Many of us have spare time on our hands during lockdown – so why not spend some time researching your ancestry.
Finding out more about your heritage and ancestry can be a rewarding and fascinating experience and open many doors you did not know existed. It could even reconnect you with family you didn’t know you had and could start a process that can be nurtured for many years to come.
Here are 6 tips on where to start, where to look and how to document your own ancestry – all from home!
Start the process by getting organised and setting out some structure for the process to prevent you getting overwhelmed with information. There are many free resources online to help you map out your ancestry to ensure the information gathered is laid out properly. Using this resource straight away can help to make the process easier in the long run.
Document what you already know
Start the process by writing down what you already know – document everything you know about your ancestry and your family tree as you understand it now. You can then add information as you move through the process. As part of this process, look around your own home – including the attic, cellar and any mysterious cupboards that have not been opened for a long time. You may uncover photos and documents you forgot you had. You might also find things like birth certificates, letters, photographs and other information on your ancestors.
Talk to family members
Once you have your own set of information detailed and organised, start talking to your immediate and wider family members. Ask them what they know about your ancestors. Ask if they have any photos or documents you could use to help document your ancestry. This is also a great way to keep in contact with family members during lockdown – it can give people a purpose and start the process of potentially rewarding and fascinating discoveries about your past.
Use the internet
Once you’ve finished documenting what you and your relatives know, the next step would be to start looking online. There are lots of free websites available, so the process doesn’t need to be expensive. Online resources can help you find census and death records which will help to find even more ancestors and even their stories. But take your time and do your research on what different sites offer; some will cost money so carefully consider what you are hoping to discover and what you can afford.
Social media can be used in a number of ways to facilitate the process. There are also lots of social media pages and groups that contain historical information which could be useful when documenting your ancestry. It can also be a great way of tracking down long-lost relatives or family members you want to reconnect with.
Get a DNA test
Finally, getting a DNA test can provide an invaluable and incredible way to look even further back into your ancestry. If you want to invest money into this project, getting a DNA test, while also subscribing to online resources able to help you understand the results can be helpful. This could also help you find ancestors you may not have found through the previous tips.
While the structure of our biographies vary dramatically – some follow a chronological order while others revolve around key events, moments and memories
We usually find that books can be categorised by their central theme: the defining force or moment in an individual’s life around which everything else revolves.
For some, their life at its heart is a love story – or several love stories! Some individuals will have revolved their lives around family, others around business or work. Some will have spent a lifetime looking to achieve the extraordinary – their biographies will detail their achievements and inevitable failures of their adventures and travel.
When it comes to memoirs, themes can be as varied as the people whose lives we document. We find it is worth considering this, before the work starts. Consider what most defines you, what you are most proud of, what drives you, what motto or ethos you live by, which may have helped you through tough times.
Often, establishing your theme at the start can help your personal biography come together and make it easier to write. It can often help unlock thoughts, ideas and memories that help you make sense of your life in a way you might not have before. There is no right or wrong, of course, but here are a few common themes that you might find work for you.
Your ethos, your motto
Having a central ethos or motto that you live your life by is surprisingly common – but where it originates is as varied as the people we work with. For some it is established at an early age by parents or religious figures; for others it is something they establish during formative years through a club such as scouts or even during service in the armed forces. And then some individuals establish their own moral code and mottos during the course of their lives – and even adapt them to suit the times or the particular challenges they face. Whether your motto is ‘Never give up’. ‘Family first’ or ‘Be nice’ – understanding what drives you can be the link and central theme that pulls your personal biography together.
Against all odds
We have all faced challenges in our lives – some more than others. Through history people have survived extraordinary circumstances and come out the other side to thrive. For some, this is the central story and theme of their lives and their biographies will revolve around this fact.
For some, this idea of survival could be very tangible, specific and revolve around a short period of time. Perhaps they survived an accident that changed them – physically or mentally – forever. For others, it will have a very different meaning. Some individuals may have endured years of an abusive relationship or even decades of mental health problems. In such instances, their lives will often revolve around this fact and it becomes and remains central to their life stories.
Family and friends
One of our most common central themes in our biographies is a deep commitment to family and friends. Our friends and family truly define many of us and make us who we are today. Many books will revolve around this as a central theme – we tell the story of how individuals shaped the life of the subject, for better and sometimes worse, and helped them find their place in the world.
Coming of age
Growing up can be confusing and tough and it is no coincidence that coming-of-age stories are so popular in many genres – from Hollywood to best-selling books. A coming-of-age story predominantly focuses on the subject’s younger years and details how they navigated childhood and adolescence – and how those experiences shaped them as an adult. Biographies with this as a theme can be real page-turners, real tear-jerkers but often also offer a real sense of uplift and emotion.
The one constant in the lives of many of our subjects is change – through relationships, jobs, living circumstances. Life is rarely stagnant, and it is how we navigate these constant challenges and change that defines who we are.
A very common theme for a life story is around accepting and managing change; such books examine the resilience and adaptability of people as well as how the right frame of mind when approaching change can make all the difference. Does the theme of change summarise your life? Tell us how you managed that – and what you learned along the way.
Let’s be honest, as kids most of us are pretty self-obsessed. We think the world revolves around us and many of us take our parents for granted.
But with us all spending more time with our families during lockdown, ask yourself this: how much do you really know about your parents? It might seem inevitable that they met and brought you into the world – but was it? Did they almost take very different paths in life, which could have meant never having you?
Even aside from that central question, what else don’t you know about them? You will have met them through a child’s eyes and may have got to know them better as adults, but what do you know about their lives before you were born?
We are all for getting curious and asking questions, here at My Story Told. And we think now is a great time to ask them a number of key questions – you might just find some extraordinary information or even embarrass them along the way!
So, whether you get together with a sibling or go it alone, whether your parents are together or apart, here are 12 things we recommend asking them now.
- What did you want to be when you were growing up?
- Do you think you chose the right career path? Do you have any regrets?
- Who was your best friend? Where are they now?
- What was the most rebellious thing you ever did as a teenager or young adult?
- How and where did you meet? What were your first impressions of each other?
- Describe key moments in your relationship: wedding, honeymoon, holidays?
- How did you come to have kids? Was it planned or a surprise?
- What was it like becoming a parent? What have been the best and worst experiences?
- How do you think you did as a parent? Did things go to plan? Was there a plan?
- What aspects of yourself do you see in your kids?
- Are you happy with your relationship with your kids? What would you change?
- Is there anything you want to ask me/us?
The events of the past year may have reminded many of us just how fragile life can be – how quickly life as we know it can change for us and those around us.
It has also reminded us of the importance of spending time with those we love. That has been a shining light amid the darkness of 2020: many of us have rediscovered simple pleasures of spending time with family, cooking, eating, playing, exercising together, sharing anecdotes.
With many of us still in lockdown, now is the perfect time to take that experience a step further and embrace our families, our memories, our histories – to take a trip down memory lane.
With many of us still with time on our hands, here are five top tips on how to preserve precious memories, rekindle the past and ensure your life experiences are not wasted. Who knows, you might want to then take a step further and start your own biography.
Back up your photographs
While your attic may still be home to fading photo albums, for many of us visual memories from recent years will only exist in a digital format. While this is an incredibly efficient and flexible way of storing memories, these files are also at risk of corruption, deletion or simply getting lost. Use some of your free time at the moment to track down these files, order them and back them up. Use external drives such as Google Photos, iCloud or even on a portable hard-drive disk. This technology can help protect memories forever and also allow you to organise the photos into albums that you can sort by date, person or event.
Get creative with memories
With the never-ending lockdowns, what better way to productively spend your time than tuning into your creative side? Start with memorabilia such as an old concert, transport and landmark tickets from previous trips and pair them with the relevant photographs.
These can be displayed in all sorts of creative ways including on large canvases and be displayed in your home. They can make a great centrepiece and is a great way to get visitors talking and reminiscing on events they may have forgotten.
Start a notebook (or digital note) of funny moments
With the average adult laughing up to 17 times a day, inevitably, we won’t remember every giggle. Just start noting down moments that made you smile – as well as happy moments from the past you still reflect on. By documenting funny phrases or events we can go back and laugh again when feeling down or when missing someone. This is also a great way to document changes in children’s personalities and behaviours as they grow up – a great antidote to grumpy teenage years!
As cliché as this tip sounds, it is the most simplistic and sentimental way to store memories. Scrapbooking means everything can be in one place: pictures, memorabilia, short stories – and anything else.
You can organise them annually or by an event – there is no right or wrong. This is a great way of ensuring memories from specific moments in your like university or a special holiday don’t get forgotten, or grouped together as life moves forward. The books can be passed through generations and even be given as gifts.
Become a movie maker
Producing a short video that brings all your clips together from that year is a great way to store memories. This can be done easily on your smartphone, Apples built-in ‘iMovie’ even allows you to add voiceovers and background music. Another way to do this is through the free 1SE app, which lets you record a second of footage a day and pieces it all together at the end of the year. The great thing about this app is it allows you to go back and add to it if you’ve forgotten or not been up to much!