Genealogy gone mad

Having responded to a comment on our post about the Fat Aubergine, I’ve realised we haven’t written anything for a while. So sorry, dears.

Fact is, when not engaged in the enlightenment of ignorant teenagers, over the past two weeks (or is it three?) I’ve been hooked on researching the family tree. This all stemmed from my bright idea to put a small (note, SMALL) family tree in the back of the wedding album so that our future offspring will know how all the people in the pictures are related to them. Then I registered at www.ancestry.co.uk, but rather than using their tree-building programme, shoved all the data into a free programme I downloaded from www.myheritage.com.

Ancestry’s pretty thorough (on the medium price plan option) – you can access census records from 1841 to 1901 (not 1911, yet, though); birth, marriage and death index records; and, in some cases (particularly in London) marriage and baptism records in more detail. The military records from WWI are also interesting, particularly for physical descriptions of one’s ancestor. Rather more personal than census records. My most successful investigations have been into the branches of my family who lived in London. Being able to see fathers’ names on marriage records makes jumping back to the 19th century very much easier. If you can’t bridge the gap between the elderly living and the 19th century, going back is quite hard. For example, my mother-in-law doesn’t know very much about her grandparents, and so we’ve hit a brick wall, because I can’t push back into the richer census records. Similarly, but for a different reason, my great-grandfather is very hard to pin down. The perils of having a name like Edward Browne in London!

However, we’ve had wide-ranging success in getting back to great-great-great-great-great grandfathers in several branches. It turns out that I have impeccable working-class credentials, except in a couple of cases, where we go back to Kentish farmers (not sure how big an estate of 350 acres is!). So many migrated from Kent or Berkshire or Somerset to the Big Smoke to work as tailors, painters and bargemen. I’m very pleased to find that a great-great-uncle was an early motor bus driver in Brentford in 1918, just as my grandfather and great-grandfather were. Two branches owned pubs: one in Kent and one in Brentford. Fascinating, but such superficial knowledge of so many people (645 and counting!).

Of course, the Irish lot are a dead end at the moment. I don’t imagine the records in Galway would be in a particularly good state, but we’ll have to see.

So, I’m pleased with Ancestry in that it’s possible very easily to trace back six or seven generations (unless you’re beset by misspelling of names, which can be a real problem). However, I think what I need to do now is to try to build up a more detailed knowledge of the more recent generations – 645 names is wonderful, but doesn’t really mean very much.

I’ll keep you posted.

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