Beginning ancestor research online

Searching for our ancestry on the web is becoming one of the most popular pastimes of the new century. Not so long back, however, the family tree researcher, intent on tracing their ancestors, would be faced with having to make several trips to various libraries, County record offices and some family history centres. Now, even though for a serious genealogist this will still be an important part of their search for ancestors, the massive growth in on line genealogical websites with a searchable database has made it possible to do much of the initial research for our ancestors via our computer’s web browser. From the beginner, trying to find an elusive forbearer, to the professional doing a family genealogy research project for a client, resources such as those provided at www ancestry.com or co.uk and a host of other providers have made life so much easier for us all. The sheer amount of information already available to us is being added too all the time with new releases of old records and indexes. There are websites providing us with access to census collections, parish records (church records of Christenings, Burials and Marriages), monumental transcripts, BMD sites providing data on births, marriages and deaths, family history societies, old maps, genealogical resources such as parish registers, old town or trade directories and so on.

In the UK the 1841 census records are the earliest to be found on-line. Sets of data are available to search on the Internet right up to the census of 1911. These census records are available on a host of commercial sites, most of which require you to pay-as-you-go, or to take out a subscription of some sort. You will typically be able to search transcripts and then pay to view actual images, of enumerator’s books, for the various censuses taken every ten years between 1841 and the 1901 census. Lately, the 1911 census for England and Wales has gone on line earlier than the normal hundred years before release. This is because a UK Freedom of Information ruling has ruled in favour, as long as the sensitive data regarding householder’s mental state has been blanked out. The unusual feature of this collection is that, for the first time, we can view an image of the household’s return, not just the enumerator’s book and so can potentially see our ancestor’s handwriting.

The availability of the various types of family history data, on line, has encouraged an ever-growing number of people to make a foray into the world of the genealogy websites. Most are trying to find out who their ancestors were and what they did. Quite a few people have been encouraged to begin looking for themselves after the success of the BBC’s series called: Who do you think your are? They may have been drawn to look for forebears by the many books on the subject, the various magazines on the newsagent’s shelves and the family history events, such as the annual show at Olympia and a host of others held up and down the country all year round. But while some research is easy, a good few of our ancestors are frustratingly difficult to find and so often a beginner does not know where to turn.

There are still many people, out there, who simply do not know how to even take the first steps to doing their family research on a computer. Then there are others who, having made a start, do not know how to get past the inevitable brickwall that they have encountered.

Although brickwalls are annoying, to the researcher, the satisfaction of getting through them to the other side is fantastically satisfying. I have learnt how to do this for some of my ancestors by taking e-courses in this fascinating subject. What I have discovered is that the family historian needs to be made aware of the various tips and tricks of the professional genealogists and how they use the Internet’s resources to best effect. While the easy information can be obtained by using the straight forward search box on a website, to find elusive ancestors may require a certain application. The good news is that someone has probably come up against the same sort of problem as you are having and so a means of working around the difficulty may already have been devised. For example, I was taught how to use the FreeBMD website to locate missing siblings of one of my grandmothers.

A good few researchers will have made use of the LDS or Church of Latter-day Saint’s familysearch.org site. Finding your ancestors, by using the search tools provided by the site, can be difficult; even if they are included in the International Genealogical Index, which is not always the case! The problem is that a search by last name only is not permitted, unless you search within a single batch of records at a time or across the entire country. A search of the whole of Britain is overwhelming, unless you have a rare name. What if, however, you are looking for a Smith or a Jones? I have also learnt how to use a tool provided by Hugh Wallis on his website to search the IGI batches and it is really easy to do, once you know how.

The world wide web has made researching ancestors so much easier to do. As more and more data finds its way onto the Internet many more lines of research are opened to us. But, conversely, there is the danger of information overload. The new family historian may become frozen in the headlights as the data juggernaut races on towards them. My suggestion is to carefully write down your research at each stage, so that you keep track of any blind alleys you have been down and the people that you have mistakenly researched as being your ancestors when they were not, as well your successful ones. In the long run you will save yourself time and quite possibly money on certificates bought, or pay-as-you-go searches on the Internet.

Next, it will pay you dividends to continue to learn as much as you can about family history by taking various courses or by reading books and magazines on the subject. A family historian who continues to think of themselves as only an advanced beginner, is the best family researcher. That is, they are always open to learning more skills. The better you get at using the various techniques, the easier it will be to find those elusive forbears!

About the Author

Nick Thorne, aka: The Nosey Genealogist, lets you in on the secret tips and tricks, learnt from professional genealogists, in order that you can break down your brickwalls in family history. Nick’s reports, podcasts and screencast videos will help you succeed in your search for your ancestors. Want to learn more about Beginning Family History On line? Claim Nick’s free weekly tips and tricks, available at:=>

Getting Started, Step 1 – Finding Easy Information (FamilySearch genealogy)

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