Family history by Sarah Seaton M.A.

Binkley wedding, 1960s

Throughout time our ancestors have suffered many hardships – war, poverty, disease and famine, they have struggled through times that are incomprehensible to our relative comforts of today, yet we do not acknowledge their struggles, they are nameless people to us, not even within our own memories. Their battle for survival meant that we would one day be born into hopefully a better lifestyle, yet do we thank them or honour their memories? Their names never pass over our lips – simply because we do not know who they were.

Family history is an excellent way to pay tribute to the struggles and hardships of our ancestors, by discovering who they were and placing them within our family tree, they are then recorded for all eternity, and can be identified with. By looking at ‘the bigger picture’ we can learn to fully appreciate those that came before us.

Family History is one of the UK’s greatest pastimes and the age of the computer has made it much more accessible to the multitudes rather than becoming a project saved for retirement. Gone are the days when a day trip to the archive office was the only way that initial information could be found. With the help of family history societies, Internet websites and computerised databases the family history researcher can do most of the initial research from the comfort of their own homes.

Researching your ancestors can be tackled in two ways, either by genealogy - tracing a linear link between ancestors noting events such as birth, baptism, marriage, death or burial or by doing a complete family history.  The latter is a much more intense and lengthier process but is also more rewarding and entails many trips to the archives and local studies libraries to research the wealth of information that can still be found there that is not available on line or in computerised databases. Many family historians will agree that this work can be time consuming and somewhat compulsive, but totally rewarding.

There are many documents that can be consulted to give an insight into your ancestor’s lives however you may not find all documents available for all of your ancestors.  Nottingham is very fortunate to have an excellent family history society who have transcribed and recorded many events, you can find out more about them at

To begin your family history you need to decide which family name to research.  Many people begin with their own surname/maiden name, however it is best to keep your first attempt as easy as possible.  This means that the two major factors are the name and location, the more unusual name that you can begin with in a localised area the more success you should have.  When you have gained confidence in researching this line you may then tackle the more common surnames such as Smith, Jones or Brown.

Gather all relevant information from known sources. Speak to relatives and remember to include those from your own generation and the one below – siblings and cousins often have different experiences with parents/grandparents and your own children may know more about your parents simply because grandma or grandad spent more quality time with them.

The following family documents may also hold valuable information:

Research Tips

Make a note of all of the sources you consult whilst researching your family history, this will save time in the future and guarantee that you do not waste your efforts by going over the same records twice!

Make two copies of your family tree use one as a working copy and the other as a master copy on which only verified information should be placed.

Begin your family tree with yourself then your children and grandchildren next put your siblings and their children and finally your parents and their siblings/parents.  From this point on you will be working backwards through time.

Approximate dates and oral evidence should be written in pencil on your working copy, to be added to your master copy once confirmed.  When you amend the master copy, make a note of the date on the working copy so that you know when the information was transferred.

Make sure that any abbreviations used on your family tree remain consistent, common ones are:










second marriage







If your family tree becomes too complicated you may find it easier to do a separate page for each family group and number them.