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Tracing your ancestry?

Host_Ryan - One Show team | 15:58 UK time, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Can't see the exclusive web-only film? Click here to watch. 

Lucy Siegle has been looking at researching your family tree without spending lots of money. Lucy pointed out that a lot of the information that professional researchers, and some commercial websites, will charge you for can be gathered for free.

Local libraries and record offices are a mine of free information - as they contain parish records. An expert that Lucy spoke to recommended looking at the 1881 census online.

Click here for more info on looking at census records online (England and Wales). Click here for more on Scottish genealogical information.

Lucy also said to beware of paying too much for certificates that can be obtained for less from a register office.

Click for the General Register office - England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland and the General Register Office for Northern Ireland. See also: BBC Family History website.

One Show viewer Colline Mcleod from Blackheath (watch her film, above) in London is an avid genealogist. She has been tracing her family tree for 15 years and has managed to follow it back as far as the 1700s. Along the way she discovered a great great uncle who served at Buckingham Place under George V and a branch of her family who emigrated to Patagonia only to be killed by a local tribe.

Colline's top tips for tracing your ancestry cheaply:

1) Talk to all of your older family members to glean as much as possible.
2) Visit the area that relatives lived in and talk to the local residents.
3) Use local parish records.
4) Use the National Archives at Kew.

Have you researched your family tree? Do you have tips, hints, or stories to share with us?

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  • 1. At 7:19pm on 13 Nov 2008, slyone56 wrote:

    Wow! I can't believe I'm related to James Blunt! My godmother had the family tree traced back to King Gorm and Queen Thyra when I was born...!
    Iver Heath

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  • 2. At 7:33pm on 13 Nov 2008, SwanageSunrise wrote:

    I wish I'd seen this 3 weeks ago. A friend of mine very kindly paid for me to obtain my late-fathers death certificate and it cost £24.00..I thought the cost was extreme as it only cost me £10.00 to have my Grandads birth certificate sent from the area he had been born, and that included recorded delivery now after watching the programme I discover it should only cost £7.00!!! The worst thing is the certificate hasn't turned up!

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  • 3. At 7:33pm on 13 Nov 2008, angeebabe wrote:

    is there anyone/anywhere if one gets stuck! An unbeknown relative was cheauffeur to the Queen Mum. However, I can´t find any record of his death or marriage. is there a government department that one can write to?

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  • 4. At 7:34pm on 13 Nov 2008, froggran wrote:


    In researching my ancestry at Birmingham library I have met some really helpful people who are researching their own family tree. More than once I have been given tips on which web site to visit or how to gain further info on the ancesters I am trying to find. People are great, you just have to talk to them.


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  • 5. At 7:45pm on 13 Nov 2008, lenchem wrote:

    Hello I have been tracing my wife's family tree for many years. The staff at our local library have been very helpful and supportive. I have traced the family back to 1160

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  • 6. At 7:46pm on 13 Nov 2008, kenholway wrote:

    look up births deaths and marriages on www.freebmd.org. from there you can finf the referencies to order certificates from the registrar online - FreeBMD tells you how to do this.

    Check out the war graves commission site for people who died in wars http://www.cwgc.org/

    look on http://www.familysearch.org/eng/Search/frameset_search.asp for 1881 census data and transcriptions of parish records. But be careful, the data is not complete and sometimes inaccurate.

    Other census (1841 - 1901) are on Ancestry. You can get a 14 day free trial but it is £83 a year. But the local census for where you live will be in yur local library

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  • 7. At 7:46pm on 13 Nov 2008, patstokes wrote:

    £1500 to have your tree researched? This is a ridiculously high figure, the sort of fee you could have paid pre-2002 i.e. before the census & birth, marriage and death information was made available online. There are plenty of good genealogists providing this service for £400 - £500.

    I can recommend one.

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  • 8. At 8:01pm on 13 Nov 2008, fletcher55 wrote:

    Ideal giving out the 1881 census for free access / information on tracing your ancestors but please that is ONLY FOR ENGLAND and WALES !!!!.
    A little more thought and proper information before transmission to clarify the details to include how Scotland fee payers can access this information.
    Any ideas

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  • 9. At 8:08pm on 13 Nov 2008, kenholway wrote:

    fletcher55, you may find some scottish census data on http://freecen.rootsweb.com/

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  • 10. At 8:12pm on 13 Nov 2008, kenholway wrote:

    actually, http://www.censusfinder.com/scotland.htm has more links

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  • 11. At 8:23pm on 13 Nov 2008, Richard_Heaton wrote:

    A few ideas and tips

    1) Scotland 1881 - The LDS published a set of CD's reasonably priced covering England / Wales / and Scotland - and may even be available at your local library (census indexed arn't perfect ..but its a brilliant place to start)

    2) Its generally inexpensive to join your local family history society - But why should you ? Well, you get access to listen to excellent speakers on all aspects of family history and the chance to network with other researchers

    3) Has someone done the research before ? for if someone has a passion for a surname you may be lucky and find world wide research at the Guild of One Name Studies for example

    4) Finally worth looking for ancestors in digitalised newspapers - many libraries subscribe to the Times Online (starts in in the late 1700's) or maybe have a look at the London Gazette online; or if you are very lucky your Library may have a subscription to the British Newspaper 19th Century Collection or the earlier Burney Collection as you get further back (or for a very lucky few thousands of researchers I've put over 800 18th Century Newspaper Transcripts on the Web).

    Best of luck and have fun

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  • 12. At 8:37pm on 13 Nov 2008, GM4AFG wrote:

    After 60 years I hve found that I have a halfbrother and half sister living down south. What a surprise this was, however I only found this out by putting a message on a local missing you web notice board, having tried to trace my birth mother through the recognised geneology sources. my birth mother passed away a week prior to me establisihnd contact with my half brother.........A very sad occassion but great to find I had living relatives after 64 years of not knowing !!!
    I would recommend tracing your ancestory, a good site to start with forany one "Genes Reunited"

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  • 13. At 08:52am on 14 Nov 2008, JLWE wrote:

    Where to get advice.
    Try a family history society for where you live or where you think your family came from or both. There is at least one for each county. Locate them through the Federation of Family History Societies http://www.ffhs.org.uk/ or http://www.genuki.org.uk/
    eg. Sussex Family History Group

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  • 14. At 09:18am on 14 Nov 2008, Aliceace wrote:

    Could someone please explain to me why people feel the need to do this "Family Tree" business?

    I find it continually amazing why there is a need to "know" where they come from, get over it please ... you live, you die, end of story.

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  • 15. At 09:19am on 14 Nov 2008, Biggles wrote:

    Last night's info. on family history research was very useful for beginneras. However, as a researcher of about 7 years standing, may I be permitted to make a comment:

    ALL the censuses from 1841-1901 are free to view at the National Archives at Kew and County Archive offices! Most county archives/central librariesalso have a few computer terminals with free access to the 'Ancestry' web site where you can search the censuses by name.

    They also have the birth, marriage and death indexes on microfiche, for free!

    If you want to save money, there's no need to subscribe to a web site at all!

    I have got back to the 16th century on a number of lines and have discovered a few interesting people! I will shortly be having my first article published in a family history magazine!

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  • 16. At 09:22am on 14 Nov 2008, Biggles wrote:

    Further to message 15, I'm Chris from Norwich!

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  • 17. At 10:43am on 14 Nov 2008, shez-h wrote:

    There is a really useful website for family history at


    under the LocalBMD button - the original registrar birth, marriage and death indexes are being put on line.
    These pair marriages nd show location of marriage, often the mothers maiden name for birth indexes and often age at death. There is also the facility to print out application forms for copy certificates (click on the reference number). Parts of Cheshire also include online ordering through the council website.

    select a county and hit the county button to see loads of websites with data - some the larger pay sites - but hundred are free to use private sites with online data.

    It also worth a look in the ONS (One Name Study section) to see if anyone is researching any of the same names - again sites with data online.

    Happy Hunting

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  • 18. At 10:47am on 14 Nov 2008, shez-h wrote:

    Forgot to say against comment 17 that the Local BMD indexes under UKBMD are all free to use and search.

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  • 19. At 8:30pm on 14 Nov 2008, Orchardresearch wrote:

    You are right to point out that there is no need to pay vast sums of money for Family Tree research, if you enjoy the experience; however the facility exists for those who want to know about their forebears without spending hours staring at a computer or microfice screen or who feel they don't have the experience to make the right connections- it is all too easy to bark up the wrong (family) tree!
    My advice is do it yourself if you have the time and inclination or else check out a number of researchers and choose a package that suits you and your pocket- its no difference to shopping online and having it delivered- you pay for the service.

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  • 20. At 08:02am on 15 Nov 2008, uncannyghostbuster wrote:

    Regards comment 1.

    you and I must be related then!!!!

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  • 21. At 11:40am on 20 Nov 2008, vinyl_guitarist wrote:

    If you knew where and when someone worked and knew what they did and knew they were french for example...

    Would any of you experts out there know how they could be traced without their name? Tax returns or immigration for example? Do they have such records?

    Turns out I might be french.. how fantastique!

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  • 22. At 11:29pm on 21 Nov 2008, Orchardresearch wrote:

    vinyl_guitarist - I'm sure it's possible- if given a few clues - you need to be able to confirm that you have the correct person after all- easier of course if they were from a small village as opposed to a large town and if known relations had more unusual names e.g. not John Smith. Good luck

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  • 23. At 9:01pm on 24 Nov 2008, DaughterofLir wrote:

    Re. no.14, I'll try to answer you Aliceace:

    "Could someone please explain to me why people feel the need to do this "Family Tree" business?"

    My children say this to me, and generally I've found that an interest in your origins develops when you are older, especially when you have children, or when your parents and grandparents die and you become 'the older generation' yourself.

    In the 19th century, genealogy was a hobby for the middle classes, largely to prove/invent social status by claiming links to noble families and listing the claims to fame of relatives, including their military exploits. Women were hardly given a mention unless they were related to someone important. It was largely the male lineage that was traced and recorded.

    Why the enormous growth in interest nowadays?:

    1. Desire for social connectedness, in a world of shifting communities where we easily lose touch with our extended family and the people we grew up with.

    2. A desire for connection to places (see 1 above), and nostalgia for 'the old country' from people whose ancestors emigrated.

    3. To understand better the oral histories that have been passed down in a garbled fashion down the years, and to learn new stories.

    4. To understand ourselves better, as in "Who do you think you are?" which is such a brilliant question to start the search.

    5. To validate and honour the struggles of our ancestors to bring up their children and to survive (by definition we are all the children of survivors).

    6. To find out more about the health and causes of death of our immediate ancestors in order to identify health risks for us and our children.

    7. And because we can - so much is now available on the internet and is expanding daily - it becomes compulsive, like a jigsaw puzzle without any edges.

    I often do research for complete strangers when they are stuck, because I have the skills to help them find things out, and because it obviously matters to them.

    I love the thrill of the chase, pitting my wits against sloppy indexing and vain women who grew progressively younger with each census, and I love to find out about how families developed over the years and where they ended up.

    Does the family history 'industry' hurt those people who, for whatever reason, cannot trace their ancestors, or wouldn't want to? Not if you take the long view. Amateur researchers everywhere are helping to improve our understanding of who we all are by finding out about where we came from. So if you can't connect to a specific family you can relate to the generic stories about the past.

    And if you don't want to, then, Yes, live your life, and aim to make a difference with it. Then maybe you'll be the start of a new story.

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  • 24. At 1:24pm on 25 Nov 2008, Biggles wrote:

    Further to message 17:

    The on line free BMD's are the result of hours of unpaid work by volunteers, but are not complete!

    There are, however, complete microfiche copies of the BMD indexes at about 70 county archives/central libraries around the UK. Once you have the index ID info. you can order a certificate for £7 from the GRO's website!

    Also, many of the same archives/libraries have a few computer terminals and have purchased subscriptions to 'Ancestry' for the public to use for free!

    Further to message 21:

    The golden rule with family history research is to start with yourself and work backwards!
    Thus, when you get back to this, allegedly French, ancestor, you will know his/her name (and hopefully other details as well!)

    If you start by researching somebody from the past you risk dealing with somebody who is not in your tree!

    Chris from Norwich

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  • 25. At 10:35pm on 27 Nov 2008, CyberCynth wrote:

    Re: Daughteroflir. What a wonderful posting!

    Family History is undoubtedly a very absorbing interest, which I have just recently started to follow; I'm just a little bit worried in case I join my husband in the realms of genealogy anorak-manship!!

    Cynthia, Cornwall.

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  • 26. At 8:47pm on 28 Nov 2008, KentCarole wrote:

    One easy tip for Family Tree researchers is simply to 'Google' the name you are looking for.

    These days many folk have websites dedicated to their family trees, accessible to anybody who is interested.

    I have found several connections to my ancestors this way and there is no point in re-inventing the wheel if someone else has already dedicated many hours to finding the information that you are looking for.

    Carole from Kent

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  • 27. At 8:33pm on 02 Dec 2008, SwanageSunrise wrote:

    23. At 9:01pm on 24 Nov 2008, DaughterofLir wrote:
    Re. no.14, I'll try to answer you Aliceace:

    Well said :o). Genealogy isn't for everyone and I too never thought I would want too myself, but my Son, when younger, was always asking his Grandad things about his life, "what was his Dad like"? (who passed away long before my Son was born), about his army days for a school project he had to do etc. When my Dad died my Stepmother gave my Dad's Army photo, not to us, but an unknown so-called relative who apparantly didn't get on with him...with that and being fascinated at the Who Do You Think You Are? programme, made me realise that I wanted to learn more about the ancestors who shaped us into who we are today (even if it was a shady past), what they went through, the good and bad aspects etc. So yes Alice your opinion is yours, noted and we respect that, but please respect those of us who do want to know our history after all we need to be thankful to our ancestors, because without them we wouldn't have been born.

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