So how did I start searching my family tree?

As I mentioned earlier, I started in the 1980’s when there was no world wide web. It was not easy in those days, but if I were starting today I would begin by searching my family tree online, but first, you need somewhere to start from.

So where do I start?

You need to start away from the computer and collect information from those around you. Ask your grandparents, if you still have them, or your parents everything they know. You need to ask specific questions such as:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Where they were born
  • Date of marriage
  • Where they were born
  • Mothers name
  • Mothers date of birth
  • Where the mother was born
  • Fathers full name
  • Fathers date of birth
  • Where the father was born
  • Fathers occupation
  • Date of marriage
  • Where they were married
  • Also get any relevant dates and places of death

Try to ask as many people as possible these questions, such as aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles. Don’t worry if these people are getting old; many still remember some surprising information. I have an auntie who is in her 80’s, who can even recall details such as birthdays of her aunts and uncles, as well of her parents. Once you start asking about their past, they will often tell you bits of information you don’t think you need but make a note of it anyway.

My parents/grandparents don’t know or cannot remember

If parents or grandparents think they don’t know or cannot remember still persevere; I remember when I asked my grandad about his parents all he could tell me was his parents were called mum and dad. That was all he knew about his parents. A couple of weeks later he announced: “My dad came from Lincolnshire(UK).” When I questioned him further, he told me of something he remembered from his childhood.

His dad (my great grandad) worked for the railway and had a team of horses, and a cart and his occupation was a ‘teamer’. One Friday tea-time he was late home from work, and as it was payday, his mum knew he had called at the pub. She was growing more and more annoyed as time passed and eventually he walked in. His mum took one look at him and said: “you’re drunk you yellow-bellied git!” His dad denied it, but his mum insisted. “What makes you so sure,” asked his dad?” His mum replied, “You’ve left your cart at the Elephant and Castle (public house).” I looked at my grandad, perplexed and he laughed and said: “all yellow-bellied gits come from Lincolnshire”. From this somewhat dubious explanation I took my search to Lincoln and surprise, surprise he was right.

These days it is much easier as you don’t have to take a day off work and go to Lincolnshire, or where ever, you get on the web.

Where do I go from here?

When you have as much information as you possibly can, make a note of everything, with separate pages, or files, for each person. If you have more then one date of birth or place of marriage, keep them both. Also, keep a note of who told you the information for future reference. Often names can be different, or people tell you different names. Still, make a record. My grandad was called Herbert. Never Bert, or Herb, but Herbert. He said to me his name was Herbert John. His son, my uncle, was called John Herbert, same name but reversed. It turned out my grandad was called really called John Herbert, but his parents always called him Herbert. Very few people knew this and when he has cremated the vicar referred to him as John the whole way through the service. A lot of people were confused but recognised members of the family. However, an old guy who was sat at the back said, rather loudly “who the **** is John, I thought this was Herbert’s cremation.” The vicar realised his mistake and apologised, but it made me understand how few people knew his birth name. So, remember, you only know as much as people remember, and it may not be correct.

Why do I need all this information?

When you get information online, you may have to choose between two people with the same name. Knowing when and where they were born, and what they did for a living helps you eliminate people. You don’t want to start tracing the wrong line back and wasting hours and hours to find out you are researching the wrong person.

Occupations may change, but it is improbable that someone who was a labourer when they married will be a doctor when their first child was baptised and vice-versa. Also, many sons follow their father’s career. As there wasn’t much help with things like University once you go a couple of generations back, it is also unlikely a miner’s son would become a lawyer or doctor, etc., and will more than likely be a miner too.

Why do I not need women’s occupations?

Women didn’t usually go back to work after having children. If they did work, often they had little jobs to help out such as taking in washing, cleaning someone’s house etc. There was no childcare help, and so they could only work if they could get a friend or relative to look after the children for them. Another thing they may do if money was short was take in a lodger; once a woman married, she was a housewife and mother, and not usually regarded as anything else.

And then?

This is all you need to concentrate on for now. Get ringing, emailing or visiting as many people as possible, and asking all the questions. I found many of my older relatives enjoyed me asking the questions and loved telling me about their past. I had people telling me about their childhoods, or their experiences during the war. I had them telling me about their wedding day and showing me all the photos. I loved this part of tracing my family tree. I hope you enjoy it too.

If you have any questions or comments please leave them here.



I am a genealogist with over 30 years experience. When I started my family tree I had to drive all over the country and site for hours in libraries and archives. Today it is much simpler as usually you can find the information on the web.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.