Family History Research for Older People

Why encourage your older parent to investigate their family history?

  • Having a project on the go is a great way to keep busy and tracing your family history is fantastic, as your parent can delve into their own past and remembrances and you and your family can benefit from knowing more about your roots
  • It is a wonderful well of rekindling bonds between all members of the family especially with grandchildren
  • In recent years, tracing your ancestry has become increasing popular, particularly since the BBC series, ‘Who do you think you are?’ first aired

What is genealogy?

Genealogy is research into your own ancestry. Specifically, it can be a case of simply discovering names, relationships and dates. More generally, it can be the study of the social and economic history of your family  It can be looked at in a number of different ways:

The classic approach is to follow one line of your ancestors. For reasons connected with the way early records were kept, this is often the male line i.e. your father, his father, and so on

Discovery of all your ancestors , which is harder , because lines through females tend to be more difficult to find; and each time you go back one generation, you’ll have (approximately) twice the number of people to locate

A one name study. Some genealogists are so fascinated by their surname that they record all occurrences of it with the aim of assigning them to family groupings (at least) and, ideally, of discovering how they are all related. Unless the surname is unusual and typically associated with one part of the country only, the latter may not be possible. Finding that someone is carrying out a one name study on a family you are interested in is, however, a great advantage – a lot of the work will have been done for you already!

Family history and family trees. One or some combination of the above, plus personal details about your ancestors. In practice, it is almost impossible to compile a pedigree of your family without discovering other details; in particular, addresses and occupations. However, you’re likely to discover lots of other details too – in particular in wills. However, records such as those kept by the armed forces about those who served with them may shed interesting light on your ancestors too

How to go about it?

There are numerous online sites, where you can trace your ancestry, or who will do it for you. Or you can undertake the project yourself via libraries and local record offices. It all takes time, but it is ultimately fascinating and very worthwhile

Be aware that some internet information is free and other sites will charge for their services

Begin by remembering information about each member in your family that will identify that person. Each person can be identified by personal information, such as the following:

  • Name
  • Other members of the family
  • Dates and places of important events such as birth, marriage, and death
  • Ancestral village
  • Occupation

Use forms, or computer programmes you can use to record your family information. They make the task of recording and organizing easier. You can get basic ones for free on-line, or of course, you can write charts by hand

There are many useful sites to start you off:


There are also genealogy kits you can buy

Photo books

Photo books are great fun to make and can be used as permanent mementoes of your parent’s life and indeed, your own with them

They also make great gifts. There are many online options, where you can create your own photo books.

You can ask the companies to scan old photographs, as many will not be held digitally.

Digital Photograph Frames

Digital photograph frames make great gifts and are a pleasure for your parent to watch, as they scroll through the downloaded pictures

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