The Great War and your ancestors

2014 marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. This centenary anniversary has made remembrance even more poignant.  The 11th November and Remembrance Sunday help mark the event which brought an end to this conflict.

There is more we can do to remember though; we can look at how the war affected the lives of our families back then, which is what I and several others did using our Ancestry Online database in Kensington Central Library on Thursday 6 November.

World War One records
World War One records

The pictures we built were often very interesting, viewing as well as military records, Census records, which allowed us small insights into their lives. But it was often also very sad – families left without sons (in one instance losing several within a very short space of time) and fathers listed and remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. It made us think of how sad it must have been for them- and their friends as well.

Luckily these online resources make it easier to look back and see what our family did during the war (and before). Whether it is from the medals they won, who they served with, or information from the CWGC website, which lists 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.

Ancestry online  is available in and Kensington and Chelsea library plus in Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham. As well as family history records for the British Isles there are other records from around the world at the time such as Canada, the USA, Germany, and France.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can be accessed from anywhere and can provide a lot of information – more than you’d expect. And there are many instructional books available which can help you search through records and find out more about the Great War.

You may find newspaper resources interesting and useful in building a picture of the time and possibly a picture of your ancestors too. The Times Digital Archive is the most popular of these but there are other newspapers available in Westminster. The Gazette (official public record) also allows you to search for medals awarded.

Another online family history resource which is available in Westminster Libraries is Find My Past: this contains some different records to Ancestry.

 

 

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Who Do You Think You Are?

Ancestry Logo

Are you a fan of the BBC 1 programme, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ If you’ve felt the urge to trace your family history then why not use Ancestry? Of course to find out more about your family history you can always ask family members and you will find out all sorts. However this isn’t always possible.

There are lots of family history databases online. Some are free to use  but they only contain a small amount of information compared to Ancestry.  You can access Ancestry free of charge from any computer in our libraries.

Ancestry Family Tree
Ancestry Family Tree

So what can you find out with Ancestry?

Well there are some great resources including the Census, records of Tax, Birth, Marriage and Death, immigration, military and travel, Electoral Registers and more. These can provide you with a great breadcrumb trail taking you from records of you and your close family (it’s always a good start to try to find a record of for instance your own birth), to ones from the 19th century when the Census and other record keeping began (you can go back even further if you are lucky; there are records which go all the way back to the 16th century).

If you have managed to follow your ancestors back to 1911 or before you will be in luck as after 100 years the Census records become available. This contains a wonderful amount of information including your ancestor’s address at the time, their age and birth place, occupation, who was living with them and their relationship to them.

Putting your detective cap on you can follow all these clues and create a whole family tree with the help of relatives, including perhaps some you don’t even know yet! Nevertheless, it can be a bit tricky to use. Bear in mind that there are literally millions of entries in there. Furthermore, Ancestry tries to put them in order of relevance but this can have both a positive and negative effect; putting the names which meet your search criteria better higher up the list than those that don’t but at the same time putting American results often higher up than those from outside e.g. English results.

Top tips for your epic searches include:

• Don’t put in too much especially if you have an unusual surname
• Search specific databases e.g. the 1911 census
• Put in information such as year of birth, location

Do be warned tracing your family history does take time! If you need any assistance – pop into your local Kensington and Chelsea library or visit the Local Studies Library at Kensington Central Library.

Looking at plans in the Local Studies Library

The Local Studies Library will be having an Open Day on Saturday 8 December. Staff will be on hand to demonstrate how to use Ancestry as well as showing the other resources they have that can help with tracing your family history.  You will also have a chance to tour the archives.

If you can’t make that date, Marylebone Library in Westminster has a family history group which meets once a month. They share tips and experiences about researching family history. For more information please email: ogrey@westminster.gov.uk

Owen Grey, Reference Librarian

Kensington Central Reference Library and Marylebone Information Service