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A Beginner's Guide to Genealogy

There is no single or 'correct' way to undertake your ancestral research but experience shows that it is simpler and more efficient to do the research by stepping back in time, a generation at a time, piecing the information together from the various records, data and certificates that are available. A tried and tested approach that should enable you make rapid and effective progress is outlined below.

Step 1 Check that no-one else in your family has already researched or are currently researching, your family history!

Tony Robinson and Ancestry.co.uk


Step 2 Interview as many members of your family as possible (particularly the elder ones) and document all the information and knowledge they have about your family history. (A tape recorder or Dictaphone is useful)! Create a document for each member identified in the family history collecting as much information as possible about them. Try to find out as many details as possible about your ancestors' births, baptisms, marriages and deaths and take photocopies of all certificates and any other relevant information (e.g. birth announcements or obituaries from newspaper cuttings). Record where you obtained the information e.g. "Information obtained from interview with Aunt Emily Smith on dd/mm/yyyy".


Step 3 Decide which leg of the family tree you want to research first. Remember that the research is quite time consuming so ideally you should restrict your research to one or a maximum of two (say, your mother and father) at any one time. You can always research the ancestors of other relatives later if you find you have the time.

Step 4 Check with the the Register of One-Name Studies (www.one-name.org) to see if anyone has registered that they are researching your family name. If so, make contact and benefit from their research!

Step 5 Whilst it is not essential, it is very useful to select a piece of genealogy software at this stage. The software will enable you to store all your findings, notes, photographs etc. and to print them out in documentary form or as a graphical family tree (sometimes called a 'pedigree chart'). Most packages are very simple to use and help you keep track of the information in an easier form than loads of written notes. (Remember to take back-up copies of your files on a regular basis)!

Step 6 From the various certificates that you have it should be possible to calculate the relevant earlier information about the individual. For example, a death certificate will give the age and date of death of the person. Using this information it is possible to gain a rough idea of their date of birth.

Step 7 Armed with this information, take a trip to Birmingham Central Library where it is possible to check the St Catherine's Index records which are available on the 6th Floor for public use. These records will provide more information about the date and location from the birth certificate. The St Catherine's Index is kept on microfiche and the records are stored alphabetically in surname order by year - split into 'quarters' of a year (Jan to Mar is called the March Quarter, Apr to Jun is the June Quarter etc). You will need to pay a small charge (based on time used) to use the microfiche reader. Ask the Librarian for the birth certificate records for the period roughly six months either side of your 'calculated' date of birth. Search the records on the microfiche until you find the correct name in the correct location at around the correct date. If necessary, expand the range of your search to cover earlier/later years. Do not assume that the first name you find will be the correct one! You may be surprised to find that there are far more people than you expect with the same name! The records do not contain a great deal of information themselves so you may need to do some detective work to try and identify the most likely certificate(s) because the only way to really check is to then order a copy (or copies) of the most probable certificates. For each likely reference take a note of the following details that are listed against each entry: the person's full name, the page number (e.g. 6d) the volume number (e.g. 1144) and the year and the quarter.

A new site has been launched for the Warwickshire Ancestors Project This project aims to provide a "free-to-view" online searchable database of all the 19th century Warwickshire census returns. It is part of an initiative to make high quality primary (or near-primary) records of relevance to UK genealogy conveniently and freely available online.


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