Genealogy   -  Unlock Your Family's Past
Bev Parker

You must always start with the last known generation, and then work backwards. At the beginning this is you, and so write down what you already know about the family. Include approximate dates were possible and find any family photographs or records such as birth, death or marriage certificates that you have. Carefully file these away as they will soon be added to. When this is completed, do the same thing with your immediate family, and repeat the process with your other relatives. It will be particularly interesting when talking to the older family members, their memories will give you an insight into a nearly forgotten way of life which you can now record to pass on to younger generations. At this stage you may come across some extremely interesting photographs of relatives that you didn't even know existed. Its also worth looking at a family Bible, letters or diaries which may contain useful notes. Family wills can be another good source of information.
photos.gif (43897 bytes) Old photographs are extremely useful, they not only breathe new life into long-gone people, but can help to jog people's memories and provide extra information.

They are one of the few family resources that can easily be copied. Everyone in the family likes to have a collection of old family photographs.

The family Tree
Now is a good time to draw the start of your family tree using the information so far obtained. If you managed to get copies of most of the birth, marriage and death certificates within the family, this should be a simple matter, as you have all of the information required to hand. If you did not however, you can add this information later. If you haven't already done so, now may be a good time to read some of the general reference books on the subject, before delving into the various records that are available. You must now decide which family branch to follow first; your mother's or father's.

Electoral Registers
Although not as useful as census returns, electoral registers can be worth consulting. In Staffordshire there are two types of register, the County Register and the Borough Register. They only contain the names of people eligible to vote, and some people may be found in one and not the other.

A cemetery is not only a fascinating place to explore, but also a valuable resource for your research. Much can be found in cemetery records. cemetery.jpg (20980 bytes)
Cemetery Records
These are an extremely useful source for locating people and finding when and where they were buried. In the 1840's and early 1850's church graveyards were becoming dangerously overcrowded and some posed a health risk. This led to the Burial Act of 1853 which allowed local authorities to open public cemeteries. Most local history archives include cemetery records for municipal cemeteries, many of which were built in the mid to late 1850's. Before this most people were buried in Parish graveyards, many of which adjoined the local Parish Church. Some of these records are available in local history archives, and some in the county records office at Stafford. Others can only be viewed at the local Parish Church, and many have not survived.

Parish Registers
When you start exploring beyond July 1837, before statutory certification of births, marriages and deaths, there are only a few sources of information, the main one being Parish Registers. Copies of these are available at the local history archive, or if not at the County Records office. They vary a great deal from Parish to Parish, as they are hand written, and often the handwriting is hard to read. Similarly the amount of information given varies, and sometimes abbreviations are used which can be difficult to follow. If the family was church-going and all of their children were baptised, it can be an extremely useful source. Other churches also had registers which can be equally helpful. There are Methodist registers, Presbyterian registers, Nonconformist registers and Unitarian registers.

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