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What is family history? The alternative guide - Using Google


We launch Family Tree's new blog series on an alternative guide to family history by Paul Chiddicks, who shares some ideas for using Google in family history research.

Google is your friend

Now go on admit it, everyone's “googled” their own name, haven't they? Were you surprised with what you found? Was there a lot more content about you, available on the internet, than you ever imagined?

What I'm going to try and do with this blog, is take that process a little step further. “Just Google it”, I must say that phrase at least a few times every day, especially to the children. So let's explore how using Google in our research can open a few new doors to us.

Now I'm not going to sit here and explain to you how to use the various Google search helps, such as speech marks, the plus sign and minus sign, asterix etc, there are plenty of guides or “how to pages” available on the internet that will teach you the specifics of using Google. What I'm going to try and do is, point you in the right direction of some different ideas of what to search for, hopefully some ideas that you maybe haven’t considered before, that might just unlock a door for you, or knock down that brick wall for you.

The places our ancestors lived

So what things could we consider? Well, apart from individual names, experiment with searching for the streets where your ancestors would have lived. A obvious point maybe, but look at images as well as straightforward web pages, and you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

As an example, my great-grandfather lived at 40 Shortmead Street, Biggleswade. Put that into Google and it leads you to this wonderful website listing the history of the properties in the street. Without using that type of search I might never have found this site.

Another search on an ancestral home of Plough Cottages, South Ockendon, brings up images of The Plough Public House; nestled alongside, are Plough Cottages, where my ancestors lived.

Use Google Street View to locate where your ancestors lived and how the house looks today, in comparison. Take a screenshot of the image and you have a ready-made picture of your ancestor’s home. Experiment with people’s names in conjunction with streets and areas that they lived in, again use a combination of web pages as well as images. Look at Schools where your ancestors would have attended, look at school reunion sites as another alternative. Use Google Street View to see what streets, towns and buildings look like today.

Taking a wider view

Consider your ancestor’s employment, look at companies they might have worked for, or occupations that they were engaged in. Again, be imaginative. Google trades and industries, consider trade unions also.

Don’t always abandon a search after one or two pages, look a bit further down the results pages that Google has provided you with. I have searched my great grandfather “John Edwin Barnes”, numerous times over the years. My great grandfather died at Gallipoli during World War One. A more recent Google of his name brought up an interesting find, he is mentioned in a book, Britain’s Lost Regiments, by author Trevor Royle.

Without this later search, I would never have known about the book. It was such a wonderful surprise. I have since corresponded with the author and in the second edition of the book he will be including a much more detailed article regarding my great grandfather. None of this would have been possible without the original Google search.

So in summary, be flexible, experiment, look at all aspects of your ancestors life. School, work, occupation, where they lived, what they did, hobbies, where they possibly socialised, clubs and organisations for example. Working Men’s clubs were a big part of life a generation or two ago, as well as sports and social clubs. Did your ancestors socialise here? Are there any photographs online?

One final example to end with. My grandfather was Secretary of our local Labour Club, The Rook Hall Club, putting this into Google brought up this website. I then contacted the lady that made the post in the article. She was now living in Australia. By absolute sheer chance, she recognised my surname, her husband went to the same school as my father. They kindly sent me some fantastic images of my father, in a series of school photographs and a local street party. These pictures are priceless to me now, but without my original Google search, I would never have found them.

So why not spend an afternoon trying various searches, experiment, be flexible, be patient and you just might be rewarded with a wonderful surprise or two that you never expected?

Please let me know how you get on…

Paul Chiddicks

Follow Paul on Twitter and his blog.

Researching the names: Chiddicks in Essex; Daniels in Dublin; Keyes in Prittlewell; Wootton in Herefordshire and London; Jack in Scotland.

(archive image copyright Tuck DB Postcards)



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