Learn from family treasures

Learn from family treasures

Sometimes you may have valuable evidence about your ancestors buried away in a shoebox – there are useful tools available for interpreting them

How to, How to

How to

How to

Most families have treasures tucked away in a drawer or a box in the attic that can provide useful clues to further your family tree research. Anything that might contain details or even passing references to names and places could potentially confirm something you’ve found in another source, or give you a new lead to follow.

Photographs are perhaps the most common heirlooms, but if nobody took the trouble to write details of the subjects on the back, they may offer only more mysteries. However, as our step-by-step guide below shows, it’s surprising what you might be able to learn from powerful online tools such as those at TheGenealogist.

Any handwritten documents can offer a goldmine of information – letters, diaries and postcards can all give information about what yourancestors were doing, when and with whom – see our article starting on page 92 for more on how these documents can help locate your ancestors or follow family moves.

Many families may have military memorabilia in the cupboard, too – service records are an obvious help, but artefacts such as medals or regimental insignia can help make connections with records available online or at The National Archives.

There are many other possibilities – newspaper cuttings or sporting memorabilia might tell a family story, and even documents without any personal details, such as old travel tickets, recipes (see page 138) or period handbills and advertisements can all bring new light to aspects of your forebears’ lives.

What can you discover from just a single photograph?

Search 1911
1 Let’s say all we have is a photo with a name and a probable trade of baker (see below). Log in at www.thegenealogist.co.uk and start with the 1911 census, entering J* as a wildcard forename search, Alston as surname and ‘baker’ as a keyword.
1911 results
2 We discover the record of James Malet Alston, a baker born in Essex but now living on the Hertfordshire/ Cambridgeshire border. One click takes us through to a high resolution copy of the original document, complete with the householder’s original handwriting.
1901 search
3 The 1911 census revealed James was a widower, living with his children, a servant and some boarders. Now we can go back to the 1901 census, where he is listed as a baker and breadmaker, married to Louisa.
4 Using the marriage search icon at TheGenealogist, we can now look for a copy of the marriage record for the couple. This provides the references for ordering a copy of the certificate from the General Register Office
Searching the death records
5 Searching the death records at TheGenealogist, we find Louisa sadly died in 1901. Further searches of parish and death records at the site actually show James’ second wife, Minnie, also died in 1908.
Trade Directory
6 We can also trace James’s family back to his great-grandfather, an agricultural labourer listed in the 1841 census. And more information on the family’s businesses can be found in trade directories, again at TheGenealogist. Here is James’s grandfather listed in 1878. All this from one picture!

In Focus: Family Heirlooms

Many different types of document or artefact can yield clues about family history

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It was very common in the late 19th century for traders to be photographed with the tools of their trade or outside their premises. See the step-by-step guide below to find out just how much can be learned from only a name and a trade with careful use of online resources at TheGenealogist
A page from the diary of Anthony Evans, a Victorian bank clerk who lived in Bloomsbury, London. This page comes from September 1938 and relates to a month’s holiday he took by train to Liverpool and North Wales – this sort of information is invaluable to family historians. Luke Mouland
 family bible
Many families had a tradition of writing the names of members in a large family bible – always remember to check details with other sources, though
Medals can link to paper records, although some are easier to follow up than others. The Queen’s South Africa Medal, shown here, relates to the Second Boer War and is particularly helpful: there are more than 20 different clasps for different campaigns, and the recipient’s name, rank and number are inscribed Jim Linwood

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