A Guide to Discovering your own Family History


Don't be too eager and dive in to your ancestry some generations back. Start with yourself , your immediate family and then slowly work outwards as well as backwards. Importantly do not forget the women and the role they have played. They are often a source of more information than the menfolk. The female details are just as important although they may have either entered or exit the family via marriage and so changed name. Record details of wives using Maiden Names wherever possible. This is often less easy to track later.

Tabulate all details such as recorded on Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Divorce Papers and Death Certificates etc for all your nearest relations. An individual Birth Certificate will indicate parents names including maiden names of mothers etc. Copies can be obtained when required. Genealogists and agents usually charge more than double the cost than if you DIY (Do it Yourself) and for mutiple certificates this can work out a little expensive to use these services.

Help fill in those gaps by talking to your family. Who is the family "sage"? That is usually a good point to start. Pay special attention to the eldest members of the family. Even if absent minded about the recent years many of these elders have good memories of the distant past and childhood. Even small comments and stories are worth recording as these can be used as good points to initiate later discussions and further research . Share and compare with other people in your family stories of the same events. Often these bring out dormant memories which may reinforce or add value to the original story. Particular points of interest would be attendance or involvement in Church activities, Sunday Schools or Organisations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, School Prizes, Sports accolades and even hobby related achievements etc, which may concievably be able to provide some records of those activities. These can be fairly important especially if the residential locale varies during that generations lifetime.

You can try and source for items such as a family bible, old letters ( although some of these may be fairly personal and the owner may not wish to divulge ), newspaper clippings, old diaries, address books, school reports, tarnished little cups & shields etc in granny's cupboard and even receipts for the furniture etc with dates and delivery address etc and the like. It is quite surprising what many people hoard without realising the later potential value to family records. If you copy these or photograph them you can use this later as part of your records or even as "props" to stimulate or initiate further discussions with close elders.

It is worth remembering that in the UK the government did not have a central record of B.D.M prior to the 1830's. Before that, all records where stored locally such as parish churches. To pursue this avenue you need to be aware of the location and then find out if the records are still retained at source or at the local records office for the area. Some diocese charge for the services of opening up the church records for inspection, however many who do not charge would rightfully expect a small donation. Nowadays some parish churches are locked unless an appointment is made as vandalism can be a problem when an unattended church is left open. Often a visit to the graveyard can turn up some leads and our website does publish headstones when they have been submitted.
Most main County Libraries should have some information such as census records but local records offices sometimes can be a good source of microfiche records with more detail.

Please remember that in England, sucessive governments have changed electoral and administrative boundaries a number of times over two centuries. This can make some searches a little difficult . For instance a Census Record of birth in Chittlehampton, Devon would show in Central Records of Births listings as South Molton, Devon and Swimbridge, Devon as Barnstaple, Devon. So either a knowledge of the local geography or map may help .

Corellation and Transcription of Administrative Districts at times have included multiple counties. There can also be quite a number of confusing records in and around London as London was at one time classed as being in Middlesex where as Southwark was in Surrey and Greenwich in Kent and they eventualy became part of Greater London. Even they in some records can show up as being in Greater London, Middlesex.

English protocol would in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Century expect the Groom to marry his Bride at the church or venue of her family's choosing, which usually would be local to her families residence ( maybe her birthplace) . During those times it would be quite unusual to find a Bride travelling to the Groom's residential area. So when searching for somebody's wife's records it helps to know her maiden name and birth location first

Most families will at some time find they have a "skeleton in the cupboard" so as to speak. Please remember that although you would not want to upset someone through publication of blunt facts, the primary concern should be to record an accurate history without distorting the facts or sanitising the formal records. Add all neccesary comments into the records. For instance a male may have had a relationship out of wedlock which results in children. He may have married the mother later or not at all. The children would normally carry the mothers surname and not the fathers if the pair have not married but not always, so try to find out which is correct as per register, which may not be that generally used. The children may even have been formally adopted by an individual family member, sometimes the actual father or an uncle etc.
A female member may have been " promiscuous " and have children from multiple fathers, who is either named or unnamed. Once again please ensure that all possible details and evidence is recorded accurately and not sanitised in an attempt to "preserve the family reputation" .
Please ensure all events are recorded as accurately as possible with evidential references where possible. These children and their offspring still have a right to be part of the family tree and should not be disregarded. At some stage in time, as more later records come into the public domain, any attempts to sanitise records will come to the forefront.

Please note that in order to provide some symetry to formal records the Christian ( forenames) should be recorded accurately. This allows for easy confirmation against records when researching. Remember that Uncle Tom is probably Thomas, Auntie Lizzie is most likely Elizabeth or Elisabeth ( z or s) , Maggie may be Margaret or Marguerite.
Although in most circles such as British Families there is the habit of registering the formal name although in life the shortened form of the name or nickname is always used so the real name gets forgotten until registering with authorities etc and where the original birth certificate may need to be used as proof. However in American Families there is now more of a tendency to use the short name as the real recorded name.(confusing is'nt it). Care now will help you further along the line!

You may consider joining a Family History Society for the county in which your family appears to have originated or resided in large numbers for some period of time.

You will of course consider keeping your records in logical form on your PC. It is advisable to use use a special genealogy software programme which allows you to record many details, produce outline descendant trees etc ( as seen on this site), GEDCOM import/export allows you to import files from other sources to merge into your own file or export your file ( or just sections) to send to others.

It is important your consider sharing information with others studying your family surname as this can often bring about great reward in finding large sections of your lineage whilst the other person gets to add your family to his records.
Wonnacott.org also urges all Wonnacotts and related names to forward your information to us for publication as the resource for all Wonnacott related genealogy. We have been very successful in re-uniting Wonnacotts throughout the world who have lost the family contacts as well as being able to publish major family trees.We also encourage you to publish your own family tree on your own Home Page/ Website. Wonnacott.org stores records using Family Tree Maker Software from Broderbund. We can then either accept submission through our page at http://www.wonnacott.org/submit1.htm or by emailed files.

Wonnacott.org is a website run as not for profit and is entirely the voluntary work of Paul R Wonnacott and our many contributors. As such you may use any of the information contained to further your own research. Originally convention suggested we did not publish the names of living individuals on descendant trees. We now have around 100 trees and have been bombarded with requests to list and update details on living individuals, which we now do unless requested not to do so. This has certainly also bought about many requests for contact details between interested living family members, which we willingly pass on if we have such details.
Generally we do not show the names of children under 16 at the current date, unless permission has been given through an adult family member/submittal.
This is a privacy issue. Nowadays most children over 16 have an Internet presence such as Facebook where they publish their own details such as birthdates etc and much other personal details including partial addresses, telephone and mobile numbers, sibling and parent names, so privacy is no longer a real issue.


One outcome of all this openly free information, together with the online genealogy resources it is quite easy to find the mother's maiden name within minutes of any living individual over 6 years old in the UK. However this is often used by banks as a security feature to authenicate a client acivity - possibly the least secure feature of all time and an opening invitation to criminals. Be advised to tell you bank not to use this feature for your accounts and agree something else. ( They have been warned before but seem slow to consider action). At least "Phishing" emails are under your control or gullibility to respond, but you would have no prior knowledge if anyone hi-jacked your bank account by using your mother's maiden name to attack your bank account security or changing access details etc.

You are not to re-publish any of our pages or copyright content. You are however encouraged to copy and publish your own personal Family Tree on your own website if you wish. Let us know where it is and we will endeavour provide a link to it. No published content may be used for any commercial purposes whatsoever. You are encouraged to provide a link to http://www.wonnacott.org on any Home Page/Website you operate.

May we wish you success in your endeavours to discover your family roots.


Cyndi's List
Beginning Genealogical Research for England & Wales
Another Guide to Genealogy
http://www.familyrecords.gov.uk Archived version only
Cornwall Family History Society
Devon Family History Society
Devon Records Office
Ireland's guide to genealogical resources in public libraries
National Archives of Canada- Genealogy Research
Immigration to USA through Ellis Island
Free UK Census Search Online also covers minor intermediate census from 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 - Part of FreeUKGEN initiative.
Free Birth, Deaths, Marriages (UK) Search 1837-1983 - Part of FreeUKGEN initiative.
Free Search of Parish Registers Note: This is a new project and results may be limited for the time being as the database is built up.


Get a Free GEDCOM Viewer Here
Here is an autoconvertor for publishing on the Web directly from Gedcom.
Free Family Tree Templates
Here are some useful forms you can print out to help notate your family details

Please be aware that if you complete some of the "online forms" advertised by some websites you may in fact be sending details to a commercial company. Where free on line forms and free genealogy webspace is provided please understand that in many cases you are providing FOC your hardwon details directly to a commercial enterprise who will be able to sell your info which is re-packaged into their membership database, CDs. etc.
Genuine genealogists and researchers only forward accurate GEDCOM files to the LDS Records as the definitive and trustworthy source.


If you do not have genealogy software you can download a free copy of "Legacy 8.0" HERE . It does have some limitations until you upgrade to De-Luxe.
Familysearch - Family History Products from Familysearch.org
This is a free but very basic software Simple Family Tree.
Wonnacott.org stores all its records and compilations in Family Tree Maker software. Details can be found here Family Tree Maker by Ancestry.com

Copyright © 2002, wonnacott.org
Created -- 18-09-03
Updated -- 8-11-15

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