Nan Elsie and granddad Mac (Top left) Great granddad Donald Duncan (Top Right and dad Donald Kenneth known as Ken (Bottom)
So you want to research your family history. Easy. Go to Ancestry.com or one of the other big boys of the genealogy world and give them some money. Then just sit in front of a PC for a few months and hey presto! instant family history. Move on to another hobby. This is such a cold way of researching and offers no connection to the people concerned. I also believe that researchers often take this route just for the kudos. Anyone can spend a day or two on the computer just to have a talking point at parties.
Add to this the fact that it is a symptom of capitalism, that everything has to be sold at a profit. This represents the lives and deaths of your ancestors. They toiled, lived and died through good, bad and horrific times to let you live and some faceless company directors are using information they gave freely and proudly to make a few million quid. I know I live in a capitalist society and I understand what that means but modern greed for profit at all costs and paying for my own history do not sit well with me. I will no doubt rant on this subject later but back to Genealogy.
So why do you have to pay for information, doesn’t the law force you to give this information for free? If granny registered the marriage to granddad, the births of all your aunts and uncles and Granddad’s death shouldn’t it be free to view.
Well it is, so long as you go to the records office for the area this all happened in or the National Archives in Kew. For me that is Maidstone, with all the parking costs and petrol, or a trip to Kew which is not viable on minimum wage. And bear in mind you have to have some idea of dates to begin with or you will be floundering around in the dark. A good working knowledge of your grandparents is the ideal way to begin.
You also need to be able to work in a logical way with information. I researched my Great Grandfather Robert and was convinced he had two wives and 10 children. One of them was Donald Duncan, the stern looking young man with the lectern. His son, my father is the smiling man with the glasses. But looking at the dates of the births something didn’t add up. The Victorians tended to have children at fairly regular intervals and Robert was no exception, one every two years. But there were two longer gaps between children 6 and 7 and between 9 and 10. There was also a rumoured Scottish connection. Sure enough, and after a frenzied night of activity, children 7, 8 and 9 were found to be the sons and daughter of one Jane McFie originally from the Isle of Bute who had married Robert while I wasn’t paying attention. So out went Laura as great grandmother and in came Jane.
So how do you start? If you are lucky you still have living grandparents, aunties and uncles or cousins who may have useful information. Go and visit them, talk to them. Unless Uncle Fred was an axe murderer they will probably enjoy talking about it. Even if you, like me, had only one set of Grandparents and one Parent when you start You should find enough people with valid information to go further. I had a skeleton in the family cupboard which spurred me on to search and you would be amazed how many people wanted to tell me about it. You should take a notebook and some bribes.
O.K. Now for the local library. They have records from Churches (Before compulsory registering of Births marriages and deaths in 1837 churches held all these records but now have to send them to records offices and the local library.) Also at the library there may be workhouse records. My Great Grandfather was recorded as dying at 1 North Street, an address he had never lived at. I soon realised it was the local workhouse though workhouses by that time had more of a medical function. Many became cottage hospitals. If your family were poor check workhouse records. You will find ancestors there! There are many helpful librarians who have done this sort of thing before and you will become proficient with a Microfiche. If the local records office for the area is easily accessible, they will have all these local records but also many more from a larger area. Again help will be available.
I enjoy visiting places of interest regarding my genealogy. There is a great uncle on the war memorial in a lovely village called Bredgar a few miles away and Robert is buried there. I often visit his grave though I never knew him. For me this is real genealogy, becoming familiar with places and the events happening when the ancestors were alive, something the big companies can’t offer. My Great uncle died when the cruiser H.M.S Recruit was torpedoed by a U boat in the Thames estuary. His name on the memorial is a source of pride for me.
By this time you should have found at least two generations if your family have been local for some time, but if not don’t despair if you moved to your town recently. There is a resource called FreeBMD here :-
This is a volunteer transcription service for Birth, marriage and death records from around the country. They have been doing this for many years and it is searchable. All major areas should be covered. The information gained often leads to the name of a spouse or parent and that may lead to other children of that parent. Exactly the same as searching Ancestry. Eventually You will be able to gain so much information that, in a seemingly endless list of results, you will have a piece of data which will narrow it down. Hint: Middle Names or initials will help immensely.
Another simple way to get help is to Google your surname and the word genealogy. There will be people all over the world researching it and message boards you can access.
I researched back to the late 1700’s on my father’s side and the early 1800’s on my mothers using free resources and with the help of friends both local and via the internet. Do not be afraid to ask for help. I am no expert but have been this route myself so if you have questions feel free.
On a final note a search on the internet led to a friend in the USA who had researched my mother’s side back to the 1530’s. They were happy to let me have the information and, although it felt like cheating, it told me that my Mother’s family had lived within an 8 mile radius of my home town for 500 years. I also had believed another friend in the U.S. Was related on my father’s side (He had Rayners in his history.) though there was no link in the end. This information proved that his family were linked to mine, but through my mother’s line. You can’t take anything for granted in this game. Good Luck!