Gransnet forums


Help for two complete beginners?

(14 Posts)
pestcontrol Sun 18-Oct-15 09:27:15

Dear all,

Please forgive me for entering your territory - I'm not a grandparent, but writing on behalf of my mum!

My mum is very interested in trying out some family history websites. She's done some 'real life' research and has a few names of her grandparents/great grandparents, but wants to look online.

I'm trying to help her, I'm confident with the Internet but a complete novice to family history, so would really appreciate any tips you can give about how to get started. My mum wants to start with the free websites.

Has anyone used free bmd? Can you tell me how to use it? We've tried searching for a great grandfather, found a name under a district which may be him - what next?

Would you recommend any other free sites?
Could you give me tips on what to look for? E.g. if you have a name but no birth or death date, only an idea of decades?
We get on the site and then feel a bit lost.

Many thanks for any help you can offer. I may try the 'sister' mumsnet site as well (but actually lurk on this one - like your beauty advice!)

NotTooOld Sun 18-Oct-15 09:51:48

Hi, pestcontrol! You can use for free for two weeks, I think. I'm a fully paid up member as I am addicted to family history! If you are IT literate, as you say you are, you soon get the hang of using it. I'm pretty sure they give you help on the site, anyway. The more names, dates and any other details you have to get you started, the better. gives you access to millions of records, including the census and from there you can get an idea of someone's date of birth because ages are given. Birth certificates will give you the names of parents as well as place of birth and occupation of the father. You can also access war records, so if you know your grandfather was in WW1, for example, you should find him listed. On Ancestry you also get access to other people's family trees, so you sometimes (often, actually) pick up information from there. If one of your relatives has an unusual name you could try just googling it, you may be surprised what comes up. I did that with my great-grandfather and by following the clues discovered that I have aristocratic French ancestors. Good luck with your hunting. I hope and your Mum you enjoy it.

pestcontrol Sun 18-Oct-15 12:03:11

Thanks NotTooOld!

Really helpful tips. I will have a good root around. May come back if get lost.

Thanks again,


Elrel Sun 18-Oct-15 17:25:53

I'm no expert but have picked up some useful tips.
Don't be too rigid about birthdates as sometimes they're recorded several months after the actual birthdate and can even appear to be in the following year.
Don't go for the first similar ( or even identical) name you find, there was less variation in names 100 years ago and all the eldest males in a family (father, son, grandson) may have identical names and this may extend to cousins!
Census records are most useful but errors may lead to inaccurate transcription. We've found Kate Elizabeth (Kate E) as Katie, Henry as Henery and Zillah as Fella! And of course the census is only a snapshot recording who was present at midnight that night. It doesn't allow for anyone working away, in hospital or absent for any other reason.
Most counties have local genealogical societies whose members can be very supportive and their meetings and magazines can be helpful.
Libraries usually advise where county records and parish records can be found.
Good luck but be careful - it's addictive!!

Elegran Sun 18-Oct-15 17:55:08

I've used FreeBMD a lot. Follow the links. If you take a note of the reference number of the entry in the index, you can then go to and order a certificate, which will have more details on it. BMD don't provide the certificates themselves, they just have the indexes.

If you are not sure whether it is him or not, and you know the name of one of his brothers or sisters, you could enter that and see whether they were registered in the same district and at a reasonable time before or after him. That would narrow it a bit.

There are quite a lot of help notes on BMD, and links to things like lists of the parishes which were included in each registration district.

Marriages after a certain date (forget when) are cross-referenced with the spouse's name, so you get a further confirmation that is it the right person. Before that date, you get two marriages to a page - two brides and two grooms - so it must be one combination or the other.

pestcontrol Sun 18-Oct-15 19:31:56

Gosh, thanks Elegran - this is just what I was getting stuck on - how to check you have the right person!

Nelliemoser Sun 18-Oct-15 19:44:17

Then there are those people who use completely different names on the census (or when they go into service) and although all other evidence suggests this is the right person you have to get the death certificate and see that "Alice" is really the Martha Mary shown on the 1870 census.
Heigh ho what fun family history can be. Enjoy.

rosequartz Sun 18-Oct-15 19:48:02

Certain censuses are free to access, I know I started with the 1901 census which was free at the time
I think it is much better now than when I started.
Coupled with bmd you should be able to get quite a way without having to pay for any sites.

Transcriptions can be difficult - spellings can be totally different from the name you have. However, lots of subscribers to Ancestry put corrections on, which, when verified, appear alongside the original transcription and show up in their searches.

Elegran Sun 18-Oct-15 19:55:34

Sometimes it is very difficult to be sure. You have to be a bit of a detective. I had one ancestor who was born in Alton, near Ashover, Derbyshire. I knew his full name and his wife's christian name, so I looked in the Derbyshire family history centre for their marriage (late 18 C and before the 1837 registration act). Alton was little more than one farm and a few cottages, so I thought there would be no trouble.

Ha ha. No-one at all of that name had been married there in the right time period.

I looked at the registers for the next parishes. In Chesterfield, TWO men of the right name from Alton had married TWO girls of the right christian name within a couple of years of each other.

So I looked at the names of all their fathers (you see that in the actual registers.) One pair of fathers-of-the-bride-and-groom were Charles and Thomas. I looked for the births of the two brides - one of them was born to Charles and Margaret. I forget the other one's parents, but she doesn't matter.

I knew that my ancestor's father was Thomas and his mother Sarah, and that his first four children were Sarah, Charles, Thomas and Margaret.
So he had called his first four children after all four grandparents, as was common, and this was the right marriage.

pestcontrol Wed 21-Oct-15 07:24:55

I can see this is going to become addictive!

Thanks so much for all the tips - esp the 'insider' ones!

We will try it out, and give you a progress update in a few months' the meantime...thank you

jusnoneed Sun 08-Nov-15 16:13:42

Hi, just joined the site and came across your post while finding my way around.
FreeBMD good starting point. FreeReg is a great free site (sister site FreeCen as well) and you can also see basic info on FamilySearch though you have to pay for details. A lot of counties have there own sites called OPC (Online Pariah Clerks) try adding your county name eg SomersetOPC.
I transcribe for FreeReg/FreeCen and we have to write what is written even if we know it's not correct (often tempted not too lol) and you can always choose the option to give sound like (eg Soundex) names which may hit on a name which is misspelt on original entry.
Hope this helps a bit.

MiniMouse Sun 08-Nov-15 16:40:12

Jusnoneed - Online Pariah Records?? grin

jusnoneed Sun 08-Nov-15 16:50:04

lol, Parish might work better!

MiniMouse Sun 08-Nov-15 17:23:44

wink - pariah would probably be much more interesting though grin