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Planning Retirement Online

The Tree of Life

Amazing how a small hobby for some has now grown into a massive business. Yes, I am talking about tracing your family tree!

Tracing your ancestors is today a major leisure activity and with more and more information now coming on line it has never been a better time to find out who you are.

Sadly most of us won’t have the illustrious ancestry of Boris Johnson and Alexander Armstrong who both traced their deceased relations to aristocracy and royalty, according to BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are. The majority of us will it seems have come from ag labs….agricultural labourers that were the mainstay of the population in the UK just a century or so ago. But the stories of how and where they lived is still totally fascinating – even if it does bring with it a little more than you bargained for - illegitimacy, adoption, bigamy and even crime may well creep into your family tree as you go further and further back.

More and more of us these days will have fascinating ancestry with an exciting mix from other nationalities and regions. That can lead to a host of discovering and interesting information about countries and regions we had known little about.

Tracking down UK ancestors is today reasonably straightforward. History expert Nick Barrat says that if you are starting from scratch, then family gatherings can be a good initial source. Existing relations can generate an easy sense of nostalgia when folk naturally start to reminisce. Nick suggests you bring out old family photographs - they always revive long-lost memories.
He also recommends you put together a clear set of questions - topics and people - that you want to ask about. Who was Great-Aunt Alice? When was she born? Once you've got as much biographical data as you can, it's time to ask what people were actually like.

Bear in mind, people do ramble and the memory can play tricks.


What next?

Once you have found names, dates, places and occupations from living memory, start looking for physical clues. Search everywhere you can think of – attics, old boxes and files.

Once you have all the basics, the real work starts – and the best resource is the website. It is unbelievable today what is available online, and there is a wealth of information that was not around even just a few years ago.

Most ancestry sites such as www.ancestry.co.uk and www.findmypast.com are well designed and intuitive to use; but the costs can add up as you pay for memberships or usage or records.

There are free resources such as www.freebmd.org.uk for some birth, marriage and death indexes for England and Wales and www.familysearch.org for the enormous website run the by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But generally research is going to cost, although done carefully it needn’t be prohibitive.

Time is another major factor as it can take a lot of research and patience before you findthe right relation. Everything needs to be checked and double checked as it is so easy to go wrong or worse still, to presume – a fatal mistake.

Birth, marriage and death certificates date back to 1837 in England and Wales, 1855 in Scotland and 1864 in Ireland. They are the building blocks that can help you verify and learn new information.

Duplicate certificates can be located via the General Register Office's website, www.gro.gov.uk. This is possibly the most expensive part of building your family tree as there is a fee to be paid for each certificate.

But it will not always be possible - or desirable - to investigate online. There are various databases to help you find libraries, archives, record offices, museums, cemeteries and repositories around the UK and even around the world.

Tracing your ancestors can become an obsession, but even doing a little bit here and there can bring enormous rewards.

There are clubs, numerous books, magazines, websites and organisations that can help.

Once you really get going, the fun grows – tracking down relations in other continents; visiting old towns to see if houses are still standing; searching through the fabulous writing of the old Parish registers.

The good thing about researching your ancestors is that not only can you become immersed in an absorbing hobby, but you can create something that will be valued by generations to come.

Just a few of the many online sites that can help in ancestry research in the UK.

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