Trace your family tree
Genealogy has over recent years become an increasingly popular pastime. Many of the visitors to the centre are people tracing their family tree. We always advise people that some background reading should be done. We have an excellent selection of books and periodicals for reference in our Local Studies Library.
Where and how to start
Tracing your ancestors can take a long time. You will need to be prepared to carry out research (or employ others to do this for you) and given that this is a time consuming project it is best to begin in a methodical manner that will ensure the best results.
The basic rule of genealogy is that you must always start with the present and try to work your way backwards. Do not pick out an individual and try to work your way forwards. The best place to begin is with the older members of your family. Apart from dates of birth, death or marriage other useful information to find out is addresses, religious denomination and occupations.
Your aim is to try and construct a rough family tree; family bibles are clearly useful as are old photographs, wills, diaries etc. Recollections can provide a useful starting point, (remember always to keep a clear record of the information you find) bearing in mind that like "Chinese whispers", information passed down orally can often become distorted. Always check the validity of these memories!
The information sheets in our Family History Pack will guide you through each of the records and list further reading which you can consult before you begin looking at that type of document or for reference as queries crop up when looking at the documents themselves. Remember that although Local History Centre staff cannot carry out your research for you they can offer you advice and point you in the right direction. Some more general points that are worth pointing out are
- Draw up a plan. You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents and so on. You need to ask yourself questions such as where are you going to start? Which line will you follow first?
- There is no one record that will tell you everything you need to know about your family or even a single generation (unless another family historian has already done the work for you).
- People can only be traced when some public or official body has recorded them. These records were not made for our benefit but for that of the organisation which made them, therefore we will not necessarily find them in the order we might like, i.e. indexed or in alphabetical order.
- Some records will be arranged by address, others by surname and some by date.
- A variety of indexes are available.
- The spelling of surnames will vary, sometimes from generation to generation and frequently the spelling is phonetic, it is wise therefore to record (and check) all possible variant spellings.
- Where possible check any information you find against another source.
- Do not confine yourself to information on microfilm/fiche, the archive has a vast amount of information that is often under used by family historians.
- We do not hold birth, death or marriage certificates, but we do have the index to the national register of such certificates. Certificates need to be purchased from the relevant local registrar or the Family Record Centre.
- A list of local independent researchers is available to those who might want to employ someone to either assist them with a certain type of document (a record in Latin for example) or for general research.
- Remember, family history can be much more than a hunt for names (however enjoyable that might be). How did your ancestors live? What were the everyday problems they faced? Their joys, hopes and expectations?
This page was last updated on 02 November 2012