How Findmypast helped me discover the true size of my family tree

Hilary Sayer Marketing and Communications Manager (headshot)

I come from a large extended family – my mum is the youngest of six. Whenever there was a family celebration, we would have big parties, and everyone would gather. I remember these being huge, happy events. One year, my cousin even did a family tree to celebrate my grandad’s birthday, and it stretched the whole length of a room. I was young at the time, so can’t recall specific details, but the size has always stuck with me! With a strong North East England connection, I was never under the illusion that we were related to royalty, or a celebrity, but I was fascinated by the idea of how big our family actually might be.

My great aunt used to say that there were “as many of them as us” in Australia. I became curious about what that meant, but it was never discussed. While I theorised that it would be fairly simple to trace family records in the UK, I had no idea how to go about finding records in other countries.

A quote: "I remember my great aunt saying that there were “as many of them as us” in Australia. I was curious about what that meant, but it was never discussed."

Enter Findmypast

When I joined the JCS team three months ago, I suddenly had access to all these fantastic digital resources, including Findmypast. I jumped at the chance to find out more about my own family history. Starting with the information I knew and inputting it into the Findmypast family tree builder, I began to unlock hints that showed potential record matches. I was able to see a variety of different documents. This allowed me to confirm details with birth, baptism, death, and marriage records, and then build out families with census archives.

An example of how hints appear on a family tree on Findmypast.

I was amazed as my tree kept growing using the hints Findmypast gave me. Recognising the names of people I’d heard my parents mention, their uncles and aunts I’d never met. I discovered a middle name that went back four generations, to the original Eleanor who gave it to her daughter. I found marriages and re-marriages, and that, despite always believing we were originally from County Durham, many of my family were born in Yorkshire. And I found George.


An Australian connection

I’d briefly spoken to my aunt, discovering that it was my grandad’s uncle that had originally emigrated to Australia. However, she couldn’t remember his name. I used the travel and migration records on Findmypast to search my great great uncles’ names and found George listed on the Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960 record.

Born in County Durham, he emigrated to Western Australia in 1928, when he was 24. I then found his death record, and a link to an image of his grave on BillionGraves – a website aiming to preserve images of headstones and graves globally. The image showed he shared a grave with Elsie Vera. A little bit of digging later, I had their marriage record.

Image of George and Elsie's graves, two members of the family tree, found on BillionGraves.

Heading back to Findmypast, I added Elsie as George’s wife, and opened up that side of the family. I started to feel a bit disheartened, as there weren’t a lot of hints for my family in Australia; a few birth and death records, and a couple of links to other Findmypast members’ family trees. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to verify anything.

As I couldn’t find Census records for this area of Australia, I looked to see what was available in that part of the world during that time period and realised the electoral roll would be a good next step. I found Elsie on the electoral roll in 1943, alongside George, confirming the information from BillionGraves. Now I knew this, I used another member’s family tree alongside the electoral records. I quickly discovered that George and Elsie had had eight children of their own. Suddenly I knew exactly why my great aunt had said we had a large family on the other side of the world.

A quote: "Suddenly I knew exactly why my great aunt had said we had a large family on the other side of the world."

So, what made this journey so successful?

  • The many different record types available on Findmypast – by using a combination of birth, death, and census records, alongside electoral records from other countries, I was able to verify information and place whole families onto the tree.
  • Having hints built into the platform – the pop-up hints  the algorithm on Findmypast provided made it easier to find accurate information.
  • Being able to see other members’ family trees – although I didn’t always use this information directly, I used it as a jumping point for my own research looking at overlapping and similar names.
  • Reading the Findmypast blogs – I found further details and a way forward through reading their tips and advice.

I can’t wait to continue delving into my family history, and I’ll make sure to discuss my findings with my great aunt when I next see her. I’m sure she’ll be able to give me anecdotes about people that I’d never have known existed without Findmypast.