Family Tree Research: 10 Useful Tips
1. If you are starting from absolute scratch look at your birth certificate (‘long’ certificate), it will contain your parents names, including your mother’s maiden name, where your parents lived when you were born, and your father’s occupation. Armed with this information you can then search for your parents marriage certificate (search the years just before either you were born or your eldest sibling was). Your parents marriage certificate will give both their father’s names and occupations, you can then find your parents birth certificates, then you just keep going back using the same method, finding marriage certificate after birth certificate throughout the generations of your family.
2. If you haven’t done so already a good way to begin is to subscribe to either Ancestry.com or Ancestry.co.uk. You may want to look at the ‘public member’ trees first on Ancestry before you embark on your research proper, because more often than not someone else in the extended family is already researching your tree. You can search the ‘private member’ trees on both Ancestry sites also but initially you will get only basic information, you need to email the owners of the relevant ‘private member’ trees and ask can you view them, but use the information you find as a pointer only until you establish that the sources are correct, otherwise you may find yourself going off on a wild goose chase!
3. Websites such as Ancestry have default search settings whereby not only is the exact name that you put into the search box searched for, but also a soundex match of the name (alternate spellings), and a similar meaning of the name too. When searching for ancestors births, marriages and deaths on the UK BMD website (www.ukbmd.org.uk) the default search for names is ‘exact’, so if at first you don’t find the ancestor you’re searching for try ticking the ‘soundex’ box, and then tick ‘near’ or ‘vague’ in turn, because sometimes names are transcribed with incorrect spellings and won’t show when using the default search ‘exact’.
4. Always record the sources of your research about ancestors, this allows you to check and cross reference later. Both Ancestry.com and Ancestry.co.uk do this automatically for you when you add ancestors to your family tree.
5. The first census in England and Wales took place in 1801, however the UK census records that are available online date from 1841 onwards, and took place every ten years from that year. Census records are a valuable source of information when researching your family history, the 1841 census records are quite basic in the information they offer, but later census records contain more information. A great place to begin your search of census records is Find My Past where you can search the 1881 census completely free of charge!, to view the other census records though you will need to subscribe.
6. Civil registration (where all births marriages and deaths had to be recorded) in England and Wales began in 1837, in Scotland in 1855, and in Ireland in 1864. When looking for ancestors before these dates it’s a good idea to search parish records, these were introduced in the mid 16th century (1538) in England and Wales. The earliest parish records in Scotland go back to 1553, in Ireland it didn’t come until much later. Both Ancestry.com and Ancestry.co.uk have a lot of parish records in their databases, as do Familysearch.org.
7. Many early parish register records were written in latin, especially catholic records, and many have been transcribed to genealogy website databases in latin too, so if you search parish records for an ancestor using their full name and the search draws a blank, it may be useful to then search for them using their latin christian name and english surname (generally only christian names were in latin). you can find english translations of latin christian names Here.
8. If you get ‘stuck’ whilst doing your research there are quite a number of genealogy forums where you can get help, the larger websites such as Ancestry.com, Ancestry.co.uk, Find My Past, and Genes Reunited all have forums, as do RootsWeb, Roots Chat, and Family Tree Forum. Although all these websites are subscription based they give you free access the forums.
9. The more unusual a surname the easier it will be to research, but it also follows that the more common a surname the more difficult it can be to research, but it’s by no means impossible even to an amateur genealogist, but if you do find yourself struggling you can always pay for the services of a professional genealogist at ProGenealogists.com.
10. If you are looking for a ‘birth marriage or death’ certificate for ancestors in the UK, and can’t find an online copy at any of the larger genealogy websites, rather than order copies from these sites it’s far cheaper to go to the General Register Office website and order them directly.
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