News and Blog

The latest news and information from the Achievements team.

  1. 32 family members named in a will . . . .

    Wills and other probate records can be invaluable to genealogists, particularly when family members from across a county, or even country, are named.  This can allow the family history trail to diverge in previously unknown directions, perhaps finding the marriages and burials of family members some distance from where the rest of the family lived.

    One of our researchers this week was completing research on a Ridley family of Surrey, when she came across a will in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury naming some thirty-two family members.  Elvy Ridley died in the 1840s, and clearly did not have any surviving children, and had outlived his wife.

    will-of-elvey-ridley

    However, he was keen to divide his estate fairly between his wider family, which was extremely useful from a genealogical point of view.  He recorded his family in an ordered fashion, dividing them into his nieces and nephews from his different siblings, including recording who was still living.  Married surnames were given for the women, as well as where each nephew and niece was then living.  Thus an extensive family tree could be drawn up, and then research could follow each niece and nephew to further extend the family tree.  Without the evidence from the will, further research would have been much more time consuming, and family relationships may have remained probable only.  A good find during this research!

  2. How to trace your family history, a quick start guide.

    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!

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