There are different pros and cons of being a 21st century aspiring genealogist. As well as a
variation of different things that have either been made easier, or more difficult because of the
growth in the digital world.
I consider myself as being lucky to have grown up around family members who were also
interested in Family History. Throughout my childhood, I often ended up listening to stories and
hearing about a new ancestor that my mum or grandad had added to their tree.
It all started when my mum decided to do a college course in childminding. She had to complete
an assignment to look into trends within family groups, which led to her and my grandad working
together to look into their family history.
My mum didn’t regularly look at her family history after her coursework was completed, but my
grandad kept going and the interest he had drew me to it from a young age. I started to casually
research on my own from around 2014, but prior to this, I would help my grandad, or sit and
listen to him telling me about different things he had learnt or different family members that he
knew, that had passed before I could know them.
More recently, I have helped my mum to regain her interest in family history, as well as asking
my step-mum some questions and getting her digging into her own as well.
By having different family members from different generations interested in this, I have seen the
various ways that people research and think about their family history. I can also see what each
person finds interesting and looks for in their research.
Now, I’m not saying that there is any right or wrong in anyone’s research methods, but it is
interesting to see the differences over the generations in research, record storage and opinions.
Genealogy as a Career
I was brought up knowing that family history and genealogy is a good hobby to have. It’s
something you can do on your own, and something that you can share with others, if they are
Never before my adult life had I honestly thought that family history and genealogy was a career
option. I have always been encouraged to keep doing it in my spare time, but to focus on my
studies and getting a steady and secure job.
I have spoken to family members about hoping to realign my career path to become a
professional genealogist, and while most family members are fully supportive of this, my
grandad showed hesitation. I was told that ‘records were now too easy to access as everything
is online, and that it is a dying trade because everyone can do it themselves nowadays’.
Now, I know my grandad just wants me to be successful in my career, but it is interesting to
compare his opinion to others who are more immersed in a digital age. Yes, a lot of our records
are online, however, not all of them are. Yes, a lot more people are known to be interested in
Genealogy and Family History, but this is because it is a more well known pastime because of
the digital age. Just because there are more people interested in Genealogy, doesn’t mean that
it is a dying trade, in fact, it is blossoming.
Family Trees and Charts
Another interesting variation of methods is with family trees and charts. Now, whenever I think
about my family tree, my instinct is to open up my Ancestry or FindMyPast tree, and pick up
where I left off. They even have built in to do list options, to remind you where you got to, or of
something that you needed to research last time.
So, when I discuss other people’s trees it’s very strange for me when they bring out something
different to what I am used to. My Grandad, for example, has all of his tree handwritten (I
honestly don’t know how he continually adds to it without making mistakes). His whole tree is
written across dozens of pieces of A3 paper, which is pinned to a large wooden board which
leans against a wall. It is a basic drop line chart, depicting names and dates of birth, marriage
My mum used to hand write her trees on sugar paper when she started, but more recently she
has been learning how to use websites like ancestry and findmypast. Finally, my step-mum uses
a completely different method. She attempted to use Ancestry to start with, but struggled with it.
She now plots her dropline charts on excel documents. I personally wouldn’t be able to plot a
continuously growing tree on excel, but it works for her.
Saving / Managing Records
When my mum researched originally, all of her records and copies of indexes were kept in
paper folders in a box, these weren’t necessarily ordered in a particular way.
Along with the dozens of pages of the handwritten family tree that my grandad has pinned to a
board, each ancestor mentioned has a red number next to their name. I’m unsure on whether
this started on day one of research, or whether it was something added afterwards, but each
little red number corresponds to a paper file. Originally, each paper file was in a plastic wallet in
a Red Ringbinder (hence why they were written in red). However, these soon outgrew the
ringbinder, and have been moved into a filing cabinet.
Whereas my step-mum prints all the relevant records that she finds. She keeps printed family
group sheets, and person information sheets, and attaches the relevant records to the back of
these and puts them in a file box.
Growing up within a more digital age, I naturally save the records I find to my digital trees.
Although I have a large number of records from other people’s research, all of my research is
digital. I save records to the relevant files on Ancestry, FindMyPast and on my offline digital tree.
I also have a number system similar to my grandad’s, where each ancestor has a numbered file,
but for me these are digitally saved on a hard drive and the cloud. I also like to document the
records that I find into facts to build up a timeline of events in a person’s life. This helps me to
see where I am missing information for my ancestors and then helps with what I can look for in
the future. The main offline documents that I have are original records, or official copies from the
GRO, which are filed safely.
Although many people research and record their findings in different ways, I still feel that having
other like minded people to discuss your research with, will help you as you progress. Even if
you research in a completely different way, they might be able to offer up a useful method that
you’ve not tried before which could lead to more information and answers along the way.
Having different ways to plot and maintain your research is beneficial, and just because you find
one method of research better than another, doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with you. I
have gained a lot of inspiration and motivation from other researchers. Every time I look at my
grandad’s handwritten tree, I am in awe of what he has created. I couldn’t do it, but it’s how he
To learn more about Natasha Swift and to follow her genealogy journey, you can find her on Instagram @tashasswift and Twitter @Hidden_Origins.
That was a really lovely and interesting read, it’s so strange to think your grandad has a whole filing system with all these documents in!
I like the idea that it’s a hobby you can do alone and share with others, and you all have a different way of doing things.
Hope to see more posts from you in the future!