With the continued rise in popularity of family history television programmes like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, and the programme then serving to be an enormous inspiration to so many people, more and more people are now jetting off (and having the most amazing time in the process) as they set out to follow the trail of their family history and to walk in their own ancestors footsteps, just like the celebrities on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ do.
If you have UK ancestors and have ever dreamt of experiencing your UK heritage, there are some absolutely fantastic resources available now to help you to plan and prepare for your family history journey and to help you to really have a ‘dream come true’ experience.
Many travel and tourism offices are now recognising the growing popularity of family history research and are offering some fantastic ‘heritage seeking’ options with their travel itineraries, including personalised ancestry or heritage tours, but another really wonderful option, if you are looking for a more personalised tour, would be to employ a professional genealogist who can really help you to paint the picture of your ancestors lives.
Most genealogists are more than happy to have the opportunity to share in your journey and your family’s stories, and can act as incredibly wonderful tour guides of the local area, helping to make all of your family’s stories come to life for you.
So where do you begin?
If you are completely new to researching your family tree, the very first thing to try to do, is to gather absolutely everything that you can together (literally anything and everything that you are able to find) that relates to your family, and in particular the line of your family that you are hoping to discover more about on your journey.
Try to make a list of everything that you can think of, no matter how big or small, starting with yourself and then working your way backwards to list all of the known dates and places within your family of things like births, christenings, marriages and deaths etc… The more that you are able to find of these things, the more that it will greatly be able to assist you in your search. A great tip, is also to speak to as many relatives as possible and to ask questions about what they may possibly also know. You might even be really surprised with the results.
There are now some absolutely fantastic records available online for beginning your research, and two wonderful places to start are the Ancestry UK website http://www.ancestry.co.uk for UK records, and the Family Search website http://www.familysearch.org
The FreeBMD website http://www.freebmd.org.uk is also a brilliant resource for locating the reference details of any certificates that you may need to order, and all UK certificates can be purchased via the GRO (General Register Office) website.
Two other websites that are incredibly invaluable when conducting your research are the GENUKI website http://www.genuki.com, which provides a reference point for all UK and Ireland genealogical services, and Cyndi’s List http://www.cyndislist.com/uk, which is amazing and provides links to absolutely everything also related to family history.
Another fantastic thing to try and take a look at are maps (both modern and vintage) pertaining to the areas where your ancestors were from, as they can really help to assist in painting that picture of what the area was like during the times that your family were living there, and comparing the maps can prove to be not only to be fascinating, but to assist you in your research.
Local record offices and local family history societies are another incredible resource in assisting with family history research, and joining a family history society that you find is nearest to where your ancestors were from (especially even before you begin to set off on your journey) can once again be incredibly helpful as you are planning and preparing for your trip. Most family history societies also have brilliant resources on their websites and fantastic links and information relating to all of the local records. Speaking to one of the friendly staff with any questions that you may have relating to the hopes and plans that you have for your heritage trip, can also help to point you in the right direction.
And then of course don’t forget the local travel agencies and tourism offices (as mentioned earlier) who can also often offer personalised tours of the local areas that you are hoping to visit.
For the full ‘family heritage travel experience’ though, why not consider incorporating both a local tour run by a travel or tourism office in the area where your ancestors were from, along with a more personalised guided tour with a local genealogist/family historian, which would provide the perfect way to really get to know more about your ancestors and give you that opportunity to really walk in their footsteps and get a sense of what their lives may have been like.
If you would like to find a genealogist in the area that you are planning to visit, there are wonderful directories on both the APG (the Association of Professional Genealogists) http://www.apgen.org and the AGRA (The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) http://www.agra.org.uk websites and a list of all of the family history societies in the UK can be found on the Federation of Family History Societies website at http://www.ffhs.org.uk
Good luck with your research and happy travels!
Tina Alsford is an English born professional genealogist and probate researcher, who now lives in Australia. Tina has a particular interest in nineteenth century England and specialises in London family history research. She is currently also a start-up blogger for Samara Magazine (an Australian online magazine for women in business).