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Starting family history research - please add tips

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Joy Report 1 Jul 2010 22:23

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Joy Report 1 Jul 2010 22:24

There are no hard and fast rules; different people do things in different ways, and there is no one right way nor one wrong way. What suits one person may not suit another. I can give tips on what to do from a personal perspective, and hope that others will, too.

Ways and methods have changed from when I started actively researching my ancestral family, only about 11 years ago. For instance, my journeys to the Family Records Centre in London, when I used to pore over the large, heavy books that contained the indexes of civil registration, from 1837, and search the 1841 to 1901 census on film, often asking the helpful staff for their assistance, had to cease when it closed two years ago.

I have found some useful reference books very helpful to keep on the bookshelf and refer to now and then, for instance we first borrowed from the library and then bought George Pelling's Beginning Your Family History and Colin Roger's Family Tree Detective both of which I find very useful; also, First Steps in Family History by Eve McLaughlin. There are other books which I am sure others can recommend.

One word of caution - although there are many useful websites, and search engines, ie google, dogpile, AltaVista, and many interesting discoveries can be made from surfing the internet, not everything can be found that way. Family history research can be fun, rewarding, and even frustrating at times, and it is a detective trail upon which once one has started, one wishes to find out more. Some call it family history, some call it genealogy; there are differences. What I like to discover are not just names and dates and places, yes, I want to know their names, when they were "hatched, matched and dispatched", but also I want to find out about the places where they lived, where they fit in geographically in the country or in the world, about transport in the times that they lived, the fashions, the social customs of their times; and, if at all possible, I love "treading in their footsteps".

To go back to the beginning -
Where to start? and how?
Start with "me", without "me", one cannot go anywhere in ancestral researching.

So, what do you know about yourself? You may know quite a lot, you may know very little.

... to be continued in due course.
NB copy kept this time.


Joy Report 3 Jul 2010 22:20

Anyone like to add their thoughts? before I continue.


Nickydownsouth Report 3 Jul 2010 22:30

One useful tip is when you are doing a general search in a town/parish, make a note of all people with your ancestors surname, or similar allowing for poor/mistrancscribed spelling.....

You may not think these people are connected at the time, but some time later { maybe even years down the line} you will often find these people fit in to your tree., and oh how glad you`ll be that you made a note of them....

Good idea Joy......



Joy Report 3 Jul 2010 22:45

Thank you, Nicky.
I had posted a long thread a few years ago, hoping it would be of help but the site's glitch deleted it and, on that occasion, I had not kept a copy! -


TootyFruity Report 3 Jul 2010 23:50

Start with what you know and work back.

Ask relatives for as much information as possible but don't take it as gospel as sometimes the information they have been given is wrong to protect past secrets.

Prove each step as you go and only use other trees as a guide. They may have made a mistake and you could end up going down the wrong path.

Attach sources as you get them to each person. It saves going back later with a large batch.

If using a computer to store information back up regularly just in case it crashes so you don't lose everything.

Accept that you will make mistakes and it isn't the end of the world. It just means you have eliminated something.

But most important of all have fun


Rambling Report 4 Jul 2010 00:00

A lot of us only started to think about researching a family tree after there are few people left to ask... sit for a while and think of all the memories you can drag up from childhood...maybe who came for Christmas, whether when you visited aunts and uncles you travelled and to where...keep a note book handy, you will be surprised at the snippets of information that you didn't think you knew, that suddenly pop into your head from long ago.

A name you remember now might not 'mean' anything to you ...but you might find it in records somewhere down the line and it will slot into place!

Make as much use of free sites as you possibly can, and always Google! Names of people, places, can give you an amazing amount ( for example googling several locations and wading through the pages found background details of my gt grandfather and a gt gt gt from the pages of old books on the areas)


Joy Report 17 Jul 2010 23:10

Only you know just how much you know about yourself and your immediate or distant family. Sometimes the memory needs a nudge. Do ask questions of relatives and friends; all too often one hears "I wish I had been interested enough to ask Mum and Dad, and Gran and Grandad, but now it is too late".

So, we ask what we can when we can, if we can, and the rest we have to try to find out ourselves. And, in due course, it may be possible that you may know some facts that were not known by your parents and grandparents! :-)


Joy Report 31 May 2011 17:37

I know that certificates cost money, but it is necessary sometimes to buy them in order to go backwards and be 99.99% certain that one's ancestral research is accurate.

Start with yourself - then your parents' marriage - their birth - their parents' marriage - their birth and so on.


Mark Report 31 May 2011 21:53

Ask family members - Not always that simple when your fostered or adopted but all leaflets and websites seem to say the same thing over and over again.


Nannylicious Report 31 May 2011 22:01

Never never rule anything out and keep a notepad of any little bits of information you come across. Something turned up recently that I had originally recorded about 4 years ago but had put to one side because I couldn't validate the information.


Joy Report 16 Jul 2012 21:46

Any more tips for starting out on the research road?


GlasgowLass Report 16 Jul 2012 22:18

Traditional Scottish Naming Pattern
If your ancestry lies in Scotland, it is good to know how the pattern worked.
Up until the start of the 20th Century, most families adhered to this.

1st son- named for his paternal grandfather
2nd son- named for his maternal grandfather
3rd son- named for his own father

1st daughter- named for her maternal grandmother
2nd daughter named for her paternal grandmother
3rd daughter named for her own mother

If there were more than 3 sons. more than 3 daughters, or if the name had already been allocated, the parents simply moved up one generation and chose an unused one from their own ancestry.

I started out in family history after my mum in law asked if I could find some info on her ancestry

She knew that her own, not so common first name came from her maternal grandmother.
I then discovered that the maternal grandmother was also named for her grandmother... and so on
The name had been handed down in the correct naming pattern order since at least 1750 until the 1920's
I have also researched my own Scottish lines and found that the pattern was used there too.
It ultimitely means that there are many, many antedescendants bearing the same names.

I cannot find any info on parentage of my gggg grandmother, ( died pre 1841) but without a doubt, I KNOW that her father was called Richard.... it was given to her 2nd son, and used by each of her own children in the correct place within their own families.
The T.S.N.P is a fantastic tool if you know how to apply the rules.

Anne ( named for great grandmother!)


MarieCeleste Report 16 Jul 2012 23:44

Be clear about what you want to achieve, and embark on the journey for the right reasons - don't become just a "name collector" or try to get as far back in time just because you can.

These were real people - your FAMILY, not just statistics or random names to put on a computer generated tree.


Robert Report 6 Sep 2012 23:08

If you can find who you are looking Try there middle name, For Example My Great Aunt was Born Jane Lilian, but on her marriage Cert. Its was Lilian Jane. He mother was Jane,so she grow up being called Lilian. Also be careful with stepparents My Grandmother was born Nash , but when my Grandmother in her twenties adopted her stepfathers name,so her marriage she used the surname Matthews not Nash , so it worth trying a combination of the names that have been called


JustDinosaurJill Report 6 Sep 2012 23:15

If you ask for help or information from us on here, a please and/or thank you will get you much further. I can only speak for myself but if I read a request for info and the poster hasn't bothered to say either or both, I click off and go look at the next post.


GlasgowLass Report 6 Sep 2012 23:38

One piece of advice that I forgot to add is simple......
Always Do The Maths.
Ensure that the information fits with the timescale and is technically possible before making a definitive decision.


Malcolm Report 16 Sep 2012 18:07

Keep all family photographs safely no matter how recent, and especially the older B&W ones. Learn about acid free papers and photo storage methods. Write information on the back in pencil and cover that with acid free paper also. Scan them to files on a memory stick and copy the images to labelled CD's. Do not just leave them on your hard drive. Do the same with new digital images. They will be history to someone someday.

Browse old family address books and christmas card lists you might find around the house. They can be a treasure trove of addresses and names.


Robert Report 17 Sep 2012 11:15

i find when i have come up against a brick wall when researching my family, i will leave that section of that family alone for a few months then return to them. this enables me to look at it with a clear mind. as most of us sometimes take on more research than we can handle, and we confuse ourselves


Joy Report 15 Jan 2013 23:07

For Richard.