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Wednesday, 06 March 2013 09:22

Genealogical Tips - Updated 21 July 2019

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Genealogical Tips

Here you can find tips that our users have found useful during their own research 

Please feel free to submit anything you would like to share to either the Administrator or to Jodi Fuller both of whom can be contacted via the Contact Us Menu on the Home Page


1.  When visiting archives and libraries always make sure you have a pencil (not a pen) and a note book.  You don't want to get pen marks over valuable documents and of course you always need to be prepared to note down what you find.

2.  Type up and store your notes immediately - you don't want precious time and valuable information lost.

3.  When visiting older relatives, turn on your voice recorder on your mobile phone. That way you wont miss any reminiscence if you don't have pen and paper handy.

4.  Don't believe everything you see on the internet. There is a lot of incorrect information out there with far too many incorrect family tree's.  If you are unsure of your research but believe it to be correct then record it but make sure you note it as speculative.

5.  Always ensure accuracy of your research by obtaining documents, newspapers, copies of periodicals, etc.  Never assume that information is correct unless you have the proof and have checked it against other sources.  If contradicting information is found in official documents record both and record the source of the information for each.

6.  If you see a member of the clergy with the name of a town in place of a surname, this could well be a Bishop. An example is a marriage performed in Salisbury by George Sarum. This is actually George Moberly, Bishop of Salisbury.

7.  Wikipedia is a quick and easy resource to find names of higher ranking clergy. If you type into the search function "Bishop of (town)", it will bring up a list of all Bishop's and dates of office for that town.

8.  If you are looking at Census, check the page before and after as well. You may find other family members at the same address or a few houses down.

9.  When sharing your family tree in a gedcom file or other format - remember to make private any information of those tree members still alive - you can normally select an option within the programme you are using to store your information to achieve this.

10. Many Surnames are derived from the trade carried out or from the place they originated. Your ancestor's surname could be Cooper because he was a cooper by trade.  Some regions have different naming customs. The Welsh take their father's first name as a surname. An example would be David, son of Llewellyn. He becomes David ap Llewellyn; or Esther, daughter of Llewellyn. She becomes Esther verch Llewellyn. The term ap for son can also be spelt ab, and verch for daughter can also be spelt ferch. Anyone with a middle eastern link will know that it often also changes for the father, eg he could grow up being the son of ....,  then when his first son is born, he becomes the father of ..... . (Thanks to Ruth Wood, Ruth Appleby and Teresa Lewis)

11. If you have a relative that served in the armed forces, try and obtain a copy of their service record. Not only does it include names of parents or next of kin, date of birth and addresses, service records also include physical descriptions and sometimes photo's of the recruit.  In most cases a will has to be prepared too and may be found with service records.

12. Cemetery Trek - (a) Take a poster size piece of white card or paper. You can use it to reflect light onto a darkend headstone. (b) Take a spray bottle of water. By spraying water onto the headstone, the inscription stands out more. (c) It helps to have a plastic bag to clean away weeds and other rubbish.  Also have garden shears or secateurs on standby in the car. You may need to cut away a small plant or branch from the headstone.  However it may be worth reading this article about Churchyard Conservation before hacking your way through overgrown areas.  Also if photographing headstones where an inscription is faded take one image of the whole of the headstone, another close up of the inscription and finally another with the inscription sprayed with water which may enhance the detail.  DON'T SPRAY IT FIRST this spoils the image for posting in galleries or scrapbooks.

13. Maiden Names - are often quite hard to find. The following are good resources to start with:- Marriage records; Cemetery and Burial registers; Census returns; Land records; Church registers and churchwardens accounts; Probate records and Wills; Newspaper articles such as Family Notices; Death registrations; Military service papers; and by looking at the naming patterns of children.  It is not uncommon for a maiden name to be used as a middle given name for children.  

14. When typing up items for the two world wars use WWI and WWII using the Roman Numeral System.  WW1 and WW2 are also acceptable however it looks more professional to use the Roman Numerals.  A big no no is using WW11 for WW2 - thank heavens we haven't been faced with a world war three yet let alone a world war eleven.

15.  Always sign guest books - leave a name, interest, reason for visit and an e-mail address - someone may see it and get in contact with the same interests.

16.  If planning a visit to a building - ascertain the name of a key holder or opening and closing times - most churches will now be locked outside of church service times.  If visiting a churchyard it may be useful to contact the church warden - some are often founts of knowledge and only too willing to wander around with you and impart what they know.  A vicar although busy often takes a real interest in his church history and its churchyard if you are lucky enough to be able to meet with the vicar by pre-arrangement all well and good.

 17.  If visiting a churchyard for family headstones and you find that of the relative you are looking for - its always worth checking the nearby headstones often other family members are buried nearby almost as if in family plots.  

18.   When recording information always cite what the information source is and when it was found and by whom found 

19.   Do not search for your genealogy with a very narrow net - be open to a multitude of possibilities

20.   Be aware that many women died in childbirth and that a widower may remarry to a woman of the same given name.

21.   Do not automatically assume that everyone in an area with the same surname must be related however uncommon that surname may be.  Also be aware that the rich and famous often change their name.

22.   Never assume your ancestors knew how to spell or that the people signing and compiling legal documents could either.  When searching on line use wild card, soundex and extended searches to list alternate spellings.

23.   Never take family trees published online as gospel.  Check their source information and recheck their research.

24.   Back up your research on a regular basis preferably on an external device such as a plug and play hard drive.

25.   Always have someone you trust to have access to your research just in case the worst happens and you can no longer access it - your hard work needs to be continued in the event of anything untoward happening to you.

26.   Do not ever think you will never find someone - There really is no such thing as a brick wall - somewhere out there are the answers you just need to keep looking

27.   Share your genealogy with family - they may not be interested now but may have a change of heart later in life

28.   Don’t think that DNA is a waste of money - Its a personal choice - but there are good cases where lineage has been sorted - whether conformed or not.

29.  Always be honest in recording your research, put paid to family myths and legends but be discreet and sensitive.  

30.  Don't believe you can find everything about your family history from online resources.  It really is not as simple as the ads may lead you to believe.  Many many items are available in local depositories that have not been digitised that may relate to your research.  A trip to the archives is always a good learning curve.

31.  Be aware that no matter what you publish online someone somewhere will use and copy it.  It is courteous and correct to acknowledge any material you use for your research to those who originally published and owned it.  Copyright is a very grey and extensive area.

32.  If researching online and you find something of interest make sure you bookmark the site and page you are looking at.  Internet and websites change constantly and you may not find what you found again that easily. Return to sites you have visited often - they may have added new information.




1.  A good supply of note paper - you don't want to find loads of information and have nothing to record it on or record on a lap top, tablet or mobile phone if you have the apps to do so. 

2.  A supply of pens and pencils - pencils are essential for the archives and libraries 

3.  A plain white piece of stiff card - to reflect light onto difficult to read items such as headstones etc.

4.  A pair of sturdy boots or wellingtons - for trekking through muddy and wet areas to access places such as churchyards and farm buildings 

5.  A camera with a supply of batteries and if needed an extra memory card - for taking photographs of buildings and people and for use at record offices where permitted (normally a fee is payable)

6.  A pair of secateurs - for cutting back ivy and small areas of vegetation from headstones and road markers etc.  Please be aware that lichens and other plant life in churchyards etc are often left for conservation purposes and small animal habitats - please use common sense and read any notices at churchyard gates or church porches if you need to move a branch to read a headstone try to do so gently without damaging it.  On no occasion should bats be disturbed when carrying out any kind of research so at times churches are closed to the public.  

7.  A set of garden shears or branch loppers - For the larger obstacles (permission may be needed to cut back tree branches etc.)

8.  A spray bottle - For spraying water onto headstones to highlight the inscription making it easier to photograph or record

7.  A packed lunch and drink - People tend to forget to eat and drink once they get started 

8.  A good map of the area you intend to visit - saves valuable time 

9.  A soft tooth brush, small nail brush and a soft dustpan brush - to gently clear away debris from a headstone such as moss and bird droppings etc.  (some churchyards frown upon moss and ivy being removed entirely)

10.  A supply of business cards with your name and an e-mail address and the reason for your interest in a subject.  If laminated, cards can be left in a flower pot or other place - who knows someone else may visit with the same interests.

11.  A carrier bag to bin any debris or rubbish found whilst on a family history day out.

12.  An address book or diary - make sure you have opening and closing times available and if a church the name of a key holder 

13.  A mobile phone for emergencies (fully charged). It might also be an idea to leave an itinerary at home or with a friend or neighbour in case of emergencies that way at least someone knows where you were heading.  If diverted from the intended plan - text someone to let them know especially if you are venturing out alone.  Also remember to carry any medication you may need and enough to cover any unforeseeable delays

14.  Be aware that in the warmer weather SNAKES may be active in undergrowth or even sunning themselves on gravestones in churchyards.  Just be aware of the dangers for example in the UK some are common grass snakes and are harmless - others may be venomous such as the adder.  Other countries have their own venomous snakes so all be on guard and refer to local wildlife information

grass snakeadder

                                          Grass Snake                                                                                                Adder




Have you ever taken a closer look at official documents such as marriage certificates and wills and found that your ancestor has signed them with a cross (X).  Do you always assume that the person signing with a cross was illiterate?  

Well if you do, then perhaps you may wish to rethink.  It can be assumed (but maybe not in all cases) that marks (X) made by ag labs and servants are probably because the person is indeed illiterate.  However when you look at other occupations or status such as Gentleman, Annuitant or those with an occupation of some social standing and they have signed with a mark (X) then it would be wise to seek out if this person attended a school or college.  

It was quite common during the 16th to 19th centuries that official documents were often signed with a mark (X) whether literate or illiterate.  This was often to show social standing rather than illiteracy - so the laws of Genealogy stand good - ALWAYS CHECK AND CROSS REFERENCE - it may prove quite enlightening.





Read 49920 times Last modified on Sunday, 21 July 2019 10:02

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