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Researching your own family tree

Several readers have asked us how to set about researching a family tree in the UK. Whilst we are by no means acknowledged experts in this field, the following hints have worked well for us. We've so far managed to trace family members back to 1809, with a few simple (and some not so simple!) steps:

  1. The most important rule is to be organised, logical and thorough - keep accurate details of information that you discover, especially where you found the information, and why you believe it to be important. Later on in your search, these notes will help you pull all of your findings together, and will allow you to re-check that your information is correct. There are a number of software packages that can help in this area; we found that GenoPro works well for us.

  2. Ask all family members, including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles (and so on) what they know about the family. This is absolutely the best source of information, but don't assume that it is 100% accurate - memories play tricks on people, and family legends are often embellished down the years!

  3. If you have any old papers, documents and photographs, then try and find out where they fit into the family history. Old wedding photographs will show both sides of the family, and often allow you to estimate age differences quite accurately.

  4. If you can find marriage certificates (or, better still, birth certificates) for your ancestors, then you will find out the names of their parents, occupations, middle names and geographical details, which will be invaluable in later searches.

  5. Once you have an ancestor who lived in 1911 (and you know approximately where they lived), then you can use the 1911 census to find out who else lived with them, their place of birth, and how old they were at the time.

    Follow the same procedure with earlier census data, and don't forget to look at service records for the armed forces, including census data for ships' crews.

  6. If you have an approximate date of birth, marriage or death (and a place), you can search other sites to find other possible ancestors:

  7. If, at any stage during your research, you come across an unusual place-name, street-name or house-name, or you suspect that a possible ancestor has an unusual middle name, then ask your oldest relatives if the name means anything to them. We found the name of a farm where an ancestor possibly lived, only to later find out that a great-uncle had called his house the very same thing. Unusual names often pass down through the generations, so those are always a good find.

  8. If you get back as far as 1837, you will be doing very well, but then things start to get much harder, as accurate birth/marriage/death records are hard to find. At this point, you'll need to find parish registers or other documentary evidence to continue. Then, of course, you may need to travel to known locations, and that's where the fun really begins...

Anyway, it's all good fun, quite cheap, and very rewarding when you manage to find out who your ancestors were, where they lived and what they did for a living. After all, they made you what you are today!

Take care, and best wishes!

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