Starting family history research can be daunting, when presented with an array of websites online offering various records available to search. However, it is important to start with the basics.
1. Collate what information you have. Talk to any older relatives about anything they remember. Ask questions to prompt them, to help with dates etc. For example, what was the weather like at your grandfather’s funeral?
2. Birth, marriage and death records. General Registration (GRO) began in 1837, and in theory every birth, marriage and death should have been registered since then. Various websites provide the quarterly indexes to GRO records, to obtain the relevant volume and page number required to order copies of the certificates. With this information a certificate can then be ordered via the GRO website for a small fee.
3. Census returns. With the information from GRO, searches can then be made of census records. The most recently available for public scrutiny is that of 1911, and again various websites allow access to these records. These provide information such as age, place of birth and occupation which are essential when building up a picture of our ancestors’ lives.
4. Parish registers. Prior to the earliest census of 1841, and the beginning of GRO in 1837, parish registers are the most useful resource for genealogists. They record baptisms (rather than births), marriages and burials (rather than deaths). The Anglican church should be the first place to start, unless the family has known links to non-conformists denominations or Roman Catholicism, which have different registers (where they survive).
5. Probate records. Wills can represent an excellent resource to add to our knowledge of our ancestors, and even labourers sometimes left such documents. They are mostly available from the appropriate local record office, although records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are now available online.
These are the main sources to use when starting out on your family history journey, but of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. Delving into genealogy can take you on unexpected journeys – just like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get!