Posts Tagged ‘beginners’

I have just rediscovered a piece I wrote in 2012 and completely forgotten about. I hope it will bring a smile, much-needed in our troubled times perhaps.  Imagine a small, community evening class of family history beginners, and a well-intentioned tutor…

Right class, so where do we always start in genealogy?
Not with a G, Kenneth – oh, Ken, sorry – and no, not with a J either.  Anyone else?

No, Lisa, ha ha, we don’t start with William the Conqueror!!
What’s that?  Your 4th cousin twice removed in America has got your surname going back all the way to the Conk?  Oh, to Charlemagne, indeed, well, we’ll see…

Maisie?  I know, they’re being a bit loud aren’t they?  You’ll have to speak up!
Class!  Would everyone take a breath please, you’ll all have a chance to tell your stories.

OK Maisie?
Well, dear, gooseberry bushes have gone a bit out of fashion, wouldn’t you say?  Oh, your mum always said it’s where you came from………….

George!  Where do you think we should start?
In bed? Ha ha, that’s one way of looking at it.
Or in your case on the wrong side of the blanket?
Now now, everyone, this is a serious point actually… these days we’re a bit more polite, we say “out-of-wedlock” instead… no, not illegit…. not bast…!
Not spawn of Satan either…

Rosemary, I can see you’re waving a piece of paper there, is it something you want to share?  It says your Scottish grandmother was born in fornication… yes, well, that’s the Scots for you…
Hang on, don’t start shouting, I CAN say that, I’m half-Scottish!

Which brings me back to my first question – how do I KNOW I’m half Scottish?
Thank you Henry, not because one leg is shorter than the other and I run round hills.
No Sophie, I don’t start fights in pubs and eat chips every night
[Only every other night, hehe…]

I’ll give you a clue.

When you’re starting out in family history, you always begin with [pointing] ……


You start by writing down everything you know about yourself.
And then your parents….

Sorry, Maggie, say that again?  Ah, you were an orphan.  And Bob?  Adopted.  Well those are two very good reasons for wanting to find out…..  yes, I understand, I do, here’s a tissue, don’t upset yourself dear, we’ll see what we can do…

Tom – what’s that?  Your dad was a sailor… OK?  A wife in every port, I see

Deirdre… Your mum loved cooking?  That’s good… ah, gas oven… her head, well let’s not go too far down…

Class!  Time’s up for today.  I think we can safely say there are two things to remember when we start genealogy … don’t believe anything you hear (not unless you have three lots of documentation to back it up) – and always expect the unexpected!



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It strikes me that genealogy is just like love.  At the start, there’s the all-consuming excitement of first discoveries, complete preoccupation with the newly-found ancestors and their lives, resentment towards anything that gets between you and the chase – work, partners, shopping, garden, sex, food, sleep – nothing else matters.  It feels like love, it’s as good as sex and it transforms your life in the same way.  Once the genealogy bug has bitten, nothing is the same again.  This relationship is set to run, and run, and run…

Later of course, as with any loved one, the clay feet, little annoyances and boring bits start to make themselves felt, the moments of sheer excitement become rare jewels.  You settle in to a steady companionship instead, valuable for its familiarity, a comfort blanket of research skills acquired and pedigree charts produced, much more than a roller-coaster ride.

These thoughts struck me today after helping a friend begin the hunt for her mother’s family, introducing her to free online resources such as Family Search and FreeBMD and subscription sites like Ancestry and Findmypast.  She didn’t know much about her mother’s roots and we quickly found a whole new batch of first cousins and a line back to previously unknown grandparents and great-grandparents.  My friend’s wide-eyed, bouncing excitement and cries of joy as stones turned to reveal new facts reminded me of my own start ten years ago.  I’m not ashamed to admit I envied the years of passionate exploration she has ahead and wished I could experience that myself all over again.

This also got me thinking about the guidance that’s available for newbies to genealogy and whether anyone, caught up in the new passion of the hunt, will ever sit down to study well-meaning books and articles as they start out.  I know I didn’t.  But ten years ago, there was nowhere near as much advice around and the internet had barely begun as a research tool.  For me, it was more experienced researchers online, in mailing lists and forums, and not reference books, who held my hand, answered my questions, steered me from danger and illuminated my uncertain path.

I know now that I was lucky.  It is clear that lots of newbies never have these benefits and many of the trees published online leave me weeping in despair.  We see children born after their parents are long dead, mothers giving birth in their 80s, people even born after their own death dates!  Families linked up simply because they have the same surname and no other reason.  Birth, marriage and death locations assigned to the wrong counties, or even countries.  Well, the moan and grump list would stretch to pages if I let it.  As a result, I have sometimes considered writing quick and easy guides to starting family research, but, after sharing the start of the journey with my friend, I’m inclined to feel there is no real substitute for just doing it, learning as you go, getting help from people who are further down the path.  Opinions on this from other genealogy ‘oldies’ will be very welcome, including links to any good start-out guides that exist.

Meanwhile I feel that the best I can do for UK researchers is to help them find those who are lost and gone astray, the ancestors who left their birthplaces, went away to marry, work or explore and left no forwarding address.  Keep calling back to Morganhold for more about lost ancestors and press the ‘subscribe’ to receive new articles when they are posted.

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