Fortunately our ancestors have left a trail of documentary evidence behind themselves. We are all too aware that our own lives are marked by a trail of paper, and more recently, electronic records from the moment we are born to the point we die. Although the records we are required to maintain today are perhaps increasingly complete and complex, the principle is not a new one. In the 20th century, there were not only certificates to mark key milestones in our lives, but also census returns, social security and health records. Our employers maintained records of our professional activities, bankers of our financial affairs, and often companies with whom we did business, of our purchases. Our presence on electoral roles is evidence of where we lived, even our telephone numbers are recorded for posterity.
This treasure trove (at least for family historians) began in the 19th century, when most western countries adopted systems of civil registration. Local newspapers became widespread and numerous organisations began recording the activities of ordinary citizens. However, the keeping of records began much earlier, and most of our ancestors, at least in the United Kingdom, where my own families originate, are recorded in Parish Registers, showing baptisms, marriages and burials. Some taxation records exist for ordinary people, as do some documents relating to ownership or leaseholds on property and land.
For centuries Wills have been used as a means of ensuring our last wishes are fulfilled… And of course there remain gravestones as memorials to many of those who have gone before us.
In short, beginning in the 16th century, virtually everyone, whatever their station in life, is recorded in some form or another. We are constantly searching for these documents which often tell us so much about the lives of our families, and where practical we are now beginning the process of placing copies or transcripts on this site, associated with the individuals or families concerned. This is a time consuming process and there are many thousands of pages involved. Some 700 documents are online here at the time of writing, and more are being added almost daily. If you cannot find the evidence you are looking for, I may hold copies or transcripts which are not yet uploaded. Please let me know and I’ll try to help you. Equally, if you have any form of document, however trivial, which relates to the people or families in the database, and you are prepared to share it for the benefit of others, please contact me.