The search for the story of your family is exhilarating, frustrating, time consuming and can be expensive; it’s wonderful! Slowly your heritage is revealed, you meet fellow researchers, you have the joy of sharing what you have found and being given wonderful information that you only dreamt of finding. You find cousins four times removed and become instant friends.
Names and dates, even places, make a very unimpressive story. You need to clothe your tree in leaves of every hue to make it memorable, or even useful. It is better if you place your ancestors within their historical landscape to give meaning to their lives by making them a part of the social history of their times. Your story is also part of the wider social history of the people, places and times in which your ancestors lived and where you and your family members now live.
But how to begin; your own details are the perfect place. Jot down as much as you know, or think you know. There are going to be many surprises as you continue!
Always record details of where you find information. These references are invaluable. They also provide the credibility that your family story requires. Family trees published online are interesting but not everything that is contained in these trees is correct even though the information they contain has been put there in good faith. Do not make the mistake of just using something you think helps you expand your tree but use the new information as a lead to check for yourself.
There is a great wealth of information available on the Internet. Go online to start your family history search. Births, Deaths and Marriage records are a wonderful source of information. Type Births Deaths and Marriages into your favourite search engine. Even though other states will be shown when you search this way it will be quicker for you if you add your state, i.e. Births Deaths and Marriages NSW. Then look for a link to Family History. I did say you were going to find surprises as you search for your family. Let me tell you about one of mine. I knew I had been named after my father’s sister so decided I should add her birth certificate to my collection. I couldn’t find her. I checked the spelling, even the date of her birth. Still I couldn’t find her. How could this be? I got the bright idea of leaving the box for child’s name blank and checking for children born to my grandparents. There was a daughter born on the date I had been given! BUT her name was Hazel and I had been named Nancy. I wrote for her birth certificate [this was in the time when there was no Internet access to BDM records.] Mystery solved, her second given name was Nancy and she had been known by that name. Even my father didn’t know that her first name had been Hazel.
For privacy reasons you will only be able to access records online for Births over 100 years ago; Deaths over 30 years ago and Marriages over 50 years ago. If I’m trying to locate a death that occurred within the last 30 years I look up The Ryerson Index http://www.ryersonindex.org/ The Ryerson Index is a free index to death notices appearing in Australian newspapers. The date range covered extends from the Sydney Gazette of 1803 up to newspapers published within the last week or so. The Index also includes many funeral notices, and some probate notices and obituaries.
Births, Death and Marriage transcriptions can also be obtained through a Transcription Agent. You do not receive a certified copy from the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages but they contain all the information at a smaller cost. Just type transcription agents into your search engine to find some examples.
Ask relatives for information. Enquire if relatives have any photographs and request copies. Be prepared to pay for copies of either documents or photographs! Sadly most of us have some wonderful photographs of people whom we can’t identify. Take copies of these photographs with you when you visit relatives; perhaps they can identify some of them. The Mechanical Eye in Australia traces the story of early photography in Australia and will provide a valuable research tool for family history.
Do you have a photo such as this one? It’s just labelled “three generations, 1955” Ask your older relatives if they can help you name the three generations pictured.
Have you recorded your family story? Now is a good time to start!