I’ve never been into researching family history (I’ve not even met my father) or really understood those that do. We’re all products of the times in which we live and while we inherit a position in society at birth, many of us don’t have to go far back to realise we have little in common with our ancestors.
But still, it’s big business. And the internet is accelerating the pace at which we can conduct genealogical research and trace our family histories. Leader of the pack appears to be Ancestry.co.uk. We tried them out because following her mother’s death, Katharine wanted to find out more about her father’s side of the family. He died when she was six and she’d never been able to discuss him with her mother.
She doesn’t need to trace her family history very far on her mother’s side to lose touch. While Katharine was a single child, her mother was one of twelve and fled the poverty rural of Northern Ireland for England. It’s unlikely that Katharine and her grandmother would have much to talk about. And that’s the problem with genealogy: it creates a false sense of identity.
That doesn’t mean people’s genealogy isn’t important to them. Take David Baddiel, whose Who do you think you are? documentary is up for a repeat. He’s dramatised the life of his maternal grandparents in a novel, The Secret Purposes, charting an escape from Nazi persecution. He’s a family history to be proud of and has encouraged his genealogy to define him in adult life (he discovered all this fairly late). In contrast, somewhere there’s a photo of my maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, in a Nazi uniform. That’s not something I dwell upon.
Anyway. I’m in a minority as Ancestry.co.uk reckon 75 per cent of people are into genealogy, family trees, tracing family history and all that. If you’re a genealogist anxious to trace your family history, understand your ancestry and build a family tree, you need an extensive archive (census, civil, ecclesiastical and immigration records, just for starters). And that’s what Ancestry.co.uk offer for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Ancestry.co.uk boast the largest collection of UK family history records online, with more than 300 million records. That’s the most complete census collection available (1851-1901), birth, marriage and death indexes from 1837 to the present day and parish and probate records dating back to the 1500s.