How to Find Your English Ancestors
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How to Find Your English Ancestors

Tips on tracing your English ancestors in genealogical research are sometimes a matter of trial and error, but this article gives some starting points and some hints of when to stop.

If you are interested in your family history, you will probably have to explore your family’s connections in some other countries. In the United States that means you could have ancestors anywhere in the world. Since the United States began as British colonies, England is an important source of information.

Some things about the history of the settling of the country may be important in your research. Look for the names of ships that carried settlers and goods. On Cyndi’s List I found English genealogy; then I followed the links to ships and passengers where I found Olive Tree Genealogy. (Cyndi’s also has entries about many other nationalities and ethnic groups). On the Susan and Ellen, April of 1635 there was a family named Hudson. The father, mother, three children, and five servants came to the Colonies. The father’s name was Ralph. I have no known ancestors named Ralph. The son was named Jo, perhaps short for Joseph. Again, nobody I recognize. However, I have very sketchy information about my ancestors before 1790, so maybe this is something I could pursue.

With the names of Ralph and Jo, I went to Rootsweb and found that Jo or Jonathan, Ralph’s son, did have a son named Henry. Now, I have an ancestor named Henry—sketchy stuff, sometimes, gives a clue where to go next, but the date make this a possible ancestor. Proving the relationships and the connections becomes an intriguing puzzle. And it all started when I looked for the name Hudson in passenger lists.

If you are searching for names and dates of ancestors who came to the colonies, try all the nations that had vessels transporting passengers. The Dutch were very active on the sea, and there were also French and Belgian ships.

I like to use the free websites. Cyndi’s, and Oliver Tree are all free. They all give references and have ads that tell you about the fee-based sites. The fee-based sites may give you a free trial, but I try to find all the information I can without obligating myself to monthly payments. If I make the connection to Ralph and know that he is my ancestor, I can look further.

After I know whether Ralph is an ancestor I want to know more about, I should see where he came from. What port did the ship leave from? Are there other records available that might tell me where he lived? Before 1837 births, deaths and marriages were recorded in the churches, but that is a very complicated search because each church kept its own records. Was your family Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, or what? Try the tax lists, too.

There is one other fact you might want to consider. Suppose Ralph wasn’t a direct ancestor, but he was a cousin. Maybe his grandfather was my direct ancestor. How far back do I want to pursue this? This may be a time to mention that in family history research you may want to define the parameters of your interest: How many lines are you interested in? How many generations do you want to search? How much do you want to know about their lives?

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