When I started working at Ancestry.co.uk I was new to family history and keen to immerse myself in the full genealogical experience. I began by building the Bernhardt family tree – starting with myself and working my way back through the generations. The advice from my colleagues was to enter the information I knew, which was surprisingly little and consisted of just my name and date of birth, my parents’ and grandparents’. When I saw my first hint manifesting itself in the form of a green, shaky leaf I was intrigued to see my original birth index, as I had always thought of family history research as being just that, and seeing a record featuring my name felt quite surreal.
As I continued my journey into my family history I became ever more confident in my research and findings – slowly starting to understand what it was about family history that was so compelling and even, dare I say it, quite addictive. Each person I found in my tree would unlock yet another door whilst presenting another new genealogical challenge.
My first major breakthrough came just two weeks into my research when I discovered a previously-unknown family member in a US birth record. Within minutes I was on the phone to my sister and she, equally astonished, began conducting searches of her own in the hope of finding his current whereabouts. Unfortunately neither of us have yet been able to track him down but we shall continue to try.
My second genealogical milestone was stumbling upon an array of photos of my 3x maternal great grandmother in ‘Member Photos’ on our site. Fascinated to see the face of such a long-lost ancestor, I contacted the photo owner and after a couple of email exchanges we worked out that we were in fact second cousins. I told my mother and interestingly she had met my newfound second cousin’s parents a number of times when she was just a girl. My discovery therefore inspired her to reminisce and share her golden memories with me, which otherwise may never have emerged.
I’m not sure what I expected to find out when I started researching my family history: perhaps simply to master the art of online tree building, but to my delight I learnt so much more than that. Not only did I discover ancestors I previously knew nothing about, but I discovered new living family members and more about my mother’s life.
If you need help getting started on your family history research, there are loads of great tips in the Getting Started section on our site. Good luck!