February 2024 meeting: Tracing your Roots – a beginner’s guide to unearthing your UK family history

Genealogy and family history were the subject of our February meeting when James Thorber from the Abingdon Branch of the Berkshire Family History Society came to talk to us about researching your genealogy. He began by explaining the important difference between genealogy and family history: ‘genealogy’ is the creation of your family tree based on available records, whereas ‘family history’ is concerned with placing your ancestors within the historical context of when they lived and what their lives would have been like. In his talk, James concentrated on the former.

There are a number of genealogy websites with multiple record sets you can search (e.g. Ancestry and FindMyPast), some for free and some with a paid subscription. You can build your family tree using the online tools available from such websites, or buy specialist software to use on your computer. James presented his recommended approach to creating your family tree, working backwards from your parents. He advised starting by collating basic genealogy information (birth, marriage and death certificates, and census information) before adding new ‘layers’ of information obtained from other sources such as military records and probate records. However, it’s not always that easy – you may have to work round ‘skeletons in the closet’ while so-called ‘brickwalls’ are common. To help, James offered some useful tips and suggested some potentially useful websites. He concluded his talk by answering a range of questions from the floor.