Getting started: An hour to get back to 1800

Get coffee!  This is a long post.  In it, I aim to show it’s possible to start with very little information, yet quite quickly and accurately progress your family tree.  You’ll find background information on my previous post.

We might call this a ‘skeleton’ tree. It will contain just names, places, dates and occupations.  It can be padded out later using other records, but for now, every new search is targeted to find this ‘skeleton’ of information.  So I’m restricting my searches to two categories of records on Ancestry: Census & Electoral Rolls, and Births, Marriages & Deaths; with additional searches on FamilySearch and the General Register Office website where needed.  All searches are on Ancestry unless otherwise stated.

As you read through, be aware of this cycle:
Search
* I start by entering the information I have: these are my Search terms.

Review and Compare
* I look to make sure information on the new record agrees with what I already have.  If there’s any conflicting information, EITHER it isn’t the right person OR I need to be able to explain the discrepancy.  In other words, I’m building evidence.

Note new information
* Every new record gives more information, and I harvest as much as I can from it. This might include names of parents and siblings, ages (which gives us approximate birth years), places of birth and occupations.

Search
* As the cycle begins again, in the next search I use this new information as my starting point.

So without further ado…  The clock is ticking!

First and second generations:

1. Starting a new tree on Ancestry, I type in the name of my ‘Home’ person: Cyril Rayner, with an estimated birth year of 1920 and an assumed birthplace of Leeds, Yorkshire.

2. Next I search for Cyril on the 1939 Register.  Created on the eve of World War 2, the Register recorded personal details of every civilian in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as at 29th September 1939.  It was then used to organise identity cards, rationing, and was later the basis for the National Health Service. The benefits of searching the 1939 Register are that it’s the most recent ‘census-type’ register; and it gives the exact date of birth of all recorded individuals.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Cyril Rayner, birth year: 1920 +/- 5 years. Birthplace: Leeds. Event: 1939, in Leeds.
Review/ Compare:
I find Cyril immediately, with his mother and brothers.  I note father was not present, but mother was not widowed, suggesting he may have been away with work for the war effort.  It does mean, however, I don’t have any information about Cyril’s father, not even his first name.
Note new information:
Names of Cyril’s mother (Dorothy) and brothers; exact date of birth and occupation for all of them; their present address.
I save this record to my tree, ensuring all named family members are now added.

3. Dorothy’s birth year of 1898 and that of her first child, 1916, suggests a marriage after her sixteenth birthday (1914) but at any time up to the birth of the baby.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Birth, Marriage & Death category:
Surname: Rayner; First name of spouse: Dorothy; Marriage year: 1914-1916.
This isn’t much to work with, and the Ancestry search is unsuccessful.  This is an example of the kind of search, with very limited information, that FamilySearch handles more successfully.  So I search again on that site – success!
Note new information:
Marriage between Alfred Rayner and Dorothy M Jagger in April/May of 1916.  I now have Alfred’s first name and Dorothy’s surname and middle initial as well as the marriage date.  (I can also now find the original record on Ancestry and save it to my tree.)

4. Next I look for Cyril’s birth.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Marriage & Death category:
Cyril Rayner, birth year 1920, Leeds.
Review/ Compare:
The birth record confirms mother’s maiden name is Jagger
Note new information:
Birth was registered in Hunslet, not Leeds.  (Hunslet is now part of Leeds but in 1920 was a separate Registration District.)
I now know I have the right family and all information is correct.  All information is saved to my tree.

Second and third generations:

I can now leave Cyril and start to look for Dorothy’s parents, siblings, place of birth, etc.

5. Switching to the GRO website, I now look up Dorothy’s birth. This searchable register includes surname, forename(s), gender, year of birth (+/- 2 years), district where birth was registered and mother’s maiden name. If you don’t have all that information you can leave certain fields blank, and any likely matching records will give you the additional information.  It’s often quicker to use than Ancestry.  However, births are not included until 100 years have elapsed, which is why I couldn’t use this database to find Cyril’s birth.
I use the following search terms:
Dorothy Jagger; year of birth: 1898; female, Birthplace: Hunslet.
Note new information:
My assumption that Dorothy was born in Hunslet was wrong, but by searching again and leaving the district blank I find her: Dorothy Mary Jagger, registered in Wakefield.  Her mother’s maiden name was Hartley.

6. I now have enough information to find Dorothy on the 1901 and 1911 censuses. That should also give me her parents’ names.
Starting with the 1911 census:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Dorothy Jagger, birth year: 1898, location in 1911: Wakefield.
Note new information:
By 1911, Dorothy and her family had already relocated to Hunslet.  Father’s name: John William Jagger, a widowed miner, born around 1873.  The birthplace of John William, Dorothy and her siblings was listed as Lofthouse rather than Wakefield.  I know Lofthouse to be a mining community close to Wakefield, but if I didn’t know this I would use Google maps to locate the towns.

7. The 1901 census:
Search terms as above.
Review/ Compare:
I confirm that not only Dorothy and her father’s details are the same, but also the names of her siblings.
Note new information:
In 1901 the family were in Lofthouse.  Dorothy’s mother was still alive and her name was Mary Ann.  (I already know from Dorothy’s birth record that Mary Ann’s maiden name was Hartley.)  Her approximate year of birth: 1873; place of birth: Lofthouse.

8. Before moving back a generation I find Dorothy’s baptism at Lofthouse in 1898.
Review/ Compare:
This includes date of birth as well as date of baptism, plus parents’ names and father’s occupation of miner.

Third and fourth generations:

I’m now ready to move back another generation.  Leaving Dorothy behind I now focus on her father, John William Jagger, born around 1873 in Lofthouse.  A few minutes ago I didn’t even know his name.  Now he’s one of my accepted ‘facts’!

9. The 1901 census has already revealed that the oldest of John William and Mary Ann’s children was born around 1893. This suggests a marriage around 1891-3.
I use the following search terms, in Birth, Marriage & Death category:
John William Jagger and Mary Ann Hartley; marriage in 1892 +/- 1 year.
I’m quick to find their marriage in 1892.
Note new information:
Luckily, this particular record set on Ancestry provides a digital image of the record, not just a transcript.  I see that John William’s father is Charles Jagger, and he too is a miner.  Their place of residence at time of marriage is given as Ouzlewell Green, Lofthouse.  Mary Ann’s father, also a miner, is Joseph Hartley.  The marriage takes place in a Nonconformist chapel – this may be useful information for finding earlier ancestors, and gives me a little wider information about the family’s life.

10. Switching to the GRO website I look for John William’s civil birth registration:
Search Terms:
John William Jagger, male, born 1873 +/- 2 years, birthplace: Wakefield.
Note new information:
Birth in October-December of 1872; mother’s maiden name: Newell.
Back on Ancestry I also find his baptism:
Review/ Compare:
The father’s name is Charles, and his occupation is miner.
Note new information:
Mother’s first name is Elizabeth.

11. We already know that John William married Mary Ann in 1892, but at the time of the 1891 census he would likely have been with his birth family.
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
John William Jagger, year of birth: 1872 +/- 1 year, place of birth: Lofthouse and residence in 1891 of Lofthouse.
Review/ Compare:
I find John William, a miner, with his mother Elizabeth and siblings at Ouzlewell Green.
Note new information:
Elizabeth was widowed; names of John William’s siblings.

12. Using similar search terms, John William, aged 8, is located with both his parents in 1881 at Lofthouse.
Review/ Compare:
Charles, a miner, and Elizabeth; two siblings are also present, their names matching the 1891 census record.
Note new information:
Ages given on the two censuses indicate a birth year for Charles of around 1851, and for Elizabeth née Newell of around 1855.  We also now know that Charles died between 1881 and 1891.

13. John William is the oldest child. His birth in late 1872 suggests a marriage of around 1871-72 for Charles and Elizabeth:
I use the following search terms, in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Charles Jagger, Elizabeth Newell, 1871 +/- 1 year; location: Wakefield
Note new information:
The marriage took place on 16th June 1872.  Fathers’ names are Joshua Jagger and Joseph Newell, both miners.

Fourth and fifth generations:

We now have all the information we need to get back one more generation, so we will leave John William and focus on his father, Charles.

14. Switching to the GRO website, Charles’s birth is found in the first quarter of 1851.
Review/ Compare:
There is a discrepancy in the place of birth.  We already know from the 1881 census that Charles was born in Ouzlewell Green, Lofthouse, which comes under Wakefield.  However, the birth was registered in Hunslet.  Fortunately, I know from previous research that the Hunslet Registration District originally covered a huge area.  Checking with https://www.ukbmd.org.uk/reg/districts/hunslet.html I can see that in 1851 Hunslet did indeed include Lofthouse.  Therefore both places of birth are strictly speaking correct, but Charles was actually born in Ouzlewell Green.
Note new information:
Mother’s maiden name is Thackrah.

15. Back on Ancestry I can now follow Charles’s life back through the censuses of 1851, 1861 and 1871. Starting with 1851:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Charles Jagger, born 1851, Wakefield; father: Joshua Jagger.
Review/ Compare:
I find Charles aged 1 month.  His father’s name and occupation, together with the location, confirm I have the right family, but the stated birthplace for Charles is Carlton.  Google Maps confirm that these places are all within a mile or two of each other.
Note new information:
The family is in Rothwell.  Father Joshua’s age is 33, suggesting a birth year of 1818, and his place of birth is Crigglestone (Google Maps confirms this is in the Wakefield area, therefore consistent with previous findings).  Charles’s mother’s name: Isabella, her age of 30 (= birth year of around 1821) and her birthplace of Carlton.

16. The 1861 census provides names of more siblings,

17. By 1871 Isabella is widowed, meaning a death for Joshua of between 1861 and 1871. Using search terms: Joshua Jagger, Wakefield and a death year of 1866 +/- 5 years, Joshua’s death and burial are located in 1869.

18. 1841 Census:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Joshua Jagger, born 1818
Note new information:
Joshua and Isabella are both approximately 20 years old.  They have no children.

Fifth and sixth generations:

We can again move back a generation, so we will leave Charles and focus on his father, Joshua.

19. Assuming Joshua and Isabella are newlyweds, their marriage must have taken place around 1839-1841.
I use the following search terms, in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Joshua Jagger, spouse: Isabel Thackrah, Wakefield, 1840 +/- 1 year.
Note new information:
Marriage date: 25 Dec 1840, in Rothwell.  Father’s names: John Jagger and Charles Thackrah, both miners.

20. Joshua’s baptism.
I use the following search terms in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Joshua Jagger; birth year 1818 +/- 2 years; Father: John Jagger.
Review/ Compare:
Joshua’s baptism took place in the same Nonconformist chapel that future generations would use – an extra confirmation that I still have the right family; name of father: John.
Note new information:
Birth Date: 1 May 1818; Baptism Date: 7 Jun 1818; Baptism Place: West Parade Wesleyan, Wakefield.  Mother’s name is Hannah.

This is the first record we’ve identified that predates the new record regime of 1837 and 1841.  We now have the father’s name and the mother’s first name.  Undoubtedly, their births would take this line back to around 1800 or just before.

That’s it – my hour’s up!

I hope you followed all that. In the next post we’ll consider some issues arising from this exercise.

Getting started: Working back to 1837/1841

The Ancestry advertisements on television make it look so easy.  You might even imagine you’ll just have to type in a name and your entire family tree will magically appear, as Ancestry’s powerful computers work it all out before your very eyes.  It isn’t as easy as that.  It’s not even as easy as it looks on Who Do You Think You Are?  We don’t get to see all the records they discount before the celebrity clicks on the correct one!

But that said, it isn’t so very difficult either, not when you know how.  With a little practice you’ll get to know what information you’ll find on the various types of record, and how to use these records in conjunction with each other, confirming and adding to what you know as you work your way into your ancestors’ past.

In English family history research there’s a very definite change at 1837-1841.  More recently than this point we use one group of records, while going further into the past we must learn to find and use lots of other record sources.  Fortunately, since we work backwards from the present, it’s the easier system we must learn to use first.

To demonstrate how you can get your family back to the generations living as at 1837-41, I gave myself one hour to work on the ancestry of an old family friend about whose past I knew very little: just his name, approximate birth year, the area where he grew up, and the names of his mother and one of his brothers.  All sources identified are public records, readily available, but being deeply aware of privacy/ security issues, I chose this person because he died more than thirty years ago, has no descendants… and actually I think he would be pleased to have helped. 🙂

In the next post I’ll show you exactly how I did it, but for now I’ll introduce you to four websites.

Ancestry
Ancestry is a subscription genealogy website.  Operating from Utah, it’s the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world.  Ancestry does not ‘own’ the records you’ll find on its pages; the originals are kept in various archives throughout the country (or throughout the world if you have a ‘worldwide’ membership).  However, through Ancestry, you’ll be able to see digital images or transcripts of those original records.  You can also build your tree on the Ancestry website.

Find My Past
FindMyPast is a UK-based online genealogy service, and like Ancestry, provides subscribers with Internet access to digital images or transcripts of official genealogy records.  Again, there’s a facility to build your tree on the FindMyPast website.

There’ll be more to say about both Ancestry and FindMyPast in future posts.

Family Search
This website is created and provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).  Family history is important to followers of that faith so that they can have relatives from past generations retrospectively baptized into their church.  The website is free for anyone to use, but you must create an account and you must be signed in each time you use it.  FamilySearch holds transcripts of records rather than access to digital images of originals.  However, there are certain types of search when I know FamilySearch will more accurately return the records I need than the subscription websites.  There will be an example of this in the next post.

General Register Office for England and Wales
(GRO)  Here you can search the historical birth and death registers for England and Wales.  These start at 1837.  At the time of writing, the death register is searchable up to the year 1957; and births are searchable to 1917.  Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates may be ordered here, and for this there is of course a cost.  However, the searchable register itself includes information that may help you to progress your research without purchasing the certificate.  To use this site you have to create an account and you must be signed in, but there is no subscription charge.

In the worked example to follow in my next post, I limit my subscription searches to Ancestry, and to the following specific record categories: Census & Electoral Rolls; and Births, Marriages, Deaths.  I also make use of the free searches at FamilySearch and the GRO website.  The main types of record I will be looking for are:

  • Civil Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) records – these commenced in 1837;
  • Census returns – from 1841 these include individual people, recorded in household groups.

Why not take a few minutes now to familiarise yourself with the two free websites.  And remember to keep this information to hand as you follow through the worked example in my next post.