5 easy tips on taking the first steps to trace your UK ancestors

The family tree of Ludwig Herzog von Wurtenberg Source : wikipedia
The family tree of Ludwig Herzog von Wurtenberg Source : wikipedia

You may now have more time to pursue hobbies like genealogy.It maybe something you have always had in mind to do given more time.You may also feel that as you grow older you perhaps owe it to those younger in the family to provide as much information as possible about the family’s history so that it can be passed down to future generations. Or you may simply have an inquisitive nature and have stumbled upon this absorbing hobby.

Family Tree: Buy One or Grow Your Own?

Tracing ancestors is without doubt a hugely popular pastime worldwide. A search in Google against the term “family history”,for instance, currently yields nearly 300 million results. It can be a very exciting and rewarding pursuit, also frequently frustrating, and without due care, it can be expensive. The following tips assume that you wish to take those first tentative steps yourself towards finding-out more about your family history,rather than pay a professional researcher to do the work for you.

1.Have a good and realistic idea of what you hope to achieve

This will enable you to set a firm target for which you can allocate the amount of time and resources (namely money) you are prepared to give to your family history project. It may pay not to be too ambitious in your project ,and the above tree maybe beyond your compass at this time! Bearing in mind that in the United Kingdom (more specifically England and Wales), for instance, the legal requirement to register births,marriages and deaths only came in from 1837, this period to the present day is where the easy to pick,’low hanging fruit’ of genealogical information is to be found.http://www.BMD-Certificates.co.uk

Earlier than 1837,the family history researcher has to fall back on less formal records, including parish registers of churches, and other places of worship where baptisms and weddings were carried out.

Also to be reckoned is how quickly,from say a starting point of a husband and wife, the number of people to be traced-back can balloon, potentially doubling with each generation researched.A sensible limit may be limit your tree to 4 generations, taking your family back over 120 years.

2. Start by creating a family information sheet

Having decided who your tree is to be based on, a good place to start is to collect some basic information: Full Name, Address, Place of Birth,Place of Marriage (if appropriate), and date and place of death (if appropriate), then extend this list to cover the same information for parents, grandparents,great grandparents,parents siblings and grandparents siblings.

There will probably soon be obvious gaps in the information you need. Recourse should be had to interviewing all the known living relatives you can contact for any details, however trivial they first seem to be. Another valuable source of personal data can be found in books and papers passed down through the family. Family bibles were a common place for to inscribe inside the covers details of their relatives, often providing important dates of the life events of the named. The detective work now really begins.

3. Utilise Internet research methods

This will enable you to do at distance from home what was only once possible by travelling, often long distances, to record depositaries, and spending great amounts of time pouring over volumes of dusty certificates and other records. Even as recently as 50 years ago in the UK, the hobby of genealogy had a small following, being considered expensive,difficult and rather ‘fusty’. In the years since,this perception has changed radically.

The internet can now yield, through many websites that have now digitised large amounts of the paper archives in local and national record offices, much of the data you will need to trace your ancestors. Do look for the free to access information sites, and then you can look at others which have an affordable fee or subscription if further investigation is needed.(http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk– link given for information only – no affiliation). Remember also, in this digital age, copies of some paper documents, such as birth,marriage,and death certificates can still be obtained from some national registries like the UK Public Registry (PRO)

4. Obtain some proprietary software to help draw-up your family tree

Once upon a time, drawing your family tree would be a laborious pen and ink exercise, although when done well could become a creative work of art. Mercifully today, when time is at a premium and there is inexpensive software to produce clean and consistently good quality family trees. You will also be able to store large amounts of the information you find during your researches, that can be readily accessed to write-up a history saving you a lot of handwriting.

Roots Magic http://www.rootsmagic.co.uk ( Please note I have no affiliation to this product, it is given as an example of what is available)

5. Use your imagination

It is important when researching always not to take appearances for granted. Some family gossip may help in a situation, but unless it is corroborated as fact it can lead you down the proverbial ‘garden path ‘, wasting much valuable time looking in the wrong place, or perhaps for someone who is simply not related.

However, the project may become somewhat of a detective project. You may need to be imaginative. Was Great Uncle George of an age to have been conscripted into the Army in the War? There may be useful leads in military records.Or,that old sepia coloured photograph of a gowned university student. Can you identify the buildings in the background which indicate where a relative studied? The university could provide from its records a clue to the person pictured, and so establish a familial link. There are so many different sources of information which are not in the main stream, but which were created to record a life event for posterity.

The above 5 tips can of necessity only skim over the subject of genealogy which is wide and deep. What they should show is that for all its potential complexity someone without great expertise can make a decent effort of producing a useful family history with a little time and application. If having achieved your goal you have caught the ‘bug’ and gained a working knowledge, you may want to widen your scope of research to go back even further, or to bring in more distantly related persons within your chosen number of generations. For many this project becomes a labour of love and discovery over many years.

Finally should you buy rather than grow your ‘early stage’ family tree? Well, as with most things, this will depend on your level of interest (in actually doing the work), how much time you have to spare, and your financial resources. There are professional researchers out there who will do a defined level of work over an agreed number of generations for a fixed fee. Beware of paying by the hour, if you cannot determine how long the work will take. Otherwise it could turn out very expensive. Always try to find a recommended expert from a recognised professional body such as (in the UK) AGRA, or the Society of Genealogists. The latter, in particular, has huge resources of information which maybe of assistance to you in your searches.

Above all enjoy doing this.

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