The internet has completely revolutionised family history. Although you certainly won’t find everything you need to know online – particularly when it comes to putting the flesh on the bones of your research – it makes sense to start here first.
Gateways to online genealogy
There is an apparently endless supply of useful sites, with more being added every day. A good place to begin is www.cyndislist.com, a genealogical directory with global scope, or www.genuki.org.uk, a gateway to the best of British and Irish.
Few of us are without at least one relative who served in the forces, so military sites are a valuable tool. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website www.cwgc.org lists 1.7 million soldiers killed during the two world wars and is free to search.
Connect with others
You may also find it useful to connect with other researchers with whom you share ancestors or common interests, using family tree sites like www.ancestry.co.uk, www.genesreuinted.co.uk or mailing lists like those at http://lists.rootsweb.com.
Alternatively you could join a family history society, which can be an invaluable way to learn new skills, meet with fellow enthusiasts and gain access to regionally-specific information. To find your nearest branch visit the Federation of Family History Societies at www.ffhs.org.uk.
Documents Online is the National Archives’ collection of digitised public records and includes a wealth of useful resources, from wills dating between 1384 and 1858 to interviews with First World War prisoners of war. At www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline you can search the index for free – if you happen across something of relevance it costs £3.50 to download an image.
Old newspapers are another fantastic resource for family history, and you can search through digital copies of the London, Belfast and Edinburgh Gazettes for free online at www.gazettes-online.co.uk.
Social history sites
As well as data collections, there’s a vast array of social history sites that will help start to put your forebears in their proper historical context.
Here’s three to whet your appetite: www.workhouses.org.uk, which offers a fascinating glimpse – including photographs – into the institution our ancestors most feared; www.movinghere.org.uk, charting immigration to the UK over the past 200 years, and www.oldbaileyonline.org, containing the details of over 100,000 trials that took place between 1674 and 1834. Might one of the rogues named in the records be your family’s first “black sheep”?