Looking for something fun to do during quarantine? Since we're all staying indoors for a while, there's never been a better time to research your family history . Not too long ago, I released a sneaky peek of my family tree design which I can't wait to get printed and hung up on my wall, just as soon as this pandemic is over. In the meantime, I'm going to tell you how I started my tree — the free and easy way...
START WITH YOURSELF
Begin with yourself. The main points of interest when researching your tree include "vitals" (dates of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths). So, write out your full name, your date of birth, christening date (if applicable), any partners/spouses, your wedding date, any children and any divorces. Make sure you include where these events took place too! Do the same for your parents, fill out as much as you know — then your grandparents and you'll probably find yourself knowing less with each generation that steps back.
TALK TO YOUR ELDERS
If your parents/grandparents have passed away, then contact aunts or great-uncles to try and find out what they can remember about the past. REMEMBER: People may forget exact dates. So, if your older relatives are struggling to remember, ask questions like:
SIBLINGS ARE IMPORTANT
Collect as much as you can about the whole family. Brothers and sisters are so important to make note of because if your granddad was a middle or a younger child, knowing his older siblings' birth dates can help you work out when their parents were married. Their marriage record will then tell you their mother's maiden name and your search gets much, much easier! REMEMBER: If your ancestor has a very common name, like William Smith, going by his brother Bartholomew's records will keep you on the right track.
FINDING FREE RECORDS
For freebies, I personally use familysearch.org. If you're from my neck of the woods, you'll be happy to know that it has a big record collection for the North East of England. Create a free account and just start looking! REMEMBER: The county borders have changed over time, and you must write the county when you're searching on this website. Sunderland, for example, would be "Sunderland, Durham" and Newcastle is "Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland". If you're not sure, just search by county, like "Durham, England". Here, you can find vital records, censuses, military records, immigration records, church records, passenger lists on ships...
LEAVE WIGGLE ROOM
Back in the day, everything was recorded by hand. Typos and human error played a big part in record keeping, and not everything adds up perfectly. If you think your ancestor was born in 1925, try searching 1922 - 1928; just to be sure. Some records used to round up people's ages to the nearest 5. Be generous with spellings and nicknames too. I have the name Bollen in my family but it was sometimes spelled as Bullen, and Pallas was sometimes spelled as Palace. You might find Ann as Annie and John as Jack. Shorthand turns William into Wm. Here's a post on Victorian nicknames, it might help you figure out what your ancestor was called!
GETTING BACK TO 1911
If you can get this far back, the adventure becomes even more incredible! There is a census going back every decade until 1841, and discovering the tales of your Victorian family members is mind-blowing and actually much simpler to do. You can see where they lived and unravel the mystery of what they did for a living, from street sweepers to looking-glass makers. Since many of those old job titles are no longer in use, they make no sense to our modern minds. So, here's a list explaining what's what.
To help you trace your ancestors, you can order vital certificates from the government for less than £10. While those little sums do add up, these certificates do well to answer a lot of questions. I have ordered a few over the years but only as a last resort, like when I've really hit a brick wall in my research. In my experience, they are definitely helpful and informative when needs must.
ANCESTRY'S FREE TRIAL
Ancestry UK is an amazing monthly membership, and while that can too be pricey, I would highly, highly recommend making use of the free trial during your self-isolation (just make sure to cancel it before you get charged)! Ancestry grants you access to a wealth of even more information than what you get through free records; it paints a much fuller picture of your family story. In fact, it allows you to see whether your ancestors were blind or deaf, you can see your relatives' own handwriting on some records and find out what they looked like (their eye colour, hair colour, height, and so on) through certain military records too!
Happy hunting, everyone! I hope this free guide helps you with your family history and I hope you all stay safe and healthy during this time. Thanks to Emma for this suggestion on Instagram! Please leave a like or comment, or share this with someone interested.