Treasures in the Attic – Part 1 – Share Your Discoveries to Win!

If you’re starting to research your family history, don’t forget that the clues are all around you! There are billions of records online at Findmypast, but before you start searching on the web, it’s a good idea to raid all the other treasuries of information at your disposal – from family photo albums, old documents and books, to strange family rumors and the memories of your relatives. You may be amazed at what you find once you start your investigations.

We’d love you to share your discoveries. So if you have found a document or picture which helped reveal something new about your ancestors, please share in the comments below, or post it to our Facebook wall. We’ll be awarding a 3 month Findmypast World subscription to the best submission.

Your family history all starts with you. It may sound simple, but the essential first step to building your family tree is to write down as much as you can from what you know already, before you sketch out a basic tree, and fill in key details such as names, birthdays, and birthplaces. Include your siblings, parents, grandparents, and cousins, going as far back as you can. Don’t worry about filling in every detail straight away. Now it's time to add to your basic knowledge by doing some investigative work!

In part 1 of our Treasures in the Attic guide we’re covering family interviews and photographs. You can read about the clues you’ll find in birth marriage and death certificates in part 2, and military medals in part 3.

Raiding the memory banks

Once you’ve exhausted your own knowledge, it’s time to ask your family for theirs. Contact as many family members as you can. Explain what you’re up to, and ask whether they’re able to put you in touch with other relatives whose contact details you don’t have.

Face-to-face interviews with relatives tend to be the most productive, but phone calls are also better than email or mail. You may well find you spend hours reminiscing, but be prepared with a list of what you need to cover so you can make sure the discussion stays on track. Recording the interview can be useful, not only to pick up threads you might forget later, but also as a keepsake to include alongside your family tree (you can upload image, video and audio files to your Findmypast tree, so they’ll never be forgotten).

Ideally, you want each relative to sketch out their equivalent of the ‘skeleton’ family tree you made for yourself earlier, going back as far as possible. You may find some of the things they tell you are easily added immediately to your family tree on With other points you may need to use Findmypast’s records to research further, then add them in later.

Be sure to take note of:

  • Names
  • Dates
  • Life details (occupation, migrations, any major events)
  • Stories
  • Romances (you never know when this may prove relevant – but do be sensitive! Don’t put your relatives off talking to you again!)
  • Physical descriptions
  • Anecdotes

Repeat the same enquiries with each person, and keep track of concurrences and inconsistencies in their answers. Let them talk freely, and avoid ‘feeding’ your interviewees with leading questions.

A Picture Can Tell a Thousand Words

Ask your relatives if you can see photos, certificates, or documents relating to your ancestors. And bring anything you have already – it might trigger more memories! Check whether anyone else in the family has done any genealogical research, as it may save you time.

Looking through old photographs can reveal telling details which may otherwise be lost.

Remember to think about:

  • Who is in the photo? Can you identify everyone, or could that unfamiliar face be a clue to a forgotten relationship?
  • Can you place the photograph? Look for car numberplates, road signs, landmarks etc to help you work out where it was taken.
  • What are they wearing? Look especially at the women’s fashions, as these tend to change more regularly and can be more useful at identifying the period in history.
  • Is anyone wearing a uniform? These can reveal jobs (which may help you find your ancestor in military or employment records) as well as social status.
  • Look on the back! Often dates and names can be found on the back.
  • Was the photograph public or private? Was it a posed photo, or was it a spontaneous shot. Remember that posed photographs are designed to put across a message (social standing etc) which may or may not be accurate!
  • Have you inherited any characteristics or facial features that help you identify who in the photo is related to you.
  • Family portraits often include pets. Were your ancestors animal lovers? In Ireland, dogs had to be licenced, so a dog can be a lead to a new record match.
  • Enjoy the process! When you can see the faces that match the names in your tree it really brings your past to life.

If you can, scan or take photographs of any documents and images you find. You can then upload these to your personal family tree on Findmypast at a later stage.

What have you found in your investigations? Post your discoveries in the comments section below, or post them to our Facebook wall to be in with a chance of winning a three month Findmypast World subscription.*



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