Top 5 resources to help discover your family tree
Researching your family tree, or genealogy, is an increasingly popular hobby, inspired by TV shows such as 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Research allows people to find interesting stories, tales of fortune, great luck, bravery and even acts of villainy from their family past.
The use of internet databases makes it a lot easier to do research from the comfort of your own home. Historic records, company records, shipping rosters, military regimental archives and even old newspapers can help provide links to your ancestors. Who knows, you might be related to a noble family or a celebrity! Here are our top five resources to help track down those distant family members.
1. Online subscription sites
There's money to be made from people researching their family history, and many sites offer you access to huge collections of databases of historical records, for a small fee. In some cases these records can be accessed freely, if you know how, but it is often easier to sign up for a service, and quickly and easily search through all their records.
2. Free online search services
If you don't want to pay to do some basic research, there are plenty of online resources available. The National Archives provide access to a massive range of boundary maps, court and military records. You can vanish into a rabbit warren of information and potential ancestors, just by typing in your surname and known family member locations, with records dating back hundreds of years.
3. 'Family Tree Maker' software
Once you've started finding lists of ancestors, you will want to create a proper family tree. You can do this the artistic way by hand-drawing your own scroll, but it can be a pain to correct mistakes or add new lines later on. You can do it the boring way in a spreadsheet, but it can be hard to make that look nice and presentable. An alternative is to invest in some family tree software that creates an easily extendable database of all your ancestors, and can produce an impressive-looking tree as an end result. Popular programs include 'Family Tree Maker.'
4. Researching your family history out and about
While the internet is a great resource, there is still much data that has not been digitised, notably parish records, which you can find at your local county records office. Local newspapers also have their own archives which can be a great source of information, while there are many industrial, company and transport records stored in various museums and archives that can be found locally. The Holy Grail of information is The National Archives at Kew, and while much of their data is available online, a visit to its massive archive is well worth it.
5. Consult the professionals
Some people don't have the time to discover their family tree, or find it hard going. If you do find information, some of it can be hard to understand or gain useful links from. In these cases, turning to a professional can help. They know the ins and outs of record hunting, and have a better understanding of the many codes used in historical records. For a modest fee they can help start your genealogical journey and help produce the detailed stories that mark your family history.