Recording memories is the essence of scrapbooking and using family history is a fantastic way to document the past.
Anyone who likes scrapbooking will surely be interested in tracing their family history (known as genealogy). Creating pages about your loved ones is a perfect way to preserve your past. This process in itself can be very interesting and you could discover you’re related to royalty or someone famous – beware though you never know what skeletons in the cupboard you might find! One of the most widely recognised methods of organising genealogical info is ‘the family tree’, but scrapbooking is the perfect craft for recording those important moments in your life. The advent of the Internet and computer age, it is easier to trace your family, search through archives, track down the meaning of your surname, retouch old photos and much more.
If you are aiming to trace your past, then the best thing to do is start with what you know, the full names and dates of birth of all your immediate family. Talk to your relatives to obtain first-hand accounts, memories and stories, especially from elder generations. Take notes and compile a list of questions you want answered. Also see if anyone else has done any research. People can often provide you with details of names, dates and key family events – although you should never take anything at face value, as it will be your job to investigate family myths.
It is also important to go through old letters, heirlooms, photographs and other material that can find its way into drawers, attics or cellars. You will be amazed how much information you can extract from these objects to obtain vital clues. Try to establish where your family is from, as this will play an important role in where to look for relevant records. You might have copies of birth, marriage or death certificates, which will help you trace your history back further. If not, find out how you can order copies by visiting www.familyrecords.gov.uk.
Once you have collected as much background information as possible, you are ready to start searching for concrete evidence. Most of your research will take place in archives, local studies libraries or specialist family history centres. If you are not used to these places, they can be daunting but usually there will be someone there to help you get started. It is often a good idea to contact an archive before visiting, as they usually require you to bring some form of identification and may be able to help you before you even get there. Many county record offices have compiled basic name indexes and it is a good idea to check these first in case you uncover immediate references to an ancestor.
The Family Records Centre (FRC) in London provides access to some of the most important sources for family history research in England and Wales, including birth, marriage and death certificates from 1837 and census returns from 1841 to 1901. (Births, marriages and deaths only started being recorded by the government in the late 1830s – this is known as civil registration. To trace your family back into previous centuries you will need to look at Parish records).
For expert help and advice from people interested in the subject, there are many professsional organisations that have been established for beginners to advanced genealogists. One of the most important is the Society of Genealogists, who maintain a vast library of research material and publications from around the world. They also run lectures and provide research advice for beginners.
Family history societies can provide a ready-made support network of other genealogists working in your area and the Federation of Family History Societies can also provide useful contact details. You can attend expert speaker events and go on trips to record offices.
Finally, family history fairs are a popular way of finding out more about genealogy, and designed to allow researchers to meet representatives from major institutions, societies and organisations. Try searching on the Internet for one being held near you.
Coming to Terms
The further back you search, the more likely it is that you will encounter some unfamiliar terms. For example some family relationships have different meanings now than they did during the 17th and 18th centuries. Here is a quick guide to a few common terms.
- Cousin – this was a general term used to refer to any relative outside the immediate family circle. Usually, it referred to a niece or nephew. Confusing this with today’s meaning could seriously distort your research.
- First cousin – used to be a person who had two of the same grandparents. A second cousin, a person who has the same great-grandparents, so a third cousin was someone whose great-great-grandparents are the same. Nowadays however, the meaning is different so be aware of this.
- Spinster – in the 18th century and before, this term referred to any woman who lived alone, whether she was single or a widow. Today, this word refers to a woman who has never married.