Where do you start?

You start from where you are now and what you already know about yourself and your immediate family. So the family tree starts with you, mum, dad and perhaps your grandparents. From there you work backwards. You then look to other relatives like great uncle Albert, to fill in the blanks.

Bring him down to his local pub, buy him a pint and get him to spill the beans. A word of warning though, don't get him too drunk. It's amazing how fact and fiction can begin to merge after a few pints of guinness!!

Great Uncle Albert!

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW once said, 'The danger in tracing your family tree is that you may find an ancestor hanging from a branch, either by his neck or by his tail'.

Keep in mind that all families have their stories about famous, infamous or heroic ancestors. There may well be a grain of truth in a family tale but you need the solid facts. Do not be tempted to find your family connection to Albert Einstein, or Daniel O'Connel. If you do, go along this avenue you may find you are barking up someone elses family tree. Work back in time steadily from one generation to the next.

My dad believed that his grandfather had participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade. I later discovered that although that was not true he had served as a soldier in India for 21 years and had won a medal in the Afghanistan War of 1878.

Get yourself a file or folder to store the data you have collected. If you have a computer its a good idea to invest in some genealogy software such as Broderbunds Family Tree Maker.

Software for this purpose ranges in price from ten pounds to around seventy pounds for a really sophisticated package. If you are just starting out or on a tight budget, Soft Key Family Tree is an excellent little program and great for the beginner.

Try drawing up a chart of your immediate family tree. Include full names, dates of birth, marriage and death. Where possible also include places. As the tree gets bigger you can start new trees for the different branches.

Keep note of all the sources of information you have. You may require this data further down the line when you need to double check ground you have already covered.

When interviewing relatives a tape recorder is a good idea. When you play it back you will be surprised at the bits you had forgotten and they could be the very clues that might help you in future research.

Make copies of birth, marriage and death certificates. Deeds to a house or old letters, photographs and postmarked envelopes can also be invaluable so get them copied too. If you find old photographs with no information on them ask around, someone is bound to know about it.

The letter from Auntie Maggie in New York thats been lying in Grannies dresser drawer for the last forty years, may be the missing link that leads you to an elusive ancestor.

Buy a book on tracing your family tree there are many on the market. A good idea is to go to the library first borrow a few and find out which one you prefer.

If you are connected to the internet, use it. There are hundreds of genealogy sites and notice boards where you can leave information about your research. I myself have found cousins I did not know I had thanks to the internet. So get surfing!

The location of sources and references.

My own personal family history is deeply imbedded in Scotland and Ireland and any information I give will be mostly pertinent to people researching in those particular countries.

In Scotland administration has been highly centralized for at least three hundred years. (The Scots like to keep tags on everything and I mean everything!!). Therefore, many of Scotlands records have found their way into national collections.

The Scottish Records Office, General Register House, Princes Street Edinburgh EH1 3YT contains the widest ranging archive of government and legal records, church records such as Kirk Session and Presbytery records. They also have a large collection of maps and estate plans. There are many catalogues and guides to the various record groups.

There are two search rooms and you should phone or write in the first instance to check the location of the records you are looking for. Admission is by readers ticket.

The General Register Office for Scotland, New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT. Has on microfilm, old parish registers covering births deaths and marriages from 1553-1854, divorce register from 1984, post 1855 statutory registers , marine, war and consular registers and last but not least those lovely genealogical treasure troves the CEBs (census enumeration books) 1841-1891.

The genealogy centre at 22 Park Circus in Glasgow also has many of these records but only for the west of Scotland. In both places a fee is charged and the search rooms are usually busy, you should book in advance if you are planning a visit.

If you have been able to trace an ancestor back to say 1891 you should be able to find them in the census, provided you have their place of birth and a fair idea of their age. Census records will give you a persons age, occupation, relationship within the family and in some cases where there has been migration, a county or country of origin.

Most libraries and repositories have copies of census records on micro fiche or film. Census records are banned from public view for one hundred years. In the United Kindgom you will not be able to look at the 1901 census until 2001. This is not the case across the Irish Sea.

In Ireland two historic events govern the availability of historical records.

First of all the partition of Ireland in 1921 when six of the nine counties of Ulster remained within the United Kingdom and the Irish Free State was created. The administration centre for Northern Ireland became Belfast while Dublin continued as the administrative centre for the other 26 counties.

Secondly in 1922 there was a fire in the Public Records Office of Ireland in Dublin. This fire destroyed much of the source material relating to the centralized government administration of Ireland before partition.

For this reason the 1901 and 1911 census records have been made available to the general public.They are held in the National Archives in Dublin.

The National Archives, Bishop St, Dublin and the Public Records Office for Northern Ireland (PRONI), 66 Balmoral Avenue Belfast BT9 6NY remain the most important national repositories for the whole of Ireland.

PRONI has obtained copies of many of the pre 1922 public records which relate to the six counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone. They also have church records such as microfilm copies of the catholic parish registers for parishes in the province of Ulster 1830-1888. Protestant chruch records are also available. Emigration records chiefly from Ulster including letters to and from emigrants. Again admission is by readers ticket.

Also in the north you have the magnificent Linen Hall Library 17 Donegal Square North, Belfast, BT 5GD. Founded in 1788 this is an independent library open to researchers with information on Irish and local history. It holds newspaper archives such as the Belfast Neswletter virtually complete dating back to 1737.

The National Library Kildare St Dublin includes a large collection of esate records, microfilm copies of nearly all the Roman Catholic parish registers to 1880 (some may require local permission for access) .

Technological advances in duplicating, by photocopying, microfilm and microfiche have lead to the dissemination of copies of centrally held records beyond their original repositories. As said previously many libraries have microfilm copies of census returns, voters rolls, cemetery records and (in some cases) parish records. This is to the advantage of the local researcher and family historian.

A good family historian should have an innate pride in family and country, and realise his or her duty to search out and record the truth. He or she becomes, a full-time detective, a confirmed diplomat, a keen observer, a studious sociologist, and, above all, an accurate reporter.

Genealogy can make history come alive in a very personal way. Our ancestors by their very existence played their parts (however small) in the making of it and ultimately us. Happy ancestor hunting.

 

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