Useful Websites

There are thousands and thousands of websites out there – some local, some national, some international.  Wherever you are looking at you can guarantee there will be a website covering the genealogy/history of that area.  There are many local family history societies you can join or ask for help.  Here is just a few useful ​websites that I use, with information on each website. – This is a subscription website, you can pay per view, pay for a month or pay annually.  If you are just starting out I would recommend keeping you eye on the website they often have offers on allowing free access – you do need to enter your card details to access the free access but remember to remove your card details if you decide it’s not for you otherwise the payment is automatically taken – it does explain this but in your excitement you may miss this!   You can pay for access to UK records or Worldwide records. Ancestry is my preference but there are others such as

Ancestry holds records under the following headings:

·        Birth, Marriage and Death records

·        Census records from 1841-1911

·        Military Records

·        Wills and Probate Records

·        Immigration and Travel Records

·        Schools, Directories and Church Records

·        Public Member Trees

·        Card Catalogue

The site is often updated too so keep a check on the updates.  There is also a members area with a discussion forum – they are categorised into different areas and there are boards for allsorts – and usefully boards dedicated to thousands of different surnames.

There is a facility to build and save your own family tree within the site.  Once you have created your tree every time you create a new individual Ancestry will show a little leaf symbol if there is a record it holds that matches the information for your individual.  Don’t presume it is your person have a good look at the hint before deciding if the record is relating to your person – afterall it is a computer matching the records!!!

You have the option to have your tree as a Private tree or a Public tree – if it is Public everyone can see what is in your tree – so to protect living individuals create them with the forename “Living” ie Living SMITH.  This is important if you don’t want to become a victim of identity fraud!  Or you can chose to keep your tree private – it will match a name to other members but no other details – if they want to know more they have to contact you through the website to ask permission.

Ancestry DNA – is what it says for around £100 you can buy a kit which you register and associate to yourself (or whoever’s DNA it is).  When you receive the kit you provide a saliva sample into a vial and pop it back into the post and wait – very simple all the instructions are included.  You will get email updates when your sample is received and then an email when your results are ready,  once ready log onto Ancestry and go the DNA tab – there all will be revealed!

So the DNA test covers both maternal and paternal side and the first thing you will see is your origins.  Well I was quite surprised by mine always presuming Irish roots which wasn’t the case at all – I am 65% British and 32% Scandinavian and a the rest a bit of somewhere else.  Scandinavian?!!

The next thing you will see is other ancestry members who are related to you with their relationship to you, and I had dozens of distant cousins. Having been initially sceptical I was pleased to see amongst these cousins 2 I already knew about, I then emailed a few other members and got responses from all over the world, some who knew about their origins from my home town.  Obviously the more people who particiapte the more hits you are going to be notified about too!

UK Birth Marriages and Deaths – Births, Marriages and Deaths known as BMD records This site provides over 2500 links to websites that offer on-line transcriptions of UK births, marriages, deaths and censuses. A wide range of other indexes and transcriptions are also available for most counties, these include parish records, wills, monumental inscriptions etc.

The regional BMD websites are free (such as Cheshire BMD) and have the facility to search what is transcribed in that county – so if you know your grandad was baptised/married/buried at St Johns Church, Warrington in a certain year – you can select St Johns Church and see which records for that church have been transcribed so far and the years that they span.

Some birth entries give the mothers maiden name depending on the year and the transcriber (volunteers who do this for free).

If you see a marriage entry and the wife has two surnames listed – it means one will be her maiden name and the other usually a former married surname. – this website is maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – also known as the Mormons. Their aim is to transcribe all records worldwide – this is another free website – it currently has transcribed and made searchable over 1 Billion Records.

You can also create your family tree on the website free of charge.  You can narrow your searches down to the country, county, town even down to a particular church.  It is particularly useful for finding records that are prior to general registration in 1837.

GENUKI  – A library of genealogical information relevant to the UK and Ireland – I am not going to start listing what it contains as there is too much! Go and have a look what is available for your county and you will see what I mean.

Cyndi’s List – Is exactly what it says a marvellous website created by a lady called Cyndi Ingle Howells – Cyndi decided the internet was like a library with the books strewn all over the floor and she wanted to file them, hence Cyndi’s List.  Think of this website as a central respository for every genealogical/family tree website worldwide an excellent start to your research as to what is available – all I can say is go and have a look for yourself!

National Archives – a free/subscription/pay per view website which holds more than 32 million descriptions of records held by The National Archives and more than 2,500 archives across the country. Over 9 million records are available for download. Again another website you need to go and have a look around!

British Newspaper Archive – The British Newspaper Archive a subscription/pay per view website – is a partnership between the British Library and findmypast to digitise up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library’s vast collection over a 10 year period.

So you may be thinking why would I want to look at old newspapers?  Well – suppose one of your ancestors vanishes and he/she is only young and may have died in an accident or been arrested? You may well just find if here – this is the website that verified a family story of my own when I found article relating to my 5 x gt grandfathers suicide!





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Where to start

What is the difference is between genealogy and family history?

Genealogy is when a person follows the generations back as far as they can go following some/all lines in history.

Family History is when a person tries to find out as much about a person, about their lives producing a story about each person bringing them to life, rather than just recording them and their life events on a family tree.

Don’t start with an alleged famous relative and find the link, don’t believe all the old tales you have been told – it’s like Chinese Whispers – there will be some semblance of truth in the story but over the years it will have changed!!

In my tree there was a tale that x4 gt grandfather Thomas had hung himself – he hadn’t, but, what the poor man had done was tied a rope round his own neck with a 40lb weight attached and drowned himself in a vat of water in the back of his shop – oh dear what a mess his mind must’ve been in!

There are no claims to fame in my tree – yet!

The best place to start is with yourself, note down all that you know, then when you have done that go and speak to all the generations of the family that you can and ask them to give you more information.

Don’t think you will remember it because you won’t so take a pen and paper at least!

By the time you’ve got your parents details down, and their parents and their parents too you have 14 people and that does not include siblings!!

Speaking to grandparents is a must so if you are lucky enough for yours to still be around a visit is long overdue!!  Grandparents often are in possession of a family Bible – it was tradition to write in the family bible information such as birthdays, marriages and deaths – so an invaluable source, they often have old birth/marriage/death certificates.  Make a note too of where you have found the information in case you need to go back to it!

Don’t be alarmed to discover that your great grandparent was illegitimate and that your surname shouldn’t be what it is now!  I discovered my x2 great grandfather was illegitimate and my surname should never have been what it was and that is should have been Heap, needless to say we preferred the one we ended up with!  My x2 gt grandfather was born illegitimately and in the 1851 census aged 1 yr he was living with who was his grandparents – they had shown him as their son – so don’t be alarmed to discover that they told fibs too!

Illegitimacy was frowned upon and brought disgrace to the family in those days things were very different.  Another thing they told fibs about was their age, the ages given in the censuses can vary by 10 years, don’t confuse this with the rounding up/down of ages that occurred in the 1841 census though.

These days people have 2/3/4 children but a couple of generations back it wouldn’t be unusual for families to have 8-15 children, this was due to various reasons, contraception, no television, mortality rates – it was not unusual for a couple to have 6 children and for 4 of them to have died.  It also wasn’t unusual for say a child named George to die and when the couple have another son to call that son George too.

Often when one parent died the remaining parent would marry again and often quite quickly! They would then carry on having children with their new spouse, when this happens childrens surnames were often changed too – unofficially. So you may find amongst the censuses that the childrens surnames differ going from one to another and then back to what it was! Confusing to say the least.  Another thing to bear in mind when it is the wife that has died and father has remarried – the childs relationship to the head of the house (father) will say son or daughter leading you to believe if you don’t know any different that the wife is the birth mother of those children – which often isn’t the case.  If the father has died and the mother has remarried  the new husband is shown as the head of the house, fortunately sometimes if will actually say stepson or stepdaughter which is helpful especially when other children are shown as son or daughter – it identifies which spouse fathered which child.

Another common practice was for someone to use their middle forename as their usual name – so on the 1861 census one of my relatives is shown as Mary Ellen Smith – then on the 1871 census she is down as Ellen Smith, then just to make it even harder by 1881 her husband had died and she had reverted to her maiden name for whatever reason – very confusing and thoughtless if you as me – they didn’t consider us rooting about into their family a century on!

So you have now gathered all this information what do you do with it?  You need to put it in some sort of order, pen and paper is fine however you cannot amend/add/delete as is inevitable so the best way to make sense of all your information is to have it stored on a computer. have a facility to allow you to create a tree on their website this is free and stored on the web so no problem if your computer throws a wobbler.  Ancestry also have an app you can download onto your phone/tablet – its not the full site but it allows you to access your trees and you can update them too via the app.

There is lots of software available -I personally like Family Tree Maker software – available on – there are different editions, Silver, Platinum etc – have a good look as this software often has up to 6 months free membership to which can be worth around £60. (Family Tree Maker is being discontinued soon so look out for some good deals! if you do buy it/use it it will continue to work)

The good thing with the Family Tree Maker software is that once you synchronise it with you can update either Ancestry or the software and they synchronise with each other and they end up mirroring each other.

You will hit brick walls – they can be overcome.  I had found one of my relatives in 1871 and 1891 but not 1881, so I searched in the 1881 census but played with what I knew which was Thomas Keenan born in Dukinfield in 1851 had a wife called Mary born in Stalybridge and their children were James, Margaret and John – so I searched for Thomas born in 1851 in Dukinfield with a wife called Mary and children called James, Margaret and John and left out the surname Keenan – low and behold there he was because the transcriber had transcribed the surname as Reenan due to the fancy old fashioned handwriting it was written in!  So think out of the box.

Transcription can be a problem – Ancestry, Familysearch and other websites will allow you to assist in the transcription of records, which is fine when it is a country/area/names you are familiar with.  The problems begin when someone often in an different country transcribes records, they are not familiar with localities, towns, names etc.  There are some hilarious mistranscriptions out there!!  On Ancestry you can put a note on to say the entry is mistranscribed and what it should actually be which means in future when someone searches for that person they will find it thanks to your note!

Some common pitfalls are particularly when transcribing old writing are not being able to read what a word says, you need to look back at other entries in the same hand to see if you can understand the letters to form the word, you need to take time when reading old documents and ensure that you read the information properly so you don’t miss anything.

When researching your tree stay focussed on what you are doing, don’t go off on a tangent and leave the line you were looking at by researching a line that isn’t as relevant.  Record all the information you already have in some sort of index so it is easily retrievable.  When copying information don’t put it into your own format always copy the format of the document so you can understand what you have written at a later date and include spelling mistakes.

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Wills and Probate

So what can a Will tell you! This is a totally invaluable document – okay so will see that your x5 Great Grandad left all his goods and chattels to his wife, and his best bedding and cutlery to his daughter, but, it will also tell you where and when he died and what he left to who and the value of his estate – giving you an idea of his lifestyle and background!

So straight away you are going to see a daughters married surname, you are going to see the names of grandchildren and those with a different surname will give you an ideas whose those children are, it will give the names of his brothers, sisters and their spouses, it will give you details of his address, occupation and any other addresses he may have owned – so alot can be revealed. has the National Probate Calendar covering 1858-1966 this is where you can find a basic entry that can help you track down the location of the will and make it easy to order.  Once you find your entry you will be able to glean bits more information about your relative.

Extract from the National Probate Calendar of my 4x gt grandfather George Critchley, showing when he died, where, his occupationm his wifes name, where she lived and how much his estate was worth – when you find your entry have a look at the value of the estates of others it will give you an idea as to your relatives wealth – or not!

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Old fashioned playtime

Hop scotch!

Ha ha look at them tatty headed girls with dirty faces and dirty knees! Now I used to play this often marked out with chalk in the 70’s but if you didn’t have any to hand you could use a stone and scratch it onto the paving stones it worked just as well!



Made out of old pram wheels or any wheels come to think of it, and any bits of wood you could scrounge! Bit before my time but I bet my dad liked making these!

Ring-a-ring o’ roses

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down

Some people believe this nursery rhyme is about the Great Plague of England and the Black Death from the 1600’s, it has been sung to this tune since the 1790’d and first appeared as this in print in 1881!  Who knows?!


More a boys thing really.  The conker that smashed all the other ones was the best!


Two balls – or if you were clever 3 or even 4 – this was more a girls game. Basically juggling bouncing two balls off the wall!

Free school milk given out at my junior school in the morning at playtime.  Now it was either cold or warm (urgh) and one person was selected each day to give the milk out – the milk monitor – often because they had been a good boy or girl!  Of course we no longer get free perks like this anymore apparently thanks to Maggie Thatcher!



Popular in the 50s/60s the Pig Swill Bin!

I remember a similar thing at junior school all the leftover food was scraped into it and apparently it was collected and fed to the pigs! Nice!


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Old sayings and their origins

Piss Poor (Please excuse the language!!)

Where did expression “Piss Poor” come from? They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot and then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery, if you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor”.

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot…

They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were the lowest of the low.

Why do brides carry a bouquet?

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelt reasonable by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.!!

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

​​Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath water!”

 It’s raining cats and dogs!

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence. The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.
(Getting quite an education, aren’t you?)

Bringing home the bacon and chewing over the fat!

In the old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and didn’t get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while.  Hence the rhyme:“Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.   Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.  Those with money had plates made of pewter.  Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leak into the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes,s o for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle,and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Holding a wake

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom; “of holding a wake”.

The graveyard shift, dead ringer and saved by the bell

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realised they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be,“saved by the bell” or was “considered a dead ringer”.


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Odd Genealogy Requests

These are copies of actual correspondence received by a Family History Department.

Our 2nd great grandfather was found dead crossing the plains in the library. He was married 3 times in the endowment house and has 21 children.

He and his daughter are listed as not being born.

I would like to find out if I have any living relatives or dead relatives or ancestors in my family.

Will you send me a list of all the Dripps in your library?

My Grandfather died at the age of 3.

We are sending you 5 children in a separate envelope.

Documentation: Family Bible in possession of Aunt Merle until the tornado hit Topeka, Kansas. Now only the Good Lord knows where it is.

The wife of #22 could not be found. Somebody suggested that she might have been stillborn – what do you think?

I am mailing you my aunt and uncle and 3 of their children.

Enclosed please find my Grandmother. I have worked on her for 30 years without success. Now see what you can do!

I have a hard time finding myself in London. If I were there I was very small and cannot be found.

This family had 7 nephews that I am unable to find. If you know who they are, please add them to the list.

We lost our Grandmother, will you please send us a copy?

Will you please send me the name of my first wife? I have forgotten her name.

​A 14-year-old boy wrote: “I do not want you to do my research for me. Will you please send me all of the material on the Welch line, in the US, England and Scotland countries? I will do the research.”

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I am my own Grandpa – Poem

Many many years ago when I was twenty three,
I got married to a widow who was pretty as could be.
This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red.
My father fell in love with her, and soon the two were wed.
This made my dad my son-in-law and changed my very life.
My daughter was my mother, for she was my father’s wife.
To complicate the matters worse, although it brought me joy,
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy.
My little baby then became a brother-in-law to dad and so became my Uncle,
Though it made me very sad.
For if he was my uncle, then that also made him brother
To the widow’s grown-up daughter who, of course, was my step-mother.
Father’s wife then had a son, who kept them on the run.
And he became my grandson, for he was my daughter’s son.
My wife is now my mother’s mother and it makes me blue.
Because, although she is my wife, she’s my grandmother too.
If my wife is my grandmother, then I am her grandchild.
And every time I think of it, it simply drives me wild.
For now I have become the strangest case you ever saw.
As the husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa!

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Strangers in the Box – Poem

Come, look with me inside this drawer
In this box I’ve often seen,
At the pictures, black and white,
Faces proud, still, and serene.
I wish I knew the people,
These strangers in the box,
Their names and all their memories,
Are lost among my socks.
I wonder what their lives were like,
How did they spend their days?
What about their special times?
I’ll never know their ways.
If only someone had taken time,
To tell, who, what, where, and when,
These faces of my heritage,
Would come to life again.
Could this become the fate,
Of the pictures we take today?
The faces and the memories,
Someday to be passed away?
Take time to save your stories,
Seize the opportunity when it knocks,
Or someday you and yours,
Could be strangers in the box.


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Naming Pattern Phyme

1st son = father’s father
2nd son = mother’s father
3rd son = father
4th son = father’s oldest brother
5th son = father’s 2nd oldest brother or mother’s oldest brother
1st dau = mother’s mother
2nd dau = father’s mother
3rd dau = mother
4th dau = mother’s oldest sister
5th dau = mother’s 2nd oldest sister or father’s oldest sister

So if in your tree they all have the same names it can help when you are unsure about a record when the subject has the same forenames!!


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Hearth Tax Records

Hearth Tax Records

Hearth Tax Records from the latter half of the 17th century are invaluable they provide names, addresses, occupation and an indication of wealth based upon how many hearths a person had in their property.

The records taken twice a year also showed how families moved around and how their income changed as in some years they may have been recorded as being exempt from payment as they were classed as poor.

What is more relevant it is one of the earliest sets of records showing distribution of surnames and they can be tracked showing where the surnames originated which combined with the place they are recorded may also give an indication of how they came by their surname such as occupation etc.

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