How to find family history clues at home


08 July 2024
Charlotte Soares military shoulder badges Family Tree UK Charlotte discovered her father’s World War II Royal Artillery shoulder badges and her grandfather’s World War I Royal Engineers shoulder badges quite by accident... when sorting her parents’ shed
Once we start looking for family history clues, we may be surprised at how many treasures we have stowed away, in shoeboxes, drawers, the roof or a shed. Make sure you're not missing a gem.

"I shall never forget the day when I felt my grandfather stay my hand," writes author and genealogist Charlotte Soares in the August 2024 issue of Family Tree.

"We were sorting the shed after our parents’ deaths. My brother-in-law was tipping nails from an old paint pot into a box to go to the tip for recycling. I was not close by but could see and hear him tipping the nails out. It was a hot day. As I shaded my eyes, something shiny caught the sun in amongst the falling rusty nails. What was that?

"I went over and reached into the box. It was my grandfather’s World War I Royal Engineers shoulder badge, then another, and there were his brass uniform buttons! What treasure!

"‘Don’t be throwing that out,’ I seemed to hear him say, in that heavenly ray of sunshine. Forever after, when sorting, I now look at every piece, a box of nails may not just be nails. Why they turned up there I shall never know, but the ray of sun that lit them up made us feel not a little spooked."

It's easily done isn't it. We quickly stow something away for safe-keeping. Someone else may tidy up after us, and put things in slightly the wrong place. And - before you know it - precious items, such as your Dad's or Grandad's military badges are almost lost, hidden away in a tin in the shed.

Charlotte Soares is passionate about remembering and telling the stories of the items she is lucky enough to have handed down to her.

Charlotte: "Bill hooks and scythes from pre-lawn mower days hung on the shed walls, used by parents, grandparents and even me back in the day we had a smallholding.

"I tend to agree with my mother that the sound of a swishing scythe blade far surpasses the roar of an electric mower as the spirit of summer.

"A set of wooden planes and screwdrivers of all sizes emerged from a crumbling drawer. Pruning knives, string, old keys with faded labels like ‘Back door’, but not a door to the present house, a sentimental item for our Nan perhaps, as she locked one of her previous houses in Yorkshire for the last time."

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As you can see, even ordinary items may bring back memories of loved ones and times past. Often, indeed, it's the everyday items that are most familiar, and bring back the strongest memories.

So whether it's precious military memorabilia, or everyday gardening tools, books or kitchenalia remember their former owners, enjoy them, and pass the items and the stories of those who once owned them on to future generations.

How to look for family history clues at home

If you've had items passed down to you, be sure you know the details. Check with older members of the family to find out about who owned them previously, and what was their significance.

Check through books, for inscriptions, which may give clues of gifts between family members, school prizes or religious persuasions.

Check through desks, drawers, button boxes and sewing boxes, as often precious items were stowed away in such places.

Take photographs of any such items passed down to you, and create a written record, with a photograph, for each item (or collection of items). Perhaps considering add these to your family history blog or family tree. If you wish to retain your privacy, then simply keep the written records in your home family history archive, in a ring binder for instance. This will make it as easy as possible for others to enjoy the stories after you, and understand the importance of the treasures in your family.