Your Family’s Story

Importance of Family History

Family history means a lot of different things to different people, but feeling connected to history or a particular place is one driving force. Thankfully, the human race has had several generations of written history, which makes the search for your origins much easier than in say the dark ages! If you are ready to suss out your family line, you are in for quite an adventure.

English: Shrewsbury - Family Research Centre P...

Shrewsbury – Family Research Centre Place where friendly helpful people are available to further your research into family history (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


What is in a name? A poignant question that has many answers depending upon whom you ask, but the real problem is finding out what your true name is! You see surnames were not a common thing before the Norman invasion. Local populations were small but as they began to grow it become important to designate which Richard or Mary you were talking about. Hence the custom of calling someone by a combination name.

For example young Mary who lived near the forest might be designated “Mary of the Wood” or John who lived near a pike filled stream might be called “John of Pickersgill”. Over time, these names became shortened to Richard Greenwood, John Hill and so forth. Keep in mind as you research the origins of your family name that there may have been those in your ancestry that decided to simply change their surname. This was done sometimes merely on a whim and other times because of legal issues. That being said learning all you can about where your name came from can be quite interesting, even if it is not 100% accurate.

Road Blocks to Research

The first few generations of your family history should be fairly easy to obtain, after all, you likely have relatives who can fill in a lot of blanks. At some point in your journey, you will inevitably come to a roadblock or two.

One familiar problem with researching family history is the occurrence of births outside of wedlock. Though this may be common today, for centuries it was simply not done (or at least not talked about). Parents, grandparents and clergy often went to great lengths to cover up an illegitimate child, which creates a nightmare for descendants.

Migrating family members can also present a unique challenge to your research, depending on where your ancestor migrated to and from. At this point, you will need to turn to international records if you are going to continue your research. The good news is there are several online databases of information, including migration logs from the United States, penal colony records in Australia and much more.

Final Thoughts

Why do people spend so much time and energy on family history? For those who really dig in it is a passion to connect and trace the lines of their family lineage. If you have been considering finding out more about your ancestors there are a lot of great resources available, both locally and via the internet.

Why Learn about the Past

History is so much more than a class we take in high school. Learning about your family history can be an enriching positive experience, and in some ways prepare you for the future. Genealogy may seem like a dry boring pursuit, but as you will see, there are several reasons you may want to invest a little time in family history lessons.
Family-history-1985-3Creating and Preserving Family’s Oral History

There was a time when all family history was passed down through the generations orally; this kept the family traditions and history alive for each successive generation. Unfortunately, in a technological fast-paced world this has largely fallen by the wayside. Today, many families are lucky if a member knows the names and origins of the previous two generations. By learning your family history, you can provide your children and even grand children with a rich oral tradition. (Backed up of course by hard copy data!)

Given Names

Do you understand the history and significance of given names in your family tree? This can vary greatly depending on your ethnic background. For example, most western families tend to honor their ancestors (grandma, grandpa, mother, father etc…) by naming their children after them. However, in Chinese tradition this is actually offensive, historically. Inspiration for given names can come from many sources, not the least of which are:

  • Family names- passed down
  • Biblical Names– Mary, John, Joshua, Martha, Elizabeth
  • Translations from other languages- Francis comes from Franciscus or Frenchman
  • Items in nature- Peter means rock- Rose (self-explanatory)
  • Places of Birth- Lorraine, Brittany
  • Modern Day- Pop culture has shown a large influence on given names today. Layla, Kiera and Wendy are just three examples of obscure names that became popular due to songs, movies and stories.

Family History

Where does your family bloodline originate? What do you really know about your family history? Perhaps you have always wondered if there was a touch of royal lineage back there or some more notorious connections? Even if you dont find a Duke or Duchess on one of the branches you may find several inspiring stories of ancestors who perservered through some of the nations toughest times. Moreover, you may find lines who immigrated to other countries!

Genetic Reasons

Finally, one of the more important reasons to trace your family history is genetics. Have you noticed that some in your family seem to live extraordinarily long lives while others seem to share certain medical issues? Genetics are responsible for your height, build, weight (to a degree), hair/ eye color and certain illnesses. Understanding your genetic heritage could help you avoid heart trouble, diabetes and many other illnesses. By realizing you are predisposed to heart trouble, for example, you could exercise more, avoid smoking and perhaps extend your life!


Learning about family history does not have to be boring, when you realize just how much you can learn. As technology and science advances, there are even DNA tests that can give you a glimpse into your ancient bloodlines. Have you always thought you were of European decent? You might be surprised at what these tests reveal.


Unearthing History

Are you preparing to embark on a journey to unearth your family history? Genealogy is the study of family lines and heritage using historical documents and sometimes even DNA. Tracing one’s family tree is not a new practice, though in the early centuries it was mainly a tool to prove a claim to wealth or power, particularly royal ancestry. If you are new to the process, here are a few tips to get you started on your journey.

English: Genealogy of Ælfgifu, testatrix and w...

Genealogy of Ælfgifu, testatrix and wife of King Eadwig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Essential Records for Family History Research

Unless you have a family member who has already started this process, you will want to begin with your closest family first. There are a number of tools you will want to acquire including binders, notebooks, sticky notes and of course pens! The first records you will want to compile will include:

These will give you your starting point from which you will migrate to other public records.

Census- UK

Census data can be very useful in researching family history. Data collection began in 1801 but detailed data would not be recorded until 1841 and every 10 years thereafter with the exception of 1941 (wartime). These records can tell you where a family member lived during specific time periods, which can lead you to birth certificates, marriage licenses and more. Locations:

  • National Archives in Kew- England, Wales, Isle of Men and Channel Islands
  • General Register Office Scotland- Scotland area
  • Public Record Office in Dublin- Ireland

Military Records

Military records as a genealogical research tool may seem obvious; generally, everyone knows that great-grandpa served his country. However, the potential for information can go well beyond the person who actually served. For instance, pension records can help locate collateral family members when the trail has gone cold. Children, siblings and even cousins may be located this way.
Emigration Records Ship’s Passenger Lists

At some point in your genealogy you are bound to come to emigrant ancestors, (this may not be true in all cases, but as a rule). This is where emigration records and ships passenger lists may be important in your research. Between 1890 and 1920, a large number of European emigrants boarded ships in Britain bound for North America. Many of these records are now open to the public, however since captains often required a person to be a British resident for six weeks people would often change their name.
Land Records

Last, but certainly not least are the land records. These are deeds and documents proving ownership, sales and inheritance of property. These records can be a very powerful tool in genealogy, particularly if you have hit a brick wall. Land record transfers were often witnessed by family members, which can help you, pick up the trail of your long lost great grandfather!

UK land tax redemption information can tell you who the owners and occupiers of a property in a given year. These records do not generally give a lot of information about the property itself, beyond the redemption value, but act as mini-census. If your ancestor owned or rented property there is a good chance, you can find reference to them in these records.

How can help you find out about your genealogy

English: Headquarters of (formerl...

Headquarters of (formerly “The Generations Network”) in Provo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether you are new to genealogy or have been researching your family tree for many years can be a very useful tool. It is true that there are many free resources out there for determining your roots, sometimes the family history will take you places you cannot easily access physically or you will run into a roadblock on the way. (UK)

Formerly known as The Generations Network, is an online database containing 5 billion records. Since this is an American based company, the records begin with genealogical data for the United States, though records for other countries are constantly being uploaded to the site. For example, they now have indexes and images of every census from 1841-1911 for:

Other records on include but are not limited to:

  • Military service- Draft, enlistment, awards, decorations, pensions, news, photos and much more
  • Parish Records- baptism, birth, death, marriage and burial- these records are vital to anyone researching before 1837 when Civil Registration began.
  • Variety of records added daily- such as Abstracts of wills 1658 Wooten etc…

Genealogical Research

As you prepare to use the databases at to fill in your family history, it is important that you compile some basic information ahead of time. There is a wealth of information in oral tradition among your current living relatives for example. Start by listing your family members, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and more. Include significant dates and locations to each name, such as where/ when they were born, married, gave birth, died and burial.

Follow your oral records up with as much physical data as possible. Many of these records are public and can be copied and kept in your own genealogical binders. When you begin searching through the archives at these records may help, you fill in the blanks or confirm that you are tracing the right family lines on the site. In some cases, especially for very old records, the copy will be degraded or missing words and sentences. Having your own copies will cut down on the possibility of errors.

Interesting Information

Tracing all the roots of your family tree can be a fun and eye opening experience. Many times, you will find personal letters and anecdotes that add personality to your great-great-great-great grandmother twice removed! You may even find some surprising results such as Irish, Scottish or even American Indian heritage that you knew nothing about. is a valuable source for compiling your family history, wherever it may take you in the world.


Should you use a subscription bases service like for your family history? It is true that there are many free resources both online and off, but if you are like most people, your time may be severely limited. Being able to access the databases in your spare time (even at 2 am sometimes) can be a valuable asset.

Finding Your Roots: African Genealogy

Around the world, there are millions of people who can claim African heritage. Many people today are interested in tracing their roots all the way back to their African ancestors, which can pose some difficulty not encountered by other races. This is due in large part by the fact that many Africans came to the UK and America’s as slaves. While it may be a little more difficult, it is not impossible.

English: The Hunted Slaves

The Hunted Slaves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting Started

In the beginning, researching family history with African genealogy is not much different than any other search. Whether you are attempting to go back to the 1800’s or find your great-great-great grandparents the process is the same. Tips for getting started:

  • Record as much recent information as possible- parents, grandparents etc…
  • Fill in dates- birth, deaths, marriages, divorce (anything important life dates)
  • Fill in locations for the above dates wherever possible

Your first source of information will of course be your personal store of information, once you have exhausted what you know it is time to turn to your family.  Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all good sources of information. You may want to make separate lists for each individual you interview, that way you can cross-reference and look for discrepancies.


The next phase of your research is confirming what you have learned from oral tradition and that is done through physical objects such as birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, rental agreements, mortgages and much more. Confirmation of dates and names can often be found in local cemeteries.

As you go through this process, you may find you have to prune the family tree a bit. Oral tradition may be full of “aunts”, “uncles” and “cousins” who are not actually related to you. It is also important to note that uncle Jim may actually have been born Randolph James.

Slave Records

Much of the above is a matter of rinse lather repeat until you go back far enough to encounter slave records in your family history. Again, it is not impossible but you will need to approach the search a bit differently. Researching African Genealogy for this time period will be challenging because many slaves did not have recognized surnames during slavery. Some possibilities for surnames include:

  • Owners surname
  • Mothers surname
  • Surname of father (might be another slave or owner)
  • Assigned surname- this happened often after emancipation, names were issued by church or state
  • Chosen- freed men and women were allowed to simply choose a surname for themselves

It will be best to work backwards through property records of freed slaves, then attempt to find owner information and so on. How far back you can go will depend a great deal, on how well records were kept for a specific area.


It is important to note that not all UK citizens of African heritage are descendants of slaves and tracing roots across continents can be difficult for any genealogist. If you find you are running into significant issues there are professionals who can assist you and many resources online such as Find A Grave dot com and others.

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