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Family history: where do you start?

My Newbie journey into Genealogy

My new-found interest in Genealogy started with attending a Genealogy user group – part of the AUSOM (Apple Users Group of Melbourne). I’ve never given my family history a second thought until that moment. However, the combination of hunting for family clues, online access to records and software for recording and publishing my family tree has me totally hooked! I  have attended so many workshops over the past few months which have helped me gain a little understanding of  Genealogy and the depth of this community. This post is my attempt at tracking what I have learnt so far – in the space of 3 months.

Where does the beginner start?

I live in Melbourne, Australia and so my journey at this point will be a little Melbourne-centric. The State Library of Victoria (SLV) has several workshops: a Newsworthy workshop – about the newspapers they hold and access to them online and in the library; using the library’s e-resources – I’m a big techie and I like to do my research online,  and a genealogy workshop: finding families – which introduced the Genealogy section of the library, and how to access it.  All these are free and repeated throughout the year. If you live in Victoria, check it out. The Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies holds a 2 session starting out workshop. These free classes are designed to help you start on the hunt for your ancestors as well as discussing how to organise  records, what resources are available and where to find them. I’ve now got a growing pile of handouts, links and information. These sessions were exceptionally helpful.

I’ve just joined the U3A – Nunawading and one of the classes was an introduction to Genealogy. Enter Ancestry.com.   An Ancestry.com trial subscription made initial searching very easy and I quickly located some relevant information. Plus all those winking leaves are irresistible. There are so many sites that offer free searching only to stump you with an ancestry.com portal if you actually want to see your search results. Insidious really. Anyway, I now have a monthly ancestry subscription. (What can I say!) This also gives me access to ancestry.com.au and ancestry.uk.


Tracking down my first ancestors

My father - Philip Forshaw (on right) abt 1935

I started researching my father’s family –  the FORSHAWs from Liverpool in Lancashire. However, with all the siblings and wives, the list of names is growing, and frankly, this is the part that I’m enjoying the most; discovering  family as far back as 1850 at the moment and researching the social conditions and history of that time. Unravelling family mysteries and searching for clues is intriguing.

There are many genealogy portals. Some are subscription sites like find my past.uk, and  thegenealogist.co.uk. However, there is a limit  as to how much you can pay for subscriptions, and ancestry.com is enough for me. I did join the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies which has a fantastic library and access to other databases like find my past and the Digger indexes for BMD. Cyndislist and Coraweb are huge portals which were just too overwhelming to the newbie. I didn’t know where to start with these massive link sites. Maybe later.

Family Search.org, which is free, for a change, provided some  links to Birth, Deaths and Marriages (BMD) for some of the names I was researching. Enough information to then order my first marriage certificate for my great grandfather: Henry James Forshaw. I  found the General Register Office for England and Wales Online ordering service (GRO)  which provides an efficient process for ordering certificates. A certificate cost £9.25 which is about $AUS13.00. I’ve received  the marriage certificate for my grandfather – Stanley Forshaw, my GG grandfather – Henry James Forshaw and I’m waiting for the certificate of my GGG grandfather – John Forshaw. I know I’m on the right track. The Census records, together with the marriage certificates provide enough information as well as clues to all the siblings.

Marriage certificate- my grandparents


Through family search. org, I came across indexing; a thoroughly addictive process which I now regularly do ( see my post: Indexing: giving back to the community). I also found Billion graves where you can transcribe headstones. In my search for my grandparents, I’ve discovered the Ryerson Index- for obituaries and Trove -Australian and online resources:books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, and archives. I’ve become a text OCR corrector – another addictive pastime.

 Widening your search

Using Census results provided names of my grandfather and GGrandfather’s siblings. A couple of my GG uncles were in World War 1.  I found their service records on Ancestry.com and through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, their graves. My grandparents came to Australia from England in 1926. The National Library of Australia has access to shipping lists and so much more – for when I am ready to research my  mother’s family. I became a member, got my library card which enables me to access e-resources and journals from home. The National Archives of Australia  and the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) also both offer online access to resources, indexes and databases  through registering and obtaining a library card. I attended the  National library day: Byte into History - more workshops, tours, speakers. The workshop on digitising photographs was very useful; my scanned photos turn out to be 150 mb – too large to fit on a blog.

Organising the research

By now, I was inundated with bits of paper  and disconnected facts about my father’s line: Forshaw and Rowe from Ormskirk, Lancashire; Green and Baskind from Liverpool and Russia. There were so many siblings in both families and I wanted to explore them all – not just the parents. However, for sanities sake, I’m initially concentrating on the Forshaws and researching all siblings as far as possible.

The advice for a beginner genealogist is to develop a recording system of paper records like pedigree charts, family group sheets, individual record sheets. To me, this is paper overload. I have got so many bits of paper, all in an ever-growing pile. Enough! I purchased Family Tree Maker 2 for MAC (FTM2) and all my data is input to this program.  FTM2 is synced to my ancestry subscription which, again, becomes another form of backup. No, I’m not crazy. I have backups. Backups to Dropbox, to an external hard drive on my network, to the cloud via Crashplan as well as exporting the GEDCOM file and backing that up. I can take my laptop to the State Library of Victoria (SLV) or the the historical society library – why do I need paper as well? It’s double handling. I’ve also got the Ancestry app for iPad, the Family Search indexing app for iPad, the Billion Graves app for iPad. Anything I’ve missed?

Participating in the genealogy community

I began this blog, not only to document my family research findings but to contribute to, and participate in the Genealogy community. The list of blogs on geneabloggers.com as well as the daily blog prompts, and my connections on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook  only feed my new-found interest.

After 3 months, I feel quite comfortable with my introduction to Genealogy, but, boy, there is so much more I want to  do  and explore further. My journey has just begun.

About the author

Michele Berner

Permanent link to this article: http://genealogyclues.com/?p=165


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  1. Jill Ball (Geniaus)

    Go to the top of the class! You have made amazing progress in just three months. Congratulations on all you have done so far.

    1. Michele Berner

      Thank you Jill. I appreciate your comment. This community has been so welcoming!.

  2. Fi

    Hi Michele,

    Another beginner here! Isn’t it a wonderful area to research? So much to learn and so many to help on the journey.

    1. Michele Berner

      You’re right Fi. It is fast becoming a totally engrossing pastime

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