Researching your family history


Most of us have watched celebrities looking up their family histories on TV – sometimes with surprisingly good or bad results.  For the majority, our ancestors were ordinary people, often poor by today’s standards, living lives of hardship or at best of modest comfort.  Very few of us will discover famous, or infamous, figures in our families.  But if nothing else it can serve to confirm or deny those old family myths handed down from great aunt Ethel, identify the skeletons in your cupboards or find out what really happened to Granddad’s second cousin Bob.

For those on TV there is much help available in the shape of researchers, local historians and experts.  But what can the rest of us do with only our own time and money to work with?  And what is involved?

A word of warning…like most compulsions this can become overpowering,

and it can become ultra compulsive!

Two things make searching easier and cheaper:

     - the internet, and

     - keeping your search local, which means that your predecessors didn’t move around much.

While many of us now have access to the web at home and all can use local libraries to get online, few will find all the information they need locally.  The example shown below demonstrates how people moved around the country (and abroad) a hundred years ago, usually for reasons of marriage or employment.  So, when we need to go beyond the internet, research in other counties or overseas presents some problems.  But there is much we can do from our own PCs and local resources.  

Probably the best starting point is to join the White Colne History Group whose members have been researching their own family backgrounds and can give advice on how best to start.

Census Data

The Group has a limited subscription to Ancestry UK, the online family history records site.  These include the 10 yearly census records for the years 1841-1901 for England, Scotland and Wales, some army and navy records and births, marriages and deaths information.  Ancestry UK is also available from any local library but to make best use of your library time it is probably best to get some advice before you start.

The following example is taken from the 1901 census for White Colne.  

These returns can be tricky to read in this original form but all the information is repeated as typed extracts on the Ancestry site.

The following images highlight the information collected in each of the census returns.

In this example, this family consisted of…

       - Joseph Ellis, head of household, aged 42, married, a groom, a worker, born in Earls Colne,

        - His wife, Sarah, also 42, born in Halstead,

           - George, his son, 16, an ordinary agricultural labourer, born in Earls Colne,

           - Ada, his daughter, 14, a silk winder, born in Earls Colne,

           - two further daughters, Louisa and Mary, 11 and 8, born in Earls Colne,

           - two further sons, Cecil and Sidney, 4 and 4 months, born in White Colne.

With this information, we can go back 10 years to find this family, who would then have been living in Earls Colne, and further back accessing census and marriage records for Earls Colne and Halstead to trace their parents and families.

As well as enabling us to trace our own families through these 10 year snapshots, census records tell us a great deal about our village, how it evolved and about the conditions in which our predecessors lived.  

They also tell us how mobile the population was…

on this one page there are residents of White Colne born in…

   Earls Colne,    Halstead,    Coggeshall,    Mount Bures,    Little Cornard,    Toppesfield,

    Helions Bumpstead,    Haverhill,    Northwold (Norfolk),  Windsor,    Belgravia   and   Durham.

The White Colne History Group has printed copies of all published census returns for White Colne, which are available to members, but these are most useful for studying the makeup of the village rather than for following individual family trees.

The census returns will not give the complete picture of a family history – there will be gaps and may be inaccuracies.  Then we have to look for other sources, as described in the following sections**.

** Further sections are being prepared, and will soon be included in this web site

click here to go to Researching your World War I Ancestors

Page 112 Page 100 Page 101 Page 102 Page 103 Page 104 Page 108 Page 106 #top
Return to the main Home Page
Home # #