Tracing your family history can be an extremely rewarding and absorbing pastime. Whether you are a dedicated detective when it comes to all things to do with your family tree, or whether you are a complete beginner, unravelling family mysteries and secrets can be absolutely enthralling, and hook you into delving further into the sometimes shady past of your ancestors.

 

Before you go digging… 

…for the black sheep of the family, it's worth considering what anything you find out might mean for living relations. For example, some family secrets can stay hidden for generations, and for a variety of reasons, are sometimes best left uncovered. At best, you may discover that a beloved grandparent was perhaps unrelated to you after all, and at worst, you may uncover tragedies that make you feel very differently about the people they involve. We have all watched episodes of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' where a celebrity has uncovered unimaginable poverty, sadness or tragedy befalling their ancestors and been deeply affected by it. On occasion, similar searches might turn up that you are not who you think you might be at all, where birth certificates record "father unknown" rather than a named spouse, or a wedding that might have taken place mere weeks before a birth, or indeed not at all!

 

Even if your family tree is completely unremarkable… 

…there are a whole raft of other factors that it's important to consider before you begin to involve yourself in researching your ancestors. For example, it can become something of a full-time job, so an important consideration is how much leisure time you are going to devote to it, and whether it will be a sole pursuit, or whether you will involve the rest of your immediate family in your research. Genealogy can also be an extremely expensive hobby; if you have ancestors that have come to the UK from overseas, or even spent large parts of their life abroad, you may find that essential details to trace the line further back are patchy unless you make a trip overseas yourself to see local records. 

 

Your search can be costly… 

…even if it doesn't take you far outside your home county; copies of birth, marriage and death certificates can mount up over time. Factor in the additional travel costs of petrol or train fares, and you're looking at an expensive hobby. 

If you're already something of a list-maker when it comes to planning major events, it may be worth adopting the same approach with tracing your family tree. For the truly organised, a spreadsheet detailing your forbears as you identify them, certificates ordered or obtained, travel undertaken to look at parish records and even time spent researching can help you to keep on top of your family tree, and even encourage a greater sense of responsibility not just to those in the past, but those in the present. You may not find a glamorous highwayman, but you'll still find an intriguing story or two.

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