How to trace your family history online
The internet has opened up a range of possibilities when it comes to genealogy and more and more people are beginning to trace their heritage down through the ages.
Formally the preserve of the select few who enjoyed sitting in dusty rooms and leafing through birth certificates, the practice of finding out the individuals that life threw together in the process that eventually make you who you are today is by no means simple, but is not all-consuming either.
If you are looking to see whether your great-grandfather made his money writing offensive limericks or whether your great, great-aunt was actually Queen Victoria, then there are a few steps you will need to take:
Tracing your family history online
Firstly, you are going to have get yourself some software for building your family tree and storing what could turn out to be large amounts of data. While there are numerous software packages that you can pay for (Which? magazine has a guide as to the best value ones), there are also various free programmes you can use such as RootsMagic Essentials or Legacy Standard Edition.
Get in touch online
An important step in this process is mining the treasure troves of knowledge that your existing relatives have. You can use the internet to get in contact with and chat to the ones that live far away of have fallen out of contact.
There are also a whole host of websites like Genes Reunited that allows you to track down lost relatives by allowing you to view other people’s family trees and contact the relevant people if there are any overlaps. Another option is to use online directories that utilise a postcode search and electoral registers.
Rummage through the archives
This is the real nitty-gritty of being a genealogical detective; looking for clues amongst the old records and documents (Census, marriage register, birth and death certificates and army service records).
There are a number of websites that collate these various archives into online databases which you can search through quickly and easily. This is the innovation that has blown genealogy wide open as the amount of man hours that have been saved for you here is vast.
You should begin your search at the following websites: Ancestry, The Genealogist and FindMypast.
Getting your hands on the certificates
If you want to get your hands on a physical copy of your relative’s birth, death or marriage certificates then you are going to have to get in touch with the General Records Office, which has been collecting hem since 1837.
Before the internet you would have had to go down to this place yourself, but now you can order the certificates from the website.
Get advice and join groups
Another useful thing that the internet can give you is access to thousands of people and sites that gives you advice and help you with your search. Some people do this kind of thing for a living so it is pretty safe to assume they would have come across a problem like yours before. There are also a multitude of groups dedicated to this kind of thing out there.
Tracing your history can be fun and rewarding. While you will find that most of your ancestors were just normal people surviving in their own social and cultural settings, your search can sometimes churn up a real surprise.
Anyone got any to share?
Guest post contributed by Elise Lévêque a freelance translator who made the jump from Paris to Bristol a while ago and loves blogging for White Pages. She is now living with her partner as a fully paid up drinker of tea and eater of Baked Beans.
Image by: National Library of Ireland
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