I'm beginning to feel like a fraud again for recieving comments about going so far back in history with the family tree...it has more to do with endless patience than it does skill...and having an extensive personal library of history books to check the facts...and belonging to Ancestry...
Also, it helps tremendously having a relatively uncommon surname or surnames in your family...
The Irish family have a double-barrelled name which immediately gives one a head start... just a crying shame that the Irish records were destroyed and you have to rely on instinct and hunches and hope that Parish and Church records for the area you need are on-line.
The English side also have an uncommon enough surname to make a start with...
The further back you go the more records there are...sounds a bit silly doesn't it...but anyone who owned their own property or land was subject to paying taxes...and careful records were kept which are now available on Ancestry...so you see that John Smith paid his Poll Tax in 1600...then you can see if he rented extra land...and who he rented it from...if he was a skilled man, he would have had an apprentice...and from that record you can find out what John Smith did for a living...
So from a few records you can begin to build up a picture of where John Smith lived...how much money he paid out every year in Taxes...what his occupation was and who his neighbours were...because the apprenticeship records will also give the names of the other people in the immediate neighbourhood who had apprentices as well as your John Smith.
When you find John again in 1650 you'll know it will be your John if he has the same trade and if he's still living in the same area...people did move around but mostly they tended to remain in the village they were born in...
And with any luck other people will be tracing the same tree as yours...here you need to keep an eagle eye out for mistakes because often someone will add a son or a daughter to a family when the person in question was actually a wife...or another common mistake is having a woman who has been dead for twenty years suddenly producing more children...
But other people will have records and photographs or stories perhaps which you've never had sight of before...so all that information begins to build a bigger picture.
The more famous or infamous your ancestor, the easier it is to trace them back simply because their every move was recorded. The minute you find a Sir or a Lady you tend to be home and dry because they'll be in Burkes Peerage...their family history will have been recorded and kept...how many children they had...how many times married...where they lived etc will all be there at a few clicks of your mouse. And of course it's easy enough to find their houses and their castles and the village churches they are buried in...
Once you get past 1020 ish then it's back to wondering whether those dates can possibly be correct and is it worth adding all the mistresses and quaintly named concubines and exactly how do you pronounce some of the Icelandic names...
But those people are also in history books...their exploits written down...the battles they fought in, who betrayed who and why...
Those people are easy...the only problem being when to stop because I go off on a tangent and find I've added so many who are almost too remote an ancestor to 'count'
But that is the titled people...
What to do if your folk have a common name and were never known for anything out of the ordinary...
Then you are in for an awful struggle to just get past your Grandparents or Great Grandparents....Jenny knows this well...and so does Gracie, because Gracies Italian name is the most common surname in the area of Italy her people come from...my sister-in-law has another sort of a problem in that she doesn't know anything at all about her family apart from the fact her Father was Irish...she does have her Fathers name, but it is one which can, and is, spelt in a variety of ways...
Anyone born in a Workhouse is incredibly difficult to trace because the women whose babies were born out of wedlock were not obliged to give the Fathers name...many Workhouse records have been destroyed over the years...some are simply lost...and those that are available, are expensive to obtain copies of...
And the Workhouses covered a wide area so your unwed Mother may not have been born in the vicincity...even more difficult if she was classed as a vagrant and then she could have travelled from literally anywhere in the country.
But most families begin with the Ag Labs. and if they could read and write then you have reasonably reliable census forms to read going back every ten years until 1837...if they couldn't read or write and the census collector filled in the forms for them they interpreted names for instance, the way they were pronounced...so the actual spelling may not correspond for the next census and you wonder if it's the same person or not...Grandmothers would very often pass off a grandchild as being their own baby if their daughter wasn't married...I have several in my English side who did that.
But all is not lost with the Ag Labs...they had their babies baptised so this is where the Parish records provide evidence of birth and parents names...it wasn't until the early 1700's that the mother was ignored on baptisimal records. Sometimes you'll go back and find the Ag Labs are replaced with Yeomen farmers...or Husbandmen...and they paid taxes to the Crown and so have more records...or the Ag Labs slowly disappear to be replaced by Cordwainers and Hatters...Soldiers and Wool Merchants...and back you can go again to the records to find Regiments and Societies...and more taxes paid.
So, it isn't so much me being clever...it is more finding out. If I see a young woman married to a Soldier then I work out from the dates where he would have been...and then it's simple enough to find the Regiments involved...
Ancestry has records galore...the internet itself can be helpful to fill in the missing pieces...books provide the details which you may otherwise miss.
I'll spend...on average...an hour every day just filling in family trees...because I have several on the go at once. Then maybe another hour checking and rechecking the actual facts if the situation warrents it and looking information up either on the internet or in a book.
But I've only explored two different branches of the English family and they are nowhere near complete...there are all the Americans to do yet!
What I personally find the most interesting part of researching the family are those stories which bring them to life...sailing to America in a rickety wooden sailing ship with six children in tow...marrying your Fathers cousin because it kept the family money...cutting your throat with a knife because you were suffering from post-natal depression...birthing baby after baby and then losing most of them...from a farm labourer in a little village in Norfolk to the Battle of the Somme in the First World War...living in a Viking Longhouse on a windswept Scottish island...it is the trivia...the small things...which make these people live again, so it isn't because I'm clever...it's more because I have a need to know.