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Things to do in Lockdown: Trace your Family Tree.

Article by Ceri Wheeldon

research family tree image

Who do you think you are?

With the prospect of 4 weeks in lockdown and little opportunity to socialise unless the weather was good enough to meet a friend for a walk on weekends, I decided I had to come up with some ‘bad weather’ ideas for things to do.

I have thought about tracing my family tree for a while – but never seemed to have the time, so now seemed to be the ideal opportunity. A cousin on my Dad’s side of the family had made a start and was happy to share what he had already done. He had made great inroads in tracing my grandfather’s family, but not my grandmother’s , so I decided to start here.

I know very little about my grandmother. She died when my father was quite young and so he had no long chats or family anecdotes to reminisce about. My father believed that she had two brothers both of whom were killed in the first world war and a sister. He also thought that her father was a vicar.  An aunt (now deceased) thought her family was from Scandinavia on her mother’s side of the family.

Researching family history can become addictive

I signed up to Ancestry.com (I’m still in my 2 week free trial) and set aside a couple of hours to get started. I hadn’t realised it would be quite so addictive!!

Once I started I just could not stop . By using Ancestry and googling names with dates I uncovered quite a lot in my first session. I discovered that my grandmother was in fact one of ten children, and far from being a vicar , her father in fact ran a pub ( which still exists) , information I obtained from looking at census records. Not quite sure where the confusion between pulling pints and preaching came from ! It was my great grandmother however who became a bit of a mystery. I had only her name as a lead.  I could find no records relating to her birth or death. It was a census that provided a breakthrough when I found an entry of someone with her name listed as a domestic servant at the of 16 , born in the same town as my grandmother.  My first real clue – and for some reason I  could not stop just then leaving poor Eliza working away from her family. I needed to know that she wasn’t really alone in the world before she met and married my great grandfather in 1878.

So, my ironing had to wait while I continued to google and cross reference documents and databases until I found her parents. Which I did ! It’s amazing how you can become attached to the person you are researching – I can understand now how people get emotional on ‘Who do you think you are’ without having ever met the person they are researching.   As you look at documents with names and dates – and sometimes signatures of ancestors- you feel that you know them a little better with each one. To date I have not paid for any ‘extras’. Some of the sites I have found basic information on charge for full access or to download documents. I have been able to discover enough without having to pay – athough I will have to pay for the basic Ancestry package once my free trial runs out.

So far I have found no sign of any Scandinavian family members , having traced one arm of the tree to the 1750s. I am still trying to establish which of 3 potential people with the same name born in the year I might be descended from –  one is listed as a horse dealer, one a labourer and the third a gentleman. It will be interesting to find out. I think its most likely to be the horse dealer or the labourer.

I have found looking at the census records most interesting as you get a snapshot into the actual lives they led – and can see if homes they lived in still exist using google maps.

I am totally hooked. I cant wait to find out more.

Would love to hear from those who have traced their own families. Any tips welcome!!





Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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