You may have been watching the BBC’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” on television. The lead character in the book and television series, is Thomas Cromwell a man born into a working class family who rises to be the right hand man of Cardinal Wolsey, at one time King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. Cromwell managed to survive the fall from grace of Wolsey and went on to become the King’s Chief Minister until his own downfall.
The connection between this man and we family historians, with ancestors in England and Wales, is that Thomas Cromwell is responsible for the fact that we are able to trace many of our ancestors back in the documents created by the parish churches across the land.
The Parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, were first introduced into the Church of England in 1538 by Cromwell as Henry VIII’s Vicar General and Vice regent, a position that gave him power to supervise the church.
Cromwell required that every parish church was to acquire a sure coffer (that is, a parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored. While the parish chest was not a new idea, they could have been found in churches up and down the land all the way back to medieval times, what was new, in Tudor times, was the notion that Cromwell dictated that accurate records were to be kept and the responsibility to do so was placed on the parish officials to keep these records safe.
The parish chest were often no more than a hollowed out tree trunk that was secured with three locks. The keys were to be kept by the Bishop, the Priest and by a religious layman.
By the mid-1500’s the parishioners in every parish of the land were instructed by law to provide a strong chest with a hole in the upper part thereof, and having three keys, for holding the alms for the poor. Another chest may have been used to keep safe the church’s plate and this or the first chest would also double up as a place where the parish registers and other parish documents could be kept safe. In some places only one chest would have sufficed for both purposes, while in other parishes two or more may have been used.
So the debt we owe to Thomas Cromwell is that he introduced parish registers, some of which have survived pests, fire and flood back through the generations and provide us today with names of ancestors stretching back generations.
These knowledgeable interviewees include practising professional genealogists, with years and years of experience to offer.
Yet others are from the very highest levels of the online data provider companies, like Ancestry and TheGenealogist.
Listen to the download and learn some plain tips that will simplify the often confusing business of researching English/Welsh ancestors. I am going to give you access to these eight professionals so that you can use their advice to break down several brick walls that you may have.
3. The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) Member. What would the advice be from a professional genealogist practitioner?
Well as many serious professional genealogists belong to this association, I headed over to the AGRA stand and asked a member for his research tips. Points he brought up included the information on documents being only as good as that given by the informant and what to do about conflicting data. There is more to hear in the full interview that you can download here .
4. Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Expert. In family history we often have to think a bit outside the box. Well have you considered that your missing ancestor had moved abroad? With 3 million Brits having gone out to India then if we have a missing forbear it could certainly pay us to take a look at the records from this part of the British Empire. Its not just soldiers, the list of people who went out to work there is long as we hear from this FIBIS expert.
5. Celia Heritage – Professional Genealogist, Author and Family History Teacher introduces us to an often under used set of resources in her piece: Death Records. She explains how to use these records to flesh out the bones of our ancestors lives.
Celia is an excellent and knowledgeable speaker and you can just hear the passion that she has for her subject as she dispenses some gems of advice in the free downloadable audio presentation. Its not just death certificates that Celia brings to our attention in this part of the recording!
6. Dr Ian Galbraith – The National Wills Index explains about one of the best single major sources for family historians when I asked him to talk about Wills and Administrations for this audio.
Ian explains why wills can be an important resource with an average of 10 names per will and with half of them being different from that of the testator. Many people are surprised by the fact that all sorts of people left wills, but you won’t be when you have heard the full interview.
7. Brad Argent – Content Director for Ancestry advises family historians to drill down for the information in the online databases in his contribution to the recording. Brad suggests we use the card catalogue to seek out data sets and then use the advance search facility of “exact”, “soundex” and “wildcards” when we are on this large data provider’s site. His advice is compelling.
8. Mark Bayley – Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, a site that gives really fantastic value and a very wide range of data, introduces us to a great name-rich resource recently published by TheGenealogist, in association with The National Archives.
What is this important resource for England and Wales?
It is, of course, the Tithe collection.
I have been using this set recently to great effect with my own rural ancestors and so I have included a module in my Family History Researcher Guides about the tithes.
The beauty of this data is that it includes both sides of society, with landowners and tenants being recorded and giving names and addresses. As a pre-census data set it is hugely valuable to us! Listen to Mark explain about these exciting records in the free recording you can download now by clicking the link below.
Now you may be asking why I am doing this for free?
Its because I want to introduce you to a set of guides that I have put together. A series of pdf modules that takes the information I gleaned at Who Do You Think You Are? Live and incorporated it, along with much more content into a year’s worth of weekly written guides.
There are extra contributions from various other professional experts who have penned some of the reports, as well as those modules written from my own extensive experience.
I am guessing that, if you have read this far, you are interested in English/Welsh family history and that you have hit at least one of the inevitable brick walls. The solution is to understand more ways to find your ancestors.
So if you would like to dramatically increase your knowledge then I think you will enjoy being a member of my Family History Researcher Guides. This is a 52 weekly series of guides written in an easily accessible form and you can take a two week trial for just £1 by going here:
When conducting family tree research, obviously the more information you have, the better; thatâ€™s why millions of family history search terms are typed into google every single day. In fact, it has never been easier to find all kinds of ancestry data online including birth, marriage and death records, maps, old photographs, news archives, military records and much more.
By starting with what you know about your immediate ancestors, those at the beginning of their search can start using googling their family tree right away. Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of google when it comes to investigating your ancestry online.
Google Search Tips
When googling your family history, there are a few things to remember in order for you to narrow down the results to those most relevant to you. These include:
1. Always put the most important information at the start of your search term as this will help order the results into those that are most relevant.
2. Use quotation marks on proper names and exact match phrases. For example, searching â€œLouis Mathersonâ€ will come up with page results that show that exact combination. If you type in Louis Matherson without quotation marks, then you may get results for Joe Matherson or Louis Simon.
3. Exclude unwanted results using a minus sign. For example, if you know that there are two towns in the country called â€˜Gillinghamâ€™ then you could type in â€œGillingham â€“Kentâ€ in order to tell google that you meant the other Gillingham in Dorset. However, adding a minus sign can in some instances also minus pages that refer to both Gillingham in Dorset and Gillingham in Kent, so make sure you careful about what you eliminate.
4. Googleâ€™s search algorithms do take into account synonyms, but you can search for additional synonyms by typing the tilde symbol (~) before certain words such as â€˜~graveyardâ€™ which will display results for â€˜cemeteryâ€™,â€™ churchyardâ€™, and â€˜memorialâ€™.
5. If you have found a page with a long list of names and you want to find the relevant information quickly, you can type ctrl + alt and â€˜fâ€™ and it will bring up a search box in the corner of that page. Simply type in the name you are looking for and the webpage will highlight the matching text within the document instantly.
6. If you want to search a surname, but youâ€™re not sure on the correct spelling then you can use the wildcard symbol (*) which will tell google to accept any consecutive string of characters that appears after the asterisk symbol.
7. If your search takes you to a â€˜file not foundâ€™ error message, this could mean that the page you are looking for is no longer updated (amongst other reasons). But never fear, you can still search for that information by looking for search results that have the word â€˜cachedâ€™ at the end of the description and URL.
Finding Free Genealogy Resources Online
Historical documents are being digitized and added to the internet regularly, so it is always wise to do a quick scan of the latest genealogy news websites. That way you can see if anything has been added that might prove useful to your own investigation.
You may also want to seek out genealogy forums and message boards to see if a distant family member has previously conducted family history research that may be of some relevance to you. However, be wary of using other peopleâ€™s research in your studies because they may have got some of their information wrong. Always double check anything you do decide to include.
Many popular genealogy subscription sites such as ancestry.com allow users a free-trial of their resources, so it may be a good idea to sign up and see what you can find even if you canâ€™t afford the subscription fee.
Historical records will make up the bulk of your investigation, however, you may also want to include interviews with relatives (some maybe more distant than others) in order to add â€˜colourâ€™ to your report. Use social media and people finding services to track these family members down and send them a draft copy. You never know, it might prompt them to start an investigation of their own and you may be able to share your efforts.
So there you have some tips that will help you search effectively online when conducting family tree research. If you have any other relevant tips, please leave a comment below.
Elise Leveque is a freelance translator and blogger from Bristol. She is currently in the throes of putting her own family tree together.
Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk or The Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.
Pioneer Transcription Services is now offering oral history transcription services to people who wish to conserve the stories of their family members. The business has been transcribing oral histories for historians, authors and professional companies for almost 20 years. The emphasis on providing this service directly to people who want to preserve their families’ stories came about when one of the company’s owners, Deborah Devitt, inherited a cassette tape her parents had made many years previously with her paternal grandmother. Unfortunately , the cassette tape had deteriorated over the years and there was never a transcript created. While the company created a digital audio file and transcribed the interview before more deterioration could occur, “I don’t want others to lose the stories that are important to their families,” Ms. Devitt states.
Individuals are conducting interviews with all kinds of different relatives from grandparents, to great aunts and uncles, to cousins, to brothers and sisters, et cetera.
Digital recorders are now very sensibly priced, which allows more individuals to record their families’ stories. These digital audio files can be easily shared with other family members and won’t deteriorate over time. Many people are setting up interviews with their relatives, using questions they’ve found on the internet or that they come up with on their own.
Pioneer Transcription Services realized there is a growing desire to have written transcripts of these interviews. “Our service is easy to utilize and accessible to everyone,” states Ms. Devitt. “A direct link for upload is right on our website.” Once uploaded clients just wait for their transcript to be returned to them. They are then able to share the transcript with other family members and friends or to use it in any way they deem proper. “Plus, these are our favorite things in the world to transcribe, ” added Ms. Devitt.