Tracing family histories can take you on a fantastic journey of discovery as you learn who your family were, where they came from, what they did in life … and in the case of the odd black sheep what misdeeds they did.
Sites such as Genes Reunited.co.uk have become an essential resource for hobbyists intent on joining the dots between generations. In the last 10 years or so, thanks to programmes like ‘Who Do You Think You Are‘ and Long Lost Family, genealogy and researching family history has grown into a hugely popular pastime.
Far from being a laborious slog through parish records, dusty marital registers and faded old photographs, digital media has enabled people with no previous research experience to build detailed and fascinating family portraits spanning several generations.
Far from being about discovering a tenuous link to royal lineage, many family historians are thrilled by uncovering the colourful stories that were probably considered embarrassing at one time: the black sheep of the family. With the passing of time and generations, those skeletons in the closet are celebrated.
Organising your family history search
Document your research
Make sure you keep track of what you have researched; otherwise, you’ll waste time searching the same records over and over again.
The Keepsafe feature on Genes Reunited allows you to create your own repository for images and records and attach them to a relative’s profile. You can also organise them into folders and then decide whom you want to share them with.
Using one spelling of a name is a mistake
Name spellings change with time, especially within immigrant communities. If you are tracing forbears from central or Eastern Europe from the 19th or early 20th centuries, it would be wise to try variants of the name. Also, be sure to search on middle names, nicknames, aliases and married names.
Check and double-check your findings, just because the name is the same does not guarantee you have the right person. To be confident of your results verify them using more than one source i.e. documents, birth record and census documents. If you match name, age and birthplace then chances are you’ve found the right person.
When collating information, rather than recording individual facts – collect everything! Take a photocopy of the whole document. So much important information can be overlooked by being too selective over the information you gather. With everything you gather ask these three questions:
- Who created the record?
- Who is listed on the document?
- When was it created?
Don’t forget your living relatives
Sometimes the best source of information is right under our noses. Older members of your family are probably your most important source, and often the only source that bring context to the stories and anecdotes that make up your family history.
Talking with your older relatives should be right at the top of your list of priorities. It doesn’t have to be face to face, if you think of the tools available to you via the web: you can write emails, talk and see each other on Skype or invite them to view your tree on Genes Reunited to help jog their memory. Alternatively, you could send a ‘memory book’ in which they can jot down their stories. Family provides a living link to the past … don’t take it for granted that they will always be there. Record those experiences and memories today!
Getting started checklist
- Enter as much information as you can into your family tree
- Speak to your relatives and see if they can tell you more
- Search other members’ trees and see if anyone is researching the same names
- Use Genes Reunited historical records archive to discover new facts and attach to your relatives.
Keep all your family photos and records in one place
- Upload your family photos, letters, certificates and other documents.
- Save records you find on the site and attach them to relatives.
- Organise your photos, scanned documents and records into folders.
- Share them with other members and see photos added by other people.
Tips for making the most of relative profiles
- View all of your relative’s details on one page and start filling in the gaps.
- View your relative’s timeline, keepsafe, hot matches and more all in one place.
- Edit their personal details; add a profile photo and additional notes.
- Click through to view all the profiles of their immediate family.
- Print out a user friendly page for each relative to show your family.