements of births, marriages and deaths. Articles may report visitors to and from town, legal details regarding the settlement of estates, land sales, advertisements for the family business and more.
The role and story of significant events, such as World War I or tragic events of the devastating world-wide flu epidemic of 1917-1919 are reported through a local lens, allowing you to further understand an ancestor’s experiences within their local community.
Tell their story.
Once you’ve grown your family tree, it’s time to add some colour to your research by taking a closer look at the life your ancestors lived. Amongst the billions of records available online, you will find a wide variety of documents that can help you learn a surprising amount about the defining moments of their lives.
Don’t blame us when ‘just 15 more minutes’ turns into the wee hours of the morning.
With more records released online every week, there has never been a better time to become a family historian.
We have to admit it can be rather addictive but there are far worse habits to have!