Reviewing Historic Documents For Additional Information
As you research your family tree, you will have the opportunity to review a lot of historical documents which have now been saved in a digital format. Some of the documents include birth records, marriage records, death records, wills, military service records, immigration/travel and census forms.
These documents can be a wealth of information in helping you to build a better picture of your ancestors and their lives. Depending on the country, most of these records have now been digitized and are available free of charge through government websites, libraries, churches and historical groups.
With Ancestry.com, you can also have access to all of these records in one convenient place. When a small green leaf appears beside a name on your tree (called a hint), you will often find that the hint is a record. A great deal of these records have been digitized and allow you to view them as well as transfer the transcribed information directly to your ancestor's page.
The census records are a wealth of information and show all the people who were at a specific address during the time the census was taken. This can often lead to finding not only children or siblings of the relative you were researching, but also extended family members who may have been visiting at the time. You can also find out the job that your ancestor had, or whether they had any servants, owned the property or rented, their address at the time of the census, etc.
Some census information is less helpful. For some reason a lot of birth dates were rounded up or down to a specific year. I am not sure of the reason for this, but I personally find the practice annoying as it does not allow you to confirm a specific birth date, or even year. To confirm birth dates, you are better checking birth records from a church and cross check them with baptismal records (if your family member was baptised) to get a better idea of a birth date.
When I started to carefully examine the information put on census forms from my family in the UK, I started seeing certain addresses listed as names, and then a long list of unrelated people living at the same address. This lead me to start further research into the name of the house, thinking it might just be a town or street before a street numbering system was put in place. That is when I found out I had some rather wealthy ancestors long ago.
The screenshots above and below show the 1891 and 1901 English census for my 4th cousin's wife's aunt and uncle, Hamer Alfred Bass and Louisa Bass, and their residence located at 145 Picadilly, London, England. As you can see, the Bass family themselves were not very large, but they had 11 servants living at their address in 1891. In 1901, they had 15 servants living with them. This got me to wondering exactly how big 145 Picadilly was, and why I never noticed it when I walked along that street in London.
Armed with this information and a curiousity, I simply googled "145 Picadilly" and found that, prior to World War II, 145 Picadilly was a large manor house. The house was destroyed during the bombing that occured throughout London and on the spot of the former house the InterContinental Hotel was built. Even more interesting, after my extended family left the residence, the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George VI, the Queen Mother and the future Queen Elizabeth.
I also discovered that the InterContinental Hotel has a series of photos of the old manor home, primarily when it was occupied by the Royal Family (most of Queen Elizabeth's childhood photos were taken there) which I will definitely check out when I am next in London.
I have made a number of such discoveries by opening up and viewing such documents. Each time I discover something new, whether it be that my 1st cousin 5 times removed was a jute maker in Scotland in the 1700's, or my 4th cousin lived in what would become a Royal residence, I am able to build a better picture of the lives of the people I am finding.
MILITARY SERVICE RECORDS
If you have a history of military service in your family, the Canadian, U.S.A. and British governments all have excellent military personnel records. From these records you can find out information about your ancestors that you may have never known, such as eye and hair colour, their address at their time of enlistment or draft, which division they served in and where they served. The birth dates can sometimes be misleading though as many young men lied about their ages in order to enlist before their 18th birthday.
Using military records, I have been able to trace the movements of many ancestors and their involvement in battles dating back to the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. When you have the information about their division, and their rank, you can often add to their stories by finding out which actions they took part in. Almost every war has been well documented and by reading about the various battles, you can gain a better understanding of what your ancestor endured and where they fought during their time in the service. You may even find that some of them served with, or under, famous historical figures. I have found many such relatives who served with historical figures such as General Wolffe, Winston Churchill, General Haig, etc. This has helped bring their history alive.
I have had less positive results searching for information directly from churches, but again Ancestry.com has a large database which includes a large number of church records. Depending on the church affiliate, church records can hold information about births, baptisms/christenings, marriages and deaths. Prior to the late 19th century, most people tended to stay in one area for most of their lives. As such the church they attended have a complete record of their birth, marriage and death. This can often go back several generations and is an excellent resource for information on your family.
TRAVEL & IMMIGRATION RECORDS
Most governments keep records of their citizens and arrival and departure information. If your family immigrated, there will be a record of their immigration date, how they arrived and who was with them at the time of their immigration. Prior to the advent of air travel, all immigration to North America was by ship. The name of the ship and a complete passenger list is usually available, and often you can find a photo of the ship your ancestors arrived on and which class of travel they used.
Immigration records are not the only records governments maintain, they also keep track of all of our border crossings. Usually border crossings are not immediately released, and the most recent records I have found date back to the 1950's for England and the 1940's for the US and Canada. These records have now been digitized and you can readily find them on Ancestry.com. Border crossing information can provide you with information about your ancestors you may have never known. I used to think I was the first person in my family to travel to South Africa, Japan and China, but boy, was I wrong! I found numerous relatives who had been to all these places and more, and hundreds of years before I ever set foot in these lands.
My only solice is that I am sure to drive some future relative crazy with all of my border crossings. With living in the US for 2 years, and crossing the US Canada border twice a week almost every week for those 2 years, I am sure they will wonder what I was up to!