‘It can be a fulfilling experience!’: Uncovering your family tree

Jun 22, 2020
An Ancestry genealogist has provided some tips for uncovering your family history. Source: Getty

Aussies have become increasingly interested in learning about their family history, with a spike in the number of people hitting the internet to uncover their ancestors and create their family tree.

With extra time on our hands amid the pandemic, people of all ages have been spending hours on end delving into their history, and there’s research to prove it. Recent statistics compiled by Ancestry found a 78 per cent increase in mentions of ‘family history’ on Twitter throughout April and May, while online search data has revealed the terms ‘family history’ and ‘ancestry’ reached a peak in April when compared to the previous six months.

Brad Argent, family history expert at Ancestry, said the renewed popularity in genealogy may be due to people looking to find stability in an ever-changing world, with the study of a family tree providing comfort for some.

“People have had a chance to sit back and reflect on their identity and what makes them who they are, in our highly transient and uncertain world,” he said. “Unlocking your past can be a fulfilling experience and knowing where we come from also brings comfort to people.”

But finding out exactly where you came from and who your ancestors are can be overwhelming to begin with, especially when you don’t have the tools required to uncover family documents. It may sound obvious, but according to Claire Egginton, project manager at Ancestry ProGenealogists, the best place to start is with your family – before then taking this information to a family history resource like Ancestry.

“We recommend anyone starting their family history begins with said family,” she said. “Ask the eldest family member you have about [the] history of the family and any information they have; this is a great starting point and paves the way for your research.

“Armed with this information you can then add your family tree to the Ancestry site and begin searching a variety of record collections. Ancestry provides a wide range of sources for Australian and New Zealand research.”

She added: “The specific resources you need depend on which era your research starts in, but it’s important to work back from known fact to known fact. Key sources include passenger lists, birth, marriage and death records, obituaries and cemetery records, together with electoral rolls.”

However, if you need a bit more help, Ancestry has a team of genealogists who can assist in uncovering further details about your family history. The team of global researchers have helped celebrities, royalty and business magnates to uncover stories – and sometimes secrets – from their past and in doing so, have taken them on a personal journey of self-discovery.

The genealogists work by first doing a detailed assessment of what you’ve already researched, using your Ancestry tree as a starting point, and verifying what you’ve done is correct. From here, they look to extending the line, or lines in which you’re interested, using sources online at Ancestry, and where applicable, records which haven’t yet been digitised and made available online.

“Sometimes clients have hit a brick wall and we use our expertise and years of experience to try and find a way around it for them,” Egginton said. “Where someone is new to family history and hasn’t done any research of their own, we start with their personal knowledge of the immediate family and any records that might be held within the family itself, such as copies of birth, marriage and death certificates, letters and family bibles to create a tree for them from scratch.”

Over the years, genealogists have uncovered incredible family stories, including a case recently where the family was related to a member of the nobility in the UK, but Egginton said each find they make is exciting for the client no matter whether their ancestors were rich or poor, as it relates to their own unique family history.

“If a brick wall is hit or a record no longer exists, we know what other records are available that may provide the required information which can enable us to work around the brick wall,” she said. “Although we cannot guarantee the records will provide the desired information, we can guarantee that all avenues will be followed to obtain all surviving records related to your family.”

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