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How Can I Help?

Most of us have an ancestor whose story (or mysterious lack of story) intrigues us: are the things our family said about them true? If we know next to nothing about them is there a reason for that – some scandal perhaps? Secrets may have been kept because of old fashioned ideas of modesty or embarrassment which might baffle us now. Equally a life that seemed ordinary a century ago might seem incredibly hard and alien to us now and we wonder how our ancestors coped, what sort of people they really were.

Maybe your ancestor made an epic journey in terms of distance or social status or perhaps you’ve been told that you take after a grandparent and want to know if there are any clues to what sort of a person they were?

Without their personal writings or memorabilia, or if everyone who knew them has passed on, getting a picture of a long-gone member of your family can seem almost impossible; but through learning about their jobs, the lives of their children, how they coped with hardships, or finding out about the places where they lived, we can make them come alive as people.

In these, and many more ways, I can help you find out about those members of your family who are no longer around for you to talk to. I can’t guarantee to find out all the things you want to know, occasionally we can strike lucky and find a goldmine of information but typically we have to rely on what the official document record tells us (snapshots of a person’s life), or hope they did something that the local newspapers thought interesting (good or bad!).

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What I Can Offer You

Where someone has spent all or most of their life in Britain I can search for them and piece together a picture of their lives. If they’ve lived part of their lives abroad it is more difficult, and you would be best to contact a researcher in those countries for that phase of their lives.

From 1837 onwards we have official birth, marriage and death certificates for everyone living in Britain. I can get copies of these certificates, use the information on them, and then let you have the copies to keep. The Census records between 1841 and 1911 are also a mine of wonderful information and we’ve got many other documentary sources to look through as well as newspapers and journals. It’s also possible to do this for the Republic of Ireland although many Irish records before 1922 were mostly destroyed during that country’s Civil War.


Going Further Back

It’s quite straightforward to research your British ancestors back to the late 1830s but beyond that some families become more shadowy and harder to find, especially if they were poor. Many families can’t be reliably traced before the 1830s; we can trace some back to the 1700s and a very few can be taken back to the 1600s especially if they have distinctive or unusual surnames or if they were fairly well-off.

If you are lucky you will find that these older ancestors left wills or other legal documents that give an extraordinary insight into their ancient lives – the property they owned, who their favoured (and unfavoured!) children and grandchildren were etc. 

I have a lot of experience looking at these old documents having researched one of my own very old family lines and can read the often very difficult handwriting of that time and have a working knowledge of the often-obscure words in these documents. 

How You Can Help

We will be exploring the lives of your ancestors and family and you will start off knowing far more about your family than I will. All the facts (and both proven and unproven stories) you can find about them will make the search easier (and cheaper for you). Asking your oldest living relatives or family friends to tell you what they know about your ancestors will be a great help, as will finding any documents your family might still keep – like birth, marriage and death certificates, driving licenses, identity cards, passports, letters with addresses on them, any work-related documents, photographs (especially with hand-written notes on the back). You don’t have to send the original documents to me –photocopies or photographs of them will be fine and they can be either posted or emailed.

I will treat all information from those documents in confidence and not share it with anyone else.

I would also encourage you to not be shy about including information which might seem embarrassing – every piece of information helps paint the picture of who your ancestors were. Some of my own ancestors died in poverty in the Workhouse, and there was also much illegitimacy, (and some minor criminality), in my ancestral families – things which would have dismayed both my parents had they known!


To be totally honest some of our ancestors cannot be traced. Sometimes they have very common names and lived in places where many people of a similar age had the same name -it then becomes almost impossible to sort your ancestor out from a sea of identical choices. For example: finding that you have a Victorian ancestor called Jane Jones from Merthyr Tydfil can quickly bring that particular search to an end, alas, although I would make a serious effort to sort her out from the hundreds of other Jane Joneses that were alive in and around that town at that time.

Sometimes, even if they have a distinctive name, the documentary record is just not good enough and they vanish from the records. Also, some surnames can be spelled differently over time making it difficult to be sure we have the right person.

Christian names can be misleading too: sometimes people didn’t like the Christian name they were given as a child and start to be known by a different name, usually a variant of their given name: for example, an Elizabeth can sometimes choose to be called Eliza.

Going back before 1837 some families become untraceable as we then have to rely heavily on church registers and whilst some of those registers are very detailed the majority just record very sketchy information.

If your ancestor did something noteworthy it might have been recorded in the local newspapers (my own great grandfather for example was found guilty of stealing a prize cockerel and his court cases were covered in incredible detail in the local papers, his statements to the court were recorded verbatim and it was amazing to be effectively hearing his words from a century ago).

Otherwise, if they led a quiet life it’s possible that all we’ll find are the official records of their existence at particular times in their lives, their occupations, the houses they lived in, who was living with them etc. These things can be fascinating snapshots though and give us clues about whether their lives were on the up or on the down; we can also see whether sons followed their fathers’ professions and whether married children tried to live close to their parents (or not!).


At the end of this search you will have a clearer picture of who your ancestors were; whether your family line is rooted in one spot or has moved around over time and picked up exotic links that you might never have imagined. You might find that a particular personal name has come down through your family for hundreds of years and it is fun to find out the first person to have borne it; or you might see that a particular trade or skill has passed down through the family for many generations and that this discovery can open up an unexpected interest in now-defunct industries and the working conditions and communities of those who worked in them.

You will undoubtedly have a new insight into your family: many people find that they have a new-found sympathy for ancestors they only knew as names and photographs -they are turned into real people who navigated life, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. Sharing these new discoveries with your relatives can help families appreciate their common bonds and you might even find that you have unknowingly become the official family historian!


I really enjoy finding people’s long-lost family history; however, being a family history detective can take time, and when I’m looking for your ancestors I’m not doing my day job and thus not earning a living. So, much as I would love to do this for free I have to charge for this service. I hope that you will find my rates very competitive and that you like the look of the service I can offer.

Get in contact so we can discuss the following:

A- What it is you would like to find out,
B- What it is that you currently already know. 

I will then provide you with a quote tailored to your needs. Before I begin to undertake any work I charge a 10% deposit of the final quoted fee to help cover initial costs of ordering certificates, etc. My standard terms are: payment within 30 days of emailing or posting the invoice (proof of posting will be provided) and payment via bank transfer is preferred; payment via cheque can be arranged but a larger initial deposit may be asked for in that case.