What would you like to know more about?

Following on from my post yesterday explaining about the admininstrative breakdown of the British Isles in terms of family history, I have been thinking about what other sorts of guides might be useful to people. Especially in relation to UK based research.

I have found that since I started getting interested in genealogy I have come to know more about history than I ever did at school.

Several years ago my best friend Dom and I held a series of workshops in our workplace giving advice and guidance for researching their family tree, from the basics to more in-depth topics. We never thought they would be as popular as they were and we ended up running the entire course of 10 workshops for a second time. We had people dialling in to listen who weren’t based at our offices in Swindon, we made little packs to take away to refer to. Our first session on military research was standing room only. We also had a special session at the local records office to help encourage people who had never stepped foot in one before to come along with a group of like minded people who hadn’t been either. To understand what it was like, the sorts of records they could access, how to use a fiche reader – that kind of thing. We had people come who didn’t have any local ancestry but just wanted the experience, some who were interested in the history of their house, all kinds. It was great, we hired an education room at the centre and spent about an hour to begin with just talking about the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts and discussing other general topics that people wanted to chat about, including writing about your research.

I brought with me a couple of books I had made as examples of ways to capture not only research but family memories. One was a photobook I made for my brother’s wedding in 2009. Just a little book but something that was a great gift to them and my parents (and me) to remember the day. I also brought along I book I wrote using various scraps of notes my grandmother had written over the years about her childhood. She rarely spoke of her life and I knew very little until my uncle posted me a load of photos and papers. I sat and read through her notes and was in tears. For a woman who had left school at 11 and gone into service – she had a great way with words. She wrote poetry too, often referring to aspects of her life as a young woman. She even wrote a poem to be read at her own funeral! I edited her various random notes together to form a proper chronological narrative, added footnotes of information I had come across in my research that tied into anything she referred to and accompanied it with selected poems to compliment her story and photographs. Where her notes ended I filled in what I knew about her life after that and filled the last few pages with photos of her and her family – her children and grandchildren.


Back to School! (A photograph of a colonial school group from the 1870s or 1880s from my collection.)

So back to the workshops – the topics we covered were as follows:

1. The Golden Rules – How to Start Researching Your Family Tree

2. Online Research – What sites are out there and what can I find?

3. Offline Research – Where to look and how to do it.

4. Where to Look Next – Sources pre 1837

5. Q&A Session – A chance to ask any sorts of questions – we also took queries before the session for any problems so we could look into them and talk about it in the session – explain how we found out what we could about their brickwalls etc.

6. Researching Migrant Ancestors

7. Military Ancestors

8. Scottish, Welsh and Irish Research

9. Second Q&A Session

10. Case Studies – where Dom and I put together information about certain people in our trees to demonstrate how to use a variety of sources to research that person and to add flesh to the bones.

I enjoyed doing the workshops very much. We also had 1:1 sessions with people who wanted some advice on certain aspects of their research, sometimes people wanting to confirm if they were following the right path or not. I loved that during my at times boring day job people would come and ask me random genealogy questions – sitting at my desk having a project manager come to me and say ‘Alex….Scottish Civil Registration – what can you tell me about it?’ And feeling pleasantly surprised at my level of geekiness to talk him through the dates it started, what information you can find on certificates etc. I met many people there that I just wouldn’t have doing my normal job. It also helped us with getting new clients to research for and some of whom we continue to do work for every so often.

At some point Dom and I plan to overhaul our old packs for these workshops and offer them to the people in our area as a series of paid workshops.

So if any of you would like to request any particular information for me to explain in a guide post then please do comment below and let me know. It can be something from my workshop list or something completely different. I’m always happy to help!


3 thoughts on “What would you like to know more about?

  1. I haven’t spent anytime in UK newspapers and local histories. I am very familiar with civil and parish records and census records. I would love some general ideas on other types of records specific to the UK – I have ancestors from Scotland, England and Wales. I mostly research my Scottish ancestors. Most of them were miners – coal or iron, or servants. I have wondered if I would even find them in newspapers…?

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