As many of us around the world are in quarantine, self-isolating, or reducing our social contacts due to Covid-19, it seems a good time to talk about family history as something to do which keeps people in touch and is a source of new friendships while not needing anything other than an internet connection and smartphone, tablet or computer (and possibly a pencil, eraser and some paper).
We've written a guide, with 10 things to do if you have never thought about family history before, with alternative things to do if you are more - or very - experienced. Here, in Part One, we share the first five. Part Two is coming soon.
1) Talk to older people in your family
Give the older people in your family a phone call. We’ve put together some questions you could ask; probably over a lot of calls.
Remember to ask for the names and numbers of others you could call. As well as talking to members of the older generation, try seeking out cousins and others more distant to your family: ask them what they remember of their parents and their grandparents, as this can be helpful with your tree too.
If you’re adopted and are interested in your birth family history we have some links to resources here which will help you make a start.
It’s worth going back to immediate family with additional questions. There are some suggestions here https://eu.tennessean.com/story/life/shopping/ms-cheap/2017/04/26/20-questions-100-year-old-nashville-lady/100558152/ and here
2) Write down what you find out
You may find it helpful to make a recording of your phone calls so you can write down what you learned for clarification, or go back to it at a later date. If you speak to your relatives by video call you can use a free recording service, like Loom.com, to record both the video and audio of your conversations. Otherwise, you can take notes as you go.
Are your notes perfectly organised? Do others know what they are, and where they are? If password protected, do they know where your passwords are? Do others know what you wish to be done with your research materials, should you not have the opportunity to pass them on yourself?
3) Draw a traditional family tree
A 'skeleton' tree with very basic information under each name can help you with the future phone calls. For example if someone mentions the name John you can ask is that John the son of Richard or John who was Richard’s brother?
Have you identified all those who share a great-grandparent with you? Get in touch to see what your cousins know about the past, find out more about their lives, and ask if they’ve had a DNA test (many younger people take them now to find out health information, or to look at their deep ancestry).
4) Check what you know
(and what you find out)
If the people on your tree come from England or Wales, the easiest place to check details is on FreeBMD. At the moment, FreeBMD has data up to 1990, and back to 1837. It doesn't give you a precise date of birth and if someone was born married or died late in the year, the event may not have been registered until the following year. But a check on FreeBMD will confirm what you have been told.
FreeBMD will also tell you which registration District the event took place in. This may not be the place you were told - a registration District may include many towns and villages. Or your relative may have been born, married or died in a hospital some distance from where they lived. Many mothers went back to have a child in their mother's household.
Copy and paste the citation from FreeBMD into a document together with the name of the person, District and reference.
www.familysearch.org has records from around the world. Check out the wiki about places to find out more about the records available in the country/region you're interested in.
Post the contents of your certificates as Postems on FreeBMD so others don't have to pay. If you've had to buy a certificate and it turns out not to be your relative, their relatives can benefit, and you might meet new cousins through the certificates of your relatives.
5. Put what you know on Wikitree
Wikitree's welcome page for those stuck at home looking for a diversion.
Keep your skills sharp by answering questions in the Wikitree Genealogist to Genealogist forum or Genealogy StackExchange.