interviewing relatives. Photo: Thinkstock
Find the family records
As well as trying to find out facts and dates it is also worth enquiring about family records and documents. You may discover that a particular cousin has inherited all of your grandparents’ documents and letters after their house was sold. These may help you with information about earlier generations of the family. Other family members may have a collection of photographs that have been passed down their side of the family rather than to you.
True or false?
Of course, not all of the information you are given may be correct – but at least you have a starting point to begin your research and you can check the accuracy of the information against documentary sources. Memories can become vague over time, so just because the documentary sources do not tie in with your grandmother’s recollections, does not necessarily mean that the records are wrong.
Family stories, such as being the disinherited owner of the big estate, or the illegitimate son of the local nobleman, are often embellished as each generation retells the story to the next. There is usually a grain of truth in the story but you may discover that your ancestor merely worked on the estate or that he was the illegitimate son of a servant in the nobleman’s household.
By talking to as many relatives as possible you will gain some very interesting knowledge about your immediate ancestors and the lives they lived. You will also get a useful starting point for research amongst historical records.
As you gather more information, you can add your stories to your family tree on Ancetsry. You can then share this information with the rest of your family, which may in turn generate more memories to be added to your initial story.
Jeremy Palmer has been a full-time professional genealogist since 1992. He was the Registrar at The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies in Canterbury, England for many years before emigrating to Australia where he now runs his own research business which specialises in tracing the British origins of families in Australia and New Zealand. He also lectures on a wide variety of family history topics for the Society of Australian Genealogists.
Want to get started on your family history? Why not take advantage of our special reader offer with Ancestry? Learn more
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