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How Mike Traced His Family Tree: A Case Study

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Census Great-great-great Grandfather

I was in my fifties when I became interested in tracing my family tree. Years before someone contacted my father, saying he was a distant relative – none of us knew him – and he was assembling a family tree, then asked for a few details about my grandfather. Typically, my dad hadn’t asked for a copy of his research or even kept the man’s number!

By the time I decided to begin Researching My Family Tree, my dad had died, but I was able to get some information from my mother, and I knew the family had been in Leeds for several generations. I knew my grandfather’s name, although not where in Leeds he lived, so, armed with that, I logged into the National Archives site to begin my search.

Tracing Ancestors Online

It was all much easier than I’d imagined. I was redirected to the commercial site that handles Census Information and bought some credits from them that let me download the census pages I needed to read the information properly.

I discovered I had great aunts and uncles I’d never heard of, let alone met, and was able to go back from there all the way to my great-great-great grandfather, although my great-grandfather brought one mystery with him. A boot repairer, the members of his household included his wife (who was 10 years older than him) as well as a granddaughter – from the age, probably from an earlier marriage of his wife – but the name of the girl’s parents weren’t given. If I ever have the time, that’s something I’ll delve into.

Going back to the 1851, 1861, and 1871 censuses, I was able to find my great-great grandfather, who made his living as a decorator. The information was that he was married to a woman name Charlotte, which was something that might have solved a family mystery.

There was rumoured to be Spanish blood in our family, so Charlotte might well have been Carlotta, or possibly people just thought she was Spanish. It was certainly the only name that could have been construed as coming from that area!

The very first census, from 1841, was able to take me back one generation further, with the information that my great-great-great grandfather had originally come from Malton, North Yorkshire. So, in the space of a couple of hours, and for less than £10, I’d been able to go back the best part of 200 years.

Finding More Information

That was all great, but now it was time to fill in some of the blanks with dates of birth, marriage and death. That was easily done, too, thanks to the General Register Office site, where it’s simple to find the records, although I didn’t want to pay for copies of the certificates. However, I might go back later and order them, simply to possess the records.

Of course, at Malton I’d hit a bit of a brick wall, since national records only go back to 1837, and I couldn’t find what I needed at the International Genealogical Index. But many local parish records are kept at the North Yorkshire County Council Record Office (unfortunately, a search didn’t reveal what I wanted in their online records).

Armed with all I now have, however, and a desire to go as far back as possible (and maybe also find an answer as to why my ancestor moved from Malton to Leeds), my plan is to spend a couple of days up in Northallerton (where they keep the records) in the near future.

Before all the records came online, all that searching would have taken me days, and have meant a trip to London. Now, though, I found it as simple as a few mouse clicks. There’s still a journey ahead, of course, but it’s one that will really take me to the roots of my family to discover where we really came from.

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