Most of us tend to identify ourselves with one
surname. However, this very strong identification with one family name is
misleading. Even the most simple delving into your family history will show how
mistaken this identification is. We all have two parents, four grandparents,
eight great grandparents. To go back four generations is to realise that your
surname at birth was borne by only one of your 16 great great grandparents. Go
back further and this number doubles for every generation!
How's that for starters?
Add to the above list - Aunts; Uncles;
Cousins and Siblings of all these people and you could already have a list
running into the thousands!
Don't go getting disillusioned at this point, because
researchers will achieve this goal. But if you make it something to strive for,
it will benefit you immensely.
Going back to the note books, what information do you require? As much as
possible is the short answer. In reality, you may not get all the information
you need at first. Get all you can. It all helps.
Here's a list of the information you should
try to obtain:
Date of Birth (and time if poss.)
Date of Christening/Baptism etc.
Date of Confirmation etc.
Date of marriage - also name of spouse and
his/her parents names.
Date of Death. Cause of
Date of Burial/Cremation.
Copies of any Certificates.
In addition to the above, you may come across
details of where they worked; school records; addresses, or any manner of
information that will help you 'Paint a picture' of the person you are
Talking of 'pictures'. Don't forget to ask to see
any old photographs your family members have in their keeping. You may be
surprised to find how much information may be written on the back of these
photos. Your family may let you have some of these photos for your collection.
Or you may be allowed to have them copied. You may also have a scanner with your
PC, so you can copy the photos, plus any documents you may come across. (Note:
If you copy any documents such as birth certificates etc, I recommend that you
print 'Scanned copy for research purposes' at the top left hand corner or
better still if your printer has a watermark feature, use this instead), you
don't want to be accused of being a counterfeiter!
That's the apprenticeship taken care of. You will find lots more information
on this site to keep you busy for a while. Don't forget to join you local
'Family History Society'. All the 'FHSs' work closely with each other and should
point you in the right direction, if they don't actually have the information
Here are some more tips...............Please excuse me if I repeat myself.
want to be sure you are taking it in!
* Begin with yourself and
your immediate family and what you know for certain.
Gather the information, papers and documents you and your immediate
family have and study them.
* Work backwards, proving each step, twice if possible, purchasing copies
of certificates if necessary. Don't forget, if you can borrow original
certificates, you can scan or photocopy them much cheaper.
* Cross check - fill in pedigree and family group charts in pencil until
you are quite sure you have all the details correct. When you visit research
rooms or archives, many will insist
that you use a soft leaded pencil.
* Do not neglect siblings. It's not uncommon that your 5 times great grandmother
had married her husbands brother after the husbands death. After all there were
no state pensions in days gone by. A woman would often have to remarry to avoid
* Remember an individual may have two or three given (Christian/first/middle
and may use the last rather than the first; may be known far and wide by a
nickname that has nothing to do with any of them; may be known by one name
at home, another at school and a third in later life. Also it was not uncommon
for a child to be named after a sibling that had died. Or for a person to
remarry and give a name to a child, where a child from a previous marriage also
has the same name ! (very confusing)
* Try and kill off all (already dead) relatives, in other words find the
death date. An ancestor without a death date is, to exaggerate only
slightly, a loose cannon on the deck of family history. Could there be
another family, another career, a mystery?
* Almost certainly a skeleton or two lurks - the criminal (not just the
wronged convict who made good), the illegitimate ('of course we never talked
about her father'), the mentally ill ('your grandmother's Aunt Susan was always
a little odd and she went to live in the Blue Mountains'). It may be
fascinating to you (and explain some of those silences in your childhood),
be very careful of your relatives' feelings and privacy. Handle the
situation sensitively and you may be trusted with information in the future.
* Always remember that some of your relatives may (a) be not interested
and/or (b) consider you downright nosey. But handled carefully and
respectfully they may become both interested and helpful. Having said that, my
wife and I have never experienced this.
* Always be open minded about spelling. Many of our ancestors
could just read and barely write (most of the British aristocracy could only
just manage a signature before the sixteenth century), and names were frequently
written down by someone unfamiliar with the name or the accent, making their own
best guess. Consider a family from the far west of Ireland giving
information to a clerk from Birmingham, or a Glaswegian to a Welshman.
* Take notice of how people misspell or mispronounce your name/s, try
spelling and pronunciation out on strangers. You will be surprised at the
variants of something you consider quite straightforward, and it may help you
find that elusive relative in an index.
* Study a book on old handwriting (usually available from your local
'Family History Society') - your problem might simply be a misreading, as
writing styles, vocabulary and abbreviations have changed.
Good Luck. Go
If you only buy one book about family history...then this is the
one you should buy!
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