I recently looked into my father’s family tree as quite frankly I don’t know anyone outside my parents, now deceased grandparents and an estranged uncle. Turns out I love this kind of research and its really similar to forensics – digging through various facts and finding the connections. I used findmypast.co.uk and a combination of the free directories: Free births-marriages-deaths, Free Census and Free parish registers. These free ones are excellent, but only contain info which people have transcribed, so there are whole counties missing / time periods missing which exist in findmypast.co.uk and other ancestry websites. Because of this, I increasingly relied on the commercial websites and found I had to start paying money to get all the info I needed. So far, I have managed to get 781 ancestors (!) and managed to go as far back as 1502 for my maiden name, Lowman. More posts on my own family tree will come in the future.
findmypast.co.uk, as with all ancestry websites, allows you to create a family tree to add info to. I recommend if you go into family tree research, you pick one (like findmypast) which allows you to export to the gedcom format. Gedcom (Genealogical Data Communication) is an open specification for exchanging genealogical data between different genealogy software, and interestingly was developed by the Mormon church. What it means is you can then export your tree to any other software you like. I printed out a “direct ancestor” tree using myhistory.co.uk (highly recommended – excellent paper and printing quality for a reasonable price. For the record, mine ended up being nearly 2metres long!).
The first thing to know about some of the records is they all display different information, so often you need to get a few different sources to work out what is correct. For example, some marriage records often just contain a bunch of male names and female names because 2 or 3 couples married at the same time. So your relative Joe Blogs could have married any of these 3. However, birth records often contain the surname/first name of the mother – unfortunately quite rarely the full name and the further back you go perhaps no details at all. Therefore if you are working upwards, using a birth record, you can match the mother’s partial name to a person on the marriage record. The census records 1840-1911 are also super useful to piece bits together. Let’s say Joe Blogs got married in 1855. If you search their name in the 1861 census, you will find perhaps a handful of Joe Blogs and their wives. If any of the wives 1st names match the women listed in the marriage record – that’s probably a match. It’s all about statistical analysis sometimes – if 3 or 4 different records all match up different pieces of information and the records are all within a similar location / timeframe, it’s likely to be the same person. It helps when people have unusual names, I grant you that; and when people don’t tend to move around to much. I was very fortunate that parts of my family stayed within ~10 miles of each other for about 200 years, so it was easy to spot the correct births/deaths when there where multiple names in the county.
Example for my great grand aunt Ada:
How can we tell which person she married? Well, luckily she and her husband lived with her parents for a bit according to the census on 1911:
The second issue is that people often spelled their names differently on different records, or just couldn’t spell properly at all. We have a few Looman/Loman variations. Often middle names became first names, especially if they were the firstborn son in a long list of being named after their father. Most searches have a box you can tick to find similar names, which I recommend once you have exhausted the exact matches. An example in my tree is my great-great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Lowman (1793-1850), who on his baptism states his father is “Josiah” and he was baptised in London. However, when you search for “Josiah Lowman” he doesn’t exist anywhere in the country, However, a Josias Lowman, from Devon, does exist and fits perfectly in the timelines – being 28 when Thomas was born. However no other records exist for a Josiah/Josias – no marriage or death certificates, so that’s all I have to go on. I can’t be 100% certain that he is correct, but without any other evidence, that is all I have.