TRACING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY

Old Family Photos

The most common question I hear is: I wished I'd have asked. When we are young we don't ask our parents or grandparents about our family history because we don't think about the past we are to busy looking to the future. Its only when you get on in years that the thought starts to come into our minds.

Tracing your family history.The first national census was taken in 1801 and a census has been taken every 10 years since then (apart from 1941).
The first census to record names was taken in 1841. All census records included details of anyone who was staying in a property on census night including guests. So you may discover some strange names in your search!
From 1851, a person's health was recorded (often in less than flattering terms). In 1881, for example, people could be recorded as being "deaf and dumb, blind, imbecile or idiot, or lunatic". The 1911 census is now on line. 1911 Census

Until fairly recently, researching your ancestry required determination and specialist knowledge. It could be a time consuming and frustrating business involving a fair amount of legwork, searching through dusty archives. Nowadays, with the help of PCs, the internet and email, it has been transformed into an absorbing and rewarding hobby that anyone can enjoy. You could discover noble or royal blood, a title, a family crest or maybe even a long-lost legacy?

The internet opens up several highly productive avenues of research as it gives you more or less instant access to archives and databases around the world. Some of them are vast, containing tens of millions of birth and death records dating back several hundred years.
The census is a survey taken by the government every 10 years to collect information on the population of the United Kingdom. From 1801 to 1831 the censuses were simply head counts with no personal information on individuals recorded (except in exceptional cases).From 1841 personal information on individuals was recorded.Census records are currently protected from public view for 100 years, so the latest census available is the 1911 census.Census records are invaluable in tracing your ancestors.How to view census data depends on the country in which it was taken and there are many records offices where you can get this information.
You can get census information at most Family History Societies, however the information here will be limited to the local area. The amount of information on the census varies but in general the later the census,the more information it holds.Apart from finding names to fit into your family tree, you can see how the population moved around the country, usually looking for work. People came from all over the country to work in the mines and industrial areas as local jobs in farming etc. were becoming scarcer.

Old Family Photos

The clues that you pick up from census records can lead you into far greater depth. For example, you can find out what someone did for a living, which can lead you to a new line of investigation in employment records. It is certainly worth searching more widely that just your direct ancestors – were there any other branches of the family living nearby? What was the community in which they lived really like? Can you make any judgments about their social status from the size of the house and the occupations of their neighbors? Census returns open up a gateway to the past, and allow you to extend the scope of your research.

There are websites devoted to genealogical research and family history, countless news groups where information can be sought and exchanged and (most important of all) email which allows you to communicate directly with other members of your family. Time to make a start, the simplest method is to begin with the pieces of the jigsaw that you have to hand, namely yourself and if possible, names and dates for your immediate relatives who would be parents and grandparents. Normally it is easier to start by researching the paternal line, but there is nothing to stop you tracing your mother's family, or even working sideways, as it were, looking for living relatives among cousins, aunts and uncles.

If you have knowledge of your family back as far as 1901 it is quite easy to trace back to earlier census years and soon got back to the earliest census 1841.
The census years are every 10 years 1841/1901, they can be found at Ancestry.co.uk The 1911 census has now come on line. 1911 Census

Another site I found very helpful was FamilySearch.org/eng/ this is the site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Aka the Mormons) whose members are committed to researching their own family histories. The IGI database has been built up from information sourced from public records, church and parish registers in the UK, the US and more than 40 other countries. In spite of its size, the IGI is surprisingly easy to use, although you can speed things up considerably if you have accurate names and dates and can reduce the size of the geographical search area to a particular country. I had little trouble going back to 1841 with these two sites and then went on to Genes Reunited.co.uk to find info but unlike the above sites your details are open to public scrutiny.

Old Family Photos

It is a good idea, however, to stick with one line of research initially, or else you will quickly get bogged down. A map is essential. You should have at least a country map on hand so you can plot family hot spots and clusters. If one particular locality is important to your family's history, it is useful to have a large-scale map of that area.
A common thing I found with families is that the father’s Christian name was often repeated down the line. Next, you should type your surname, or the name you are researching, into a search engine, followed by the words "family tree", "ancestry", "genealogy" or "home page". If the name is relatively unusual, you may be lucky and get only a few hundred "hits", but more common names may well yield thousands. The first few dozen hits should lead you quickly to specialist sites and individuals with the same name, some of whom may have compiled a family tree that you can check to see if there are any obvious links to your own family.
This may well lead you to a number of news groups, forums and message boards which can be particularly fruitful. Here you will find dozens, possibly hundreds, of "postings" from other researchers seeking or offering information. It is well worth spending some time working your way through them looking for any likely connections. You can usually reply, or add to, any message "threads" by clicking on a button on the page or you can respond directly to an individual by clicking on the senders underlined email address. Alternatively you may want to post your own message, but you should be as specific as possible and include as many dates and places as you can. Be patient, you may strike lucky and get a response quickly but it is far more likely that you will hear nothing for several weeks.. Another valuable source of information for those with family members who served in the armed forces is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Best of luck in your research I am sure you will find it very absorbing.

Old Photo of butchers in Plymouth Devon