Starting Your Family History Archives

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 Genealogy is the study of family lines and heritage using historical documents and sometimes even DNA.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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