26 March 2018
Find out how to plan a family history road-trip and visit the places where your ancestors lived, in Paul Chiddick's helpful guide for genealogists.
When you set off on your voyage of discovery did you ever contemplate actually following in your ancestor’s footsteps? I know I certainly never did. It seems like a lifetime ago that I first started trying to find out about my ancestors and although it's only been fifteen years, it certainly has been a real journey, including plenty of ups and downs, red herrings and lost causes.
My early years were spent like many of us, collecting what I call the “cold data”, the nuts and bolts really of what we do; the basic facts from births, deaths and marriages. Once you have exhausted those and taken your tree beyond civil registration and into the realms of parish registers, progress naturally starts to slow down. It’s at this point I started to consider what direction I wanted to go next.
Off-roading for genealogists!
I decided that I wanted to “flesh out” my tree with greater detail and randomly choose some interesting characters, for no other reason than I was drawn to them, it's something you can’t explain, but as a genealogist I like to go with my instincts and “gut feelings” about some ancestors. There’s nothing better than diving off on a tangent and following an obscure or less travelled route, call it “off-roading” for genealogists!
So what better feeling can there be than exploring the same places that your ancestors; your very own flesh and blood, walked? To follow in their footsteps is a very humbling experience indeed. To be able to visit the village where your ancestors lived and maybe visit the church where they worshipped, is an extraordinary experience.
If you have never visited the place where your ancestors were born and you have always considered making a field trip, then I would encourage you to do so, it's a worthwhile experience and certainly brings your tree to life.
I recently made two trips to Dublin to trace my Daniels family and what worthwhile trips they were. I was able to see the house my Nan lived in, the school she attended and I walked the exact same footsteps she trod, on her journey to school as a 5 year old.
Top tips for planning your family history road-trip
- Like everything, you will need to do some research before you visit, there's nothing worse than finding a public building you were hoping to visit on your trip is closed to the public for some reason! So therefore good preparation and a plan of action is essential.
- I suggest putting our good friend Google to good use again and have a look online before you visit. Maybe Google the local church or school, get a feel for what to expect when you arrive. Put Google Maps to good use and pinpoint places of interest that you intend to visit, then take it a step further and plan the routes you intend to walk. Have a look online at some old maps of the area; compare these maps with your Google map from today.
- Contact a local history society (assuming your village or town has one), before you visit and ask them what information they could offer you. The local library is also a great place to drop in; this will be packed with lots of local history information.
- Think about what you hope to achieve with your field trip, consider whether you need a camera or will your mobile phone be enough?
- Is your tree data portable, do you have it on your mobile or tablet? Will you need a paper copy? Next look at what information is missing from your tree, is there a possibility you can fill in some blanks on your trip? To do this you will need to look at what information you are missing, so make a shortlist ready.
- If you need to visit a few public facilities such as libraries or buildings, make sure you email them upfront to confirm opening times and what you can find once you arrive. Compile a list of relevant telephone numbers and contact details.
Once you're there...
When you arrive, stop and ask the locals about their town or village try and get a local’s viewpoint of the area. The local pub is always a good choice to break the ice and ask a few questions.
Make the most of your visit, plan well in advance and make the best use of your time; it will be a very rewarding experience, I promise you. To walk the very steps that your ancestors have walked is a very unique moment and one that will stay with you for a long time…
Researching the names: Chiddicks in Essex; Daniels in Dublin; Keyes in Prittlewell; Wootton in Herefordshire and London; Jack in Scotland.