Starting Your Family History Archives

Successfully Logging Genealogy Research

Researching your genealogy can be a rewarding experience. Truly digging into your family’s background can help you feel more connected to your own roots, your existing relatives, and history itself. Finding out what your ancestors did makes you own life feel like part of an extended narrative that ends with your own family and will surge onward into the future. Extensive modern record keeping and the advent of the Internet has made it easier than ever before for almost anyone to do genealogy research themselves or as part of a team. People doing genealogy research in the future may well have databases of information right at their hands for easy research.

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible dating to 1859. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, genealogy research can be a complicated project. It is common for people to have to consult multiple sources, particularly when working with potentially less trustworthy historical records. Researchers can also feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that they need to find in order to complete their searches to a satisfactory extent. Genealogy research should be treated like any other substantial research project: researchers should keep detailed records of what they find, what they want to find, and update them with the addition of each new piece of data. The value of record keeping should never be underestimated by anyone embarking on such an endeavor as detailed genealogy research.

Research logs should have a number of important pieces of information. They should include bibliographies of sources as a start, but they should also help researchers organize their information adequately. Researchers can list what has been found and what needs to be found, and they can try to sort out new and better strategies for their in-depth searches for documents. They should organize specific records of specific ancestors, goals for particular places of research and points in research, and which facts correspond to which documents. Making hard copies or scanned copies of particular documents and filing them according to which questions they answer or which ancestors they correspond to can also work wonders in avoiding losing genealogy research.

Research - IMG_1367

After viewing sources in libraries or similar institutions, it is a good idea to record the item’s document number. Researchers should also describe the results of the search in depth, as well as just how much of the item and items like it were perused for information – researchers should mention whether or not they thoroughly read the documents in case they need to revisit them later. Even recording information that was unhelpful to your search can still be valuable, if only as a means of avoiding searching along the same pathway again. Even missing one document during the search can make for a very difficult process later, for any diligent researcher. We are able to do genealogy research because our ancestors kept relatively good records, from census records to personal ones, and we can see them today. Applying the same principles to your own research can hopefully yield satisfactory results in the same vein.

Searching International Records

There comes a time in most genealogical searches when the answers no longer reside in your home country. Immigration and migration have been common occurrences throughout human history, which means your search for a complete family tree will likely hit some snags along the way. The good news is there are some valuable tools for searching international records and as long as you understand the potential for mistakes, you can go a long way toward filling in the blanks.

English: Example of 1891 Census in England and...

Example of 1891 Census in England and Wales Source: The National Archives, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Census

Most countries of the world have compiled census data over the years, though some such as Algeria and Afghanistan have only been compiling data for the last few decades. Many more, however, have been keeping at least minimal records since the late 1800’s and before.  One thing you should keep in mind is the fact that all census takers have one thing in common, they are human! This means there is a margin of error you will likely have to deal with.

Tips for Searching:

Following Leads

Which international records do you need to search for your ancestors? As you can imagine there are millions of names listed in these resources and searching through a random database on a hope and a prayer would be the proverbial needle in a haystack scenario. First, you should begin to establish some kind of trail, in other words, your great, great grandfather Joseph Smith’s trail goes cold, but you know from local records or stories from the family that he faced prison time in England. You also know the last records of him are from 1862, which means he will not be found among the records for the Australian penal colonies, because the last convicts were transported there in 1859.

Family Members

There are two things you should know when it comes to talking to family members about genealogy. Number one, many of them may lack your enthusiasm for the project! If your aunts and uncles have begun avoiding your phone calls, this is a hint. Number two, when you do find a source that is willing to talk, pay attention! There is nothing better than first hand information handed down from the elders in your family.

Online Resources

Genealogy is easier today than it has ever been, thanks to the internet. There are literally millions of records available online, and many more than that available in hard copy. Several international records sites offer-photocopied records upon request and there are of course the paid ancestry research websites. The best advice for utilizing this resource is to start with the free services first, gather as much information as humanly possible before determining which online subscription service will best serve your needs. No point in paying for a service that does not go back far enough or has no records from your current country of research now is there?

The Role of the Census in Your Genealogy Research

One very important tool in your genealogical research is the census; however, they can also be problematic. When researching your lineage it is important to establish when and where a specific relative lived, which is one way the census is helpful. Yet, you have to understand that these records were compiled by other human beings and are not always error free.

Front page of the 2011 census form.

Front page of the 2011 census form. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pros:

United Kingdom census results, particularly those dated 1841 and later are very valuable tools in that they were the first to list all members of a household. Previous census would only list the name of the head of the household, ignoring children, spouses and other relatives that might live under the same roof.

Census data is often considered the foundation of genealogical research and depending upon the era in which it was taken can contain a great deal of information. Let’s say you have traced the movements of a particular ancestor and you are pretty sure where they lived, but you cannot find property records to support your conclusions. A census of the area could tell you where they lived  and even where they were born (if this is missing from your research).

Cons:

Many census data was often copied several times for different organizations, which increases the margin of potential error. At the end of the day, a fallible human being was the enumerator and there are bound to be a few mistakes.

What You Should Know

When it comes to researching census data you will want to become familiar with the manner in which they were taken and the meaning behind certain abbreviations. For example, in the 1841 UK census professions would be abbreviated, some examples include:

  • Ag Lab- agricultural laborer
  • FS- Female servant
  • Sh- shopman
  • M- Manufacturer
  • m- maker (boots etc…)

Conclusion

A census can be very important to your research, filling in the blanks and even helping you locate a particular ancestor who seems to have fallen off the map. That being said you have to be aware of their limitations and propensity for mistakes or errors. Utilizing census data is not difficult but may require a little reading between the lines, so to speak. As of 2012 the UK census data is complete and searchable from 1841-1911.

 

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)

Surnames

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!

Conclusion

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.

 

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