It is surprising, no, I would not be exaggerating if I said, it is amazing what you can find out from a birth, marriage or death certificate. The trouble is, you can be left with lots of tantalizing questions to ask that may not be easily answered, if, indeed, they can be answered.

Most genealogically-minded people eventually produce a chart of the ancestors and for domestic consumption only, the immediate descendants. That is what the protocol advises; no-one born in the last 50 years or so, should be published on a public site, to protect identities and children. You can tell when you are visiting a happy genealogist, there will be a wall covered in one chart design or other, detailing from whom they have descended. There might even be the glimmerings of a family branch line being developed. They really do want you to notice and have you ask about their family research.

The obsessed genealogist will have paper files and files on computer. S/he will have produced a book or booklet, maybe more than one of each, though where the published documents lie, is anyone’s guess. When two such people accidentally meet and discover their joint major interest, it is best to take a back seat, to watch, wait, and hear, what develops. One will want to lay claim to be more expert than the other; one will rush to tell how much work has been published in their name. A competition is in progress. It is like watching a joust; who will give way?

The question that arises in family history research, is, how far do you want to go in finding out who you are? How much will accidents of geography allow you to walk the path to the answers that you seek? It is relatively ‘easy’ for you to obtain information if all your links have been in one country for two or three hundred years, or even more, and there are ways and means of accessing historical data. If this is the case, another question arises, where do you stop?



  1. It is not always easy, though to uncover a small piece of vital info – or have I been looking the wrong way! I merely want to know back to my Great-grandparents….can’t even make headway with birth-place of my grandad…:roll: ;)x

  2. Can you get Grandad’s death or marriage certificate via the National Archive at Kew? Both those bits of paper are good starting points. It depends where he was born as to ease of access of information, but it should be possible to find something to work from.

    The Mormons put together a vast archive of people alive and deceased from many parts of the world. If in the UK, there should be guidance on how to access this via your local archivist, usually found in a library.

    One other avenue you could consider, is joining a genealogy group. Where you are, it is less likely such a group will be too narrow in its terms of reference, (like it is where I live).

    I’m not a genealogist, but I have obtained some papers at grandparent level where events occurred in the UK. It is possible there are ways I know nothing of, for obtaining information held abroad.

  3. Have explored Mormon option quite extensively….Major problem is that ‘Dad’ went out into the colonies…turn of the 19th/20th Centuries….like many….Birth certificate – well nigh impossible…thus far…
    Will continue looking at other options…..Thanks! :)x

  4. Then you know ‘dad’ was born here. From that, if ‘ma’ was British, then there should be information for her too. Kew should be able to help. You can apply online, but in your case, where Kew is accessible you may find a visit worthwhile, not just to obtain what you are looking for, but to get direct guidance on how to obtain other types of history and future information.

    If it is S.Africa the ancestors settled, or any other colonial outpost, a note to the embassy immigration office may produce something.

    Think about how they may have travelled – boat most likely. when? Which ships and shipping line? are there any manifests, if so where? Many companies, even those that have merged, archive historical information, may even give it to University libraries with instructions on how the material may be used.

  5. Hi Menhir !

    For genealogy, one of the most useful websites I use is http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/ . This gives free references to births, marriages and deaths of persons from England/Wales. Work compiling it is still on-going, though it is relatively complete from 1837 – 1918 or so. Based on the references one can apply on-line for the relevant certificates at £7 each. But one can still deduce an awful lot without certificates.

    Apologies if you already know this.


  6. Hello My friend,

    How are you? Great to hear from you again.

    I have heard of rootsweb but that is all; not being a really ‘into it’ genealogist, I haven’t done much because most of my deeper roots are not in the UK. That said, more recent roots are, and this bit of information will be very useful. Thank you very much indeed for this. I will pass it on to one or two other who may need this gem.

  7. Bushka, a friend has put a link on my comments; have a look at the comments. This is the link, which you may or may not know about.


    You may find it helpful for the generations you want to seek and perhaps the level before. Going back a step or two further, if you can, could be helpful and indeed, may be fascinating, if you find something. 🙂

  8. I think you’ll have to spend a little time reading the ways and means to use it. I have just played with webroots to see how it works. I think I would have to mug up on the best way to use the resource. Ignore the adverts, it is easy to click onto them thinking they are the same site, they are not.

  9. Have already had a ‘Go’ just to see how it works….very quick and accessible….came up with grandfather’s entry – except…as all my other research has produced….his bith month….I know as December…..came up as June! He could have made himself older….don’t know how……Anyway, will return to it…Thanks!

  10. The entries are scanned from more than one source I think. I read somewhere on the site that there are census records too. You may need to go back to Gt Grandfather to check on children and dob’s.

    You’ve already found something interesting and that is very good. It was not uncommon for that generation to increase their ages to enter military service or for other purposes. If you feel you have found grandfather, then you can check where that site’s record came from. It is certainly a UK entry. A trip to Kew may be a good stepping stone in the near future, armed with your numbers and references.

    I didn’t bother with the parish records element as they won’t hold any surprises for me. I will have another scrutiny of the site to see what else I can play with. I could probably go back 3 generations about people I know of.

    To be honest, I cannot see myself getting addicted to this interest, I have too many hurdles to jump. Particular bits of information will suffice as and when I may want them.

  11. Every so often I have to give researching my family history a rest. It is a thoroughly tangled mess – deliberately tangled in some parts, I suspect.

    But sometimes it’s just the sorrow that dances out of the pages at me and gets too much. The families who lost one child after another when they were a few months old, the young widows struggling to manage with young children, the children who turn up in the census returns as ‘miners’ when they were seven years old.

    Oh yes, the past is another country indeed.

  12. When you are sensitive to the information that you see, it is painful. You wonder if you had a right to descend from that generation tree. It can be like a survivor’s guilt complex.

    Yet, that said, what a picture of life that tells you about, the reality, not the anodyne descriptions you obtain from literature. It brings home to you the improvements that the masses fought for and eventually gained. A decent clean basic living, dignity; fought hard for, and these things should be held onto.

    I haven’t gone into my personal history too much. A relative has done that on two sides, with complicated international links. There’s so much personal ‘artistry’ and not quite enough academic circumspection for one branch, it makes the work almost void for future research. What it leaves us all with, is someone who had put information links in one place that may provide clues. As for the source materials, the majority of that is lacking. A shame really, as much work went into it by a lot of people offering masses of goodwill. Lack of patience became the bully here. The next work, with which I had no input, was apparently more controlled, and a third, with which I have no connection or interest, was said to have been academically managed with supervision!

    Where I am sometimes tempted to seek, won’t be easy, and I am not emotionally ready for what I might find.

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