Visiting the Family (Tree)

I have 12,700 relatives, all over the world – Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, as well as England and Scotland (so basically, come to think of it, just the post-colonial white English-speaking world).

Have you ever thought about researching your own tree? It’s fascinating – I’ve uncovered mystery, heart break, and skeletons in the cupboard.

But be warned, it’s also addictive – I started doing it about 15 years ago now. No – longer than that. Probably 17 years ago. I can go for long periods and not look at it – but then I get the bug again and off I go.

Here’s how to go about it.

First things first – write down what you already know. This will probably be your parents’ names (including middle names), date and place of birth, date and place of marriage. You might also know your grandparents’ details. What about your parents’ brothers and sisters (your aunts and uncles)? What about your grandparents’ brothers and sisters (your great aunts and great uncles)? And their children? And their spouses?

Once you’ve written down as much as you can manage, approach your oldest relatives and see what more they can remember. This needs to be done with some sensitivity – people who are just names to us might be remembered fondly (or otherwise) by the previous generation. And be prepared – they may not want to tell you everything they know… that’s OK.

They might not be able to remember all the fine detail, but every little bit of information can help. Knowing that Great Aunt Violet died in London, or that Uncle Jimmy was born just after the war – it’s all useful.

Once you’ve gathered as much information as you can from living sources, it’s time to head for the archives. Luckily for us, a very great deal is now available online. I use but other sites are available (I haven’t received any payment for mentioning them).

For UK relatives, check the census records first. They show names, ages, family group, address, occupation, and other people living at the same address. The census is just a snap-shot – it records who was at that address on that night, and that night only. But it helps you to really build a picture of your ancestors’ lives.

But there are so many more records – and more being added all the time. Birth, marriage and death or course – but also passenger lists, military records, parish records, newspapers. The list goes on.

I’ve chosen to research the ‘back tree’ as well. Basically I started off by finding my great great great great etc grandparents – and then I started to come back the other way. They all had siblings. What happened to the siblings? Who did they marry? Who were their kids? Who did their kids marry? And so on, back to the present day. This is when you start to find relatives who have emigrated – and their descendants are now living across the globe, and have email addresses! I’ve lost count of how many living relatives I’ve found (or who have found me) as a result.

Go on – give it a go. It’ll pass the time until the pubs and restaurants re-open!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mrs ESTJ says:

    Apart from the census what other tools would you recommend?


  2. Oooo – there’s the birth, marriage and death records, obviously. FindAGrave is a great website (you can access it for free via as it often gives the details for a whole familly, not just the person you’re looking for – it’s a good way of finding out about other children a couple may have had, for example.

    CWGC (Commonwealthe War Graves Commission) is useful for anyone who was killed during the 1st World War.

    If you have Scottish ancestors, Scotland’s People is the place to go – it’s pay-per-view, but not expensive and the Scottish record is very thorough.

    If you manage to get further back (pre 1841), look at Parish Records, and Pallot’s Marriage Index.

    If you can’t find someone, it could be because they’ve died, or (if it’s a woman) they’ve re-married and changed their name, or it could be because they’ve emigrated. Looking at Passenger Lists can help to find out where they went.

    It’s very addictive – you have been warned!!!



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