Start your family tree – the time is NOW


In what is the last few days of 2014, I’m thinking back through to last January and my 2014 genealogy resolutions (more on their progress or otherwise, and my 2015 ones to come).

Man holding magnifying glass and death certificate
I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by ‘new records’ right now.

This year has been a busy one for genealogy as an industry, and history as a whole, what with some significant world war anniversaries.

Meanwhile, I’ve continued working on my trees, undertaking a couple of bits of free detective work for a friend and also in response to finding a family bible in an antiques store, busily updating my Family Tree UK site with some nice Structured Data for the benefit of Search (yes, my inner nerd has been binging on that), finding a ghost, and joining a one-name organisation that’s found its way through somewhat of a sudden unexpected and perhaps turbulent period of change, I’ve been merrily receiving emails about the latest new sets of hundreds of thousands of newly-available records.

That list of newly available records has kept on growing and growing and that kind of leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I feel like I’ve dropped the ball and let my genealogy badge slip.

Perhaps I should just draw a line, and start again?

Only joking, I’m not about to throw 20yrs worth of work away.

But, there’s so much ‘new’ out there, that I feel a bit lost in the noise again.

This is why, if you’re only just starting, or you’re toying with the idea to explore your tree, or to find out if your old grandmother’s rumours were in any way true or just romanticised whimsy, then this is the time to start it.

Book yourself into a session with your local archives, or talk to your oldest coherent relatives, find out the photos.. but make sure you use the sites that carry the ‘human’ bits of genealogy and record them too – not just the number counts of a census return, but the newspapers, the scraps of info from war records, and the scribbly notes in parish registers.

How does that help me?

What I need to do is climb back down my tree branches and stand at the bottom of the family tree, look upwards, and then slowly learn to climb it again. By doing so, I should find new information that helps to make those old branches grow a little bit more.

In my random casual looks for records against close relatives, these new record sets from the likes of the British Newspaper Archive and FindMyPast, have allowed me to fill in more of the everyday lives of people I thought I had already.

I’ve only just dipped my toes/fingers/nose into their millions of records that they’ve been steadily releasing this year. Kudos to FindMyPast, who despite taking a massive backlash when they altered their website, on a scale that was a-kin to the Ancestry Search Change Disaster (remember that?), I think they have led the way with getting the more numerous and more interesting records into their data-sets.

Also, with the launch of sites like Lives Of The First World War from the Imperial War Museum, the information is not only going to come from record organisations, but also via personal histories through the wisdom of crowds.

A snapshot of Lives Of The First World War stats
A snapshot of today’s Lives Of The First World War stats

Of course I should expect to see ‘new’ information turn up – and I’ve enjoyed this immensely spending more time exploring the Ancestry ‘Hints’, and only recently found some photos of my Great Grandfather – Alfred Newman, aged about 28 (youngest I’d ever seen him previously to that, was in his 40s). I never met him.

Ancestry Hits
All these Hints will keep me busy on Ancestry in the Christmas period.

I’ve yet to delve into School Records, but really hoping to find lots of notes on my Great Grandmother as being a mischievous little devil (I always felt she had a rebellious streak in her).

I’m also yet to explore the new online ‘Find A Will’ service from The Probate Service. I’ve always enjoyed reading Wills, but have very few of them. I have some great transcripts of 16th-19th century ones, and they’ve been perfect for unravelling relationships between generations.

With so much to even start to explore, this is why I almost feel like I did when I first walked into a Records Office (the Bury St Edmunds one).

It is exciting, revealing, overwhelming…. and oh…. wonderfully addictive.

Author: Andrew Martin

+Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.

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