From criminals to aristocracy, the family tree could reveal an ancestry that spans the globe and crosses the spectrum of society.
Where to Start the Research
There is a wealth of information now available on the Internet, from census records to local history sites to cemetery and burial records. Genealogy research has never been so accessible.
A good place to start is with grandparents. Chances are there are still family members who have a wealth of knowledge hidden away in their memories. Make copious notes, study any existing documentation, and seek out family heirlooms such as family Bibles, which may have inscriptions and dedications within.
Take the earliest ancestor that can be recalled and seek out the registers of births, marriages and deaths. Try to find that ancestor’s birth record and this should give their parents’ details, and then the research can begin.
Types of Family Records
These can vary. For the United States the best and most informative site is the family search site provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church). Here can be found a wealth of information on records, family history centres, and a library containing shelves of helpful resources.
In the United Kingdom, it is necessary to search the registers of births, deaths and marriages, find the document reference number, and then obtain a copy of that document from the General Register Office. Many US citizens will have ancestors from the UK so this is important to know, although it is not always easy to obtain copies of documents for those living outside the UK. This is particularly the case with regard to Probate papers.
There are some free sites available, such as Free BMD (births, marriages and deaths). Ideally a visit needs to be made to a local records office.
Compiling a Family Tree
For the computer literate, this can be done fairly easily, or there is computer software available. There are also a host of companies that will do the research and prepare reports and a Family Tree, but at a considerable cost. Sometimes part of the enjoyment of family history research is carrying out that investigation personally.
Beware Unexpected Surprises
All may not be as it seems. There may be a grandparent or great grandparent who may have had secrets not known to the family previously. This type of research reveals pregnancies before marriage, births out of wedlock, mysterious deaths and even suicides. It is well to be prepared for the unexpected.
On the positive side, it is incredible to get an idea of what life was like for our ancestors so many years ago. As more and more information becomes available via the Internet, so a wider picture develops. Pictures of poverty, hardship and overcoming adversity. But often also a picture of devotion, determination and compromise.