Lockdown has seen thousands of Brits explore their roots, uncovering fascinating stories from their family trees.
Genealogy used to require careful study, cross country trips to local archives and hours spent pouring over dusty tomes.
But now, with a wide variety of apps, websites and other resources, these incredible stories are now just a few clicks away.
Sam Otter, chief revenue officer for Findmypast said: “Interest in online research has been growing steadily since the beginning of 2020.
“When Covid restrictions first hit, Findmypast saw new users double along with a 60% increase in the number of searchers performed on our site. Thousands of families across the UK have since taken lockdown as an opportunity to explore their roots.
“Online Family research allows you to travel through time from the comfort of home and anyone can do it; all you need is an internet connection and an inquiring mind.
“It can offer a sense of rejuvenation and new-found self-discovery, with millions of unique stories that are simply waiting to be found.”
Findmypast user Mandy Lewis uncovered some amazing stories about her ancestors.
She says: “I proved through DNA my illegitimate great grandmother’s biological father James Harrison. He ended up in a lunatic asylum, his patient records have two photographs of him.
“I discovered a couple of years ago that King Richard III was buried in my 12x great grandfather Robert Herrick’s garden in Leicester. Learning about James’s struggles in the asylum and Robert’s connection to the history of Leicester has been very moving. I have learnt more about where I have come from and more about history, which I am passionate about”.
Use our guide on how to start uncovering your family’s past…
1. Getting started
Sit down and make a note of everything you already know, focusing on names, dates and locations. This will form the basis of your initial research.
Quiz your relatives to see what they remember. Every detail can help, no matter how trivial.
Ask older family members first as they’re more likely to have encountered some of the people you’re researching, or to have heard stories about them.
Search the attic. Check old photographs, letters or documents and other heirlooms for clues to the past.
2. Search online
The billions of records now available online contain a wealth of information for building out your family tree.
When searching for ancestors, it’s always best to start off broad by searching for a name and year of birth.
Once you have a better idea of what, where and who you are looking for, you can narrow things down from there.
3. Build a family tree
The best place to store your discoveries is in an online family tree.
Many online tree builders, including, Findmypast’s, are free, easy to use and jam-packed with useful features including ‘hints’ which will do a lot of the hard work for.
Hints automatically match the names, dates and locations you have logged for each ancestor to potentially relevant records as well as common ancestors stored in the trees of other users – allowing you to directly benefit from the existing research.
4. Birth, Marriage and Deaths
Civil registration in England & Wales began in July 1837 and the General Register Office (GRO) has recorded the details of all births, marriages and deaths ever since.
Their meticulously kept records are widely available online and will provide you with all the information you need to identify ancestors and uncover previous generations.
They can reveal:
– Where and when your ancestors were born, married or died
– The names of your ancestor’s parents
– The name of your ancestor’s spouse
– The names of your ancestor’s children
These records will also provide you with the details you need to order copies of original certificates from the GRO website.
Certificates will provide you with even more detail to aid you in your hunt.
The Mirror’s newsletter brings you the latest news, exciting showbiz and TV stories, sport updates and essential political information.
The newsletter is emailed out first thing every morning, at 12noon and every evening.
Never miss a moment by signing up to our newsletter here.
5. Become a census detective
Now easily accessible on many websites, Censuses have been taken in Britain every decade since 1801 (barring 1941, when war prevented it).
Complete censuses for England and wales are available online from 1841 and due to data protection laws, the latest census we can search online dates from 1911.
Censuses can provide a wealth of information about your ancestor and those they were living with.
The 1939 Register
The register plugs a vital gap in British records and is one of the best resources available to this just starting out.
The 1931 census was destroyed by fire. No census was taken in 1941 because of the war. So the 1939 register is the only national census-like resource available for this period.
The register is immensely detailed and covers every household in England and Wales. Like a census, it can tell you a lot about how your ancestors actually lived or be used to explore the history of your home.
You can find out if your ancestors had servants or staff, who their neighbours were, how many children they had and what they all did for a living.
6. Search Parish Records
Between 1538, when Britain split from the Catholic Church, and 1837 when the responsibility for keeping records was taken on by the government, the chief source of records of daily life are parish records.
Parish records provide a fascinating look not just at your family history, but also at the history of our society, with details of baptisms, marriages and burials dating all the way back to the reign of Henry VIII.
They are also an excellent way of jumping back through the generations and adding new branches to your growing family tree.
Millions of parish records from all corners of the country now can be explored with ease as more and more county councils digitise their archives making them available online.
7. Check the news
Historical newspapers are an incredible resource as they can provide rare insights into the daily lives of your ancestors. Local papers include more than just announcements of births, marriages, and deaths.
8. Tell their story
Once you’ve grown your family tree, it’s time to add some colour to your research by taking a closer look the life your ancestor lived.
Amongst the billions records available online, you will find a wide variety of documents that can help you learn a surprising amount about the defining moments of their lives.