Lots of family tree vocabulary in our glossary will help you understand all the words in the article below. Watch the video, read the text and then vote and/or leave a comment about your opinion on the hobby - not, Hobbit :) - of finding out about your ancestors.
Family Tree vocabulary
- family tree
- a record of the people in your family going back in history
- you family line through history going back to an ancestor
- great great grandfather
- In English we don't have different names for different past generations. If you are talking about your grandfather's father, this is the great grandfather. You add another 'great' to the name for every other generation that you go back to
- to have a likeness
- to physically look the same as someone else
- mum's side of the family
- your mother's family
- family traits
- characteristics that are the same amongst people in your family, like red hair or blue eyes
- to be the black sheep of the family
- to be the one person in your family who is considered to be different (in a negative way) to all the other family members
- distant relative
- someone who is not in your immediate family, like a cousin twice removed, or a great, great uncle three times removed
- object or qualities that have been passed down from previous generations
- branch of the tree
- one side of the family (mother or father's)
- public records
- historical official documents that anyone can look at
- to trace
- to find/discover or describe the origin of something by investigating
- a person, from before your grandparents generation, that you are descended from
- public record taken every 10 years giving lots of details about all the people in a country
- cause of death
- how a person died
- a thing/person that has been followed by another
Looking into your family's past
Why is it that people only start getting interested in their family tree once they get older? Do they want to look back into their lineage to see if their great, great, great grandfather was someone famous or important?
Perhaps it's because people want to understand if they have a likeness to someone from their mum's side of the family. Or maybe they have noticed that some family traits have been passed down to their own children and they want to discover if that characteristic has appeared before in their family history.
It could even be that they have a suspicion that they are the black sheep of the family and they want to prove that there was someone further back, maybe some distant relative, who was definitely more of a misfit than them.
As you can see in the video below, there is a BBC TV series called Who Do You Think You Are in which famous people (famous in the UK, that is!) investigate their heritage with the help of genealogical experts. Quite often, the celebrity ends up in tears when they find out that something sad or tragic happened to one or more of their family. The experts go through various public records to trace the ancestors and of course, find a lot of information from the census.
In the clip here, the actor Martin Freeman, who has the starring role in The Hobbit movie finds out about his previous generations. He is very interested in finding out about his Dad's side of the family because his father died when he was only 10, so he doesn't know much about that branch of the tree.
However, for me, the problem with constructing a genealogical record is that the official documents only give you basic information like the date of birth, occupation, husband's/wife's name and maybe the cause of death. There is quite a lot of imagination and guesswork involved in making assumptions about your predecessors, so that you can make the story interesting.
Also, recently I spoke to a student who has an uncle that traced her family tree all the way back to the 16th Century. That's very impressive of course, but one thing worried me (and her) about it all: she said that her uncle had got her date of birth wrong. He had put 1984 as her date of birth, not 1983. Well, if he couldn't even get the current generation's details correct, then how can anyone trust the other 'facts' that he found going back four centuries!