Why did you start your family history research?
This was the question I asked on a recent thread on Family Tree Forum’s General Board. I was very curious and interested in the ‘why’ part of the question as everyone has a different reason.
For me it was because I had a need to finish something that my family had started 20 years ago on a visit to London. However at 15 years old I lacked the resources to continue. It wasn’t until I watched the television programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ in 2006 that I realised how easily accessible family history records were, particularly on the internet. I was then able to expand on the information I already held on my paternal grandparents.
I was both amazed and delighted with what I found out. Like many beginners I wanted to run before I could walk. I’ve ordered wrong certificates and followed false trails. I was fortunate as well to have living relatives who were interested in my research and who could provide me with lots of information. I have found out so much, but there’s still a great deal more to do. That’s the exciting thing about family history. Although we are looking at the past, the information will still be there when we look for it in the future.
So, that’s my story, here’s what Family Tree Forum’s members told me.
Their experience ranged from a few months to almost 60 years and they had a wide variety of reasons for starting their research. Many have had a break when their lives have become busy with other things, although they have all returned to it. This is the addictive nature of this hobby.
It was having children of their own and wanting to pass on family stories which inspired Dotty Dot, Lovettpod and Jennie to start their research. Jennie wanted to find out about a family name which her husband’s grandmother had suggested for her son. Becky81 had always wanted to look into her family history. It was her maternity leave in 2006 which gave her the time she needed. Becky was able to reunite her husband with the grandfather he thought was dead. It was Penna’s grandchildren asking about her own grandparents which started her on her quest 8 years ago. She says ‘not only have I found my family, I’ve discovered close relations that I never knew I had and made many good friends all over the world’. For Salty it was because his father wouldn’t talk about his own father. Through his research he found out that he served in the Royal Navy for 24 years. His service record provided Salty with a description of him.
In Lisaht’s case it was the typing of her surname into the search box on Genesreunited’s website, which opened up a whole new world for her. Her life was literally turned upside down when she discovered that she had two sisters she knew nothing about. Quiffdo has been finding the missing links in his family through his research. He has discovered what became of the father his granddad lost contact with at a young age, and also his maternal grandfather his mother never met. He says ‘that's the thrill of family research, finding the next big challenge’.
Ann in Sussex wanted to find the truth about her ‘unmentionable’ grandfather and where he came from. It took her 20 years to trace him and his family back to America. Adoptee Sheila from Down Under was prompted to find her birth family by her daughter. She now has a new extended family, who has welcomed her with open arms. Trish@Somerset’s mother was also adopted. She started her research because none of her family knew anything about the birth mother.
Most families have old photographs of their relatives. Just Barbara found her great aunt’s old photograph album fascinating and wanted to know who the people were. Marylou started her research by collecting together old photographs and jotting down as much information as she could from her parents. Lesley141 began hers by looking in a family bible for details of a great uncle who died in WW1.
Talking to parents and relatives has inspired many members to begin their quest. It was the ‘fantastic memories’ of Chrissiebee’s parents which gave her a ‘huge kick start’ to begin her tree. Little Nell asked her parents to write down some details about her grandparents when she was 17. However it wasn’t until the online release of the 1901 census when she was at home looking after her own young family, that she decided to start her research.
Sunny Kate began hers with a few photos, notes and ‘other bits and pieces’. Littlemoo’s nan had written some family details on the back of an envelope. Barbara Dodd’s father started her off 20 years ago by buying a genealogy log book. Although she only started looking again last year as they didn’t know where to look for information at the time. Jill on the A272 wanted to do hers now while she has the money and whilst the older generation is still around.
Some work together with other family members to share the workload. Anne in Carlisle and her aunt have been researching their family together for 6 years. She says ‘the rest of the family can't get a word in when we get together’. For SuffolkSue it was seeing the results of a contact’s research which sparked her interest to start some of her own and very soon she was hooked. Bel started hers in 1952 after corresponding with a distant cousin on a sheep station in Southern Australia and wanting to know how they were related.
Two years ago Bo the Bodger’s sister set her the challenge of finding more about their elusive great grandmother. Her quest hasn’t been easy, although it has fuelled her interest in finding more about her other ancestors. It was through helping out her cousin, that Suejmog got involved with family history. She was able to disprove a family legend of how several brothers had drowned in a fishing boat accident. Cherry Tradewell was also inspired by a family myth. She was able to prove a distant connection to Cecil Rhodes, the British-born, South African businessman, mining magnate, and politician. Cherry also discovered through a cousin that she had Huguenot ancestry, which she says explains why her grandmother had a ‘supreme talent for dressmaking’.
Two members started their research at a young age. Joanne began hers as a school project and BigShaz Mccreadie created her first tree when she was 11 years old after hearing her great grandfather’s tales. Gloryer became hooked after taking a 10 week family history course. She is a fan of ‘who done its’ and likens family history to detective work.
Both Kerryfromoz and Uncle John enjoyed history at school. Kerry describes the last 6 months as an "incredible rollercoaster ride". Through the internet she was able to order her father’s birth certificate, discover his birth name and trace his family’s roots in Buckinghamshire, without leaving her home in Australia. Uncle John started to look at old documents as a teenager when the local council served a road adoption order on all the residents in his unadopted road. It was through his diligence that the council withdraw their action. His parents were keen to pass on their knowledge and he had an uncle who was interested in family history. So when he bought a computer 15 years ago he was able to collate all of this information
Boudicca started her research after her mother passed away. She says 'I suppose it was a way of hanging on to those I had lost ’. Mavis by the Moor started hers ‘to fill my brain’ after she lost her husband. It was through moving to America that made Felicity suddenly feel that it was important to discover her roots. She quizzes her father for information, but likens it to ‘getting blood out of a stone’
I think that all members are glad that they started their research. Many have enjoyed talking to their relatives and hearing their stories. Members such as Chrissiebee have enjoyed contacting living relatives. Lovettpod says ‘I love my aunty Chris. She will talk for hours, knows all kinds of gossip and remembers everything her Mum told her. She knows who had affairs with whom and the truth behind what it says on some of my certificates’.
Many have encountered difficulties and hit brickwalls. Orangeblossom enjoys helping others on Family Tree Forum when she’s stuck on her own research. Len of the Chilterns started his research in 1950, but unfortunately lost his records. He began again 17 years ago when ‘all of my elderly relatives had departed this life and were no longer available for interrogation
Members such as Boudicca have made shocking discoveries. She found out that her grandfather who was never spoken about had spent years suffering from mental illness and had died in an asylum. Jennie found out that her grandfather had left home to live with gypsies because he was being abused. She still can’t get him to open up about his family. Others, such as Ann from Sussex have uncovered family secrets which her late parents had kept quiet. She wonders how they would react if they knew.
Unfortunately, not all relatives share member’s enthusiasm. Lovettpod’s family has either a passing interest or are totally disinterested when she mentions her research. Sadly for Yummy-mummy-of-2, most of her family have disowned her because she started hers.
I think that most would agree that genealogy is an addictive hobby. Little Nell wrote ‘Gradually I've found the genealogy disease has progressed. I started taking out subscriptions to websites, visiting archives and now I am obsessed with finding fathers for illegitimate children of sisters of men who married siblings of direct relatives’.
I’m really pleased that I asked the question ‘Why did you start your family research?’ as I’ve received so many interesting replies. Everybody has their own reason for starting, but what I do share with them is a real passion for delving into the past.
Simon in Bucks
© Family Tree Forum 2007