Researching my Family Tree

Before my great-grandfather died, he left behind an autobiography for the entire family to read. We learned about his humble beginnings in Kent, England and more importantly, the part he played in World War 2. He was part of the Military Intelligence and had so many magnificent and harrowing stories to share with us. In his autobiography, he also briefly mentioned that his wife, my great-grandmother, was related to Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren. I didn’t take this lightly (no one should!) and felt like I needed to find out for myself.

William Arthur Hayward

My great-grandfather – William Arthur Hayward

After watching every episode of Who Do You Think You Are in existence, I was inspired to travel to England and learn as much about my family as possible. My dad is equally intrigued by genealogy as I am, so after a couple of years, I finally convinced him to visit London with me (another post on that later). I wanted to find older records there that I wasn’t able to find on websites like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. It was certainly a wake up call. When you are trying to find a connection back to the 1500’s, it’s no easy feat. Here are some resources I used and some tips I’d like to share if you decide to start your own ancestry research!

The two websites I mentioned above have been the best resources for me. Ancestry.com holds over 20 billion records, has over 3 million paying subscribers, and over 100 million family trees. With so many people submitting their DNA to websites such as this, the family connections are only growing. I submitted my own DNA earlier this year and since receiving my initial results, I’ve been notified several times that I may have a family connection in their database. Not only that, but they create a DNA story with a timeline and map showing the migrations of your ancestors, which they then use to compile a unique Spotify playlist. I just think that’s the coolest thing.

Ancestry Spotify Playlist

I like to have my main family tree on Ancestry.com because it not only gives you great hints on possible connections, but it builds a story for each family member based on the historical records you’ve attached to them. Maybe you heard of a distant grandmother, but didn’t know too many details about her life. After doing your own research and adding it to your family tree, you can then read a story of their life that includes events such as immigration, marriages, and even historical events. This is a really unique feature for the genealogy sites I’ve used and one that I find to be very special. I highly suggest paying for a monthly subscription to this website to start your journey and host your main family tree (there’s a possibility you will have multiple trees on multiple websites). Click here to learn more about Ancestry.com.

screenshot - Britain Declares War

FamilySearch.org is the second website I use while at the same time using Ancestry.com. It claims to be the largest genealogy organization in the world. I love this website and find it incredibly helpful when it comes to finding possible links to my ancestors as well as a massive database of historical records. To learn more about FamilySearch, click here.

You can actually integrate your FamilySearch tree to your Ancestry account. Learn more here.

One thing you want to avoid when doing your research, is falling into a rabbit hole. Pick one side of your family you want to learn more about and stay on that track. It’s so easy to waste time getting lost in records, especially if you look at incorrect information. There are plenty of records available, so make sure you are finding the correct ones. Compare with other records you’ve found and look for ones that have an image. Because most of my family is from England, their names are the same as many other people, so knowing the exact years and names of parents/siblings/children are vital when finding the correct records and linking them to your tree.

Richard and Joan Wedding

My grandparents on their wedding day, October 6, 1956 in Toronto, ON.

Don’t be discouraged if you hit a wall in your research. The best thing you can do is ask your family members for any records they may have on your grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Document them into your tree and you will notice how much easier it is to uncover ancestors you didn’t know you had. Every time you add a new link to your family tree, it feels like you’re uncovering a little treasure. This project is something to share with your family and something to be very proud of! As my grandparents are getting older, they are sharing more information with me on my family history, and as I do more research, I get to share some new information with them. Seeing the excitement on their faces is really special and makes me realize how important it is to create this story for my family.

When my dad and I visited the Society of Genealogists in London, UK, we learned that once you start researching the 1600s and earlier, you will need to start looking at Parish records. Back then, it was the churches that documented events such as marriages, births, and deaths. As I was going through records in the SOG‘s library, I was seeing records that went back to the 1300’s. It occurred to me that I need to dig even deeper in my tree before I walk into a library that holds records that old. I’m currently only in the 1800’s with my great-grandmother’s side, so I have a long way to go before I find any connections to Christopher Wren or Isaac Newton.

Something pretty neat happened on this trip to London. Our family knows how involved my great-grandfather was with Winston Churchill. He reported to him while he was involved with the Military Intelligence during WW2 and oddly enough, taught the Churchill children how to drive! We visited the Churchill War Rooms in London (a MUST for any history buff) and saw a few photos of Churchill with his family. It’s very cool to be able to say, “my great-grandpa taught them how to drive!”

Churchill War Rooms

After a couple of weeks I was sent to pickup an old Daimler owned by Winston Churchill. He lived at his country estate at ‘Chartwell,’ just outside of Westerham in Kent. I was to drive it back to the garage and tune it up. I was made responsible for maintaining this car and I suppose I became quite a familiar figure at Chartwell. My boss was asked to allow me to teach the Churchill children to drive the car and so it was arranged that, assuming the car could be spared, I was to present myself at Chartwell every Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. It appeared that Sarah, Mary, and Randolph were all to receive lessons. We were to stop at lunch time for a picnic. I got to know these young people quite well. Little did I know what the future would hold for them or for me. These were very pleasant times.Photo of Winston Churchill with wife Clementine and his youngest daughter, Mary.

I hope this has inspired others to research their family tree. If you are interested, here are a couple of other websites that may help you with your family tree…

Fold 3 – This website is operated by Ancestry.com and is a great resource when wanting to find information about a relative who was involved in the military.

FindMyPast – World leader in online genealogy. If your family is British, this is a website I would recommend as it is British-owned with a large database of historical documents.

Family Tree Magazine compiled a list of the top 25 genealogy websites to visit as a beginner researching your family tree. You can read it here.

Have you ever researched your family tree? Comment below, I would love to hear about your journey or if you have any questions!

We’re all immortal, as long as our stories are told.” -Elizabeth Hunter, The Scribe

Reaching my Family Tree with Ancestry in London, UK

2 thoughts on “Researching my Family Tree

  1. Kirstie Carrick says:

    What a wonderful story! I have visited Chartwell, too, isn’t it fascinating? My family claims a connection with Isaac Newton as well, but only because a great-great-grandmother had the surname Newton. They were cottagers in Lincolnshire, so I doubt that it is actually the case that there is a connection. Loving your blogs.

    Like

    • HerOwnVolition says:

      Oh wow! Chartwell will.be the next trip for sure for us. I’ve tried to find the connection but it’s difficult to go that far back. Its my mission. Newtons a popular English name so I feel like maybe we’re in the same boat. Would be great if we we’re though! And thank you so much, glad you’re enjoying them 🙂

      Like

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