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Writer of: It Runs in the Family (2013); Stories From Your Family Tree (2008); The Northern Utopia: British Perceptions of Norway in the Nineteenth Century (2003); The Governess (1997)

Friday, 14 November 2014

New book almost finished - Family First: Tracing Relationships in the Past

Great news.... My third family history book is almost finished.

Family First: Tracing Relationships in the Past  (Pen and Sword Books, 2015)

With chapters on: husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, infants, sons and daughters, aunts, uncles and cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents 
Plus a chapter on friends, neighbours and club associates.

Christmas Presents for the Family Historian

Wondering what to get the genealogist in your family for Xmas?

Look no further.....



Monday, 20 October 2014

The First World War in Bits and Bobs

Read my short article now: 

The First World War in Bits and Bobs


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Buy now for Christmas

Get intimate with your family this Christmas

It Runs in the Family: Understanding More About Your Ancestors
 The History Press, 2013

Sunday, 10 August 2014

New Review - It Runs in the Family. Something Different and Fascinating

Bristol and Avon Family History Society Journal Number 156, June  2014

It a Runs in the Family - Understanding More about Your Ancestors by Ruth A. Symes

 The author takes a fresh approach to understanding ancestors by deciphering the personal and historical clues contained in photos, documents and artefacts. The chapter titles give a flavour of the unusual research angles - eyes, teeth, hair, tattoos, stature, brooches, buttons and cuff links, wedding and other rings, perfumes, flowers - and dogs! All these elements of ordinary life are evidenced with examples and placed in the context of the social history of their times.
There is a bibliography for each section. Something different and fascinating.

Available from www.thehistorypress.co.uk, www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.com.
Kindle edition available at www.amazon.co.uk.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

 ‘Just when you think there are no new ways into exploring family history, someone offers a new perspective. Stepping back from the records we use to piece together the jigsaw of the family tree, Ruth A. Symes looks instead at the wider context of our ancestors’ lives, but also the little details that make people individuals. The refreshing result is a book with chapters on topics such as teeth, beards and tattoos. Why did your greatgrandfather wear a beard in old photos but his sons were cleanshaven? Why didn’t people ever seem to smile for the camera? These little nuances are explored by looking at social changes, and how they are reflected in documents, heirlooms and family albums. Other chapters in this entertaining  and erudite book look at simple details, - buttons, cufflinks, perfume (and even keeping pets) – which can provide remarkable insights into our forebears. Read it for: A unique guide to the details that can bring our ancestors to life.' Andrew Chapman in Your Family Tree, February 2014.
My new book, It Runs in the Family: Understanding More About Your Ancestors (The History Press, 2013) is available through all good bookshops, directly from The History Press (www.thehistory press.com or direct sales:01235465500) and at Amazon both as a paperback and as a Kindle download. (Click on http://www.amazon.co.uk/It-Runs-Family-Understanding-Ancestors/dp/0752497022/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405941149&sr=8-2&keywords=runs+symes )

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Dear Reader, I request no payment for the information below but instead, please do click to view at least one advert (preferably several adverts) on this blog. Go on, click now! Thanks Ruth A. Symes

How to Trace Your British Family History Online in Ten Easy Steps; A Short Pamphlet of Guidance for Beginners On How to Search Censuses, Apply for Birth, Marriage and Death certificates, and Access Parish Records from Your Home Computer, Tablet or Smartphone. In Addition, How to Find Out More About Where Your Ancestors Came From, Their Military Service, Their Occupations, School Records, Hospital Records, Mentions in Newspapers, Emigration Records. Includes a List of Useful Books and Magazines to Get You Started.

By Ruth A. Symes

Lady Beecham, Our Baby: A Mother's Companion and Record, 1920

Are you desperate to know more about your family history but unsure where to begin? There’s no doubt about it, the amount of information out there on the World Wide Web can be quite daunting. This guide will get you started by giving you ten easy steps to follow. It will show you how to find the key events in your ancestors’ lives and how to find out more about when, how and where they lived. Happy Hunting!


1.  Choose an Ancestor


·        Start with a particular ancestor about whom you would like to know more. If he or she was alive in 1911 all the better as the census for this period contains the fullest information.


·        If you have an old photograph, sit down and analyse it carefully for clues about your ancestor’s class status, family relationships, occupation and the place from which he or she came. Two great books which can help are:  Jayne Shrimpton, How to Get the Most from Family Photographs, (Society  of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd, 2011); and Robert Pols, Dating Old Photographs, (Second edition, FFHS Publications, 1998).


·        If you can, talk to an elderly relative about your chosen ancestor. Ask open questions such as ‘What do you remember/know about great-grandfather X?’ rather than closed questions ‘When was great grandfather X born?’ which might result in no answer at all. Be sensitive to certain issues, e.g. children born out of wedlock. Make a note of everything that is said including names, dates, places, family anecdotes and even rumours. You never know when a tiny detail might come in useful.


2.  Join a Family History Website


The big British genealogical sites - www.ancestry.co.uk; www.thegenealogist.co.uk or www.findmypast.co.uk - each offer slightly different record sets – although all offer the basics -, and it is worthwhile just browsing them before you decide  which one to join. All will allow you to do initial searches for free but then charge for more detailed information or for viewing the all-important original documents.  To get you going, buy a subscription for a few days (or buy just a few credits). This should be enough to whet your appetite.


3.  Search the Censuses

Whether your ancestor was a landowner or a miner, a mistress or a maid, it’s highly likely that he or she will appear somewhere in one or more of the censuses filled in by enumerators on behalf of householders in England, Wales and Scotland every ten years from 1841 onwards. Information from British censuses is confidential for 100 years, so the 1911 census (also available at www.1911census.co.uk) is the most recent one that can be accessed.  Simply type your ancestor’s name into the search box at your chosen genealogical site.  Any other information you have (such as age or place of birth) will be useful in narrowing down the number of ‘hits’ but is not essential.

Found your ancestor’s household? Now jot down the names of other family members, their relationships to each other, their occupations and ages.  Take particular note of the parents of your original ancestor. Their ages will be given (so work out their approximate years of birth from this); also make a note of where they were born. You may also be able to guess roughly (from the age of the eldest child) when they were married. (The 1911 census actually asked how many years the couple had been married)  All this information will be of use to you later when you come to apply for certificates of birth, marriage and death  (see below). 

Next, look back at previous censuses (1891, 1881, 1871,1861,1851,1841) for some of the people you have already found. Go back in time methodically decade by decade.

4.  Apply for Certificates

Once you have information from a census, you can begin to find out far more about your ancestor by applying for his or her certificate of birth, marriage or death from the British General Register Office (GRO). These ‘documents of civil registration’ were kept from 1837 onwards. Think about which kind of certificate would best help you continue your research. Marriage certificates give the fullest and most useful information.

·        A birth certificate will potentially give you child’s full name, date of birth, names of father and mother, and where the birth was registered.

·        A marriage certificate will potentially give you names of both spouses, their ages, their occupations, their condition as to marriage (single, widowed, etc), addresses at the time of the marriage, father’s names and occupations.

·        A death certificate will potentially give you name, date and place of death, age of death, cause of death, and occupation.

Put your ancestor’s name into the online birth, marriage or death (BMD) indexes available for free on all the big family history sites (or separately at www.freebmd.org.uk).  From the index you will obtain a GRO reference number for your ancestor’s birth, marriage or death (it will look something like this: 1892 4 6a 105).

Apply for your ancestor’s certificate through the website of the GRO (http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/).You can pay for this service by credit card over the internet and the certificate will be posted to you.

5.  Ancestors Before 1837

Before 1837, there were no certificates of birth, marriage and death. Instead records of baptisms, marriages and burials were kept by the parish church. Search for these on your chosen genealogical website simply by typing in your ancestor’s name and any other details. Records from some British parishes have not yet have been transcribed or scanned and will still be in the local record office or in the church itself.  You can find out their physical location by typing in keywords at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/. But, don’t despair. Keep checking the internet; more and more parish records are appearing online all the time.


6.  Find Out More About Where Your Ancestor Came From

Whether they came from the remote Scottish Highlands or the great cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and London, the villages of the South of England or the valleys of Wales, there will be plenty of information online about your British ancestors’ place of origin.


·        Visit www.ukguide.org to get a better idea about the geography of Great Britain and to see recent photographs of the area in question.

·        Take a look at www.visionofbritain.org.uk to find maps, statistical details and useful historical information about your ancestor’s county, town or parish of birth.

·        Go to www.historicaldirectories.org/hd/ to see whether any trade directories (for this place and the time at which your ancestor lived there) have been digitised. These will show you the names of the shops and businesses, schools and churches in your ancestor’s hometown.

·        Check Google to see if your ancestor’s place of birth has a local library or study centre which may have posted historical pictures of the local area.

·        Take a look at the church in which your ancestor was baptised, married or buried at www.churches-uk-ireland.org/

·        Look for old photographs of the area in which you are interested at www.historypin.com


7.  Find Out About Military Service


·        Search for your ancestor’s British military record on your chosen genealogical site. Copies of the actual military papers of some soldiers are available at www.ancestry.co.uk/military.

·        The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (easily searched by name at http://www.cwgc.org/) will tell you where those British ancestors who died in the First and Second World Wars are buried.

·        Other military records can be searched and scanned copies purchased from www.nationalarchives.org. For ancestors who served in the First World War see, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/firstworldwar.htm and for the Second World War, see www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/secondworldwar.htm




8.  Find Out Much, Much More…


(Occupations; School Records; Hospital Records; Newspapers; Emigration)


The web is awash with miscellaneous information that can help you better understand the lives of your British ancestor.

·        Not sure what his or her job actually involved? Look it up at http://rmhh.co.uk/occup/.

·        Wonder whether or where he or she went to school?  School admissions registers for some areas such as Manchester (1870-1916) are available at www.findmypast.co.uk. Others are available to view (sometimes together with school log books kept by the headteacher) in local record offices. Search for them by keyword at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/.

·        Know that your ancestor was seriously ill at some point? The admissions registers (and case notes) of admissions to a small number of London and Scottish hospitals are available from www.hharp.org (Historic Hospital Admission Records Project).  

·        For a small fee, enter your ancestor’s name into www.britishnewspapersarchive.co.uk (or the same facility at www.findmypast.co.uk) to see if he or she ever appeared in any of the thousands of pages of British local or national papers that have now be scanned and are online. Alternatively, just browse the papers to see what was going on in the locality at the time your ancestor lived there.

·        If your ancestor emigrated from Britain (or made other long journeys overseas) search the online passenger lists at any of the major genealogical sites or (for arrivals in America) at www.ellisisland.com.  



9.   Go Deeper into the Archives


Of course, there are many, many other records that are not yet available online including workhouse records, court records and private letters and diaries. Search for free by keyword for details of these at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a. To see the actual documents, you can either visit an archive in person (it’s always best to book an appointment first), or contact individual archives by email and they will search their records for a fee paid by credit card. Scanned copies of some material may be sent to you by email attachment in a matter of a few days or weeks.


10.        Subscribe to a Magazine or Buy a Book


There are currently a number of great magazines to stimulate your interest and to provide tips about how to do further research. Buy these in any large British newsagent. To find out how to subscribe for a year or more check out their websites at www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com (Who Do You Think You Are?) www.family-tree.co.uk (Family Tree Magazine);  www.discoveryourhistory.net (Discover Your History) and www.yourfamilytreemag.co.uk (Your Family Tree).  The digital magazine Discover Your Ancestors (www.discoveryourancestors.co.uk). Also appears monthly. If anyone asks what you want for Christmas, why not suggest a year’s subscription to any of these?


Purchasing books online is so easy these days (especially through www.amazon.co.uk), but you need to know where to start. A brilliant general guide to British records is: Mark D. Herber, Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History, The History Press, 2005.  For a catch all of genealogical terms see Nick Barratt, Who Do You Think You Are? Encyclopedia of Genealogy: The Definitive Reference Guide to Tracing Your Family History, Harper, 2008. For more about tracing your history on the internet see Graeme Davis, Your Family Tree Online: How to Trace Your Ancestry From Your Own Computer, How to Books, 2009. For more on military ancestors see Simon Fowler, Tracing Your Army Ancestors (2nd edit) A Guide for Family Historians, Pen and Sword Books, 2013


For more practical advice on what can be gleaned from a miscellaneous range of British records see: Ruth A. Symes, Stories From Your Family Tree: Researching Ancestors Within Living Memory, (The History Press, 2008) and Ruth A. Symes, It Runs in the Family: An Intimate Guide to Our Ancestors and their Times (working title), The History Press, 2013.


For further reading, take a look at the websites of some of the specialist family history and local history publishers including, the History Press (www.thehistorypress.co.uk) and Pen and Sword Books (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk).


Much family history material including complete books can be bought at www.amazon.co.uk and downloaded straight to your computer, tablet, kindle or smartphone.

Follow Ruth on twitter @RuthaSymes