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Using the Web to Trace Your Family Tree

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 14 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Using The Web To Trace Your Family Tree

The Internet and the amount of information available online has made so many things possible. That can be great for family activities, and one thing you can do with your children is trace your family history.

There’s enough information available online that you should be able to trace your family tree back several generations, almost certainly to the time they started keeping birth, marriage and death certificates in 1837. With some luck you’ll even be able to go a little further back – and all without leaving your computer.

How To Start Tracing Your Family History

As a family activity, researching your family history can be very cheap. Start off by going to the National Archives, which is a prime source for most genealogical information.

What you’ll find there are directions to other sites in order to see the indexes of births, marriages and deaths. They also mention commercial sites where you can search the index, but try the ones they recommend first – it’s cheaper, and once you get the hang of it, it’s easy.

You won’t get the whole certificate, although they can be ordered for a fee. However, for a very basic family tree you won’t need them. If you become more serious about matters, then by all means order copies of various certificates for your ancestors.

Census records can also be very useful, and the National Archives site provides links to the commercial sites that hold them. Searching is free, but to see and download an entry you’ll need to pay a small fee.

You can learn a lot from the censuses, which date back to 1841 (you will only be able to access information for the censuses that have been published and they are only released for publication after 100 years from their creation). When you find an entry pertaining to your family it’s worth the download so you can study it properly. The writing can often be hard to make out, and it will sometimes take time to decipher all the details.

Not only will you discover where the family lived, but also how many people were in the house (a surprising number took in lodgers), what they did, how old the children were at the time of the census – enough to build up a fairly complete picture of the family at the time.

Go back decade by decade and you’ll really see the changes, including ancestors you never even knew existed.

How To Get More From The Internet On your Family History

The National Archives contains a lot more information that can be very useful as you and your children undertake more investigation into your family history. If your ancestors were in the armed forces, you can check their service on the site, as well as any wills they might have left. Similarly, if you have relatives who emigrated, you might well be able to find their names and destinations in the outward passenger lists the Archives keep.

If you want to go back before the general records were kept, then you’ll need to investigate parish church registers. Here things become a bit more complicated. There are some available online, but they’re far from complete.

It’s worth checking out the International Genealogical Index. It’s available online, and covers a number of countries, not just the UK. Beware, though, the entries are not always correct due to input error. So you might have to search on variations of a surname, for instance. Again, these records are far from complete, but they’re a good resource.So, with a little time, and very little money, you and your children have a great and very educational activity you can undertake together.

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