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Tracing the Family Tree

We published an article back in 2016, Get into Genealogy (Focus F11), and it proved to be very popular. It seems many folk have an interest in tracing their origins which, with the information available via the Internet, isn't too difficult; provided they are prepared to spend a bit of time researching databases relevant to countries of birth. This, of course, can lead the way down various paths, particularly having regard not only to already-known facts such as where they themselves were born; but more importantly the places of birth, residence, and also the occupations of ancestors.

Most countries have records dating back to early times, so it is possible to track families which may have started out in one country, then migrated to another; sometimes more than one. So, it is just a matter of taking a step back to the immediate next of kin, perhaps father and mother; and finding out where they were in more recent times; then researching the records of that particular country. From this simple beginning, those who start compiling their family tree will discover how complex and convoluted the search will become. Despite this, it will doubtless prove to be a worthwhile and very intriguing exercise.

The basic family unit might be father, mother and any number of children who are related not only to their parents, but also their parents' parents; in other words, the grandparents. As the tree starts to branch out, more names and dates are added...

family tree

Where, though, does all of the information come from? Well, there are numerous sources, not the least being censuses. In the UK these began in 1841, and it was decided to compile future updates every 10 years. Data transposed from the original documents is available to the general public; but there is a rule imposed preventing access to records from the past 100 years; presumably to protect the privacy of those who may still be alive during this period. As a result, anyone using censuses as a research source in 2021 can view data no later than 1911. Even so, it is a good start, although not always perfectly accurate. Some of the reasons for this are covered in the Genealogy article, which is an interesting read.

Other important sources for tracing early relatives, at least in the UK, are parish records. Fairly comprehensive, they can include records of births, christenings, marriages and deaths; always assuming none have been lost or destroyed, either by accident or design (funny things happened in olden times). Most, however, seem to have survived, as my wife can testify to first-hand. While conducting her own research into both of our families, she had cause to contact historical societies to fill in some blanks she'd come across; or to query data entries which were thought to be wrong. One thing led to another and she eventually agreed to help out as an OPC - that's an Online Parish Clerk - for two small towns in the UK near where she was born. Now residing in Australia apparently wasn't a problem because, as her title suggests, the work is done via the Internet. Why do I bother mentioning this at all, when it would hardly impact on your own investigation of your family tree? Actually, aside from being an interesting exposé of how records are compiled; it also explains the difficulties incurred transcribing details from hand-written ledgers to a computer database; and how the mistakes of transcribers can send you down some blind alleys. Unforgiveable you may say. Why can't they just take a bit of extra time to get it right? I'll show you. The first example is part of the parish records for marriages in 1847:

extract of marriage

If you look closely, you can see discoloration under the script which I would suggest is writing that has leeched through from the back of the page. I make this assumption because the obvious slope of the vague image towards the left is the reverse of that on the page being transcribed. In this instance it wasn't an issue as it was so faint.

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