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).
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 ancestry.co.uk 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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