It’s a new year. Maybe it’s time to start a new hobby? If you’ve never delved into the world of family history, now is the time to start. If you’ve dipped your toe into the world of genealogy, but ground to a halt, now is the time to start afresh. Even if another family member has started a family tree, don’t take it as gospel. Start your own research, include your spouse’s family, venture up or down other family branches. The possibilities are endless. But where do you start?
Start with yourself
Write down what you know about yourself. Many people forget this part, but your family history should begin with you. Where you were born, lived, went to school, worked, married, associated with. Make it easier for future generations to discover your history. If you have a spouse and/or children, write down their details too.
Start your way up the tree
Once you have documented your own life, work up through the generations starting with your parents, then grandparents and great-grandparents. Ask questions (although not everyone will give answers), but back up details with (birth, marriage and death certificates, parish records, census records). It’s tempting, but don’t rush past the closer generations, otherwise you might find yourself researching the wrong people.
Start branching out
If you’ve hit a brick wall with your direct ancestors, start researching other branches of your family tree. You never know who or what you might discover.
Start questioning everything
Found a family tree which includes your ancestors? Don’t just take their word for it that their research is correct. Don’t just copy it. Question it… Do they have the records to back it up? Does it make sense? If their information differs to yours, question it! Don’t automatically assume it’s the other person who’s wrong either, you may well have made a mistake somewhere along the line.
Start fleshing out the data
Your ancestors were more than just data. Flesh out names, dates and locations with stories from family members and from newspapers. Through newspaper archives I discovered my four-times great-grandfather regularly appeared in local newspapers for being “Drunk and Riotous”, but I also discovered that he wasn’t just an old drunk… A magistrate who had known him for many years described him as “a respectable, inoffensive man when sober”. He just had a tendency to have a drink or two at the market and it would all go wrong after that!
Need some help starting?
Websites such as FindMyPast and Ancestry have free trials and records. Also be sure to check out Family Search and FreeBMD (birth, marriage and deaths in England & Wales) which are free to use. Web forums and Facebook groups will also prove useful.
This post was written as part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.
I’ll be honest and say it’s very unlikely I’ll manage all 52 weeks, but I’ll give it a go! Why not join in?