On this page you will find (growing) details of and links to the main resources I am using to research my family history, record my findings and construct this Web site. Other sites/books/programs are available. These are just those that I like to use.

Surf the net

These sites are gateways to the vast amount of family history information that is available on the Web:

These sites are more specific:

  • The General Register Office for England and Wales, or GRO, provides an online service for ordering copies of statutory birth, marriage and death certificates. If you know the GRO reference details, a certificate currently costs £7.00 including postage.
  • The National Archives has a wealth of UK official documents, some of which can be purchased for download. The site also has a (huge) catalogue of documents that can only be accessed in person.
  • Scotland’s People is the official government site for Scottish Genealogical data. It holds images of statutory BMD registers (no need to order a certificate), census records, old Parochial Registers and some other odds and ends. It works on a pay-per-view basis, currently 20p to view the results of a search and £1.00 to view an image.
  • Ancestry is an example of a site that offers census images for England and Wales together with images of the BMD indexes for the same. It also holds transcriptions (not images) of the Scottish census records, plus a whole range of other records for the UK together with some international databases. It is a subscription site with a number of time-based and access-based options. Its main strength is the number and variety of records held; its main weakness is the number of inaccuracies in the indexes to those records.
  • FreeBMD is an ongoing project that aims to transcribe the statutory registration indexes of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales and then provide free access to those transcriptions on the internet. You can also view the scans (of the indexes) from which the transcriptions have been made. For up to date coverage by quarter (year) and registration type, check on the site.
  • FreeCEN is a sister project of FreeBMD. It aims to transcribe the census returns for England, Wales, Scotland and the Channel Isles and then provide a free searchable database online.
  • FreeREG aims to provide free internet searches of baptism, marriage, and burial records, that have been transcribed from parish and non-conformist registers of the UK.

Finally, a personal site of interest:

  • David Wright, a descendant of Frances (Fanny) Stickland maintains a site that includes a collection of Stickland references.

Curl up with a book

If you are looking for a general guide, these three all do the job but the styles are very different.

Tracking Down Your Ancestors by Dr Harry Alder (howtobooks, 2006)
This novel-sized paperback is a well-written outline of the essential information you need to find and keep track of your family tree. It ends with several appendices including further resources (in print and online) and a glossary.
Tracing Your Family History by Anthony Adolf (Collins, 2005)
This is more of a coffee table book with plenty of images in colour. Invites you to dip into it. There is plenty of information and some useful insights.
Ancestral Trails by Mark Herber (Sutton, 2004)
This weighty tome of nearly 900 pages has won awards. It is as complete a guide to British genealogy as you could hope to find in print.

Keeping track of it all

Some people manage their family history on paper alone. I decided to use computer software. The program I use is The Master Genealogist UK Edition from Wholly Genes. There are plenty of other excellent programs but I came across an older (US) version of TMG on a bargain rack (for £4.99) and decided to give it a go. I liked it so much that I have since upgraded to the latest UK edition.

In the beginning I was more interested in entering the data and seeing the charts take shape than in the nitty-gritty of citing sources properly, etc. It was only when I started to share my findings with other people that I began to think seriously about making the software work to the best advantage.

In particular, TMG allows you to set up custom "sentences" to automatically produce output for all the events and anecdotes associated with an individual. These are a little tricky to get your head around at first but are well worth the effort. As well as the comprehensive help files that come with the program, several experienced users have published useful guides and examples to get you started. The best single source of explanation and inspiration for all aspects of using TMG is Terry Reigel’s Web site.

Building the Web site

There are a number of ways to get a family history published on the Web. It all depends on the quantity and style of the information you have to share, how much control you want over the presentation and what you are prepared to learn and/or spend. For a discussion of the breadth of options available see Putting Your Genealogy on the Web by Kimberly Powell. The Genealogy Web Page/Site Generators section of Cyndi’s List has links to many tools for you to consider.

What follows is a brief account of how I set about building this site. It is in no sense a blueprint that I would expect anyone else to follow. I hope it does demonstrate that whatever your current skills and however disorganised your family history files are, there is no reason why you cannot make a start on sharing your findings and contacting distant cousins.

Choosing an editor

The main initial decision here was whether to use a WYSIWYG Web page authoring package or learn HTML and CSS and do it myself. The former work rather like desk top publishing programs. You create the content and the look; they create the HTML. The better ones are expensive. The less expensive ones tend to generate pages with inefficient markup that load more slowly. They may also use unnecessary proprietary markup that is not understood by all browsers.

On the other hand, Web pages can be written and marked-up in a simple text editor, like Notepad for example, and then previewed in any browser. For more ease of use, dedicated HTML editors are available and many of them are free. I tried out a number of the free ones, settling in the end on HTML-Kit Build 292: it is well-behaved, reliably stable and can be customized to your heart’s content.

I learnt the basics of HTML and CSS on the excellent W3 Schools site and then made a start. In just a few days I had a site that worked. I then spent a couple of months learning more about the finer points of layout and getting the site to look the way I wanted.

Version 1

The original version of this site consisted of four hand-coded pages describing my direct ancestors, together with a number of pages of background information. I used TMG’s report tools to create the narratives, then added the HTML tags. At this stage, my TMG sentences worked reasonably well but still needed fairly heavy editing before they were fit to be shared.

Instant (well, almost) Web sites

A number of family history programs have companion programs that will generate Web sites from your genealogy project (the TMG one, written by John Cardinal, is called Second Site). I initially used Second Site (SS) to generate pages of basic data for everyone in my project. This is the current Database section.

I then worked on getting the TMG sentences into better shape so that I could also use SS to produce narratives of my direct ancestors that did not require any further editing. This is now the Narratives section.

Looking to the future

Now that my TMG sentences are working, I’ll be able to expand the Narratives to include any person for whom I have more than just birth, marriage and death information. This would have been impossible to maintain effectively without the use of SS. It also opens up more possibilities in terms of charts, maps and whatever else John Cardinal dreams up!

The Brandis section of the site is new. It will be a mixture of hand-coded pages (some generated from XML files) and SS-produced pages (as I piece together the various family lines).