About the Author
A keen researcher of family history for the last twenty-five years, Alan Stewart writes a monthly column for Practical Family History
and for other family history magazines (Family History Monthly
and Ancestors, Family Chronicle
, Internet Genealogy
and Evertons Genealogical Helper)
. He has also written for the Financial Times, The Times, Independent
and the Encyclopaedia Britannica
. He was consultant editor of the fourth edition of the Hutchinson Dictionary of Computing & the Internet
and his other books are How to Make it in IT
and Gathering the Clans: Tracing Scottish Ancestry on the Internet
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Tip: 'Black sheep' may be lurking in your past
You'll probably find that some of your ancestors were not quite as pure as you'd like them to have been. Perhaps they had an illegitimate child - or maybe three, like my great-great-great-aunt Mary. Your great-great-grandfather may have spent some time in prison. The upside is that there may be a photograph of him somewhere, whereas if he'd never been in trouble, there wouldn't be.
Tip: Family legends are rarely completely true
There may be a story in your family about how you're descended from a famous person, such as William Shakespeare. While such family legends may turn out to be true, unfortunately, it's more often the case that they're just wishful thinking.
You may indeed have an ancestor who lived in Stratford (but maybe Stratford in East London), and someone jokingly suggested they might have been related to Shakespeare. Over time, 'possibly related to Shakespeare' becomes 'descended from Shakespeare'. Unfortunately, although William Shakespeare did have children, his line died out with his grandchildren. (Well, his legitimate line did.)
There is usually some truth in the stories, however. If the legend is that four children were born in a workhouse in Bristol, then the truth may be that two of them were born in a workhouse in Bristol.