Family History Research Tips 

Those who follow me on social media may know I had my 15 minutes of fame this week courtesy of the local paper, “The Huddersfield Daily Examiner”. They approached me to see if they could use my story about Annie Leonard, a Barnbow munitions worker of the Great War who died as a result of work-related poisoning in July 1916. Their article is here.

The paper also wanted to do a general genealogy feature. I really didn’t know what to expect from this, or what angle they’d run with. So the interview, which lasted well over one hour, was fairly wide ranging. The resulting article included my tips for genealogists. I must admit to being caught on the hop here. It was towards the end of the interview and, not being used to this, I was feeling pretty exhausted. These were the tips I came up with off the top of my head: 

  • Work backwards using birth, marriage and death certificates.
  • The National Archives is a good starting point and includes research guides. In hindsight I’d expand on this one, saying check out some general family history “how to” books to familiarise yourself with the basics. 
  • Parish registers are invaluable for records before July 1837 civil registration.
  • If you have an unusual name it will probably be easier to research than a common one – however, whatever the surname, be aware of surname spelling variations.
  • Migration from our country or part of the country to another is a complication. Persistence is key. Think outside the box. Look at wider family and other sources including newspapers, local history and transport links. 

However, having time to consider, I’d add the following for anyone just starting out on their exciting journey of family history discovery:

  • Join a Family History Society (FHS). I’m in a few based around the locations of my ancestors. The advice and tips from this army of experts can be invaluable both for those starting out as well as those more advanced in their journey. FHS members have a wealth of local knowledge. And the regular meetings, research facilities and drop-in sessions, besides being informative, provide a social aspect to what can often be a solitary pursuit. Get involved. 
  • Be methodical and organised right from the start. Note searches, including negative ones. Record source references. Include dates and search parameters. Record your findings as soon as possible. Yes it might sound a boring chore. But it can save time in the long run. You reduce the risk of doing unnecessary repeat searches; or you can see where it might be worth doing follow-up searches, for example where providers have expanded or added new data sets. 
  • If you plan subscribing to genealogy sites, research which are the best ones for you. There is lots of genealogy subscription comparison advice on the Internet. Consider a short-term subscription to test the waters and see if a year long one is going to be worth your while. See if your local library offers free access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. GenealogyInTime Magazine has a list of the top 100 sites.  
  • Talk to older relatives and record what they can remember. This is one of my huge regrets. 
  • Don’t rely transcriptions. Shock, horror – they may contain errors! Whenever possible check sources out yourself.  

There are so many more tips. But I’ve limited myself to 10. Feel free to add any others!  

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