Where to Start with Researching Your Family History
I have been researching my family tree since the age of 16. Growing up, I was surrounded by family and family stories and when I was 16 I wanted to put faces to names and confirm if stories were legends or myths. But where to start? Here are my tips on where to start with researching your family history.
Where to start with researching your family history?
Thankfully for me, both my maternal grandparents were alive when I started researching my family tree. With the support of my mum, I was able to speak to them and get details of my great-grandparents and all my great-aunts and uncles.
To really dig deep into your family you need the details of the following:
- your grandparent’s birth and marriage dates
- Your grand-grandmothers (both your grandfather’s and grandmother’s) maiden name
- Ideally, your great grand-parents names and year of birth
Getting your great-grandmother’s maiden name is particularly helpful as this is the detail most commonly confirmed in Birth records, and it will help you find further relatives such as your Great-Great Grandparents and beyond.
Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates
If your relatives are not around to give you details then you can find out more by ordering birth, marriage and sometimes death certificates.
For example, so long as you know when your grandparents were married and have rough whereabouts i.e. London, you can order their marriage certificate via Gov.co.uk. On that certificate, you will typically find the below details:
- Both your Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s father’s names and occupation
- Where your grandparents were married
- What your grandparents did for their career
The names of your great-grandfathers can help you find further birth records. And the location of their wedding, typically means that they lived within that area and likely their family did too.
The other alternative is to order your parents, or if you know their details, then your Grandfather’s or Grandmother’s birth certificate. From these certificates, you’ll be able to get the names of both their mother and their father, so long as they were not illegitimate. If a relative was illegitimate then it is likely their father’s name/details will not be on the certificate at all and your search for that paternal line will be over.
Once you have the name and location of both parents, you can either order their birth or marriage certificate. Or, depending on the year your grandparents were born, you can search the Census records.
Census records are open to the public, mostly for a fee – pay via Ancestry.co.uk or FindMyPast – 100 years after they were taken. For example, the 1921 Census is available on FindMyPast, but you will not be able to access the 1931 Census until 2031.
For most people their grandparents, and sometimes even their great-grandparents, were not alive in 1921. However, their great or great-great grandparents will have been.
If you have a birth certificate for a relative born in 1932, for example, you should be able to find their parents, whose names will be listed on the certificate, in the 1921 census.
The Census began in 1841 and was taken every 10 years. The first x2 Census were minimal and handwritten, and are often untranscribed. However, the Census after 1861 are very detailed and easy to access, and includes the following details:
- Full Name
- Relation to the Head of Household
- Marital Status
- Location of birth
- Current address/location
- Any disabilities/illnesses
If relatives lived in a home with their family, either their parents and/or siblings or a partner and their children, they will all be listed together as Census were done by home. However, sometimes relatives will be listed separately as the Census represents one night of data. For example, a great-grandfather might have been visiting a sibling that even and as such they will be listed with their sibling and their family as opposed to the great-grandfather’s family. Keep that in mind if you find a rogue relative listed under ‘Relation to Head of Household’ as ‘lodger’ or ‘visitor’ or ‘Nephew’ or ‘Brother’.
Why is the Census the most important record?
These Census in the UK are possibly the most detailed and easy-to-follow records of relatives’ lives and movements.
Once you find a relative in the 1921 or 1911 Census you’ll likely be able to find all your family until 1841 as they are very well connected. Websites like Ancestry or FindMyPast will also offer hints and clues if you save these records to family trees as they’re constantly updating records and may find a relative in another Census.
That is why it is crucial to get your Great-Grandmother’s maiden name. If you don’t, you’ll be able to find your paternal lines but it will be harder to find your maternal lines as you won’t be able to trace your tree back to 1921, and maiden names are not listed on the Census.
I hope that helps you start your family history journey. Any questions just leave me a comment below.