Advanced search

Has anyone investigated their family tree and found anything interesting?

(142 Posts)
IcouldstillbeJoseph Fri 14-Sep-12 12:51:03

I'm off sick and lying around watching rubbish daytime TV. Loads of those adverts for etc. It doesn't really interest me, but was wondering whether anyone has ever discovered anything interesting/significant in their family tree?

ProfYaffle Sun 16-Sep-12 07:50:53

I've got mine back to 1630 which isn't bad for bog standard non aristocratic yeomen. Highlights of mine: Discovering a 200 year long dynasty of Mersey sailors, one of whom has a folk song written about him, 3 members of one family died in Victorian mining disasters, one relative was a very well known Philanthropic Mayor of our town who did lots for the poor, it turns out my Nan's vague memory of someone moving to America was true and we have a Pioneer branch and 4th Great Grand Uncle Robert was transported to Australia for setting fire to a hay stack!

llynnnn Sun 16-Sep-12 08:34:57

I find it all fascinating, but how do you find out these interesting things? I've just had a 14 day trial of the ancestry website and managed to find my g.g.grandparents but no juicy information, just standard, they lived here, worked as this and had these kids!

What's the best way to find the good stuff? smile

SayersIsBetterThanGreggs Sun 16-Sep-12 08:37:19

My great, great, great grandad was one of the sailors rescued by Grace Darling, he has a lighthouse monument in our cemetary. Tried looking for some info on the other sailors she rescued but there isn't any.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Sun 16-Sep-12 08:56:16

llynnnn, you start with the census that gives you occupations and clue. And if you have family stories/photographs they help a lot. Then contacting other people who might also have a common ancestor to build up a picture and find out if they have any stories.

It can be worth researching the general history of an area, event or occupation to build up a picture of someone's life. If they are in the military research their regiment / division.

Parish records sometimes hold more information than simply baptisms, marriages and death. Local history archives can hold information - for example I've just found a relative had a contract to maintain 5 miles of a toll road and another has an application to be admitted to a hospital as a pauper patient which I strongly suspect to be a lunatic asylum (I've already found one in an asylum on the other side of the family). I've not had chance to check these records out as they are in a local record office the other end of the country, but I know they exist as that particular local council has a searchable index of the records they hold which has given me than information.

Then there is wills which sometimes reveal interesting things like a child left out of a will or strange requests.

Then theres the newspaper archives which sometimes reveal interesting things. Of course, if your family was never involved in trouble they are less likely to be in the paper.

And finally google is your friend. Since books over a 100 years are now out of copy right you can sometimes find interesting things from digitalised books or there can be stories and histories about an area that mention names.

Basically any source of information is a potential source of information about your family; the trouble with ancestry is it does tend to limit you to just who is related to who and you have to use other sources to find out other things which you don't necessarily realise at first. Also, the amount of information available freely is still expanding at a huge rate; there is so much more stuff available now than there was just 9 months ago when I started looking. Local councils are realising this is a huge source of potential income so are investing in it to bring in revenue.

iscream Sun 16-Sep-12 08:59:08

llynnnn other family members often will know stories of the past. Also archives may have family histories that have interesting stuff. Order the death and birth registrations and they often have information. So do newspaper archives.

ProfYaffle Sun 16-Sep-12 09:11:52

Good advice from hmmm. I found out about transported Uncle Robert because he'd been left off his father's will so I dug a bit deeper to try and find out why.

I find ancestry is good for building the bare bones, but to flesh them out take detective work. There's no one standard way of finding info, it depends on which records survive.

Taking Uncle Robert as an example again, there are detailed records of transportees which have been put online by historians in Australia but I can't find anything further once he gets there because the census records are really patchy.

The is a good resource, as is speculative Googling.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Sun 16-Sep-12 09:39:11

I've found both findmypast and ancestry's most basic package were quite limited in the information you could access. Great for starting off but if you get a bit more involved and interested then it really can be worth upgrading. I've found merchant sea identity cards on findmypast for example which had photographs from the 1920s which were amazing. Also the most basic packages only have the most basic information much of which you can find for free elsewhere (though admittedly some of the free sites don't have complete collections yet).

Great free sources of information: is really helpful (Church of Latter Day Saints) has an ever growing collection of parish records has an ever growing collection of GRO records has an ever growing collection of free census transcriptions
There are also a couple of more specific free bmd sites (go to and click on local BMD on the left and it gives you a list of counties that are searchable; bath bmd is particularly good if you have relatives there as they have mother's maiden names right back to 1839).

Like I say not all records are available - there are areas missing and dates missing but they all are definitely helpful and have different information available on each.

Digital copies of book of parish records done by George W Marshall or W.P.W. Phillimore are available at but they are yet to digitalise all of the ones that exist.

And if you know a parish if you google sometimes you can find online transcriptions.

Many of these sources have information that ISN'T available on the subscription sites too so even if you do have a subscription you should use them too.

BionicEmu Sun 16-Sep-12 09:39:45

I haven't researched my family tree, but a random family in America researched theirs and they all originate from my house! It's a very old rural farmhouse. A couple of times a year members of the family come over and actually come to.visit the house. After seeing one lot of them standing outside my house taking photos, I asked them what they were doing, they explained, so I invited them in for a look around. They nearly wet themselves with excitement. On the plus side I now have a comprehensive history of my house, including some v old photos!

Dawndonna Sun 16-Sep-12 09:49:54

Neither set of grandparents were married when they had their children. My father's mother didn't know that my mother's mother wasn't married and vice versa. My mother's parents married when I was five. We found out a couple of years ago that grandad had been married before, and somebody was against divorce. Whether my gran or the first wife, we don't know. My gran on my mother's side was also an illegal immigrant until she married my grandfather in 1963. She'd been here since they escaped from Jersey during the war. They were living in Jersey and Antwerp since 1935. Gran however was from neither place.
I always knew I came from a long line of Bastards!

Narked Sun 16-Sep-12 10:15:53

The best stuff comes through oral history. I have a fairly distant relative who's very into this. Her family splits from ours with a group of siblings IYSWIM. She contacted my mother with info she'd found. She has all the details of births, marriages and deaths. What she doesn't know is that one of the siblings got pregnant when she wasn't married and another of them was married but had no children. The two women went to stay with family out of the area for a month and came back with a baby. The married sibling was registered as the mother and her husband as the father, and that's how the child was raised.

My mother hasn't told her either. I'm only saying it here because it's anonymous. Home births and family keen to hide their dirty laundry. I'd bet there are a lot of birth certificates out there pre 1940 with the wrong mother named.

BedHog Sun 16-Sep-12 10:17:26

One of my ancestors was the first white man to cross the Sahara desert. I'm hoping to find out more about him and the rest of the family when I get a chance - last time I investigated anything was pre-internet!!

pookamoo Sun 16-Sep-12 10:23:35

Found out by chance that my great grandmother had previously been engaged to her husband's (my gt grandfather's) brother. Her engagement ring came to light recently and I spotted that the initials engraved inside and the date did not match up with their engagement or marriagr. Her first fiance was missing during WWI and presumed dead, then turned up in the 1920s married to a Polish or Russian (I think) girl - he had been a spy trapped behind enemy lines, and while he was gone they had both married someone else! My Grandpa refused to talk about it but we aren't sure if he knew and was embarrassed, or if he didn't really hear and understand what we were talking about.

llynnnn Sun 16-Sep-12 10:24:46

Thank you for all the tips and links, very useful grin can't wait to start digging again!

saffronwblue Sun 16-Sep-12 10:25:23

Not very far back but two of DH's great grandfathers are in this famous painting. One has exactly the same profile as him!

Shesparkles Sun 16-Sep-12 10:29:58

I'm doing mine just now on my dad's side. I've not made any major discoveries, but am filling in the gaps about a greatx4 uncle who was a bit of a pioneer when he went to the USA. (google Tonto natural bridge, and he's the boy). I've also been sent some photos of a greatx3 uncle who my ds is the spitting image of!
I'm off work for 6 weeks after an op on my foot so I intend doing some more whilst I'm off.
Even though there's not been anything remotely scandalous (so far!) I'm finding it really interesting to find out where Ive come from.

IAmSheWhoMustBeObeyed Sun 16-Sep-12 10:35:43

I investigated my gt gt grandfather with unusual surname and found ancestors all the way back to 1630 in tiny rural German town. That was with the help of a very generous person who had researched his family from there and had copies of the church records.
Some family trees on ancestry are just laughable, especially some American ones with people who happen to have the same name but apparently from say, Aberdeen, Alabama or something instead of Aberdeen, Scotland.
Mysteries can be very frustrating. Where was uncle Archie when the 1901 census took place. He's not with the wife and kids, he doesn't seem to be anywhere. Could there have been a lock in at the pub?
Oh and some transcriptions are funny too, particularly the ancestry ones from the Scottish census records. It's a god job I know many of the scottish place names myself.

SaskiaRembrandtWasFramed Sun 16-Sep-12 10:48:56

One of the best things about is that you can download the documents on to your computer, then use something like Google Desktop to search them. This is really handy if you have several generations of a family in a village or parish. Also, what you are getting are records that you would have to pay to see on Ancestry and FindMyPast.

And, don't forget the National Archives - lots of great records there - wills, military papers, also collections of family letters and documents.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Sun 16-Sep-12 10:54:10

Where was uncle Archie when the 1901 census took place. He's not with the wife and kids, he doesn't seem to be anywhere. Could there have been a lock in at the pub?

I've managed to track most people who are 'missing' from the census - they turn up with bad transcriptions after a lot of detective work. But I still have three gaps. One is a woman who I think should be in the workhouse as two of her children are and the rules were you had to be in the workhouse if your children were; her and her newborn daughter are missing. Were they missed from the records or did she do a runner and abandon the children? The other two are a complete mystery though. Tried every combination of searching by place, year of birth, first names together etc and still nothing.

The ancestry census transcriptions are full of errors - I hate using them. Findmypast is better and seems to have fewer mistakes (got to be honest on the whole I found findmypast better for a beginner as the search options were easier to get used to. It took me a lot longer to get to grips with ancestry but ancestry does have features that findmypast doesn't have which once you get used to are really helpful).

The trees on ancestry I find funniest are the ones where mothers had children when they 60 or they are resurrected from the dead and mysteriously appear on the next census.

mateysmum Sun 16-Sep-12 10:57:10

Do give it a go OP; everybody finds out something of interest It's easier if you have an unusual surname.

I've done DH's and found out his family were classic victorian industrialists, who made pots of money from "muck and brass", then the next 2 generations became gents and spent it all. One of them shot himself after his business was threatened with failure. There was a tragic accidental shooting of a young boy by his cousin, whilst they were playing with guns. A divorce after the wife lied about her age to her wealthy husband to be.

Possible connections to a Scottish Earl etc.

Ancestry do free 14 day trials and there are lots of free resources available on the web and at local archives. Start off by chatting to your family - it's amazing what they can suddenly remember about the past.

IAmSheWhoMustBeObeyed Sun 16-Sep-12 10:58:02

hmm I know. I searched all Archibalds in Fife at one point and didn't find him.
Found his brother eventually, badly transcribed but also on a ship as a night watchman so slightly unusual.

edam Sun 16-Sep-12 10:59:26

mateys, isn't there a saying about 'rags to rags in three generations' or something - about those Victorian industrialists who made a pile, then educated their sons as gentlemen who didn't know the first thing about business and just wasted all their inheritance?

numptymark1 Sun 16-Sep-12 11:00:21

my family name changed because someone couldn't spell

8 children, first 3 had a G in the surname, the 5 youngest didn't! (1823 it disappeared)

in 9 generations on my dad's side, only 4 mens names were used as both first and middle names, and 6 women's desite there being families with up to 11 children!

also my parents are from 300 miles where I was born, I now live 120 miles from my birthplace -but in the same town as ancestors from the 1780s

how very very random!

ChoccyJules Sun 16-Sep-12 11:02:31

I did mine as much as I could 20yrs ago in the Uni Summer break. I used the local office to look at all the microfiches etc. I decided to go up each Grandparents' line (all four) in the interests of equality and I got each back to around 1800, not much more. Two of the trails ended as I needed to visit a different office (is it registry office, I cannot remember?!), my 'main' line (dad's dad) came from Norwich and their records office burned down in a fire (this was before you could go to the big place in London or do it online) and the fourth one, well the women were clearly so naughty that I couldn't tell who had done what with whom (and everyone haing the same name doesn't help!).
I found it really interesting BUT found nothing of interest IYSWIM.
I also went round some local churchyards to look at headstones of relatives.
I interviewed the oldest member of our family who filled in information about many of the bloodlines (my parents are both from the same farming village so everyone knew everyone). She was able to confirm juicy titbits and out personalities to names.
But yes, nothing useful to report. I'd be boring on WDYTYA!

HmmThinkingAboutIt Sun 16-Sep-12 11:04:21

IAmSheWhoMustBeObeyed if the brother is on a ship that would be my best guess for Uncle Archie too. He wouldn't appear on the census if he was away working at sea....

mateysmum Sun 16-Sep-12 11:06:20

Yep, that's right Edam - a classic tale!

DH's father had never mentioned knowing anything about his family history, but then when I found a reference to a family coat of arms and family silver in a will, he suddenly said "oh you mean this" and whipped a crested teaspoon out of the drawer. Then when I told him that his family used to live in a very grand house he said "oh yes, I spent Christmas 1943 there".

The family were awarded an official coat of arms in the early 1900's. I am planning to get this on the door of any new car and you can expect all my letters and emails to carry said crest at the top!!!

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now