Basic Genealogy Guide
Interested in making your family tree, you search for an ancestor by typing the name into a search engine and you are bombarded by hundreds of websites. Some free, some are pay-per-view and some call for a subscription and suddenly you are bewildered about where to start.
A huge amount of information is available online and it is very difficult to realize which services can be of use to you. To be fair, we must mention that most services that are paid for are worthwhile, but whether it is worthwhile for you is to be seen. Let us look at some guidelines that can help you to understand the whole thing better so that when it comes to choosing the apt website, you can make the correct choice.
When conducting genealogical research, the bottom line is that you will have to spend money for it. A family tree cannot be built without the fundamental building blocks like census returns and various certificates and you will end up paying profusely travelling to various archives, paying fees online, hiring researchers and paying for anything else you feel is necessary for your research to continue. There are plenty of reasons for majority of genealogy researchers to go online.
Immense research material is available online and more and more is added to it every day. Search engines and databases make it easy to access information like it never could be before. It only takes a few minutes to conduct searches that earlier used to take weeks and sometimes even months. And certain times, it is cheaper and easier to do things at your own time and pace online, rather than travel to archives and be bound by timelines. You may find using online resources is cheap or even free at the archives, but is the expense taken to travel there and the time spent worth it? And in the end, you still have to pay for the photocopies to be taken.
Let us look at a small selection of free resources available and used by genealogists
- freebmd.org.uk is a site offering some indexes of birth, marriage and death in England and Wales.
- familysearch.org is a huge global genealogy website that is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- rootsweb.com is a site that offers genealogy chat and other kinds of information relevant to genealogy.
There is no guarantee that these sites hold all the relevant information you need. So, to start your family tree from scratch, which are the sites that are needed for you to build your family tree and how do you realise which sites you want to pay for?
Choosing Your Site to Build a Family Tree
When choosing your initial genealogical websites, there are certain fundamental things that you need to look out for.
Does the website contain the fundamental resources needed for genealogical research like birth, death and marriage certificates and census returns? Without these certificates, you will not be able to conduct your research.
Does the website provide information about what else is offered by them? Can the details of all the records held by the site be found like how the records were created and how is it helpful to the researchers? You may not be able to proceed successfully if you do not know how to go forward with the information you have received.
Can original documents (digital versions) be accessed or are only transcripts available? Looking at the original documentation in digital form is always better than reading some information provided by someone who has seen the original and copied from it. Certain sites only provide indexes and the copies of the original documents can be ordered from there depending on the documents you find. This is fine because when you receive the document you can verify the information provided for yourself.
Are you satisfied with how you are being charged? If you are a person who looks at all the information available on a site, then it is in your better interest to subscribe to that site for a time period so that you can look at as many documents as you like, any number of times, for the subscribed period of time. If you are only looking to look at a couple of records that you deem necessary for your research, then the pay-per-view option, if available, is better suited for you.
Let us look at some sites for basic genealogical research that have to be paid for:
The above sites along with other information contain the birth, death and marriage indexes and census returns for England and Wales
www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk like the name suggests contains along with other things birth, death and marriage indexes for Scotland and the digitally uploaded images of many certificates and census returns for Scotland.
Doing Detailed Research
Once your basic genealogy is done and you have designed a skeleton family tree, you can move to the investigation of websites that are more specialised and contain information like employment or military records or parish wills and records. To utilise the information that is offered on the site to the best possible manner, you mush have some basic information in hand. For e.g. If you do not know the full name of your grandfather, his date of birth and the force he served in, then there is no point in spending money to get the complete details about his military career. Without such basic information, you will end up being unable to identify your grandfather among the thousands of people who have served in the military. Simply put, to get the maximum possible information from the genealogical sites, you must use them in the proper order.
Let us look at some of the features that many of the best sites share as well as some questions that you may like to ask:
- Would information that is relevant to your ancestor be available on the website? For e.g. if your great grandfather served in the merchant navy, are records of seamen for the particular period in which he served be available on the site?
- Does the site contain full descriptions of the records available on the site? Money should not be spent just to know whether you need to use the website or not. It would of great help to you if the website offers an explanation of the kinds of records available, what information you require to identify your ancestor and what you can hope to find out about your ancestor from the records. From the description given by the site regarding their information, you need to understand what you would be searching or eliminating by using the site.
- Are examples (digitised images) of the records you hope to find available? These can help you to understand and interpret the records that you find regarding your ancestor.
- Does the site give contact name and address for someone in charge of the site who can be contacted in case you have a query or wish to know more?
Below are some sites that have to be paid for and are used for researching specialised information by genealogists.
- http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline – contains the World War I Campaign Medal index, various naval record collections, wills and more.
- http://www.originsnetwork.com – contains a number of specialised records that relate to British genealogy that include wills, military records, apprenticeship records and marriage indexes.
- http://archive.timesonline.co.uk – is the Times Digital Archive, that can be searched from 1785 – 1985 and is a great place to search for ancestors who were quite well off, famous or notorious enough that they got to be mentioned.
- And keep in mind that some specialist sites that have good information are also available for free. One such site that is quite popular among genealogists is the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Details of servicemen and women who died during the two World Wars can be found here: http://www.cwgc.org
Of course, there is also the fact that certain times you may not find what you are searching for on the net. Just like when you visit an archive. Not all the information is available online and inevitably you may end up at an archive looking for information. But, to start your search, the web is a good place and do not forget to look for sites that specialise in the area of genealogy you are interested in.
Websites of all shapes, sizes and descriptions that cater to genealogists are available, varying from databases to help and support sites, message forums, general information, family tree display tools and a lot more. But, unless the information you are looking for is to be obtained specifically from a historical record, you should not have to spend money for such sites. Invariably, subscription sites include some of the most popular features. If you are in a fix and are looking for advice to get to your next piece of information, you can take a look at the following sites that are free.
www.genuki.org.uk – can be used as a reference site and is packed with valuable genealogical material, information and advice
www.cyndislist.com – is a genealogical gateway and contains loads of information and links to numerous websites