Common mistakes and how to avoid- advice from the experienced please!

(27 Posts)
Lavenderhoney Wed 27-Feb-13 19:04:34

I am going to start to research our family tree and I would just like some advice on it! How to start- I have talked to the people still around, and I have a list of people to look up. Do I need the birth certs and marriage certs for all? It seems very expensive, and I wondered if I was doing things correctly.

I can see its going to be addictive but I want to make sure I don't make a mess of it.

lljkk Wed 27-Feb-13 19:06:16

Ask for all the family stories but don't entirely believe any of them without evidence.

throckenholt Thu 28-Feb-13 07:44:20

I agree with lljkk - don't believe everything you are told - even from peolpe who claim to have done the research !

You can get by with only a few certificates - would be great to have them all but prohibitively expensive. Don't with buying death certificates - interesting but don't add much info you can't get elsewhere, and ages are often wrong on them.

You need to work out the key people to get you back far enough to the census (assuming UK ancestry). If you have uncommon names you can probably just go from the indexes without buuying the certificates. So for example look on freebmd (not complete yet for 20th century) or one of the pay sites for James Pringle marrying Sarah between 1930-1940 - if you know roughly when but not the maiden name. Then jump back 20-30 years and look for the equivalent births. If you don't know when the marriage is likely to be look for births before the one you know about - then try and look for a marriage before that.

The most efficient way with certificates is to buy one key birth - which will give you the mother's maiden name. Or if you know the maiden name then get the marriage certificate which will (hopefully) give ages, both father's names and professions. Buy certificates from the gro - it is cheaper than any other source.

Happy hunting smile

If you can get back to 1911 then you are into census territory (every 10 years back to 1841). Try a 14 day free subscription with ancestry, or see what offers are on findmypast.

HCFamilyHistory Fri 01-Mar-13 14:40:35

I'm a genealogist (see my ad on the small business section smile ). Generally you only need to buy marriage certificates, as this shows the name and occupation of the fathers of the groom and bride. So out of all of the certificates, the marriage certificate gives the most information for your money. Occasionally, you may need to buy a birth certificate but only if there is something slightly odd happening and you want to confirm details.

Other points to note – don’t believe any family stories. In my experience, most of them are made up, so don’t trust them until you have confirmed the facts for yourself. Also try to double check (where possibly) you have the right people – the Census records are great for checking not only parents but siblings so you are confident you have the right family. Also double check where they lived and occupations, especially places of birth. The place of birth is given in the Census records which can be a real help if you are tracing a common family name.

I find that the most fascinating thing is not just tracing the family tree, but finding out about where they lived and what they did – really getting into the social history side of things.

I second (or third?) the not believing family stories.

I've been told my Gt-Gt Grandfather was a twin, but have found nothing to support this. Although, I haven't been able to get back further than him because he appears under one name on the census one year, and a different version the next time round. He also married twice, and I can't find details of either marriage as I have no clue to either wife's surname.
The situation is compounded by the fact that the same thing happened with his son, my Gt-Grandfather - one name on earlier census, another name on a later one. Definitely him as there is enough other data to link it to the family.

I invested in a computer programme that lets me record everyone, and scan in documents and I've also joined a few genealogy forums.

Lavenderhoney Fri 01-Mar-13 15:54:41

There aren't any family stories except on my dm side where though she recently discovered the real name of her birth mother, the hospital where the original bc was filed was bombed in the war and the home office say they have no other records.

It's all shrouded in mystery as no one remembers anything apart from gossip about each other which is embellished every Christmassmile they all argue about names, marriages, children, causes of death- My gm died when I was very young and she was very secretive. My df had no memory of his df.

I'm going to join findmy past and start to rummage. Thanks so much for the info. About certificates though, I need all the advice I can get!

ProfYaffle Fri 01-Mar-13 15:57:48

Beware of other people's trees on sites like ancestry, they tend to be riddled with errors, don't copy them wholesale!

ProfYaffle Fri 01-Mar-13 16:06:40

Just remembered, if you have Tesco vouchers you can use them to buy Family Tree Maker software which links to ancestry and comes with free 6 month membership.

FMP and ancestry own different data sets so it depends on where your family are from as to which one will be more use to you. eg mine are from Cheshire and FMP has all the Cheshire Parish Records, wills database and workhouse records so it's much better for me than ancestry.

I think you can usually get a free trial period for ancestry and FMP allows you to buy a small number of credits so you can search each one to see which you prefer or has the data you need. Then you can make an informed decision which one to sign up to properly.

ParsingFancy Fri 01-Mar-13 16:22:03

Agree with all said above, including advice to get family tree software if you're planning more than a very small foray. It's one thing to have the data, but the real gains come from processing it, eg identifying people by elimination.

FindMyPast would have saved me a fortune in certificates if I'd started family history recently: their burial records and newspaper BMD announcements are absolutely invaluable. The newspaper archives are also available separately from the British Library.

TessDurbeyfield Fri 01-Mar-13 16:24:14

One of the most common mistakes I've seen comes from people assuming that the name a woman married in was her maiden name. There are lots of trees on ancestry that have done this e.g. they are looking for the marriage of Fred bloggs and Mary, find an index that lists a marriage between Fred Bloggs and Mary Jones at about the right date and place, go back 25 years or so to get a christening for Mary Jones in the same place and off they go down that line. I then look into it, discover Mary was actually a widow and her maiden name was Smith and the right line is completely different.

Also, don't assume that dates etc on the census returns are the gospel truth I have lots of people whose year of birth varies by about a decade between censuses. Again people will just look for the Fred Blogg born in 1853 (because that's what the last census said) even if none of the other data matches up. They then miss the Fred Blogg who is listed as born in 1857 who is the right one but has been a bit creative with his age.

Oh and also make sure you look for all variants of names - I had lots of illiterate welsh and Irish miners in my family and you can see that the surnames put down are often a wild stab at trying to make sense of a strong accent.

And one final one. Don't necessarily assume that the child was legitimate. I could't find any record of my GG grandfather's birth until I relaised he was born a few weeks before his mother married and was registered in her maiden name but always known by her married name (I suspect even he didn't know)

throckenholt Fri 01-Mar-13 16:41:53

I would go with your gm's birth certificate - that is if she has a common name and lived in a big place. It will give her parents name and an address - from that you should be able to find the marriage which it would probably worth getting. If she has an uncommon name you may be able to track down the marriage without going through the birth certificate stage first.

Same approach for your father's family.

Have a dig around on the indexes to see if you can find other births to the same family (post about 1912 both mother's and father's surname are listed) - then you can work out when the marriage is likely to be.

If you can get back to anyone alive in 1911 then you get back into census territory which makes it much easier and cheaper.

pictish Fri 01-Mar-13 16:45:22

Don't laminate your findings and present them to your nephew's wife as her birthday present, with a long lecture about how you uncovered everything.
She's not interested, and if was so inclinded, which she isn't, she's got her own family to trace.
Just a tip grin

lljkk Fri 01-Mar-13 17:32:14

Good tips from TessDurby. I can't say how many times bizarre spellings and mistaken birth places/dates have caught me out.

Check out FindaGrave for ancestor info, too.

notcitrus Fri 01-Mar-13 17:53:40

Don't put all your findings up on a public website, thereby giving out the "mother's maiden name", dates and places of birth, and likely memorable dates of loads of people. My mum was furious when her ex did this. Not only had she not seen him for 25 years but he worked in IT security!

If you do have a rare name, though, googling can be useful - I get a couple emails a year via mysurname.org asking if I'm related to my granddad's family.

lljkk Fri 01-Mar-13 18:03:19

I've got nearly all my info on public website, actually, it's been invaluable for distant cousins finding me. However, am very careful about details and pictures of living individuals. Same when it comes to sharing details with distant cousins. I'm more relaxed about adult cousins who are on Facebook, anyway, but still fuzzy about things like birthdates or where they currently live.

Apparently a distant cousin copied verbatim what I'd written into her public tree on Ancestry.com, though; which was (is) naughty. We exert copyright on text but not pictures. How hard is it to paraphrase?

mateysmum Fri 01-Mar-13 18:09:29

Write down everything you know and decide what you'd like to research first. It helps if the line you research has a less common surname - Smith and Jones will be a nightmare. Definitely take advantage of the free offers on Ancestry and Find My Past to get you going. Don't worry too much about certificates for now.

Once you get going on the censuses you should be able to get well back in the nineteenth century, just be careful you have the right family - try and have more than one fact that cross references correctly.

Make sure you print/document everything - you'll be amazed how much data you accumulate.

As others have said don't think that censuses are gospel - there are numerous errors of spelling and age - many women lied about their age. Also variations and abbreviations of names can be confusing.

Good luck - it is addictive.

throckenholt Sat 02-Mar-13 13:34:04

By the way - be aware that on census returns ages and places of birth are prone to vary - usually at least one of those said birth places turns out to be the right one (or at least in the right area).

Remember even certificates can give wrong information. I have on marriage certificate that says the father was George and deceased. Family story was that he was German and had abandoned the family and gone back to Germany. Turned out none of those were the truth - he was called Richard, was a Londoner and was still alive 20 years after the certificate date !

Lavenderhoney Sat 02-Mar-13 14:26:37

Well, I dipped in my toe - my maternal gm has a very very unusual name and surname - I did a search on it, there is only one of her name on the records and if it's really my gm she was 12 when she had my dm!

On my dm bc, it gives an occupation and address in the mother section so I'm sure it's not her. Also, she has a middle name which is very unusual and doesn't appear on the birth records. So if it's not the 12 year old perhaps she was born abroad.

Also my dm was adopted and there is no info on the adopted parents All I know is their surname. Apparently they died when she was young and she was put in a home. My dm is very frail and I don't like to ask her anything tbh, she has never discussed her childhood and past. There is no bc on record for my dm with her new name, is that possible as what if she lost her passport and needed a new one ( hypothetically, as she is v ill and will never travel again)?

I have spent hours already looking all this stuff up!! Hours!

I did find a post from about 5 years ago on a site- my gm had a child a couple of years after my dm and they were also adopted . In two minds whether to contact them.

throckenholt Sat 02-Mar-13 15:54:09

If you would like to PM me what you have I am happy to have a dig around and see if I can make any sense of it for you.

Lavenderhoney Sat 02-Mar-13 16:09:19

Thanks, the rock, I have pmd yousmile

I can see how addictive it is. It's my first day and dh is already looking worried at my feverish internetting. He thought mn was bad enoughsmile

starsandunicorns Sat 02-Mar-13 16:19:51

Yes definatly dont beileve all that you are told I did my family tree some years back however on getting a full birth cert for myself a few years ago I found out that I was adopted ( dad not dad) ohhh did I open the biggest can of worms ever.

My sister found out when little but was told not to tell me then she was told I knew so It was a massive shock.

Trying to put our dad historys together with tit bits she got from him from the 90's is bloody hard as not much matchs sigh and I cant ask him as he died some years ago in a forgein country and no death cert so cant even get his milarty records.

Glad you're making progress, Lavender.

I've had several instances of incorrect information on certificates (although they were for the right people), names misspelled and ages out of synch with what they ought to be. Also had several with second marriages for the female, although certs. for those have tended to say things like "Mary Jones, formerly Bloggs".

I'm taking a break from it all at the moment but will hopefully resume searches in a year or so, and do my best to track down the elusive Gt-Gt grandparent info, in order to get back further. (Thankfully this problem has only been with one line of the family, I've had much more success with others). And yes, it is completely absorbing and addictive!

notcitrus Tue 05-Mar-13 09:39:29

I looked at the 1911 census site just to see what was there, and entered my granny's maiden name and birth year and county. Nothing. So I omitted the year, and sure enough the whole family turned up, only her birth year is 2 years out. 1910 instead of the 1908 she always claimed. Typo/transcribing error, or was she lying about her.age when she got her first job and just kept going? Will have to ask my parents as they did loads of research before I was born - I was named after my great great great great grandmother who married in 1760 - but I think they only started with my dad's grandparents, given my dad and uncle's surprise at their dad's funeral when they found out his first name wasn't what he'd always been called - sadly no-one had told the vicar, who went by the name on the certificate.
Actually there's a lot of mystery in that generation, as my dad had aunts we.Didn't Talk About, but we don't know why.

Intrigued now!

ParsingFancy Tue 05-Mar-13 10:21:30

The 1911 census is the only one which won't have transcription errors. Marvellously, you're looking at the actual sheet of paper your ancestor filled in, in their own handwriting, with their signature at the bottom (if this is the England & Wales census).

Some men parents do seem remarkably sloppy about their family's ages. But a 1-year-old mistaken for age 3? Not likely - unless there's another 3-year-old and they've got their columns out of kilter.

So I'd go for granny lying here! Especially if you've got a motive like starting her first job or marrying without parental permission (very common).

notcitrus Wed 06-Mar-13 14:42:22

There's something strange going on for sure - we know Granny went into service around age 14 (or was she?!), being a maid and rising up to become a professional cook, met my granddad at the seaside on holiday which was considered not quite respectable a way for meeting, not to mention he was from another county! So she wasn't close to her parents but was to one of her sisters at least.

But at the same time her brothers went to fee-paying schools and her father owned land with a number of cottages on, probably hovels, but even so, they existed to be sold when he had money problems. I'm no expert on social history of the 1920s but that doesn't sound like it matches up to me? No brothers appear on the 1911 census but that makes sense if they were younger - they all died young, at least one in WWII, before my dad was born.

I'm going to have to look at the image now!

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