A blog about the frustrations, adventures, brickwalls and ultimately rewards of someone searching for their origins. Some Irish (Shamrocks), Scottish (Shortbread) and Shenanigans (English) all mixed into one!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Where To Start Looking

As Maria said in The Sound Of Music, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start"...

My very first brush with genealogy came by way of my work colleague Lyn (now retired). She was going to visit the local LDS (Latter Day Saints) Family History Centre to continue her own research, of which she had spent many years. Did I want to tag along? Well, why would I? She wasn't in the LDS Church - why was she going to visit them and use their resources? Was I going to be pressured by the Centre to join the Church if I went along? Would they even admit me to the Centre if they found out I wasn't LDS?

I look back at the thoughts I had then and laugh! The volunteers who ran the LDS Family History Centre were only interested in one thing - assisting me with taking a dip in the genealogy pool. I had nothing to worry about by way of recruitment! The LDS Family Centres have excellent resources, and anyone is welcome to visit and utilise them.

While Lyn went about with her research, I looked at the resources with wonder. Where on earth to start? Thankfully, a volunteer came to my rescue. "Start with what you know." Well, I knew my paternal grandparents first names, so I began with their marriage (which I had no idea of, date wise). After having microfiche explained to me, I went to work, starting in 1900 and working my way forward. After maybe an hour or so, I found myself staring at the date of their marriage, which included the maiden name of my grandmother. After gazing at the record for what seemed like ages, a feeling went through me like a lightening bolt. These were my grandparents, and apart from childhood memories, I knew nothing about them. Where were they born? Did they both have siblings? Where were they married? Who were they?

And mum's family? Who were they? My mother's parents had died when she was a child of nine years, both within three months of each other, so she knew very little about them. Who were they, and where were they from? All these questions rushed through my mind as I stared down at this one marriage record.

During that first day, I also found (through microfiche) my paternal grandparents' birth records (they were both born in Queensland, I discovered). What a pleasure to find that these records listed their parents' names as well! In one day, I had discovered two generations of my paternal family.

I left the Centre not long after that, as I could feel my head about to explode. I couldn't stop the questions that ran amok in my head. However, several important lessons of that day were stuck in my memory, namely:

* Start with what you know, no matter how insignificant it may be. A piece of information that you do not consider important may be vital to someone who is experienced in the matter.

* Learn how to correctly use the piece of equipment you use in your searches. Many records are available on microfiche or microfilm. Learn how to use these properly to maximise your search experience.

* Ask your extended family questions about their childhood experiences, where they went to school, grew up, memories they have. Write it down as they speak, or better still, record them. If I had done this, I would have known my paternal grandmother's maiden name, and places of birth, so the search would have been much quicker.

* Be open to discovery. You may find something that doesn't match your own knowledge, but that doesn't mean you should disregard it. For example, my grandfather always joked with he and his siblings had no middle names as they were too poor to afford them! And yet, in his marriage record, he had listed 'Sebastian' as his middle name. This was not on his birth details. So where did the name of Sebastian come from? Also, listen to oral family history, but always back it up with an official source if possible. I aim for, at the very least, two sources to back up my information found (for example, oral data in addition to official birth information.) Which leads to my next pointer...

* Keep a written record of everything you find! Either on hard copy (paper) or electronically, but do keep it. There are many types of free family history templates that you can complete, or you can download a software program to use (I use Family Tree Maker).

* Keep a separate record of data you can't quite understand (like the middle name of 'Sebastian' for my grandfather). You can incorporate this into your family tree once verified at a later date.

* Record your sources! Every one of them! This proves invaluable once your tree starts to grow and you may start to question some data. The reliability of your information will become crucial. Aunt Maud may swear that her mother was born in 1900, but if her official birth record is listed as 1898, this is more likely to be accurate (though not always, but I'll leave that for another blog.)

So, I was on my way to planting my family tree. Who knew that one morning at an LDS Centre would evolve into such an obsession? What should I do next? Where should I go to continue?

My search was just beginning...

Till next time!



  1. Some generations take their secrets to the grave! It's so important I think for families to talk NOW so that our family history doesn't go with them to the grave!

    Great read Maureen, look forward to the next one!

  2. I totally agree with all your comments. Well said!

  3. It is so addictive - I've started researching the Carew/O'Keeffe side of the family and can't stop - your tips will be a great help - Looking forward to reading this blog on a regular basis - Bern