Tracing Family History
Tracing family history is an absorbing, mentally stimulating, educational and frequently obsessive pastime.
This article has been written from the perspective of UK family history research but many of the points raised are applicable
to countries with related histories and cultures such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
Occasionally, genealogy may be financially productive - an unexpected legacy left unclaimed, as featured in the television
series 'Heir Hunters', for example. But, more likely, it is an activity that may cost money as some of the best sources of information charge
for access on a subscription or 'pay-as-you-go' basis. Many amateur genealogists take out subscriptions with Ancestry, the Genealogist and other
database compilers. We will discuss some of these sources later in this article.
Genealogy can absorb the researcher for decades. The further one goes back into family history, the more ancestors and lines of
inheritance there are to be traced. Leaving second marriages, adoption and other less common circumstances out of the equation, it is easy to see
the exponential nature of enquiry. A person is most likely to have:
- 2 parents
- 4 grandparents
- 8 great-grandparents
- 16 great-great-grandparents
- 32 great-great-great-grandparents, and so on
If their children and their children's children are all traced, we can count the relatives and ancestors
in their hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands.
Arguably, we can restrict lines of enquiry, perhaps to immediate ancestors and their siblings only. However,
we will later that families have always interacted in complex ways. Casting a wider net can produce spectacular returns as, for example,
'visitors' on distant relatives' census returns turn out to be a key individual in a researcher's own ancestry.
Genealogy has been popularised by the BBC series 'Who do you think You Are' which follows various celebrities as they
trace some of their more interesting ancestors. Obviously, each episode has been pre-prepared by production staff and professional
genealogists. Less interesting ancestors are skipped over and there have been cases of celebrities being dropped from the series because their
families were deemed to be too ordinary, as was the case with Michael Parkinson.
But most people's families are ordinary. Does it matter?
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