It seemed to me that once I had decided to write my family history I had to start by answering a lot of questions.


WHY?             Do I want to write my family history?

HOW?            Do I write my family history?

WHO?            Can help me?

WHERE?       Can I get the information I need?

WHAT?          Would I say to help anyone else starting to write a family history?

WHEN?          Do you know you have finished?


Why do I want to write a family history?

Iíve decided that I should start by explaining why I wanted to write my family history.


There are many reasons why I have always wanted to do this work. The main one may seem stupid to most people but I have always believed that if someoneís name is remembered then, in a way, they become immortal.


Many members of my family have researched our ancestors but since I married Bob Janes (who knew almost nothing about his ancestry) I have an extra name or two to research.


In 2004 the BBC showed a series about genealogy which spurred me into action as the programme showed that a lot of the research could now be carried out on-line. This was ideal for me as I donít have the time or money or energy to travel around the world doing the research.


I also think that finding out how we lived with actual names of ordinary people is far more interesting than the way history was taught when I was at school dealing only with Kings and Queens and nobility.


Of course, like almost every other person researching their family I would love to discover someone famous or infamous in my familyís past but Iím sure we were just very ordinary and, therefore, totally uninteresting to anyone else. Still at least my son has promised to take over from me when Iím gone!


That explains a bit of why I started my magnum opus.


How do I start?

How I started is much easier to say as one of my nephews had to do a family tree for a school project so I used his tree as my initial information which I could then check using the 1901 census which had recently been released on-line.


I never realised how much of a buzz you could get from finally finding someone youíve been seeking for a while. Iím amazed that people who find their ancestors after years of searching donít overdose on this high.


Although Iíve never been a drug addict, except for when I used to smoke, I didnít realise how addictive this hobby can become. I spend every second possible on the computer searching for people, even if they have nothing to do with me. However, I donít think Iíve spent as much money on this as I would have done had I still been a smoker, just.


When I was at school I remember frequently coming home and asking my mum whether she knew whatever I had learnt that day and hoping that she wouldnít know it so that I could amaze her with my newly acquired knowledge. But she always said ďOh yes, I know about thatĒ and then she would tell me all about it in more depth than Iíd learnt.


Now when I find out something about one of her ancestors e.g. the fact that her great grandfather died aged 27 in 1869, from TB, I get excited and call her to tell her about whatever Iíve discovered. Now she says ďOh yes, I knew thatĒ. When I ask ďWhy didnít you tell me then?Ē she replies ďSorry I forgotĒ. Ah, well! Sometimes you just canít win. Still Iíve always got my in laws as anything I find out about their forebears is news to them!


Whenever Iíve read anything that is supposed to help a beginner in family history they all say sit down and talk to your eldest relatives. But what do you do if you havenít got an old aunt still alive? Iím not talking about adopted people, I mean people like me who start later in life than some. I was lucky because as I said others in my family had already done a lot of research, over many years. However, of my husbandís ancestors very little was known (and some information that I was told was incorrect) so I had a real challenge into which I could get my teeth.


Where do I start to write this family history? Should I concentrate on one line or try to do all lines of descent?


Iím actually trying to do the latter for my family. I chose this option mainly because that is what had been done before but also as my family seems to have had more memorable women than men, therefore, the surname keeps changing. This name changing has probably been exacerbated because many of my male ancestors were immigrants, including my father who was born in Poland. All my fatherís family were victims of the Holocaust and even my dad spent some time in a Siberian concentration camp until the Russians changed sides. But thatís another story which I will return to later on when I come to researching my dadís side of the family.


Iíve got ancestors who came from many different parts of Europe e.g. Holland, Germany and Poland. Iím particularly interested in tracing the origins of my earliest known ancestor who was called Elijah Bellem his son Mattathias suddenly appeared in Plymouth in the middle of the 18th century. I have no dates for Elijahís birth or death and no knowledge of any wife or children except for his son Mattathias who was born about 1735. As none of my familyís researchers have any idea where Elijah came from I have developed a theory. The Plymouth Jewish community had close links with the Dutch Jews, particularly those in Amsterdam and I have discovered that there is a town in northern Belgium called Bellem, which may be where Elijah came from. As Bellem, the town, is near the Dutch border Elijah may have spoken Dutch as well as Flemish. He may have travelled to Amsterdam for his work where they may have told him that Plymouth was the place to go. In Plymouth he would probably have been known as Elijah of Bellem and eventually the OF was dropped. Iíll probably never be able to confirm or deny my theory but it will do until a better one comes along but it would be nice to find out more about him.


For my husbandís ancestry there are fewer lines to bother about as the surname Janes goes back, unaltered, for a long time as itís through the men. Iím also doing Bobís mumís ancestry as she seems to be interested. One amusing discovery I have made is that on the 1881 census one group of her ancestors were living in the same road as one group of mine. Small world isnít it!


Who can help me?

Obviously, if anyone in your family is also researching your family you will be able to collaborate by sharing the discoveries you each make on your common ancestors. However, there will be areas that only you will be researching as in my case I got a whole new family to research on getting married.


Outside of your own family there are many people who love to help other family researchers at County Records Offices, The National Archives at Kew, the London Metropolitan Archives and the Society of Genealogists. I went to the Essex Records Office for the Janes who originated in Essex and I must say that all the people I spoke to at the Centre couldnít have been more helpful to me a comparative beginner. I have searched on-line records from The National Archives and obtained paper copies from them but so far Iíve only visited Kew once and I must say anyone planning on going there should prepare thoroughly as it is an enormous place.


ĎThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saintsí otherwise known as The Mormons have lots of records available for anyone to view. You simply find your local LDS Family Centre and let them know what records you want to look at and book a time to view them. If you need it the people there will assist you in anyway they can. (N.B. As they may not be able to print any records you find take a camera and photograph them. But ask if it's ok first.) I've also discovered that whether you're in a Records' Office or an LDS Family Centre not only are the people who work there helpful but other people doing their own research seem to have the attitude that we're all members of a club and so they really seem to enjoy putting themselves out to help, especially to help novices.


Where can I get the information I need?

The vast majority of my research, so far, has been carried out in my living room and my love affair with the Internet has intensified because of the huge amount of sites I have found that deal with genealogy. (See Annexe 3 for a list of useful web sites.)


Unless your family has lived in only one county for centuries or you live near The National Archives Office in Kew you will have to use a computer to search the census records etc or travel to the County Recordsí Offices where the information you want is kept. As my family did a lot of moving around I chose the computer option.


As Iíve said all the books and magazines say you must start by interviewing older relatives and noting all they tell you about your ancestors, including any old family stories that you might wish to confirm or refute. But if you donít have any old relations or you donít want to talk to them, for whatever reason, you can still research your family. To start all you need is someone who you know was alive in 1901 and then you can look for that person in the census records.


If you find your ancestor in 1901 there are three possible next steps. If your person was a child in 1901 you would then know the names of their parents and any siblings alive then and also where and when all these people were born (or at least where and when they said they were born). Then you could move back ten years to the 1891 census and look for the family again (search for whoever was down as the Head of the house in 1901).


If your person was a married adult in 1901 you would know their spouseís name and any children they had along with the same where and when details as before. If your person was an unmarried adult in 1901 you will need their approximate birth year and county of birth to search on as, depending on their age, youíll probably be trying to find them with their parents and siblings in 1891.


When you go back ten years you should start searching with the Head of the family (assuming this is a man as women always changed their surname on marrying).


If you need or want to follow a woman you need to search Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) records and then get a copy of their marriage certificate. BMD certificates contain a lot of useful information.


Birth certificates show fatherís name and occupation (unless the child is illegitimate in which case it may be left blank) and motherís name and maiden name.


Marriage certificates contain the brideís and the groomís fatherís names and occupations (again if either person getting married was illegitimate the fatherís details may be blank or they may state that he was deceased).


Death certificates should show the personís age at death (not always accurate and only for later certificates). On marriage and death certificates it is advisable to note who the witnesses/informants were as you might need to find them later, if they were relatives.


Although I have never used them for my research, Internet Newsgroups seems to be a good place for asking for help when you get stuck and Iíve enjoyed seeing what people have asked about. I would have tried to help but by the time I see the questions there are normally a few replies already posted. The Newsgroups I look at are soc.genealogy.britain, soc.genealogy.jewish and soc.genealogy.medieval. Although not totally relevant they also, sometimes, have extremely good arguments.


What would I say to help anyone else starting to write a family history?

The most important piece of advice I would like to pass on to anyone embarking on writing a family history is that when you find someone who may be an ancestor make sure that you record where you obtained the information. For instance for information from a census you must note the Source information e.g. RG10/1337, Folio e.g. 111 and Page e.g. 48. For Birth, Marriage and Death records you should note the Year e.g. 1872, the Quarter e.g. Sep (for the 3rd quarter i.e. records for July to September), District e.g. Edmonton, Volume e.g. 3a and Page e.g. 190.


The reasons you should note this information is that, for certificates, this is what you will need to quote to get a copy. For census information, and certificates, including this information makes your records look more complete and professional and also and most important because I can almost guarantee that youíll need to access the page again to check something.


When looking at census pages make sure you check the neighbours as well. This may be important as it gave me another area of research that I could follow because whilst investigating the Janes I discovered that at the time of the 1881 census an older brother (called William) of my husbandís great grandfather was living and working in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. At the same time the lady who became his wife was living, with her family in their pub, in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire (11.5 miles away). Firstly, I wondered why William had gone to Aylesbury and I found out that there were lots of Janes in Buckinghamshire so I presume that a cousin told him there was work there if he was willing to move from North London. Then I wondered how he had met his wife so I checked her neighbours and found that living next door to their pub was a family of Janes. (Another cousin?)


This has given me a long term ambition of linking all the Home Counties Janes and maybe I can find which county is the original Janes home. I do know that a William Janes was born in 1610 in Essex and emigrated to America but I would like to find out if he had any male siblings that stayed here and are the forebears of my Janes (not sisters as, of course, they would not be Janes after they married).


Now that Iíve gained some experience in researching family trees (just over 2 years) I have developed a way of recording my research to try to make sure that nothing gets missed or done twice by mistake. Also, my method is useful whenever I come back to update my information as I can easily see who I have not found before and these are the people I start looking for next time. It never ceases to amaze me that I can find people a long time after I find the rest of their family. (The most common reason for not finding someone is that their name has been mispelt.)


I use 2 documents to record my research, a word processing document to record the information and a spreadsheet as a checklist. I have one of these documents for each surname Iím researching. If the family you are researching only has a few surnames they may all be contained within 1 spreadsheet file as separate worksheets but as my family, at the moment, has 14 different surnames (I may add more names later) this is not possible. In fact for my family I have each namesí documents contained in separate folders. Therefore, regular back-ups are essential as it would be a disaster if I lost all my research.


Assuming you start by finding someone in the 1901 census then you must work back through the censuses until you find your earliest possible ancestor. This will probably be someone on the 1841 census who may take you back to the 18th century (if you can find your family on the IGI or in parish records you may be able to go further back). The 1841 census does not show relationships nor does it show where people were born it just has whether they were born in the county they were living in or not. The 1841 census does show occupations but it took me ages to work out what was meant by Orange M as the occupation for some of my ancestors. It has nothing to do with mobile phones but simply means ĎOrange Merchantí, i.e. fruit seller.


For each family, for each census there will be an entry on the word processing document as below. Note the mispelt names and places, if you are able to try to send a correction to whoever provided the census image e.g. Also, note that the wifeís maiden name is shown in brackets, this is not from the census I added that for clarity. If the wifeís maiden name is not known as you have been unable to find when or where they married just leave a question mark. In the example below as the wifeís mother was present her maiden name is easily checked but normally the marriage registration entry would provide the maiden name. Also, I have included a picture of one of the family's occupations as photos make it much more interesting.


Living in 11 Providence Place, St. Botolph (HO107/1524 Folio 43 Page 18)
Samuel Benjamin b: 1809, Spitalfields  Clothes Dealer

          Wife: Mary Benjamin (Simmons) b: 1812, Spitalfields  
          Son: Henry Benjamin b: 1836, Spitalfields Fruit Dealer
          Daughter: Isabella Benjamin b: 1840, Spitalfields  
          Son: Isaac Benjamin b: 1843, Aldgate  
          Son: Solomon Benjamin b: 1845, Aldgate  
          Son: Israel Benjamin b: 1847, Aldgate  
          Son: Mordechai Benjamin b: 1849, Aldgate  
          Mother-in-law: Sarah Simmons b: 1775, Aldgate  

A 2nd Hand Clothes Seller


For each BMD record there will be an entry on the word processing document as below. If there is more than one possible spouse on a page you will have to see if you can find them on the next census. If the possible spouses have the same first name youíll either have to get the certificate or find them in previous censuses and check the year of birth.


4TH QUARTER 1857 Ė CITY OF LONDON (District City of London Vol. 1c Page 271)

Sarah Assenheim married Nathan Benjamin


On the spreadsheet the columns are as below. (In my actual spreadsheets there are extra columns for GREAT GRAND CHILDREN and GREAT GREAT GRAND CHILDREN. This should be enough to get to the 20th century and therefore past the available censuses, although when the 1911 census is on-line another column may be required.) Using this layout makes entering the information into a family tree package very easy. Also, at a later date when you come to updating your research you can easily see which entries you still need to find, if any.


SMITH FAMILY                          
    CHILDREN YEAR PLACE YEAR YEAR 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
  JOHN   1810 HORNSEY 1834   P P P P P P P
  SUSAN (DAVIES)   1815 HORNSEY 1834   P P P P P P P
    ALBERT 1835 HORNSEY     P P P P P P P
    JANE 1838 HORNSEY 1859   P P *** *** *** *** ***
  MARY   1812 HORNSEY     P P P ??? ??? ??? ???
  DAVID   1814 HORNSEY     P P P P P P P
  XXX NOT BORN OR DIED                      
  *** NOT CHECKED                      
  ??? NOT FOUND                      


For the spreadsheets the ticks are inserted by typing an upper case P and using the font Wingdings 2. As you can see womenís maiden names are shown in brackets. When you come back to update this family any ??? entries are the ones that should be looked for first. N.B. If a woman canít be found on a census entry donít forget to look at the registrations entries in case she got married.


When do you know you have finished?

I donít think there is an answer to this one as although you may not be able to go back any further the family will still be going forward and so your story could always carry on in that direction. Of course there may be side branches that you could investigate or there may be immigrants in your family that you might be able to follow up, which would be a good excuse for travelling to lots of different countries.


The problems a family historian faces.

I have discovered that there are many problems that a family historian has to face and Iíve decided to try to talk about them here and, if there is one, say how to solve them.


1.      Same Nameitis


My mother-in-lawís father was called Jesse Woodhams, his father was called Jesse Woodhams and guess what his father was called, Jesse Woodhams.


Why they suddenly fell in love with this name I donít know. Still, at least I can tell them apart by their birth years. Maybe I should be grateful that there seems to have been only three generations of Jesse Woodhams.


I was doing some research for my uncle who told me that his grandfather was called Louis (sometimes written as Lewis) Joseph (sometimes written as Josephs) who died in 1934 aged 57, therefore, born about 1877.


I found Louis, born 1877, on the 1881 census living with his father, Abraham, and family. Great I thought this is easy. But also living with them was Abrahamís brother Moses with his family who had a child called Lewis, born 1877. On further research I found that both of these boys had been born during the first quarter of 1877. In fact, there were 3 Louis Josephs born during the first quarter 1877.


The only way to check that you are following the correct person is to obtain their BMD certificates as birth and marriage certificates will show the fathersí name and occupation. Birth certificates also show the motherís name, including maiden name. Death certificates may help depending on who the informant was as this may be their spouse or a child or other relative.


 2.     Wrong Infoitis


My father-in-law (Kenneth) told me that his grandparents (The Janes) had both died long before he was born (in 1933). In fact, he said that his grandmother had died in about 1916 and his grandfather had died sometime before that.


Ken also told me that his father Charles Kenneth had been born in 1907 and that he had 2 brothers; Stan and Ted. As far as Ken could remember when their mum died Charles and Ted went to live with their eldest brother Stan.


In the 1901 census Kenís grandmother Agnes Kate was living with her son Edward in Kent. (Where her family came from.) This showed that Edward (full name Edward Frederick Janes) was born in 1899 and was, therefore, the eldest. The census also showed that her husband was a soldier who was away.


I looked for ĎUncle Staní for months but the only one who seemed to be possible was a Lewis Stanley born in 1904. On telling Ken about this he suggested that Bob (my husband) should look at the watch he had that had been given to Stan by his work. On looking at the back of the watch I noticed that the engraving said it was for L. S. Janes to which Ken said that heíd never looked at the back before.


After many months searching I discovered that Kenís grandfather actually died in November 1918 (one week before the end of the First World War), one of the flu epidemic victims, and that his grandmother died in 1928. Also, the reason that Edward senior was absent on the 1901 census was because he was in South Africa fighting in the Boer War with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.


3.      Misspelt Nameitis


Since I married Iíve accepted that our surname is nearly always spelt incorrectly. So Iíve learnt that whenever I tell someone my name I must spell it as well (or I just show them my driverís license). Otherwise they will write it down as either JONES or JAMES. Itís mainly because of this that I foolishly assumed that Janes was an unusual name and was, therefore, fairly rare but Iíve discovered that there are Janes all over the world. As I said before a William Janes from Essex (which is where my lot are from) was born in 1610 and in 1637 he emigrated to America so there are millions there too.


However, the most misspelt name in my ancestry is Musaphia (I donít know if this is the correct spelling). These people came originally from Amsterdam in Holland some time around the middle of the 19th century and Iíve seen so many different spellings that I frequently search just on forenames and year of birth. However, even this is not always successful and I did find an ancestor called Henry who had been transcribed incorrectly as Mary. Ah well these things are sent to try us. My advice to anybody is make sure you look at the actual census entry which sometimes are very difficult to read but may help to ensure that you have the correct family. The biggest problem comes when peopleís names are misspelt and they are not living with their family as they may have gone into service.


Letís do it!

After all the hows and whys I think itís about time I actually got on and started talking about people. For the census entries I have kept the surnames to whatever I consider to be the correct spelling and noted how it was transcribed but for first names, occupations etc I have entered as they were transcribed (so donít blame me for the mistakes).