Tracing Your Family History
Tracing Your Family History
Stella Colwell (Author and Family Historian) gives expert video advice on: What is a family history?; Why would you want to trace your family history?; What will my family history tell me? and more...
What is a family history?
It's your ancestry, it's your heritage going back generation by generation in time, it's about back as you'll be able to find it. Family history is continuous. You mustn't forget that you are somebody else's ancestor. People in the future will be really interested in the family story, which is basically what it is, which is your personal slice of history. Therefore, it's particularly special to you and your relatives.
Why would you want to trace your family history?
It might be to satisfy a family story, to find out the truth of it. It might well be that you don't really know where you came from and you really want to get back to your roots. It could be for legal reasons to find the next of kin or it could be for medical reasons to predict a particular genetic disorder or a propensity to a particular complaint, condition, medical condition. So there are all sorts of reasons really, but I think the main one is just a curiosity to know where you come from and where your ancestors lived because we didn't all stay in one particular place for many generations, we moved around a lot and quite a few of our relatives of course have gone overseas, so it's an interesting way for renewing contact with those.
What will my family history tell me?
Family history will tell you to whom you're related. The process will start with your parents, your brothers and sisters, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, and when they were born, married and died, what they did for a living, and where they lived. The records, unfortunately, are bloodless, because they don't tell you what they thought about they're emotional lives. Sometimes from speaking to living relatives, or by looking at family records that have survived as souvenirs, you can pick up the threads of their lives and what they thought, why they did certain things, and why they moved around the country. It might be to change their job and so on. It's interesting to see if there are any patterns in the family history, such as naming patterns that may have perpetuated from one generation to the next. To find out about the different family names that come in, the different surnames of families that you intermarried with, and the further back that you go, the more families that you married in to.
Is it useful to help me find out about myself?
It may well be that you recognize certain features in your own life that are patterns that have been passed on to you. For instance, you might follow the same occupation as your father, your grandfather, or your mother or grandmother. It may be that you live in the same area, or it might be that you have a feeling of special affinity for a particular part of the country. So I think it gives you a sense of belonging to trace your family history; so I think it gives you a kind of settlement, I suppose, a satisfaction in knowing where you come from.
When should I start?
People's interest is awakened when a close relative has died, and it means we have to go through all of their effects. And that trick is often an interest of knowing more about the person who is no longer around to question, and that is why I would say it is never too late to start. You must start now, while your elderly relatives are still around, while they enjoy having conversations about the past. And you would be able to go back and ask them further questions, and that's living history.
What is a family tree?
A family tree sets out your genealogy, which is your ancestral line starting with yourself, then your parents, then your grandparents, your great grandparents and so on going back in time. It would include any brothers and sisters on each generation.
What is a pedigree?
A pedigree is the same thing. It's the genealogical table setting out your descent starting with yourself at the bottom and working back in time generation by generation.