New to family history but ready, willing and able to learn, Niall Cullen can usually be found manning the helm of findmypast’s online and offline marketing activities. In a series of blog posts, he will lead you through his own voyage of ancestral discovery.

Speak to Living Relatives

Since joining findmypast in January 2013, my eyes have been opened to the wonderful world of family history. From a being a complete novice nearly a year ago, it is fair to say that I now could be considered at least an intermediate – the goal is expert!

So I thought it might be a chance to share my stories with you all over a series of blog posts. Not that I’m one to blow my own trumpet, so to speak, but if my journey encourages other family history beginners to get started or keep going then I’d be happy with that.

As with the beginning of most family history research, my first stop was to speak to living relatives. In my case this meant my parents, my one surviving grandparent and my oldest Aunt. Just a brief conversation with each of them and I was already as far back as my great grandparents on both my Mam and Dad’s side. I had full names (including maiden for my great grandmothers) and some approximate dates of birth for all eight of my great grandparents. I hadn’t even known their names before this!

More than anything else, what I took from this was that sometimes all that is needed to find out some vital details about your ancestors is time and willingness to talk. I had phone calls with my grandfather and Aunt and one-on-one conversations with my parents where I was lucky enough to be able to see documents like mass cards that confirmed dates of births etc.

It suddenly occurred to me – why hadn’t I had these conversations before now?! Working with a company who specialise in family history is what prompted me to finally ask but I have been on this planet for nearly thirty years and not once before had I even attempted to find out more about my great grandparents. The fact that it was so quick and simple to get the basic details made me regret not asking previously even more.

What I also took from it is that women are better with the finer details. My Mam and Aunt double-checked documents for dates whereas my Dad and Grandad were happy to make ‘guesstimations’ – not very helpful for searching records!

So, I was equipped with the basics and could start to build my family tree with names and dates for four generations of my family. What I needed next was to start searching different records to paint a more detailed picture.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next part of my personal family history research journey blog series where I will discuss what I found out about my family by searching vital and census records.