Creating family trees and researching a family history has been a hobby for many people for years. The recent popularity of the TV series Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC One) in which celebrities uncover their ancestral past has inspired many people to research their own family history.
This has resulted in an increase in demand for historical records at public libraries across Essex. Some libraries have started running Family Tree workshops to help guide people with their own research. In addition to public libraries, the public records offices also provide invaluable information. So, how is the best way to start building your own family tree? How do you find out who your ancestors were, or where they were born and what their occupation was?
There are several websites which will help you to trace your family history. Some are free and provide a voluntary service as well as advice on how to do it yourself, and others provide premium services. One of the leading websites in the UK at the moment is Ancestry.co.uk. They offer a 14 day free trial at the moment (Dec 2012). Through the site you can create a family tree and search a wide variety of documents including census and electoral rolls, birth, marriage and death certificates, wills and probates, military records and immigration records. They run forums where you can get advice from volunteers and moderators.
How To Start Your Family Tree
The first step in starting your family tree is to simply write down as much as you already know, that is the names of your parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, and their DOBs (date of births) if known. And then speak to your older relatives, as they may know a lot more than they have told you so far! Write all this down too. As soon as your surviving relatives can provide no more information, it is time to approach the registry office, or a website, for guidance.
Actually, back one step. Search Google for all names that you currently know, include in your search villages and town where they were born or lived (and possibly died). If you have a large, extended family, then someone may have already started the task and a quick search of Google may reveal some research has already been done.
The Nationalarchives.gov.uk is the UK government’s official archive, from Domesday Book to websites. Birth, marraige and death certificates cannot be obtained online. For this you need to visit your local General Register Office.
SEAX – Essex Archives Online
SEAX (seax.essexcc.gov.uk) is provided by the Essex Record Office. It has a useful search tool that will allow you to search for many items that are on the digital records, but this is mostly restricted to planning etc.. To search for people you need to search in the Essex Ancestors section. It is free to search in the Essex Record Office searchroom, which is in Chelmsford. To search online you have to pay, current feeds are £5 per day, £15 a week, £25 a month, £50 for 6 months or £75 for a whole year. Essex County Council provide some information on Using Seax.
Rootschat.com is a forum run by some family history experts for anyone looking for information on their family tree. With over 200,000 members and over 4 millions messages, it provides a huge opportunity for you to discover something about your past. On every page it states “Census information Crown Copyright, from www.nationalarchives.gov.uk” and judging by the expert answers given, some of the forum managers must have professional accounts with the National Archives and other services.
This is another online service which we have not actually tested yet. The description on the site says “GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland. It is a non-commercial service, maintained by a charitable trust and a group of volunteers.” It sounds very promising. Genuki is sited (as in the computer it runs on) at Manchester University and it is funded by the community. Volunteers run the forums and discussions.
To confuse matters, the site is spread over various domains. For example, the Essex page is actually on www.nivek-systems.co.uk. A quick review shows that it mostly seems to link to other useful websites, including the FreeCEN section on Rootschat.com, Ancestry.co.uk and the Essex Record Office (often shortened to the ERO). In may be better to use these services individually actually.
Go to your Library
Libraries are a great place to get started if you do not wish to conduct your search online.
Further Help and Reading
Research your family history using the General Register Office – this page from Gov.uk provides some excellent advice on researching your family tree.
Researching Family History – Essex County Council also provide some good advice, covering family history research, civil registration documents, Church of England registers, Census records and Information, the 1911 Census, Wills, Newspaper Archives and other records.
Essex Society for Family History – This is a registered charity which aims to promote and encourage the public study of British Family History, genealogy, heraldry, and local history with particular reference to Essex. They have a research centre at the ERO.