Expert in profile


25 February 2013
Celia-Heritage-300x225-86478.jpg Expert in profile
Family Tree gets the low-down from professional family historian and lecturer Celia Heritage on her love of genealogy a

Family Tree gets the low-down from professional family historian and lecturer Celia Heritage on her love of genealogy and the resources she values when doing her family history research. Celia's new book Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records (Pen & Sword) was launched at this year’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at Olympia, 22-24 February 2013, where she also did talks. Discover more about her book at and in the March issue of Family Tree.

So, discover what Celia loves about family history...

What’s your favourite period of history for researching your ancestors?

I love doing Tudor genealogy, looking at records that are 500-odd years old, and getting inside the lives of these people that were around so far back. The palaeography is quite challenging at times, but it stretches the brain. As the registers have a lot less information in them, you obviously have to search wider and you’re a lot more reliant on other sources, such as wills, to try and prove which entries in a parish register are the right ones.  It’s surprising how much you can tell (though not always as much as you’d like) from the Tudor wills. For example, there was one couple with two adult living sons called John and without the will, just using the pedigree, it would have been very easy to get confused.

You mentioned wills a couple of times there. Is there any single resource that you wouldn’t be without?

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If I had to take one finding aid with me, it would be The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. It gives you such a good overall view of which parish is where, with maps, and which dates the parish registers  cover.

And what would be your tips for searching for ancestors online?

Don’t be reliant for searching for just one website, and even if you just subscribe to one, you can often search the index of another one for free. You don’t necessarily need to take out an annual subscription, perhaps just buy credits to search other sites’ additional databases. When we go to a site it’s tempting to start searching right away, but for each database you’re using do check to see the coverage, as there may be gaps, and that may the reason you don’t find someone. And probably the most important point is to check which records are not online at all, otherwise you may come away with something you think is right, or perhaps you come away with nothing at all.

Finally, do you have an ancestor, or branch of your family, that you are particularly fond of?

My maternal grandmother came from Westmorland, and I do feel rooted there, as though I belong there. I didn’t grow up there, but it’s ‘in my blood’, and it’s the first line I ever tried to trace.

Read a review of Celia’s book and her feature ‘The Genealogy Boot Camp’ in the March issue of Family Tree (on sale now).

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