A review of 30 years research

At home with old newspapers

One of the situations that arise during family history research is not fulfilling the expectations of those whom you come into contact with. I can look back at several incidents when I have been unable to confirm family stories passed down through their ancestors. I remember one Teasdale who travelled through Europe and the UK where he thought his ancestors originated. After we corresponded, many years later, I was able to take one of his family members to the original buildings where his ancestors lived; the churches where they were baptised and married and the church-yards where they lie to this day. We became great friends despite the distance between us. I can sense the disappointment, through correspondence with others, when a key piece of evidence does not materialise after many hours of research and what was written in their family histories does not match the evidence. I read that a long since deceased originator of a particular story was renowned for making up names and places to suit family trees and justify his fees. I cannot tell people that their family stories don’t match the evidence; I just say that new evidence may come to light as more information & transcriptions become available; this after all is what has been happening in genealogy for the past 30 years as a revolution in technology has been and is taking place. During the 30 years that I have been researching the Teasdale & variant names I have experienced a wide range of family history knowledge & expertise from my correspondents, some of whom have  visited me when I lived in the north-east of England. I accept that there are different levels of interest and not everyone has the time or resources to do much. There is a group of dedicated correspondents who have shared their knowledge and worked towards a better understanding of their ancestors and the times that they lived in. It is only natural for me to have a high regard for these individuals but offers of help & information is welcome from any source and I try to help anyone who contacts me. I’m not really an expert in genealogy; just someone who has made a small effort to collect names, has a bit of interest in history & topology and who has made a small contribution to the understanding of family history. The past 30 years has been an interesting journey, it has allowed me to have a better understanding of their lives and times, their sorrow at high infant & life mortality, their plagues and epidemics, their hopes for a better life.

Researching your family tree for free – getting started

Many people assume that you must buy a subscription to one of the genealogy websites in order to start researching your family. You don’t have to spend much to get started. All you need is a pencil, paper and an eraser which you may have already.

Sketch out your family at the bottom of the sheet; add your parents and your partners (if applicable). Add your siblings with lines joining them all together, to each of your parents. You can add your two sets of grandparents and join them all together as per the diagram below.

The next step is to talk to your parents and grandparents and record their history. You will be shown old photographs and documents so try to copy these. Some will talk freely and some will be reluctant to talk – you just have to be a good listener while giving gentle prompts. You may be told things that they don’t want other family members to hear about so be aware that some memories may not always be happy ones.

You may not know your grandparents or you may want to go further back in time. You can use FreeBMD to find any birth, marriage or death from around 1975 back to the September quarter 1837. You will see a reference against these records from which you can order certificates from the gov.uk website; these are around £11 but you only need these to prove a difficult connection. Be aware that in the 1840s there was a scandal when some unscrupulous registrars were found to have made up birth & deaths in order to obtain a bonus. This scheme was discontinued when it was found that there had been almost a doubling of false registrations. The first case of false recording occurred in 1846 and we assume that after this date the malpractice stopped. FreeBMD have another facility for limited parish records and census returns. Type FreeBMD into any search engine and you will find the site.

Another free site is the General Register Office (GRO) where you can find the mother’s maiden name against births from 1837 to 1934. There are some mother’s names omitted and you have to register but it is a great tool for finding the children of a married couple.

The other free website is FamilySearch and you have to register your details. These same BMD records are available, in additional to census and parish records. Be aware that some of the submitted family trees lack rigorous construction. You can submit your own family tree on this site but deceased ancestors are available for everyone to see and modify.

Another misconception you may come across is that you must have a program to record your family names, especially if your tree starts to grow. You can use a simple spreadsheet available on most computer Microsoft Office packages. You can even do a family tree diagram in Excel with a bit of practice. Alternatively, you can simply draw your names out on an A3 sheet which will cost almost nothing. The most important thing is to interview all your relatives and record as much of their memories as possible before they disappear forever.

Finally, and most important of all, record your sources of information. So many family trees in FamilySearch and Ancestry have no sources and you need to treat these with caution.