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A lot of family history research costs money, there’s no escaping it: document copies, website subscriptions, travel costs and so on.
However, there are some free resources to get you started. Here are some of our tips, including some free family tree charts.
When you take a Pharos genealogy course, you find yourself armed with plenty of information to expand your family tree. Charts summarise your research in a visual way. They help you identify problems and plan future steps and they are fun to fill out – use charts to get your kids or grandchildren involved in family history.
The Pedigree Chart is a great way to summarise your family history research so far, focusing on your ancestors. Start by filling it in with yourself or your chosen ancestor on the left and then add the details of the parents, grandparents, etc. in the spaces to the right. This is your research road map, or skeleton.
Family Group Sheet
A Family Group Sheet is useful when you start work on a new family. It is also great to act as a prompt when talking to living relatives and wanting to make sure you have not missed any detail. This chart looks at a single couple and their children.
When you are stuck it is handy to have some places to look for help. Here are some great general resources:
There are so many books about sources, methods, strategy, history and geography and it is impossible to recommend just one book. Here are some of our favourites:
England and Wales
- Amanda Bevan, Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives, The Website and Beyond, (7th ed. The National Archives, 2006)
- C R Cheney, (ed.) Handbook of Dates for Students of English History (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
- T. Fitzhugh and S. Lumas, Dictionary of Genealogy. (A. & C. Black, 1998)
- Jeremy Gibson and Stuart Raymond, Probate Jurisdictions – Where to look for wills. , (Family History Partnership, 6th ed, 2016)
- Mark D. Herber, Ancestral Trails (The History Press Ltd; 2nd Rev Ed edition, 2004)
- David Hey (ed), The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (OUP, 2008)
- C. Humphery-Smith, Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers (3rd ed., Phillimore, 2003)
- Helen Osborn, Genealogy: Essential Research Methods. (Hale, 2012)
- Colin D. Rogers, The Family Tree Detective (Manchester University Press, 3rd ed. 1997)
- John and Sheila Rowlands (eds), Welsh Family History: A Guide to Research (FFHS and Genealogical Publishing Company, 2nd edition, 1999)
- W.E. Tate, The Parish Chest (Phillimore, 1983)
- Andrew Todd, Family History Nuts and Bolts Problem Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques (Allen and Todd, 2015)
- Bruce Durie, Scottish Genealogy, (The History Press, 3rd ed., 2017)
- National Archives staff, Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives of Scotland (Mercat Publishing, 2005)
- Michael Lynch, Oxford Companion to Scottish History (Oxford, 2001)
- Chris Paton, Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry through Church and States Records: A Guide for Family Historians (Pen & Sword, 2019)
- Chris Paton, Tracing Your Scottish Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians (Pen & Sword, 2020)
- The Parishes, Registers and Registrars of Scotland. Scottish Association of Family History Societies. (SAFHS, 1993, rep. many times)
- John Grenham, Grenham’s Irish Surnames (Eneclann CD)
- John Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors (Genealogical Publishing Company, 3rd edition, 2005)
- George Handran (ed), Handran’s Townlands in Poor Law Unions (Archive CD book at Eneclann)
- Richard Killeen, Short History of Ireland (Gill and Macmillan, 1994)
- Brian Mitchell, The New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland (Genealogical Publishing Company, 2002, reprinted 2008)
- Chris Paton, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians (Pen & Sword, 2nd ed., 2019)
Part of the richness of family history research is the variety. It can take you into any part of a library looking up information on almost anything. Similarly you may want to search full-text books online on a wide range of subjects in addition to history and genealogy.
There are some websites for historians and family historians that either include full-text books or lead you to them. These are a few suggestions.
- Institute for Historical Research, British History Online
- Medieval Genealogy – http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/
- Ancestry has lots of books in its family and local histories sections for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland; access these via the Search page, here – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/search/ – and click on the appropriate part of the interactive map, or use the Card Catalogue.
- National Library of Scotland Digital Library https://www.nls.uk/collections/digital-collections
- Library Ireland – https://www.libraryireland.com/
For those who want to wander off into other topics and search more widely for online books, try these resources:
- Project Gutenberg – www.gutenberg.org
- University of Pennsylvania Online Books Page – https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu
- Google Books – https://books.google.com
- Hathi Trust – https://www.hathitrust.org/
Interlibrary loans are available at most public and university libraries throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand and countless other countries. This is an inexpensive way to access books needed for research that are not available locally.
You can borrow from other libraries outside your library system if the item you want cannot be found its catalogue. All libraries ask that you check the catalogue of your own system before placing an interlibrary loan request.
Certain items may be restricted and unavailable via interlibrary loan:
- Old books in poor condition
- Books less than 12 months old
- Books that cost less than a stated amount
- Audio or video tapes, CDs
- Any other book that a library considers must not be loaned
Your library may have limits on how many interloan books can be in process at one time. The lending library determines the period of the loan. There may be a fee charged by your home library and by the lending library, and charges for a late return are likely to be higher than the usual rate. Expect to wait for a while, particularly if the book must come a considerable distance.
Check the website of your own library system for local information or ask at your library.
There are many, many more. If you have your own recommendations please leave a comment below.
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Our courses starting in May will appeal to a wide variety of interests: Scottish research, title deeds and Chancery records, one-name studies and the road to professional genealogy.
Tutor: Chris Paton
Start date: 9th May 2022
Course length: 5 weeks
This is an intermediate course in Scottish family history and assumes students have some experience with research in the Old Parish Registers (OPRs) of the Church of Scotland and in using major websites for Scottish research.
The course discusses sources that fill the gap when the OPRs are uninformative or missing; for example, records of parish and town administration, occupations, land transfer and taxation.
Tutor: Susan Moore
Start date: 9th May 2022
Course length: 6 weeks (5 lessons with a reading week)
Title deeds and the records of the equity courts, such as Chancery, are often neglected sources for family history, because they are considered “too hard”. In this course they are brought to life by Susan Moore, the recognised expert on Chancery records and a published author on the subject.
As this course is part of our Advanced programme good palaeographical skills for the periods covered are assumed. A knowledge of Latin, while helpful for some title deeds, is not essential.
Tutor: Karen Cummings
Start date: 16th May 2022
Course length: 4 weeks
Do you have ambition to become a professional genealogist? Have you already started taking on clients but are looking for guidance or want to check you have thought of everything? Whether you are already researching for clients or planning to do so, this 4 week professional genealogist course guides you through the professional skills that form the foundation for success.
This course was developed in association with the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), the professional body for genealogists in England and Wales.
Tutor: Julie Goucher
Start date: 31st May 2022
Course length: 5 weeks
A one-name study is an exciting new journey into your surname’s past. It involves the collection of all the occurrences of a surname. This course is an introduction to one-name studies, written with the guidance of the Guild of One-Name Studies and is suitable for all genealogists who have woken up to the knowledge that they have an interesting and unusual surname.
* About One-Name Studies
* Surnames and their History
* Core Records you will need and Information gathering
* Analysing and making sense of your data
* Practical aspects of running your own One-Name Study
That’s all for this month, happy studying!
Like anyone else, I have a lot of puzzles to work on in my family tree. One that had been nagging at me for some time was the precise blood relationship between a Joseph Beachcroft who married a Mary Beachcroft.
Mary’s father was Samuel Beachcroft, and in his will of 1732 he mentions his ‘son in law’ Joseph Beachcroft. But nowhere was there a Joseph of Mary’s generation in the immediate family. I have never found any baptisms for any of Samuel’s children, so I didn’t know how old Mary was in 1732, although her parents were married in 1701, which was a starting point and I knew she was under 21 in 1729 as her mother’s will states.
Meanwhile, there was a Joseph Beachcroft who was a first cousin of Mary’s father. On Joseph’s memorial inscription, there was a second wife called Mary Fuller mentioned. I had assumed Fuller to be her maiden name.
My spur to getting this sorted out finally as I searched back and forth on the internet, was the discovery of the marriage entry between a Joseph Beachcroft and Mary Beachcroft in Bermondsey in 1731. I had scoured the LMA collections on Ancestry for some time in relation to anything Beachcroft, but I hadn’t found this marriage before because it was indexed as Beackcroft.
The entry read; “Joseph Beachcroft of Battersea in the County of Surrey, Widower and Mary Beachcroft of Wandsworth, Licence first being obtained.”
This was intriguing.
It seemed to be Mary daughter of Samuel – they lived in Wandsworth. But why would she get married down the river away from friends and neighbours? Was this an entirely new couple, previously unknown to me, or was something else going on?
I needed to revisit everything and gather all the evidence to finally prove who Mary and Joseph were. I focused on the Joseph who was first cousin to Samuel. The son of a London Citizen and Haberdasher Joseph was christened 31 May 1678 at St Mary le Bow. He was apprenticed to his own father and became free of the Haberdashers in 1701 at the age of 23. He married Frances Pooley in 1705, aged 26, when she was aged around 20. No children seem to have been born to this couple and she died aged only 27 in 1711.
Between 1705 and 1721 he owned premises at Cheapside and traded as a Goldsmith. Although never a member of the Goldsmith’s company he was mentioned in their court minutes in 1705, 1707 and 1712 in connection with the selling of sub-standard goods and also in 1708 when he took on an apprentice of the Goldsmith’s company. Crucially, among the papers I had accumulated on Joseph there was evidence that he had indeed lived in York Place, Battersea in 1729, (not a very long walk away from Wandsworth). I had not put these two bits of geographical evidence together before and thought about how these first cousins Joseph and Samuel, lived so near to each other.
Finding the marriage bond or allegation would give the final corroborating information. Yet despite the London & Surrey Marriage Bonds and Allegations collection from the London Metropolitan Archives, being available on Ancestry, I could find nothing there. I later tracked it down in the Vicar General Marriage Allegations. This collection is at the Society of Genealogists (indexed at Findmypast just by surname), on microfilm, so I recently went to look at what the original said. It confirmed that Mary was just 19 and from Wandsworth, the daughter of Samuel. Therefore, as Joseph was 53 there was a 34 year age gap between them. In those days of shorter life-expectancy, Joseph must have seemed an old man to the young Mary.
Was this a love match or a simple piece of family ‘engineering’ cooked up by Samuel and Joseph in an arrangement going back years? A last ditch attempt by Joseph for a son before he died, and for Samuel to marry off his daughter to a rich cousin whom he liked or did business with? Or did Joseph and Mary have genuine feelings for each other? What did Mary really feel about marrying a much older man, albeit a rich one? Unfortunately for Joseph there were to be no children, but his marriage to his young first cousin once-removed, lasted for 26 years until his death in 1757, age 79. Mary remarried in 1760, to a Mr Fuller, (hence the name on the memorial stone) but died herself just 18 months aged around 48.
I do so hope that Joseph was kind to his young bride, but I can’t help wondering what her life was really like.