Researching Family History

Family Research

Researching your Family Tree is a very rewarding project that can yield many surprises but where to begin? Before setting out on your quest, try to gather information from your relatives. Family memories and anecdotes give you a basic framework to work from and often spark lines of research that can later be either corroborated or discounted. We are very lucky in Kent where our libraries have access to two major genealogy sites and therefore, this is a good place to start.

Parallel Families – When looking at Census forms it is very easy to fall foul of entries that mirror much of the information that applies to your own line. Double check that the ages, Christian names, occupations and birthplaces of the various members of that household match those found on the earlier or later records. Please remember that adult ages on the 1841 Census are, in many cases, rounded down by up to 5 years. This can cause confusion.

Surnames and Christian names - These can be written with many different spelling variations depending on the literacy level of the person who made the entry and how they heard the name.

Parish Registers – Are extremely important. Once you have located your ancestors in a particular parish, it is advisable to try to view the original record as it may give you more information than the transcript. For example, Marriages after 1754 include details as to whether the participants are single or widowed and the names of their Witnesses. Transcribed entries often ignore this information. If your family were based in an area for several generations you can use these records to build up a comprehensive picture of your ancestor’s family and also when they arrived and left the district. Parish records can be found at many local libraries and at the relevant archives for that region.

The UK register of Duties paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710 – 1811 – This was a Tax paid by Master craftsman at the completion of their apprentice’s training. The only categories exempt from this tax were those placed in an apprenticeship by the Church and the offspring of the Master. These records are available online via Ancestry and can provide an insight into the occupations of your ancestor if they appear in these lists.

Wills – If you are fortunate enough to discover a Will in your research, it can reveal much about your ancestor. It may also include details about other relatives, both close and more distant. The National Archives ‘Documents Online’ contains many pre 1858 Wills. If you find an entry made by someone in your family, the document can be purchased and downloaded for £3.36. Before 1858, there were many Probate Courts so Wills are more difficult to trace. In East Kent there is a free online site called the East Kent Will Index. This provides two lists (for Wills probated in 1396 – 1659 and 1660 – 1858). To locate any document you will need the person’s Name, Place, Probate year and the Register Reference. Microfilms of the original documents can be found at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone where they can be viewed and photocopied for a small charge. Some Wills are quite short whilst others cover many pages.
After 1858, most Wills appear on the England and Wales National Probate Calendar (1858 – 1966). This list is available on Ancestry where you can view a short form showing the main beneficiary. The original document can be purchased from The Probate Registry in York.

Other sources of useful online information are as follows.
FamilySearch – This is a free online site that has been providing genealogy information for many years. They have recently introduced a new format that is useful but not as easy to use as their earlier versions. If you are trying to find an unusual surname try including * in place of some of the letters (keeping a minimum of three letters correct). This will give you a wider range of results. It is best to use the information given here as a guide as some entries can later be found to be erroneous. This applies particularly to the submitted ‘Family trees.’

FreeBMD – An extremely useful site that lists Births, Marriages and Deaths from the start of the Civil Registration in July 1837. Results are displayed in chronological order and can be refined by year range, county, Registration district, Christian name and/or surname of spouse (for marriages) and the maiden name of mother for births occurring after 1910. Coverage is virtually complete to 1984.
Once you have the relevant information, you can apply for the certificate you require from the General registry Office

FreeCen – Provides a transcript of Census entries from 1841 – 1891 in England and Wales. It is an incomplete but useful guide

FreeReg – Another free site that carries Parish Register information for many places in the UK. A very useful site but please be aware that even if the Parish is listed, the year range you are researching may not have been transcribed as yet.

National Newspaper Archive – Contains articles that may involve your ancestors. All sorts of information is recorded.

Researched by Sue Buckman