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.
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.
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?
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.
There are also BMD records available for Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
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.
5. Put what you know on Wikitree
We particularly recommend Wikitree because it has online training in family history. You may wish to join a specialist project team where you can get additional support on a particular area of interest (such as Scottish ancestors) and help to make others’ work more useful. Remember to mark yourself, and other living persons as private. Wikitree's welcome page for those stuck at home looking for a diversion
If Wikitree isn’t for you, FamilySearch.org is a good alternative; the mobile app is very nifty!