Thursday, 20 November 2014

My Great Great Grandad Was Who? Genealogy for Beginners.

Genealogy is a fascinating subject and as a beginner I can lose hours, if not days surfing the net for long lost relatives.  I’m sure there are quicker ways to get results, but I’m having so much fun on my detective mission nonetheless.

As it happens, I discovered this week that my Great-Great-Grandfather on my mother’s side was in the Royal Engineers 223rd Field Company in WW1.  Having visited the incredible memorial at Tower Bridge in London, I found the realisation that one of my ancestors was in the thick of it quite overwhelming.  Tears were shed.  God help me if I watch the Sainsbury’s advert again!

During the same session, I found out that my other set of Great-Great-Grandparents were born in Dublin and Mayo and travelled over to the UK in the 1800’s.  That must have been quite a trip.

The storyteller in me was buzzing with the; who, what, where, when and how’s of it all.  To work in this field and be able to piece together the puzzle of someone’s life must be so rewarding. 

When I was on the trail of my father’s family line, I traced our ancestors back to a place called Mirfield in Yorkshire.  The same place that the actor Patrick Stewart’s family originated.  I found an amazing book by a local genealogist and writer, Frances Stott.  Aptly named Mirfield, this book filled in so many blanks for me.  It’s crammed with pictures of how the area looked in the 1800’s and 1900’s.  There are black and white photographs of the street where my family lived along with evidence that my Great-Great-Great-Great*deep breath*Great-Grandad lived next door to one of the town’s most prestigious occupants.

I try to instill my passion for history on my children, but they roll their eyes and dismiss me with a flippant ‘back in your day’ phrase.  I do believe that education is wasted on the young!  Maybe I was the same, although I do remember doing quite well in History lessons at school.  I always had a fascination for facts and dates – maybe that was my writing muse? 

My Grandad on my Dad's side was in the Home Guard
during WW2 in Leeds.
I would love to know if you have found any skeletons in the family closet.  I still need to confirm my source, but I did find a criminal record attached to one of my ancestors!  I don’t think any prison time was attached to his crime, but it made for a great conversation starter over dinner!  There are so many inspiring stories, and who knows, the next bestseller idea might just appear after a couple of hours on Ancestry!

If you do want to have a go, the main sites offer 14 day free trials.  It gives you the opportunity to dip your toe, but beware, genealogy is highly addictive.  Once you begin it can be very hard to stop and this means paying for membership so you can carry on your searches.  In my opinion the best site is Ancestry.  For a membership you will expect to pay £12.95 a month (£107.40 a year).  A cheaper site is Find My Past who charge £9.95 a month (£99.50 a year).  If you don't have the time, but you do have the funds then you could pay an expert to do the researching for you.  Links Genealogy offer three packages starting from £240 to trace a single line, parents lines or grandparents lines.  Any of these would make an ideal gift for a family history buff.

My top tips before you start:

  • Buy a notepad and write down everything that you already know about your family.

  • Interview your family members and find out as much as they know.

  • Using this information, start a ‘Family Tree’ on poster paper or on one of the sites and begin to fill in your ancestors.

Ancestry will offer 'hints' on each member, this flags up any searches for the same name or other member’s family tree’s that may match your own.  You may find a distant cousin!

Don’t put it off.  I used to talk to my Grandad about his time in the Navy during WW2 because his stories were incredible.  Only when he passed away did I kick myself for not recording those conversations.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Have you had a go at looking up your family history?  Did you find anything interesting?


  1. The skeleton in my family tree is Jamie McPherson, the Highland Freebooter. The illegitimate son of a Highland Laird and a gypsy woman he was Scotland's Robin Hood (or maybe just a robbin' so and so!) and was hanged in 1700 for being an Egyptian, which was the word for gypsy in those days. In his cell he wrote a song about his life - McPherson's Lament - and sang it on the gallows before breaking his fiddle over his knee and throwing the pieces to the crowd. 300 years later, the Fiddlers Cafe in Banff commemorates the spot where he was hanged, and you can hear his song on YouTube:
    No wonder the McPherson's still have the family motto, "Touch not the cat without a glove."

    1. That's amazing Douglas, it puts my petty theft into perspective haha. The tales of your family history are a book I'd love to read! :)

  2. I haven't done much genealogical research of my own, but a relative on my mom's side did, and I had the results at one time, then lost it in a computer crash. I wish I had it now, especially as my mother's memory comes crashing down, and there is less and less I can ask her.

    1. I don't think any of us realise just how precious our memories are sometimes, you hear of children moaning about their grandparents waffling on about the war. They don't understand how special those 'waffles' can be. I'm so sorry to hear that you lost your information. The Ancestry site is very easy to use - it may be something you could do for yourself in the future. It's like being a detective and so inspirational for story telling (real or made up!) :)

  3. i best get on this.... I have royal blood apparently .... albeit Portuguese

    1. Oh wow! That's fabulous. Does this mean I need to curtesy when I meet you? ;)

  4. I dabbled a few years ago, but things got very complicated. Both my grandmothers had the same surname and their parents came from the same area, so it was easy to get confused as to which family was which. At one point in the 19th century my mum's ancestors were living in the same street as my dad's. I did enjoy going and looking at the microfiches of births, deaths and marriages, though.

  5. I've dabbled in my family history too, and it's addicting! Don't know of any criminals (yet - LOL) but thanks to my aunt's research, I know I can apply for membership to the Daughters of the American Revolution. :D