Starting Your Family History Research
- Start with what you know, the full names and birth dates of your close family.
- Any copies of certificates, whether births, marriages or deaths, will become invaluable as you progress with your research, for instance a birth certificate will give the mother's maiden name.
- Talk to your family, it can often yield valuable information, especially from older relatives, have your notepad or voice recorder handy! You may find someone has a family bible, or an old diary or maybe a Parish magazine, all are often a source of much information of past generations. Involve your relatives and don't forget to inform them of your progress, involvement often encourages participation and may mean that more memories are shared.
- As your information grows you will need files to store all your certificates, photocopies etc. Maybe you want to start charting your family tree, using family history software.
- Many official records are available online on websites such as Ancestry and FindMyPast. Access to these is often free in libraries. Eventually you may need to visit a Record Office or library, many local family history societies hold copies of census returns and transcripts of parish records, memorial inscriptions etc.
- Much of the online material has been transcribed from documents that may in turn been transcribed themselves. There is a lot of scope for errors - so always look at the original transcripions where possible - often an image will be available online.
- Spelling of names can change over the years and sometimes are mis-spelled by census enumerators or even the clergy - so if you do not find what you expect it may be worth looking for variations on the spelling.
- Memorial Inscriptions in churchyards etc. often contain information about relatives as well as the information about the person on the memorial. Remember, memorials deteriorate, get removed, fall over, get moved and become overgrown etc. Not all burials had memorials erected.
You may be interested in the resources of the Gloucestershire Family History Society - which has a Forest of Dean Branch
Forest of Dean Research
The Forest of Dean, was for hundreds of years the property of the Crown, originally the area was known as the "King's hunting ground in Gloucestershire" and often called the 'Royal Forest of Dean'. This changed in 1971 when the prefix 'Royal' was lost as a result of the 'Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act'. This Act ended the crown ownership of the Forest of Dean. A few 'diehards' still refer to the area as the Royal Forest of Dean - but they are obviously mistaken.
The Forest of Dean was once a royal hunting ground, it was not intended that common folk should live within its boundaries. Many Norman and Plantagenet king's hunted deer and wild boar here; no one else was officially allowed to do so, but, of course, some did. For these reasons it was sparsely populated and isolated but some people settled here, usually by the process of 'encroachment'.
As the Forest itself became populated, areas named West Dean and East Dean eventually came into being, but still ex-parochial (not controlled by the church). From the early 1800's onwards new churches were built around the old Forest. So when tracing an ancestor who lived e.g. in Parkend bear in mind that no church was bulit in Parkend until the 1820's. Therefore baptisms, marriages and burials of Parkend residents before (and sometimes after) then may have taken place at a distant but older established church e.g. Lydney. This applies to many Forest of Dean villages.
Mining of iron ore and coal with their associated industries provided employment in the Forest. Ups and downs in demand led to family links with other mining areas, in particular with South Wales e.g. Bream had links with Blackwood and Pontypool. So when work was short people often moved to areas that offered similar work. Sometimes they emigrated, again often to mining areas.
To find information, you may need to look in places that at first glance may not be obvious. For that reason, we have reproduced the following information on registration districts:
Created 1st July 1837. Mainly in Monmouthshire, but included parts of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.
Sub-districts : Coleford; Dingestow; Monmouth; Trelleck; West Dean.
GRO* volumes : XXVI (1837-51); 11a (1852-1930).
English Bicknor, Newland, Staunton, West Dean.
Registers now divided between Torfaen, Monmouth, Forest of Dean and Ross districts
Created 1st July 1837. Mainly in Monmouthshire, but included parts of Gloucestershire.
Sub-districts : Chepstow; Lydney; Shire Newton.
GRO* volumes : XXVI (1837-51); 11a (1852-1930).
Alvington, Aylburton, Hewelsfield, Lancaut, Lydney, St. Briavels, Tidenham, Woolaston.
Registers now divided between Newport and Forest of Dean districts.
- Westbury on Severn
Created 1st July 1837.
Sub-districts : East Dean; Huntley; Newnham.
GRO* volumes : XI (1837-51); 6a (1852-1930).
Abenhall, Awre, Blaisdon, Bulley, Churcham, East Dean, Flaxley, Hinders Lane and Dockham, Huntley, Lea Bailey (from 1890), Littledean, Longhope, Minsterworth, Mitcheldean, Newnham, Westbury on Severn.
Registers now divided between Forest of Dean and Gloucester districts.
Newland and West Dean cover a similar area, Newland being the ancient name.
Monmouth/Chepstow; being the registration districts for part of the Forest of Dean often means the need to look at Wales rather than England for some online census information, www.Ancestry.com is a prime example.
* GRO - Gloucestershire Archives.