Hobbies to begin during isolation: Tracing your family tree

How your family tree could look.

How your family tree could look. - Credit: Archant

English tutor and amateur genealogist Darren Cameron, of Kewstoke, in Weston, has offered these tips on finding a new pastime to keep yourself busy during lockdown.

Cemeteries, such as this well-looked after Polish one, can be a good source of information.

Cemeteries, such as this well-looked after Polish one, can be a good source of information. - Credit: Archant

Have you ever wondered about your past? What events lead to you being, well, you? Do you share genes with a famous actor? Or maybe an infamous criminal? Or maybe royalty?

You can search for answers to these questions by beginning the fascinating hobby of genealogy - tracing your family tree. It may sound complicated, but it is a perfect way to spend your time when options are limited, and it’s not as difficult as you may imagine.

It can involve taking a huge amount of notes, so my recommendation would be to find a genealogy program online. Software such as Treeview Lite, RootsMagic Essentials and Tribal pages are great free programs that can help you keep your information organised and all in one place – no more lost Post-its!

Once you’ve chosen the software that suits you, you’re ready to go.

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The first step in tracing your ancestors is talking to your family. Call or video-call your grandparents, uncles, aunties – anyone who can give you details of birth dates, marriage dates, locations, unusual names of relatives. This will give you a base to begin building upon. Ask about photos of ancestors – is there a forgotten uncle in the background that will spark someone’s memory and provide you with a fascinating story of love, loss, adventure? During studies into my own family, I found links to a notorious gangster and a famous actor!

The next stage after that is to check cemeteries and crematoriums. Cemeteries can be incredibly beautiful places, and any headstone could give you vital information to continue your search. Many cemeteries now have websites where you can search for a name and get some information.

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Once you’ve acquired enough information in person it’s time to search the records of Births, Deaths and Marriages. freebmd.org.uk is a fantastic free resource for finding information and the index numbers for certificates which can then be ordered from your local Register Office for a fee. The General Record Office holds all records registered in England and Wales since July 1837. Before that you will have to check local parish records.

Once you’ve exhausted these resources, what do you do next? Well, here are two things I did during my own search.

• Search Facebook. As strange as it sounds, Facebook is an amazing resource for tracing your family. I found a distant cousin with a quick search and we shared information, met up, and then became best friends.

• Check the phone book. I found a cousin of my mother’s, who she had never even heard of, by searching for his name in the phone book. As he had an unusual name it was easy to find him and, after a lovely conversation with his wife, we arranged a meeting. There were many tears as my mother finally met members of her family which she thought were lost.

Good luck with your own search!

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