Where do I Begin?
I’m often asked where do you start when researching a family tree. My answer is always the same – start with what you know and work from there. But what is it likely you already know? Most of us have, somewhere, the certificates of birth, marriage and/or death of one or more of our parents or grandparents with the information we need to get started – but what is that information?
British birth certificates don’t only tell us the name, sex, date and place of birth of a child, but also the names of his/her parents, the mother’s maiden name and the father’s occupation. Scottish birth certificates also record the date and place of the parent’s marriage – assuming they are married. So the parent information can be used to look for a marriage registration.
Marriage certificates provide all sorts of information. Obviously the names of the bride and groom and where and how they were married are there, as are their ages, marital status, addresses and occupations. The names of the witnesses are also recorded, which can sometimes provide names of other possible family members. Certificates from England & Wales list the fathers of the bride and groom, their occupations and if they are deceased. In addition to fathers, Scottish certificates list the bride and grooms mothers, their maiden names and if they are deceased. From this information birth certificates for the bride and groom can be searched for, if not already located, and if parents are deceased their death certificates can be searched for.
The information recorded on death certificates is not always as useful to researchers as that on other certificates. You need to remember that whoever is reporting the death may not always know that much about the person – so, for example, the age may have been a guess so can’t be relied on to calculate an accurate year of birth (though the same can sometimes be said of marriage certificates when either the bride or groom was trying to appear older or younger than they actually were!). There is more information on a Scottish certificate as parents’ names are listed – but as before, these can sometimes be misleading. However, these potential errors or discrepancies are no reason to ignore death certificates completely – they can sometimes help in unexpected ways. It was only through locating a Scottish death certificate using a woman’s maiden name that I discovered she had actually been married twice, but because her first wedding had been held in Iraq and her second was registered under her first married name I hadn’t previously found any record of them.
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