The following is a guest post written by James Tanner, genealogy educator and writer of the well-known Genealogy's Star blog. James is an expert genealogist and has used Findmypast successfully to further learn about his British ancestry. He taught a webinar on tracing your British & Irish ancestors earlier this year, which can be viewed here.
One of the major genealogical research challenges in the United States, unless your ancestors were native Americans, is identifying the place of origin of your original immigrant ancestors.
Knowing only the country of origin is not helpful, especially for ancestors with common names. Most of the time, positive identification is only possible by determining the exact location of origin, sometimes down to the street address or farm.
If your ancestors came from England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, as mine did, the common name problem may seem an insurmountable obstacle to further research.
Genealogists are urged to start immigrant research in the place of arrival. This is almost always to the only way to make headway, but my own experience illustrates the need for companion research in the country of origin once the place of origin is reasonably and specifically identified.
For example, my Bryant ancestors came from Kent on the east coast of England in the mid-1800s. In order to confirm my U.S. research, I relied heavily on the vast resources of the Findmypast.com website.
A search shows that the Bryant surname and its variations are common in the U. K. with over 1.3 million results.
Since my ancestors had common given names such as William, James, Mary and Sarah, it would seem impossible to separate out the individual ancestors. But the powerful database searches incorporated in the program, make such accuracy possible.
I edited my criteria to focus the search on those Bryants in Kent. The numbers were still overwhelming with over 42,000 possibilities. But I could further focus the search on the events, dates and parish locations I had identified from family records.
My family tradition was that the family came from Rolvenden, Kent, England. By adding a date and the place, the numbers dropped dramatically to just over 3,000.
This would seem overwhelming even with the drop in numbers, but I had yet to search on any given names.
When I searched for Samuel Charles Bryant born in 1799, the date of his marriage, there were only 16 possibilities. The first one on the list was my ancestor and his wife, Sarah Stapley married 20 October 1822.
By using Findmypast, I learned about the frequency of my ancestors' surname and in conjunction with family tradition, I was able to narrow the search down to find a specific record confirming their origin in Kent, England. If I had relied solely on a search for a name, I would have soon been lost in the huge number of Bryants in England.
Findmypast is an invaluable asset to any immigrant search
Sometimes the family tradition is contradicted by the results from searches. Some of my own ancestors proved to be wrongly identified when a search showed that there were no people with their surname in the locations given by relatives.
That gave me the information I needed to go back and do more research on the origin of the family before attempting to find what was clearly not there.
Findmypast is an invaluable asset to any immigrant search.