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15 Useful Tips for Researching Your Ancestors


1.   Talk to everyone in your family about what they know about the ancestors, keeping in mind that memories can fade and that some of their information is inaccurate or embellished, i.e. Great Great Grandma was a full-on Romany Gypsy, or, as is often found in U.S, genealogy, “Our ancestors were related to UK Royalty & came over with the Pilgrim Fathers” are two examples of information that is said over & over that is usually not true. Write down what you've found out and try to assess what is fact, fiction or faction!


2.   Buy, create or download a genealogy program to organize your information. If you can afford to join one or more of the commercial genealogy websites, (well worth a visit to the excellent Family Tree Magazine website to assess the best providers), most will provide you with your own “area” to hold your data & share with other members.  This way all of your information is organized and can be emailed to someone easily


3.   Explore Genealogy Resources in your local libraries. In these places you will also find many links to great websites for beginners.


4.   Use all types of spellings when you look for records. Many times, the spelling changed, e.g Coventon to Covington or Covernton, or the person writing down the information had trouble deciphering the script. The "s" looks like "f" in some old script, so Smith could look like Fith to an apprentice transcriber. Don’t forget that literacy levels before the 20th century were generally poor, so many local birth, death & marriage records were not always spelt by the reporter & left to someone else to spell it how he/she sought fit.


5.   Use any of the various search engines available on the web. However, be aware that as society has become more protective of personal data, many previously available documents are now unavailable to view. Bring out the “Investigator/Detective” within yourself!


6.   Post a query on the query board. There are a number of different query boards on genealogical websites.


7.   Check census records in the county and in surrounding counties, where your ancestors were raised. The great thing about these records is that whole families are listed together. Over the years, more info was held. Tip – cross check your selected name with others living within a nearby geographical area, as it could well provide a family link.


8.   Check the Cemetery records and, maybe, plan a visit. There are quite a few on online and there are links to other's pages that have records.


9.   Check the funeral home listings. Quite often, people did not have money to buy a tombstone, but their remains were handled by an undertaker.


10.                Check the birth, death and marriage records. Those may list parents’ names, etc. Get copies of these records by ordering them from the appropriate source, but be careful as it can prove expensive if you buy the wrong John Smith’s certificate!


11.                Check the court records index. If you find something of interest, try to order the record from the County Clerk. Also know that they are short-staffed and may not be able to fill your request. You may have to make a trip to the area or hire a researcher to get the information for you.


12.                Check out Military Records. Historically the military are very thorough when it comes to asking pertinent questions, now extremely valuable to genealogists, i.e. next of kin, birth place and dates, physical characteristics, etc. From my personal experience, I first found my great-great grandfather’s full name from the Military Records of my great grandfather.


13.                Check the old newspaper records, many are now available online, or a visit to the paper’s HQ may be necessary.


14.                Join your local Genealogical Society. They're a great source of information and can help with the "How do I ...?"


15.                And finally,… don't take every piece of information someone sends you as gospel! Trust but verify the information! Have an open mind! Even you could be mistaken!


I have recently been contacted by Zane Robertson who has provided a link to a site that gives some very useful tips on how best to approach your Family Tree search. It’s well worth a visit at Understanding Your Family History & Tips For Curating Genealogy Resources & Research (lettersolver.com). An additional useful resource has been sent by Joe Laurel and provides good advice on tracing European family roots it can be reached at https://ourpublicrecords.org/europe-family-records/




In the past The Family Records Centre in London was a major source of material. However, this facility is no longer open to the public with all Indexes, etc hidden away in the National Archives. Birth, Death & Marriage Certificates can be obtained online at www.gov.uk/order-copy-birth-death-marriage-certificate


A birth certificate will give you: place & date of birth, sex, full names, parent's names, including mother's maiden name and father's occupation.


A marriage certificate shows: place & date of marriage, names, ages, marital status, occupations and addresses of bride and groom, names and addresses of both fathers and names of witnesses.


A death certificate gives: place, date, cause of death, full name, sex, age at death, occupation of deceased and name of informant.


As at 2020, certificates cost £11 and are sent 4 days after you apply. If you do not have a GRO index reference number, you’ll have to pay £3 extra for each search. Certificates are sent 15 working days after you apply. If you need the certificate sooner, you can use the priority service for £35. It’ll be sent the next working day if you order by 4pm.


The Society of Genealogists, 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London, EC1 is well worth checking out, particularly the Great Card Index and Boyd's Marriage Index. A full day searching costs £18 (2020) for non-members, although you can visit for 2 hours (£5) or 4 hours £10) and you will need to provide one of the standard forms of personal ID. It will help if you are well prepared, having already got a good knowledge of your family tree. Annual membership is £80 for full membership with Associate membership costing £56. See website for opening hours & further details of the info they hold at  www.sog.org.uk


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints main Family History Centre used to be based at The National Archives at Kew Gardens in Richmond, Surrey, however this is no longer the case & records can only be accessed online in the UK at familysearch.org/en/. Well worth a visit to the site and no need to become a Mormon! Even better is the fact that access is free of charge.


Most of the commercial genealogy sites charge fees to access their files, which is understandable considering the investment in time & programming required to bring all this data to the worldwide web. Many, however, offer the incentive of a free trial, so that you can experience what they have to offer & thereby see if their site suits your needs and is worth the ongoing investment. The Marketing Manager of www.dnatestingguides.com, Maria Jones, recently contacted me with the following “This article was created by a friend of mine who is an avid genealogy enthusiast: https://www.ireviews.com/best-genealogy-sites/  - The 25 Best Genealogy Sites - The Definitive Guide” It’s well worth a visit.


The UK National Archives can provide you with valuable information on a wide range of subjects www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/.




In recent years access to DNA information has provided a wider opportunity to track down lost family members. Wikipedia describes the concept as follows: A genealogical DNA test is a DNA-based test which looks at specific locations of a person's genome, in order to find or verify ancestral genealogical relationships or (with lower reliability) to estimate the ethnic mixture of an individual. Since different testing companies use different ethnic reference groups and different matching algorithms, ethnicity estimates for an individual will vary between tests, sometimes dramatically.


Three principal types of genealogical DNA tests are available, with each looking at a different part of the genome and useful for different types of genealogical research: autosomal, mitochondrial (mtDNA), and Y-DNA.


Autosomal tests may result in a large amount of DNA matches (other test persons that the individual may be related to), along mixed male and female lines, each match with an estimated distance in the family tree. However, due to the random nature of which and how much DNA is inherited by each tested person from their common ancestors, precise conclusions can only be made for close relations. Traditional genealogical research, and the sharing of family trees, is typically required for interpretation of the results. Autosomal tests are also used in estimating ethnic mix.


mtDNA and Y-DNA tests are much more objective. However, they give considerably fewer DNA matches, if any, since they are limited to relationships along a strict female line and a strict male line respectively. mtDNA and Y-DNA tests are utilized to identify archaeological cultures and migration paths of a person's ancestors along a strict mother's line or a strict father's line. Based on mtDNA and Y-DNA, a person's haplogroup(s) can be identified. Only men can take Y-DNA tests, since women lack a Y chromosome.


There are a number of good sites giving all the latest links & advice/data available, some of these can be found at:

https://www.dnaweekly.com/ for general DNA info and for comparison of the most popular commercial sites https://www.dnaweekly.com/blog/myheritage-vs-andme-vs-ancestrydna




Dr Dan Wharton by e-mail at: pelhamdan@aol.com




Modern habits for naming children often focus on what sounds good to the new parents, and what sounds good is heavily influenced by popular culture. For this reason, such names as Henry, Ollie, Charlie, Boris, Megan, Justin and Kylie have become the most popular- names in recent years. Many “old” names, such as Stanley, Alfie, Albert, Rita, Rose & Ella have also seen a resurgence over the past decade.


In older Great Britain, other norms governed the naming of children. For example, family researchers might run across Biblical names, such as Abraham or Benjamin, or names for religious principles, like Faith, Hope, and Charity. Such names were not common in England and may suggest that the family was particularly committed to their religious beliefs and may have been non-conformist dissenters (belonged to a church other than the Church of England, or Anglican). This can be a significant hint to the family researcher.


The most common convention, however, was for the parents to choose names that honoured people. Sometimes the people so honoured were powerful people, such as a local, wealthy landowner. Sometimes the names honoured royalty. So, in the U.K. there were many Henrys, named after King Henry and many Georges named after King George. For the U.S., you’ll find many named after Presidents. The most common persons to honour, however, were the gender appropriate grandparents and parents. This can provide another hint to differentiate between two sets of same-name parents having children in the same town or village or to the likelihood of a “missing” child in a family. It also introduces the concept of “replacement named” children.


Nowadays, few parents, who have sadly lost a child, would consider giving a future child the same name. Since many children died in the 17th and 18th centuries, parents had no problem with re-using the name of a dead child for a subsequent birth. A family might, therefore, have several John or Jane children. Occasionally, the same name was given to more than one living child, but this was rare. When you find the re-use of a name it almost always meant that the first child with that name had died, even if no death record has been found.


There was even a convention in the order in which the ancestors were honoured – probably to avoid insulting anyone. Although it was far from universally used, the usual British naming convention was as follows:

• The first son was named after the paternal grandfather

• The second son was named after the maternal grandfather

• The third son was named after the father

• The fourth son was named after the oldest paternal uncle

• The fifth was named after the second oldest paternal uncle or the oldest maternal uncle

• The first daughter was named after the maternal grandmother

• The second daughter was named after the paternal grandmother

• The third daughter was named after the mother

• The fourth daughter was named after the oldest maternal aunt

• The fifth was named after the second oldest maternal aunt or the oldest paternal aunt


If there was duplication (for example, the paternal grandfather and the father had the same name), then the family moved to the next position on the list.


Throughout your research you may find references to such relations as say 3rd cousin or Great/Grand Aunt. This link to a Cousins Chart produced by Family Search IGI should explain their respective direct links to yourself.




Given Names & Nicknames – link to USGenWeb Project info
Cyndi's List of Links to Name Sites  

A very useful site showing the popularity, meaning and origin of Christion or given names can be found at https://www.names.org/

Meanwhile the most popular birth names for 2020 according to www.babynames.com are:



Boy Names

Girl Names
































































Census Records are definitely going to a part of your research. The U.K. Census, collected every 10 years, was first taken in 1801. Unfortunately, the 1801, 1811, 1821 & 1831 returns were not collected centrally, vis a vis individual names. Local record offices will, however, hold some of the data of interest to us. The good stuff for genealogists starts from 1841.


What information can you see on the census?

Each householder was required to complete a census schedule giving the address of the household, the names, ages, sex, occupations and places of birth of each individual residing in his or her accommodation.


On the 1841 census you will see: Name, Age, Sex, Occupation and Address. Please note, when searching the 1841 census, ages up to 15 are listed exactly as reported/recorded but ages over 15 were rounded to the nearest 5 years (i.e. a person aged 53 would be listed on the census as age 50 years}.


In 1851, householders were asked to give more precise details of the place of birth of each resident, to state their relationship to him or her, marital status and the nature of any disabilities from which they may have suffered. In 1891, householders were asked how many rooms (if less then five) their family occupied and additional occupational data was collected. The same was true for 1901


The 1911 is the most informative to date. It was the first census to be completed by the householder (your ancestors) rather than an enumerator. It included extra valuable data such as nationality, duration of current marriage, number of children born within that marriage, number of children still living and number of children who had died. Details vary for each census return, with the 1911 census being the most detailed.


The census data is protected for 100 years and is held by The Office of National Statistics where it remains closed to the public until its release date.


While the 1939 Register is not a census, it is arranged along similar lines and includes similar, if less detailed, information. It does, however, show exact dates of birth where census returns simply give a person’s age. The Register, provides a snapshot of the civilian population (no military personnel included) of England and Wales just after the outbreak of the Second World War. As the 1931 census for England and Wales was destroyed by fire during the Second World War and no census was taken in 1941, the Register provides the most complete survey of the population of England and Wales between 1921 and 1951, making it an invaluable resource for family, social and local historians.


The 39 Register is available to search and view on Findmypast.co.uk (charges apply) and Ancestry.co.uk (charges apply).


Access to Census records can be done in a number of different ways. Here is a list of good online Census Resources and, of course, the major pay sites provide access.

England & Wales.  -Census Information from National Archives website
United States 
The USGW Census Project – A wonderful resource for US genealogy data
Cyndi's List of Census Sites  – Valuable source of links to other great websites
Family Search Internet Genealogy Service - This is the online version of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family History Center.




There can be a lot of information available to you if you can find the immigration papers of your ancestor. The US National Archives are only available via a visit to Washington DC, but most of the pay to join genealogy sites offer online access. - US immigration and Passenger Arrival Records. By far the most helpful site to find your family member who arrived in the U.S. can be found at the website of Stephen P Morse, what’s more is the fact that access to all the info he provides is free.


The following link, providing some useful advice on researching immigrants into the U.S. has recently been sent to me by a young man named Thomas Wyler, who had found it on the internet & felt it would be of interest to others History of Ellis Island. It is well worth a read.


Records of Passenger Lists are a very useful resource, and our thanks are due to Amanda, a student with the Rutland County, Vermont Historical Society, for providing the following excellent link. Researching Your Family's History from Ships Passenger Lists




As you progress your genealogical development there is no doubt that you will become more & more knowledgeable about the geography & history of the local environment for your individual quarry.

Maps can, therefore, be a valuable genealogical tool. Some geographical research will probably become necessary in your search as early county lines were in flux, towns and townships changed names and other geographical changes occurred. You might need to know what was located near to a certain village, town, river or settlement and other things like that. So, it’s well worth find a good map site. Obviously, Google Maps are a well known provider but you may prefer to try  MapQuest or ViaMichelin.




There is a very useful site Calendar Information and Date Formats – Here you will find a lot of information on old calendars, date changes, double dating, etc.




Here are links to other pages that will help you either get started or get over the brick wall. I have also provided links to specialty sites like document preservation, old photograph preservation, bible preservation, passenger & ships records, special ethnic sites and much, much more. Good luck and happy researching!

About.com Genealogy - Resources, Links, How-tos, Articles, Chat, Forums, and More
Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet - Links to every topic you can think of.
Family Search Internet Genealogy Service - This is the online version of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family History Center.
Genealogy Exchange & Surname Registry - Lots of great info and there is even a Kid's Corner!
Genealogy Gateway - A great deal of good info and links to many, many other sites.
How to trace ancestors who were slaves – article by Jasmine Taylor-Coleman BBC News, Washington DC, 11 Sep 2016.
Genealogy & Family History – “Our Top 22 resources to explore who you are” by Sarah Perowne




After you have compiled your family tree, you may look at the sheets of paper in front of you and ask the following question about each individual on your chart; "Who was he, or she? What were they really like? Where & how did they live?" "Where did they work?", etc, etc.


Within my database records, wherever found, I have included a brief pen-picture about each individual, but this only tells you a very small amount about the person. It tells you little about lifestyle, surroundings, or the state of the country at the time of his life. Nowadays, we take so much for granted that our ancestors couldn't possibly enjoy. Take out electricity, motor cars, running hot & cold water, television, overseas holidays, city centre stores and supermarkets from our current lifestyle and our existence would seem a little bland. However, if one believes the saying "You don't miss what you've never had", we can be happy that our ancestors were not too disillusioned with their lot. (nb. when I wrote this, we hadn’t experienced the trials & tribulations of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, so perhaps during those lockdown days, we did get to experience some of the things our forebears had to endure – but not all!!)


A particularly sad element of their lifestyle was the enormity of the number of child deaths which occurred. It seems quite commonplace, for a couple to lose 3, 4 or 5 children before they were 1 year old. It is difficult, nowadays, to relate to this situation, as very few birth, or early childhood, mortalities occur. Today, when they do happen, they are usually classified as still-births or blamed on cot death, very occasionally some serious physical ailment, such as heart, lung or kidney malfunction is responsible. However, in years gone by, many, now insignificant, illnesses such as Measles and Whooping Cough resulted in infant death. Many, simply didn't make it through the trauma of actual childbirth, where few, but the offspring of the very rich, would have been delivered by a qualified physician. Indeed, my own brother, Gary John Covington died in 1958, after just 7 days of life, due to a problem with his wind-pipe. Nowadays that would be considered to be a straightforward, quite simple, operation. Sadly in 1958 it wasn’t.


According to the 1851 census, out of 1000 live births, 154 died before reaching 1. In 1986 it was 9.6 deaths per 1000. Those that did survive circa 1841, lived to an average age of 41. Today the average age at death is nearer 75. An interesting website covering the subject of historical child mortality can be found at Our World In data


An example of how we often forget how things used to be struck me when I was researching my Great Grandfather's life. I had found that he had been a driver in the Royal Artillery. Not a bad job, I thought, chauffeuring the Colonel around perhaps, or maybe even driving the ammunitions truck. But no, because in 1880 there were very few limousines or Bedford trucks, Driver Charles James Covington was actually in charge of a team of horses pulling a gun carriage. Many of his family were agricultural labourers or straw plait workers, all working in a very labour intensified industry with no tractors or combine harvesters to help in those days. No wonder they died so young!


Often a good place to start when trying to get a wider picture of your Covington is the place where he or she lived. Whilst the majority of buildings over 200 years old have long since disappeared, you will usually be able to visit the church where your ancestor was baptized, married or buried. A visit to the nearest library can help with useful background information, sometimes old street maps and photographs add to your view of what life was like. In this age of technology & information sharing, most cities, towns and even villages have their own websites that can, again, provide invaluable info for your research.


Don't be only satisfied with the local environment, it is interesting to find out What taxes were payable? Who was King, Queen or President? (Would your ancestor have actually even seen a picture of the Monarch?). Who was Prime Minister? Were they at war? What schooling was available? (many children started work in the U.K. at 9 years of age right up to the end of the 19th century). If nothing else, it makes History a much more interesting subject than I can remember it being during my schooling years An interesting approach, is to list your own lifestyle, showing your job description, salary, pastimes, food, holidays, means of transport, communication, entertainments and clothing, and then trying to compare them with your chosen ancestor. It is only when you begin to see how your ancestors lived that you perhaps feel a little less dissatisfied with your own lot!


Simply typing an historical event or date in your preferred online Search Engine can often be the simplest route, however, I have recently been provided with a very detailed resource, primarily aimed at helping History teachers to prepare their school lessons. It can be found at World History Teaching Resource and is well worth a visit. My thanks to Katie Hylton for suggesting the link.


So, go on, get stuck into a hobby that is constantly maturing with you.



Please send e-mails to: covingtonhistory@mhcovington.plus.com

Visit the Covington History search engine