If you follow me on Instagram, you will know I am also an avid amateur genealogist. I have been researching both my and my husband’s family trees for several years now, and have made some amazing discoveries along the way. When I tell people that one of my hobbies is family history, they are usually a bit shocked that someone so young is interested in such a hobby. I think it is never too early to start – its a natural human instinct to want to know who we are and where we came from. Here’s five reasons why you should research your family tree today!
1 – To understand who I am
I suppose this is the fundamental reason why people research their family history – to find out who came before, where they came from, and what impact their ancestry has on their lives today.
Unfortunately, both of my grandfathers passed away relatively young but I was lucky enough to know my two grandmothers. However, they had all passed away by the time I got really into my family history research. I hadn’t had a chance to take advantage of the family memories they probably had stored in their head, and as a result I felt very disconnected from my family history and identity. And, as I started my research, this feeling actually intensified for a while – my maternal grandmother was born a Hamer and her mother was a Bebb, both really prominent and distinctive surnames in the part of the world they came from – but I had no idea how I fitted into it all.
Now I have done my family tree I have a much better idea of the families I am descended from, what their lives where like and how they all fitted together. I have always identified as Welsh but the process of doing my family tree and discovering how deeply rooted to this country I am has made me even more confident and sure in my Welshness.
2 – You can uncover some amazing stories
The list of discoveries I’ve made is endless – for example, I recently discovered I am descended from one of the Five Royal Tribes of Wales. In my mind this is no big deal, as if your family tree is 99% Welsh like mine is, it is more than probable you are descended from at least one of these five tribes. What amazed me was that I am still living in the same valley as my ancestors were 700 years ago. And what’s more, the medieval cruck frame of their family homestead is still existence in a house I know very well. And, my family still own part of the original estate. I find that mind-boggling.
However, the best discovery I’ve made came when I was researching my husband’s family tree. He has a far more interesting tree than me as his family has moved around a lot more, and they had a bit of money at one point. A lot of his family moved from Devon and Somerset up to the South Wales coalfields during the Industrial Revolution. One of these family lines has a connection (albeit tenuous) to an extremely juicy royal scandal – the cover up of Princess Sophia’s (the daughter of George III) illegitimate child! Its such an interesting story I want to devote a whole blog post to it in the near future.
But be warned, you may find some stories that aren’t so pleasant and that people don’t want to talk about. When I started doing my family tree I obviously started with my grandparents and great-grandparents, but it wasn’t until some time later I discovered that one my great-grandfathers committed suicide – on one of the farms we still own. No-one mentioned when I first started asking around as it was something ‘you didn’t talk about’.
3 – You can make your ancestors come alive
Researching your family tree on a website like Ancestry is fine, but to a certain extent it will only give you names, dates and locations. To get a bit of ‘colour’ in your family tree, it is really important to speak to any elder family members who may still be alive. I’m lucky in that I still have a few great aunts and uncles to talk to. As mentioned before, I never knew my grandfathers but I was able to talk to my mum’s aunt about what her brother (my maternal grandfather) was like – and it was those little stories that bought him to life! I felt so much closer to him and it was a really emotional experience.
Another method I have used to research my ancestor’s personal stories is newspaper archives. We are fortunate in Wales that The National Library of Wales have digitised all the newspapers they have in their archive from 1804 to 1919, and they are all searchable online for free. Its hard to search the newspapers for individual names unless they are really unusual (and unfortunately my family tree is full of Thomas’, Jones’, Davies’, Prices etc) but I have had success searching with the names of farms my ancestors have lived it.
4 – Preserve the family story for future generations
I suppose its a feeling that only kicks in when you reach a certain age or milestone in life but when my little nephew Louie was born last year the urge to gather the family history and let him know where he came from really kicked in. I think its because he is the next generation and the one that will be able to carry on all the stories I have collected into the future. Now that I have done all this work on our family history, I really want it to be preserved for the future.
Due to my family tree research, I am also able to tell Louie where his gorgeous strawberry blonde curls have come from. There was always been red hair in my mothers side of the family, and I have traced it back as far to my great-great grandmother Mary Jane Davies. Its a wonderful feeling to be able to trace such traits through the generations.
5 – Reconnect and meet distant relatives
DNA Testing for family history purposes is becoming increasingly popular, and its easy to see why. Its a quick and easy where to find where in the world your family came from without researching your entire family tree.
I used Ancestry DNA for my testing, mainly because I was already an Ancestry member. They also regularly have offers on the DNA testing kits which make it a bit more affordable. The results you get are slightly tailored and focus on your genetic ancestry up to the last 1000 years or so i.e. the DNA most relevant for the time period likely to be covered by your family tree. However, it is also possible to download your raw DNA file and upload it to other free sites for a more detailed analyais (Gedmatch is a popular one).
The main reason I like DNA testing with Ancestry so much is that once your results are in, you can be matched with other members of Ancestry who have also had tests done. And, if you have matching people in your family trees, it will make that link for you too. Its definelty helped me with my research, but half the time its just fun to play detective and find where the link is yourself. I’ve made contact with distant relatives all over the world, and one day I hope to be able to figure out some clues about the illegitmate lines in my family using the information.
By the way, Im 100% European if you’re interested – 41% British, 40% Celtic, 11% Scandanavia plus a few other trace countries. To be honest, I expected the Celtic element to be higher given the family history I have managed to trace, but the more you learn about DNA the more you realise how random it is!
If you enjoyed this post please let me know in the comments below – if I can encourage at least one person to start researching their family history then I will be a very happy bunny.