Above is an example of a family tree. This tree goes back to the late 1700’s. It only shows the main characters, the parents. But if you looked deeper there are over 109 people, including all of the children, you could at least double it again with their children’s spouses and their children, brothers and sisters, and so on. The tree can literally go on till the end, or beginning of time. And that would be without going any further than the late 1700’s.
This is when the frustration comes in. So many names, how do you sort them out and present them, so it can be understood?
This tree alone would be difficult to put down on paper. Especially if you wanted to add everyone, with their dates of birth, deaths and where these occasions happened, which need to be included in your tree to make any sense.
Imagine that one couple had 11 children (not uncommon in the early 1800’s). Then each child married and had 11 children that, with spouses would make around 145 people within two generations starting with one couple!
The way I go about writing a book for a family tree is to start with the main character. In this example I will be writing a book for Charles Smith who was born in 1943. I will split his tree into one book for his Paternal tree (his fathers side) and the next book all about his Maternal tree (his mothers side).
I research the Smiths, Charles Paternal side, (luckily this is just an example, Smiths are an awful name to try and research as you can imagine!) His father Charles Robert was born in 1914 so unfortunately he just missed the 1911 census, but I can find his birth, marriage and death records. It gets interesting with his grandfather, Robert Charles, who was born in 1881. He and his mother and father will be mentioned in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census. His great grandfather, Henry Smith, born in 1860, will be mentioned in the 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and depending on how long he lived the 1901 and 1911 census. Then his great great grandfather, Henry Abel Smith, born 1835 will be mentioned in the first census recorded in 1841, then onto 1851, 1861, 1871 and depending on how long he lived right up to the 1911 census.
The research gathered from these 4 men, 5 including our original name, Charles (born 1943), will be birth, marriage and death certificates. And the most important and interesting, all of the relevant census, from 1841 to 1911. Imagine the history that has taken place during this space of time, the changes in living and working conditions, and family life as a whole.
Putting the book together, once this basic research has been gathered, now becomes a bit more organised.
I will start with the last person on the tree, Henry Abel. I only go back as far as the first census taken in 1841 for a basic book: The story will begin with his birth record, where he was born, maybe a picture of the church if he was christened, a small synopsis of the town or village where he lived. Look at the first census where he is recorded, 1841. Here you will find the names of his parents, if there were any other brothers or sisters, if there are you can probably work out from their ages when their parents were married. See if you can find their marriage certificate to find the mothers maiden name. Also on the census you will see what work the father did, also the area or if you are lucky the actual address where they were living when the census was taken.
Now you can go to the following census, 1851. Has Henry Abel gained anymore brothers or sisters, are his parents still alive, have they moved, what work is he doing and has his father changed his job. Sometimes you find relatives in work houses, there is a lot of information on these on the web. Sometimes you will find relatives in prison. If this is the case, Genes Reunited hold a wonderful library of old newspapers, you have to register with this site to be able to see them, and it costs nearly as much as Ancestry to join. You may find a court or police report of your ancestor if he was caught doing something wrong. We found reports of an ancestor taken to court after having an affair and her husband divorced her. Fascinating stuff.
From looking at all the census you can put a life story together. I will follow Henry Abel until he dies, there will just be a list and a short paragraph on each of his children. And if I can find anything out about his wife, a short paragraph mentioning her parents only.
So included in Henry Abel’s chapter will be:
Birth, where he was born, his parents, if possible when and where they married. Find any pictures, on the internet, of the village/town at the time. Old paintings are a good resource and churches were built long before 1800’s so you will always find a picture of the local church. Include what was happening in the area at the time. Look at time lines in history, small pox and scarlet fever were prevalent, who was on the throne, how old were the children when they started work? So many things you can incorporate with his birth alone.
Find the first census after his birth, this would be 1841. On this census you will see the family and where they lived. He is only 6 years old so wouldn’t be working and probably wouldn’t be going to school either as they had to pay for their education then. His brothers may be working, if they were in towns or cities, they could be chimney sweep apprentices, or in the country they would be farm labourers. Is his mother working? Again see what in history was happening in the area, google the town or village, find out what his fathers job entailed.
Go to the next census 1851. Henry Abel is now 16, so will probably have been working a few years by now. The census will record what work he is doing, where he lives, and who lives with him, so if he hasn’t left home yet it will include his mother and father, and any siblings. From this you will see if they have moved since the last census, if Henry Abel has gained anymore brothers and sisters, if his father has had to change his job and if his mother is working. Sometimes the mothers died in childbirth and the fathers carried on living and taking care of the children as best they could, sometimes if they were left a widow they remarried again quickly, so the children had some one to look after them. So keep an eye out for a change in the mother’s name. From this census you can glean more history of the area.
The next census is 1861. Henry is now around 26. So more than likely he is married with a couple of children of his own. This census will tell you who his wife is and where she was born. This is where you can place Henry Abel’s marriage certificate. The census will also give you their address, names of any children and Henry Abel’s occupation. Have they moved away from Henry Abel’s mother and father, or are they still in the same village? Where did Henry Abel get married, and who was his wife’s parents. Do they live nearby?
1871 and Henry Abel is now in his late 30’s, are they still in the same house? Or have they moved away? Is he still married or widowed. Is he in prison or still working? How many children does he have now? What is happening in the area?
1881, his late 40’s, is Henry Abel still with his wife, is he still alive or is his wife a widow? How many children are still living at home, has Henry Abel’s wife had anymore children since the last census? She will be nearing her late 40’s too now, unless she was young when she married Henry Abel. So her childbearing days will be coming to and end. Have they moved since 1871, what work is he doing now? What is happening in the area?
1891 Lets say that Henry Abel’s wife dies in 1890. Here we will put her death certificate. In the 1891 census Henry Abel will be recorded as a widow or has he remarried? He might be living on his own or with his youngest child. Has he moved, is he working, or has he been put in the workhouse? You may be able to get some lovely old photo’s on the net of the area, or any news that is happening. You may even be lucky enough to find a photo of his street or house.
1901 Henry Abel is getting on now and in his late 60’s. Many men were still working until they died, if he had been a farm labourer and still healthyish, he would still be working in his 70’s, and expected to carry on doing the work he had been doing in his 30’s. In this census you will see his address, whether he has married again, if he is able to work, who he is living with, maybe another relative, or a daughter and her husband.
Henry Abel dies in 1905 so doesn’t get a mention in the 1911 census. I end his chapter with his death, where he died, maybe a picture of his local church, a little history of the area.
At the end of the chapter I just list Henry Abel’s children with birth dates, and if I have it a death date, and if I have gleaned anything else like who they married or if they emigrated etc. This way if someone wants to research them they have a couple of clues to start with.
As far as Henry Abel is concerned his story is finished and we can go on to chapter 2 which is all about his son, Henry, born in 1860.
So like his fathers chapter I would start with his birth, where, his parents, if he was christened and where.
Then do the same as the last chapter only I would begin with the 1861 census when Henry was just 2 years old.
And so on and so on, this Henry would have married when he was around 21 years old, so he will be in a home of his own with a new wife in 1881, just follow his life until he dies. List his children. This will bring you to the next chapter ….Robert Charles.
Then the next Charles Robert, born 1914. He won’t, obviously, be mentioned in any census as the last one to be published so far is the 1911. But his father may have been in the war, war records are included in the Ancestry website, you can only see them if you are registered. If they lived in a city, his father may have been on the telephone, old telephone directories are also listed, with addresses. Some electoral rolls are also listed and once women got the vote they were included as well. And if you have addresses you will probably be able to find photo’s of the exact house on the internet. Most Victorian terraces are still standing now. It’s a strange feeling looking at a house and imagining your ancestor looking out of one of the windows or coming out of the front door.
You will probably glean a lot of stories of this ancestor, family photo’s etc, now you can add as much as you can get from the living family so the next generation can add to the family tree.
This is how I compile my books. I try to make it easy for someone else to read the book and understand who is who. It becomes a story following a family over the decades, and gives you a chance to understand what was happening in history at the time. Which brings everything into perspective.
You can put everything together, page by page in a book, including any photo’s you have, getting pictures from the internet and writing your findings by hand, which would be a lovely thing to hand down. Or you can do it all on the computer making it easier to edit and to put the book together and be able to print as many copies as you like to give to other members of the family.
Sorry that this has been so long, but I hope that it will help you to organise your research in more of a comprehensive and interesting way.