A is for Ancestors and Archives

AWelcome to my A to Z journey through family history. If you’ve ever been curious about your own family’s story perhaps this will tempt you to get started – or frighten you off entirely.


The starting point about doing family history is to learn who our ancestors were, their names and where they came from.

Quite often oral family history breaks down over only a few generations so that some people may not know the names of grandparents who perhaps died young, and few will know the names of their great-grandparents.

Many of us start out wanting to know more about these shadowy figures from whom we descend. As many of us descend from immigrant families, we are often curious about the countries of origin for our immigrant ancestors.

Tree and ladder shutterstock_56502106
Be sure you’re searching in the right tree. Image from shutterstock.com

Contrary to a popular advertisement, you do need to have some sense of what you’re looking for, otherwise you might well have your ancestral ladder propped up against the wrong tree.Traditional genealogy trains us to follow backwards in a line from ourselves to our parents, their parents and their parents in turn, confirming each linkage based on the evidence we discover rather than simply plucking suggested leaves from others’ trees or program suggestions.

Building a genealogy is like building the foundations of a house – get it right and you’ll wind up with a solid ancestral line. However, there’s more to each of us than simply our dates of birth, marriage and death. There are innumerable sources we can investigate to explore the lives of our families: where they lived, what were their social circumstances, how did they earn their daily bread etc. This is what we refer to as putting “flesh on the bones” of your ancestry. I call it exploring your family history.


Genie magic carpet shutterstock_63777541
image from shutterstock.com

These oft-neglected gems are an Aladdin’s cave of riches for family historians. Having moved beyond the basic biographical data, this is where you’re most likely to find all sorts of delights to reveal more of your ancestor’s lives. Don’t let anyone tell you this is all online already – I can’t imagine that ever happening despite the exponential growth of online records in recent years.Nor will a genie appear offering you an instant solution to your search.


Archives can be challenging, mysterious and downright frustrating, but like a lot of our research, there’s nothing like adding some more shading to the family stories. Fortunately they are now more responsive to family historians and often have guides, flow charts and other handy tools as well as the google of archives –  the archivists themselves.

Come along on the journey with me for the next month as we explore how we track down our ancestors and their stories. Feel free to ask questions as we go along, either in general or in relation to a specific topic.

If you’re interested in taking on this ancestral journey it comes with two warnings:

  1. You never know what you’ll discover so be prepared to be tolerant of what you discover
  2. This hobby obsession is addictive – many of us start on the journey little realising that years later we’ll still be sleuthing away looking to solve one more mystery or find one more detail.

29 thoughts on “A is for Ancestors and Archives

  1. I’m looking forward to following your journey this month Pauleen. Great post for A and I love your paragraph “Contrary to a popular advertisement, you do need to have some sense of what you’re looking for, …….”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha – I went up the wrong ladder and got quite far back, so was fairly disappointed when I found I had the wrong branch and hit a brick wall with mine. I have yet to go to archives as I live far away from where I need to be and can’t travel very well at this time, but hope to one day. I look forward to your a-z posts!


    1. Thanks Dianne, can happen easily but maybe on the new line there’ll be no brick wall 😉 yes it’s tough when you are located far from your area of research which is when those digital records do come into their own. Happy hunting and thanks for visiting.


  3. I can see how this could become a completely obsessive pursuit to finding out everything you can about your family history. Great way to start your A-to-Z Challenge. Good luck with it 🙂


  4. Yes, the hobby has definitely become an obsession! I am a bit worried that when I retire, I will need to be very careful that I do not become a genea-recluse!


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