Welcome to Trace Your Ancestors
Researching your Family History Online
Family history research will help you to understand the past and the lives that your ancestors led, and in doing so, may also help you to understand more about yourself. If you can get a real sense of your ancestor’s hopes and fears, aspirations, achievements and disappointments, you may just find clues as to who you are.
There is now so much family history information available online that getting results quickly (instantly in some cases) is now very easy for anyone with an internet connection. Yes, there may be some costs involved, but nothing approaching the expense of travelling to various parts of the country (or even abroad) which is what we had to do before online research became viable.
So just how do you research your family history online? The following will offer some suggestions on how to get started.
First of all, you might need to start with some offline research. Just about every book or article on the subject recommends that if possible, you should start with your immediate family. That’s good advice, especially if you do have older and close family members, and you might be very surprised at just how much family history information can be gleaned from your parents if they are still alive.
They may have memories of their siblings, their parents and their parent’s parents. It’s very important to record any relevant information that they may pass on – don’t be tempted to just try and go back as far as you can with the intention of filling in the social history at a later date. It’s the personal history, social circumstances and past locations of various family members that can give you valuable clues to follow if and when you hit a dead end in your researches.
This is a process that may take time to organise and progress, but if you want to get started online right now, there are a number of things you can do almost immediately:
If you have basic information about your parent’s and grandparent’s names, ages, and where they lived or were born, you will be able to work out approximate birth, marriage and death dates, and carry out an online database search.
The results of the search may enable you to make an educated guess at the birth, marriage and death dates of their parents and grandparents. Work on the assumption that generational events roughly span 25 years. Eg your parents may have married approximately 25 years before you were born. This is more likely as you go further back – current trends are that couples have children much later in life and don’t always marry. Also, whatever the timezone you’re searching in, there will always be and will have been, teenage mothers/parents.
A starting point for estimating life spans is 75 years but this will vary wildly depending on your ancestor’s circumstances eg location, occupation, whether they served in the military during a conflict and again, what time zone you are searching in (the further back you go, the shorter the life expectancy).
Having searched for and found your ancestors in the indexes, you will then be able to order the birth, marriage or death certificate.
Civil Registration only began in 1837, so if you are searching dates prior to that, you will need to track down the relevant Parish Records.
If this takes you back to 1911 and beyond, you will also be able to search the Census Records for those names and find the households. Searching the census returns will really bring your ancestors to life and give you some understanding of their family life at that time.
The information recorded during each census varies according to the year of the census and the first one to be of any value to tracing your ancestors and family history was the 1841 census. This was the first census to include individual’s names, but not the relationships of the individuals. Ages are rounded down to the nearest 5 years and the place of birth is simply whether or not the individual was born in that county or not. Although this is pretty limited information, it can provide clues for further research.
Later census records include information such as exactly where they lived, who lived in the household or who was there at the time the census was taken. This may include parents, children, servants and sometimes even extended family such as aunts and uncles and grandparents. They will also give the occupations (if any) of those householders and their ages.
If you know that your ancestors served in the armed forces, there are many websites that hold records for the services which include the service records of individuals.
Find and access the IGI (International Genealogical Index). It used to be available to search on microfiche and CD at Family History Centers and libraries, but is now available online at Family Search. The IGI is being compiled by The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and can also be found in reference libraries or your nearest local family history society. Don’t be fooled by the words “being compiled”. They have being doing this work for decades and have many millions of records.
Be aware that the accuracy of some of the IGI records might be questionable and that there are gaps, so you really should try to verify the accuracy of the information using other sources. However, it is a great place to start and at the very least will be very useful in helping you to determine the geographical location of your family name. For instance, I was able to learn from these records that my family had three main locations in the UK: Kent, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. As the name suggests, the IGI is an international index so you will be able to search for your ancestors virtually worldwide.
But arguably the best source of family history records are the online databases that enable you to conduct a free search for your ancestors by name and for a small fee download records of any family members found.
Direct links to many of those records can be found on our webpages:
Discovering the genealogy and the social history of the individuals that you are researching, where they lived, where they went to school, what occupation(s) they engaged in, their relationships, their children’s lives, their parents lives and provide a fascinating look into your, and your ancestor’s, past.
I hope you enjoy the journey!