FROM HUMBLE ORIGINS

FAQs – How Do I Research my European Family History?

FAQs How do I research my European family history? FROM HUMBLE ORIGINS' Frequently Asked Questions. Image Copyright www.freeimages.com / Steven Goodwin.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I find out if my ancestry has European roots?

2. I have European family history, where do I start?

3. I know my ancestors migrated, can I find out specifically where in Europe they came from?

4. I don’t live in the same country as my ancestors did, how do I access information?

5. Can I actually visit the places my ancestors lived?

6. My DNA ancestry shows I have Europe ancestors, can I find further evidence of this?

7. How do I find an ancestor who appears to be missing from certain historical records?

8. I am adopted, how can I research my birth ancestors?

9. I am trying to find living relatives, where should I start?

10. I’ve hit a genealogical brick wall in my family history research, can FHO help me?

11. I want to leave a written legacy about my life and my family history, how do I start?

12. I’m writing my obituary, what should it include?

13. How should I understand family lore and family stories?

14. I want to record family memories and stories, how should I do this?

15. I have a collection of historical family documents, how should I best look after them?

16. I have historical documents in other languages, are they relevant?

17. I want to know more about the background to my ancestors’ lives, what can I do?

18. I want to research an heirloom I have, how do I start?

19. I have a collection of historical family photographs, how should I best preserve them?

20. How can I interpret old family photographs?

21. I want to write the history of my family business, where should I start?

22. I’d like to have a lineage chart or family trees of my European ancestors, where do I start?

23. We are trying to trace a relative or descendants for inheritance reasons, how can we get a breakthrough?

FAQ Answers

1. How do I find out if my ancestry has European roots?

If you want to know where your ancestry originated from during the last 300 years or in the centuries before that, you have two options. Working backwards to research your family history will pinpoint whether you have ancestors who migrated from countries on the European continent during the most recent centuries and about which historical sources could still exist. Whereas ancestral DNA research enables you to get a snapshot of a much earlier period of your ancestry, providing insight into your ethnic make-up going back to a period for which specific historical evidence may no longer exist. DNA connections can give a tentative glance at living individuals who have also had such tests carried out and whose results suggest they may be genetically related to you. Sometimes this gives you a further clue about any known European ancestry which you might share.

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2. I have European family history, where do I start?

Start with what you know, even if this seems not enough information. If you have concrete details, such as names, dates and places, then formulate a plan for researching your European family history, deciding what historical records you will need to check first to find confirmation of this information. If you have a loose idea only, then you will need to work backwards through your family generations in order to try and pinpoint the individual(s) who originated from Europe.

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3. I know my ancestors migrated, can I find out specifically where in Europe they came from?

Perhaps you know that your migrant ancestors came from a named European region or country, or simply that they spoke a particular language or migrated at a certain point in time. You will need to find historical evidence from documents created in their new country of residence after migration, which might include specific information such as birthplace or former place residence, migration records. Or you may be able to identify European records which contain your ancestor. If you already have some of these specifics but are not sure where this place is situated there are many resources which can assist you from historical maps to online genealogical resources.

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4. I don’t live in the same country as my ancestors did, how do I access information?

There is a large amount of internationally relevant genealogical data available online by subscription or free. Records have been transcribed and put online by many genealogical societies and increasingly archives across Europe are beginning to digitise their collections of genealogical records. You may also be able to hire international records to be viewed locally to where you live. Archives across Europe may respond to email or written enquiries, but it is always worth checking what is available remotely first.

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5. Can I actually visit the places my ancestors lived?

If you know the places where your ancestors lived, then, with some detective work you should be able to find out if historical streets and even properties are still in existence, with the aid of historical maps online or an enquiry to a local archive. If you are not sure where your European family history played out then have a look at FAQ 3.

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6. My DNA ancestry shows I have European ancestors, can I find further historical evidence of this?

Bear in mind that ancestral DNA can provide you with genetic information going back tens of thousands of years. Migration is not just a phenomenon of the last century or so. Migration certainly grew exponentially during the 19th century, however people movement between regions has been a fact of existence since the earliest humans. The only way to find out if you can pinpoint which family members emigrated from a European location to another region is to work backwards researching your European family history as far as you can take it, to see what details you can glean from historical sources. European records are generally well preserved from the mid 19th century to the present day. The possibility of earlier records reduces prior to that point and this is dependent on many factors.

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7. How do I find an ancestor who appears to be missing from certain historical records?

Sometimes individuals appear to be missing from historical records for a variety of reasons. This can be due to error and omission on the part of the authority who has created the document, or the family member themselves. When using large genealogical online databases which are searched via human or computer transcribed indexes there can be transcription errors, where names or other vital data has been mis-transcribed, alternatively there may have be original errors when the document was first created which make it hard to pinpoint ancestors who should be present in the records. In these cases there are sometimes workarounds, however occasionally, frustratingly, individuals really are missing from a set of historical records or the records themselves no longer exist.

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8. I am adopted, how can I research my birth ancestors?

If you have been adopted and you know your birth parent or parents details, then you should be able to use a mixture of genealogical resources and Open Source Intelligence to help you find out more about any birth grandparents, wider relatives and earlier ancestors. First of all you will need to know key vital information about your closest birth relative, such as name, approximate age and former location, in order to be able to pinpoint them in a particular location and time period to get started. It will be important to consider matters of privacy and safe-guarding as your searches may also shed light on living relatives.

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9. I am trying to find living relatives, where should I start?

If you are looking for a living relative with whom you have lost contact, before you begin, gather as much information about them as you can, if appropriate from other family members who might perhaps know details you are not familiar with. You may also be looking for descendants of common ancestors who are not yet personally known to you. Whichever is the scenario you will benefit from a firm starting point to get going with people tracing and this may require you to verify the information you already have before taking your European family history research a stage further. Once you have done, this you will need to decide on the types of Open Source Intelligence sources which might help you and then work systematically through them, making note of any possible contenders.

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10. I’ve hit a genealogical brick wall in my family history research, what can I do?

You may be new to European family history research and feel you have hit a seemingly impervious genealogical brick wall, or you may have been working on your family tree very successfully for several decades, but there may be missing ancestors or genealogical puzzles which you are struggling to solve. In order to stand a chance of overcoming these, you may need to go back over the research which you have carried out already to check for any errors. Think through any new approaches you could apply to your searches. Particularly useful are wild card searches for names (for example use a minimum of three letters in addition to an asterisk * in place of letters which might be variables). Review where you have looked for the required information and what other sources you could try. Systematically vary the known information, since it may not be accurate in the first place (for example, names, ages, locations). Even thinking extremely laterally and hedging a guess can open up new possibilities.

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11. I want to leave a written legacy about my life and my family history, how do I start?

If you want to write an account of your life and your family history, no doubt you have already gathered together details which you wish to include. Telling your life story and ancestral history as a narrative will bring out the significance of life events that will engage your readers for generations to come. There are a number of ways to structure your story: chronologically, thematically, by location or by key events.

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12. I’m writing my obituary, what should it include?

An obituary is a short summary of your life created for others upon your death. It often includes key dates and life moments, describing perhaps your accomplishments, recalling your personality. Often it includes details about family, employment and pastimes, the choice of how you wish to be remembered is yours if you prepare a draft in advance.

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13. I want to record family memories and stories, how should I do this?

Everyone has memories and there may be older members of your family who have many family stories about the preceding generations to share. Gathering oral history can create new layers of knowledge about your European family history, as well as about contemporary family life which can be preserved for future generations. Decide what format you want your story gathering to take: interviews, casual conversations, written accounts; then consider how you want to record and preserve these family treasures: on paper or digitally in audio or video.

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14. How should I understand family lore and family stories?

Family lore and family stories are rich for exploration, even those you think are fanciful. Look at the individuals from whom that information has come and the people whom the information is about, look at the historical context of the period when the information originated, what was going on within family life around that time and within the wider world, both locally and nationally.

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15. I have a collection of historical family documents, what should I do with them?

Historical family documents may be a few years old or decades, even centuries. You may be able to read them or they may be unintelligible or written in other languages. The first step in finding out more about them is to create a list or database of about the historical documents you have. Start with the information you can ascertain: the kind of document it is, the language is it written in, any dating information, the author, where it came from or who owned it previously. Then make a list of questions you would like answered about the documents. You might want to engage a skilled palaeographer who can decipher the handwriting to produce a transcription or a summary of the document. Your documents will be best preserved at a stable temperature and low humidity and light levels.

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16. I have historical documents in other languages, are they relevant?

If you have historical documents which originate from your European family heritage you may already know what language they are in and you might have been able to work out some details if you have some basic knowledge of that language too. There may be barriers to you completing the translation job however: such as deciphering difficult handwriting, understanding the meaning of language itself which may be archaic or a mixture of languages might be present. If you don’t know whether a document sheds new information on your European family history or whether its contents are actually of interest to you, rather than assuming you need a full translation, you could have someone read through and give you a short summary of the basic details about the document and its contents.

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17. I want to know more about the background to my ancestors’ lives, what can I do?

Historical contextualisation might seem like the icing on the cake, but finding out about the background to ancestral family life can actually help solve family puzzles and illuminate the personal significance of known family moments and occurrences which historical sources shine a spotlight on. There are five areas of contextualisation which are worth considering: specific location, geography, communities of origin, time period and life styles.

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18. I want to research an heirloom, where do I start?

Find out all you can from other family members about the heirloom, if it is not a sensitive matter. Ascertain who its previous owner or owners were if you can and learn more about their lives to put the heirloom in family context. Then start to research the creation of the object, such as its manufacture, where and when it was made.

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19. I have a collection of historical family photographs, how should I best preserve them?

Historical photographs are very sensitive to the environment in which they are stored, a stable temperature and low humidity and light levels will be important for their preservation. If you have inherited a collection of photos already organised into an album, this systemisation by their former owner is significant as it tells that person’s narrative story about those images. It would be best to preserve that organisation, as lifting precious photographs which are stuck down may not reveal much on the reverse side and may permanently damage these records of family ancestry. Loose photographs can be carefully scanned and organised digitally. Face recognition software may also help you connect individuals along broad family lines.

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20. How can I interpret old family photographs?

It is not uncommon to have family photos in which you don’t know who is pictured or where and when the photograph was taken. Sometimes you have a little more information to go by and you may already know quite a lot about the story which the photograph is telling. Old photographs can be interpreted on a number of levels based on: visual clues pictured in the image itself such as dateable objects, clothing and hair styles; marginalia, rear inscriptions and other information encapsulated in the format of the photograph; as well as using your prior knowledge of your family history to interpret who and what is pictured.

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21. I want to write the history of my family business, where should I start?

Perhaps your family-run or self-founded company is reaching a milestone since its foundation? If you would like to write a history of your own business, then you are best placed to do so, given that you probably hold the key to information about its formation and the significant moments in your company’s history, such as its challenges and achievements. If you wish to write the history of a business run by your ancestors there is likely to be a range of historical sources which could help you shed light on their commercial and professional activities.

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22. I’d like to have a lineage chart or family tree of my European ancestors, where do I start?

In order to be able to populate a family tree or another style of lineage chart, you need the names of individuals and their basic vital data to get started. If you are the anchor person to whom everyone in your tree is related, it is often easiest to work backwards from yourself, alternatively choose the key person whose ancestors are being charted and work backwards from them. If you have not carried out the European family history research behind it all yet, then working systematically backwards is also a good approach. There are many forms a tree or chart can take: from traditional vertical, proceeding through the generations as you go higher up the tree; or left to right, with the youngest generation on the left, proceeding back in time to the right. There are other formats such as the circle diagram, although this leaves little room for text at the centre.

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23. We are trying to trace a relative / descendants for inheritance reasons, how can we get a breakthrough?

Successful people tracing is painstaking and requires persistence and a fine-toothed comb approach. (See also our FAQ 9.) You need to make sure you have as firm a starting point as you can get and where possible this needs to be substantiated using genealogical or other official records. Then you will need to work forwards in time from the last known place the searched person was associated with. You will need to bear in mind matters of privacy which can add to the difficulties in getting a breakthrough. In the case of tracing descendants of common ancestors, you may need to spread your search wider than you at first realise to include wider family members in your search who may point towards clues about location.

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