How to discover your family tree without using the internet


1st Jan 2015 Life

How to discover your family tree without using the internet

You don’t have to scroll through the internet to find out about ancestors, you can do the leg work yourself and explore your history the old fashioned way.


It’s only in the last decade or so that family history records have become widely available due to the popularity of the internet, offering novice historians the opportunity to trace their ancestry. However, if you want to do things the old way, finding out about your ancestors is not impossible – after all, generations of genealogists were hard at work constructing their family trees a long time before the digital world was even thought of – but it’ll take a little longer and require more legwork than sitting in front of a computer.


Start to build your family tree

The first step, is to call upon your immediate relatives to start constructing your family tree. You’ll probably know a little about your ancestors already – possibly a couple of generations – but talk to older members of the family in particular, recording as many names, occupations and dates and locations of births, deaths and marriages as possible. If some information is sketchy or uncertain, include it anyway (highlighted with a question mark). It could prove to be decisive when tracking down an individual in the future.


Records of births, deaths and marriages

Records of births, deaths and marriages are often the starting point when carrying out research into family history and, if you don’t have a computer, living close to London carries a definite advantage. Since 1837 there has been a legal requirement for births, deaths and marriages to be recorded and St Catherine’s House in London holds the printed copies of these records which are on open access to members of the public. Volumes are organised by date and surname and you can request copies of certificates for a small fee. In some ways, a day out to the capital to conduct a physical search of the records is more exciting than trawling the internet, but it is more time consuming and requires a degree of stamina.

It should be noted that adherence to the law was, at times, patchy, so gaps in records exist, as do changes in the spelling of names over time.


Parish registers

Church records are another important way of discovering your ancestors and have the advantage of going further back in time than official records. Churches recorded baptisms, deaths and marriages many hundreds of years ago, but you would need to have an idea of which parish a particular ancestor lived in, or be prepared to study the records held by several churches in a particular town. To access parish registers, you will need to find out where the records are now stored (usually either at the church in question or in the county records office). Handwritten in an old-fashioned script, church records may pose some problems for the inexperienced in deciphering them; if you’re lucky, some parish registers, particularly in cities, have been painstakingly transcribed to print by genealogists.

Of course, even in the absence of a parish register, a graveyard can yield important evidence in the search for your ancestors.


Census information

Census information is probably the most useful source material for learning about your ancestors and provides a valuable snapshot of life in the past. A census return would typically include details of all the people living in a household, their ages and occupations, while branches of the same family living locally can also easily be identified, helping you to construct your family tree with more confidence.

Printed copies of censuses, from 1841 until 1911, are retained by The National Archives in London, while copies on microfiche are widely available in public libraries elsewhere in the country.