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Family History for Beginners

BE WARNED!

Yes, be warned - this can be an engrossing and time consuming hobby – but the results can be well worth the effort. Not only will you discover a little about your own family background but will come to understand the importance of some of the historical events which took place during the lifetime of your ancestors, and the changing impact of social conditions on family life.

Some basic rules

  • Always start with yourself and work methodically backwards.

  • Keep a record of all research which you do and pass on your findings to other family members.

  • Have a look to see what information you already have available such as:

    • Family Photographs – but are they named?

    • Birth, marriage and death certificates.

    • Family Scrap Books – newspaper cuttings etc.

    • Old letters and diaries.

    • Family documents like wills, old deeds, school reports, apprenticeship papers, etc.

    • Family heirlooms – christening robes etc.

  • Write down what you remember being told about your family – however fanciful! You can have fun checking it out later.

  • Draw up a basic family tree starting with yourself, your parents and grandparents, possibly great grand parents – include:

    • Dates and places of Birth, marriage & deaths.

    • Occupations.

    • Where they lived.

    • Main hobbies and interests.

  • Be prepared to discover that some children might have been born before their parents married – or less than 9 months afterwards!

  • Family skeletons and scandals usually make the research more interesting providing it all happened 100 years ago!

  • Use this family tree to prompt you when you talk to other members of the family.

  • Talk to other family members about what they know about the family – don’t necessarily believe all they tell you – memories can be selective!

    • Talk to your siblings,

    • Talk to your children,

    • Talk to your nephews and nieces,

    • Talk to your cousins,

    • Talk to long standing family friends.

  • Respect the feelings of other family members who might not wish to share family secrets.

Starting more formal research

  • You do need to know what you can expect to find out about your family and some background reading is helpful. There are many books available – go for the latest to be published as addresses of archives change and the increasing Internet access has changed some techniques.

  • Be realistic in your expectations – You may not get back farther than 1800.
  • Use official documentation – like Civil Registration and Censuses to take you back to 1837 and Parish Records before that. But don’t believe all you read!

  • If you are using transcripts remember that some handwriting can be difficult to read and errors do occur.

  • Your surname may have been recorded by someone who wrote what he or she thought they heard – so spellings can vary.

  • Use a variety of resources to further your research but don’t make assumptions without proof.

  • Before you visit a Library or Archive make a note of what you hope to find and keep a record of the resources you search. Phone before you visit to check availability of the records you wish to consult.

  • Become aware of the historical background to the documents you are using. Why were they created and what can you expect to learn from them?

Further help & advice

Help is also available locally at the Library in the Town Hall in Weston on every Saturday afternoon from 2.00 – 3.30 when members of the Weston-super-Mare & District Family History Society are on hand to give advice.

See our Events Diary for the date of our next session.

You don't have to be a member as these advice sessions are free to anyone.

Forthcoming Events

Weston Library Help Sessions
Saturday, 23rd February, 2019 14:00 - 15:30
Society Meeting
Tuesday, 26th February, 2019 19:00 - 21:00
Weston Library Help Sessions
Saturday, 2nd March, 2019 14:00 - 15:30
Weston Library Help Sessions
Saturday, 9th March, 2019 14:00 - 15:30
Weston Library Help Sessions
Saturday, 16th March, 2019 14:00 - 15:30
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