I have always said that if I do anything for a career, it would be professional genealogy. I will always say it, it's the true love of my hobbies. I'm not a member of any societies, I'm not up to professional scratch -- but I've been doing it for almost ten years so I've learned a thing or two.
So, if you were interested in starting research into your family tree -- or even in just keeping an online record while Great Aunt Flossie still remembers it all -- here are a few of...
If you're new to the family history business, here are a few things to keep in mind...
This seems like the most obvious step, but it's important to enter your information as soon as you get and there are a lot of choices out there. My favourite, and the favourite of many, is that of Ancestry. Although, like with most services, you need to pay to view records, you can sign up and create a tree for free -- and unlike other tree-building services, there is no limit to the amount of people you can add. From there, you can download the app on your phone, and, if you like, purchase software for your PC or laptop.
Alternative websites include Family Echo, Genes Reunited, and MyHeritage.
You'd be amazed to find out what people know, especially when together in a group. In addition to your parents and any living grandparents, have some one-on-one chats with aunts, uncles and cousins. If you're in touch with extended family members, all the better! If you're like me and have some family members who are terrible at remembering names, ask their spouse or partner -- they might be the memory bank you need! With a pen and notepad in front of you (or a napkin, if like me you're seized with inspiration at a café), jot down notes to simple questions that you ask, such as:
"What were your uncles' and aunts' names?"
"Were they related by you on through your mum or your dad?"
"Did they have any kids? Do you remember when they were born?"
"Were they older or younger than you?"
"Did they have any nicknames?"
Make sure beforehand that relatives are okay with answering these questions. Not everyone is as gossipy as Cousin Margot or as open as Uncle Paul -- sometimes people go through painful periods in their life that they just cannot bring themselves to talk about. If you're not good with note-taking on the spot, you can always record what they're saying -- but make sure you ask them first!
The truth is that you don't always need a pain subscription to start you off with your family history research. If you know where to look and are capable of putting the clues together, you can often piece a certain amount of info together for free -- it's all about having multiple tabs open and a notepad at the ready!
The amount of information that you'll find will vary from state to state. New South Wales, for example, is my favourite in terms of searching. You can do quick and easy searches, get basic info (e.g. parents or spouse, the year the event took place) and then pay a fee if you want them to mail you a copy of the certificate. Victoria, on the other hand... I don't know what it is with the government -- I think it's legislation, although I haven't taken the time to figure it out -- but you have to pay to do so much as view search results, which I think is outrageous. (There is, however, a way around it, which I will get to a bit later.) But whether or not you live there, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, or Tasmania -- or even outside Australia -- there is always information ready to be discovered in government records.
If the library in your area is any good, it should have a section dedicated to family history. This is a particular bonus if your family have lived in the same area for a few generations, as you'll be able to glimpse into what your town looked like when your ancestors lived there. The library should also be able to provide you access to a number of family history services -- such as Ancestry Library Edition, which does allow you to search for family history records in Victoria.
This seems like a strange one, but sometimes I've picked up a few ideas about where to find information. It's always interesting to watch these if you particularly like the celebrity focused on in the episode, but it's an extra bonus if they happen to be from the same state as you. Seeing them utilise record collections that you weren't aware of can give you a new place to look; seeing techniques employed by the professionals can change the way you approach your research. Who Do You Think You Are? also likes to provide historical context, which is important if you want to really get a feel for what life was like for your ancestors.
Of course, it's inevitable that there will be bumps along the way, so...
You might find yourself so enthusiastic about your family history that you feel like it might actually be worth your money to pay for a subscription -- it's important however, to know what your money is giving you. The majority of subscriptions give you a clear overview of what you're able to access based on how much you're willing to pay, but it can be tempting to get carried away. If you know that your family's lived in one country for hundreds of years, do you need worldwide access? Sure, a 12-month subscription will give you the best value, but are you going to research your tree constantly for a whole year? It might be better for you to pay for a month at a time, or even select a "Pay As You Go" credit option, where you pay a small amount to view a select number of records.
Remember what I said earlier about probing family members for information? Don't dismiss anything your cousins or second cousins might have to say just because you don't have the exact same genetic line. One of them may hold the clue to an elusive great-great-grandparent that's been brick-walling you!
Nicknames are cool to discover amongst your ancestors -- they were often a common occurrence, especially when there were multiple people in the family with the same name. So, say you had a great-grandfather named Edward Metallica (this was a name conjured completely from my imagination and had nothing to do with the Metallica CD next to me). He may have been called Edward. He may also have been called Ed, Ned, Ted or Woody -- such nicknames were definitely around. If you're looking for an elusive marriage certificate or searching for him in census records and coming up blank, it may be worth doing a search with his nickname instead -- it could be the breakthrough you needed.
If you're digging around on your family tree, it is every bit likely that your seventh cousin four times removed -- who you never knew existed but definitely does -- is doing the same thing, along with many other distant relatives all connected to you thanks to one person. If you're using a system such as Ancestry, which allows you to sync information from other public trees into yours, it can become very tempting to sync first and ask questions later. The problem with this, however, is that there may be inconsistences or incorrect information that is passed along because it is believed to be true -- simply because some stranger said so. This doesn't mean that people are intentionally putting out incorrect information, but they may have looked at A and B and pulled out E instead of C.
It's good that the family trees are available, and they're definitely worth a look at, but don't make them your primary source. Check the dates, see if they line up. If they record extra siblings that you weren't aware existed, look for records that prove it.
Family history magazines are amazing, but sometimes they're not relevant to your searches. I've been tempted many times to purchase an issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine or Discover Your Ancestors Magazine because it has a freebie or because it's announced some exciting new collection. -- But why should I if I'm not actually getting anything out of it? Check the covers for information on the areas and time periods you want to register, whether it's wartime Australia or Victorian London or a particular area in general, such as Gloucester. Then, have a flick through to the page to make sure the content is relevant. If it feels like you've hit a jackpot, that's awesome! If you haven't, or you're not sure, you can save yourself a bit of money by not buying it -- and, if you want, you can check your local library, because it's possible that they might have the magazine for you to borrow and read.
I hope that some of these tips prove useful to you if you feel like digging into your family history! Have you built your own family tree? How far back have you gone?