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Last Updated: Friday, 30 April, 2004, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
'My ancestors got hitched in this church'
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

It's easy to find genealogy records online, with census records and registers of births, deaths and marriages from the 19th Century. But the web is also invaluable for painting a picture of how our forebears lived.

Slains Parish Church [copyright holder: Scran]
The 19th Century church still stands
Interest in family history is booming. One in eight people in the UK are tracing their roots, according to a poll by YouGov for 1837online, of which half started their research in the past year.

This is down to the ease with which even a beginner can trace past generations, thanks to registers of births, marriages and deaths from 1837, census results from 1871 and parish records among the resources available online.

And once a few seemingly dry facts have been established - a date and place of birth, for instance - the web can help bring the past to life.

Thanks to the efforts of a researcher at the Society of Genealogists, the body behind this weekend's Family History Show in London, I found out that my great-great-great-grandparents were married in an Aberdeenshire village in 1823.

While the dates and quaint names on decades-old family records are fascinating, my curiosity was piqued by where they tied the knot. Could Slains Parish Church, as cited on their marriage certificate, still be standing?

That's the sort of digging that really brings family history to life, that makes it much more personal
Colin Miller of 1837online
A quick search online throws up not only an old photograph of the somewhat dour-looking building - unsurprising for an 1807 Presbyterian church - but also a detailed history of the once-thriving fishing village which it still serves. It is easy now to imagine the wind-tossed December day on which James, a fisherman, married his love Christina 180 years ago.

"That's the sort of digging that really brings family history to life, that makes it much more personal," says Colin Miller, of 1837online.

"Once you probably would have had to make the long trek to Aberdeenshire to get a sense of where they lived, but now you can do the drudgery of the facts-and-figures research - as well as find things like that photo - from home."

Roots manoeuvre

It is this ease which has broadened the appeal of genealogy. Once regarded as a pastime of the older generations, today half are aged between 30 and 50, with a sizable minority of 18 to 29-year-olds.

Parents and their newborn on a maternity ward
"Let's call him Hector after Grandad"
"There's also a massive contingent of mums at home with their young children. The net is a great tool for allowing them to pursue their hobby without having to drag the kids to the records office. They're a fairly new demographic, and a growing one."

For many amateur genealogists, it is when they start a family of their own that their interest in those who came before starts - hence the popularity of baby names with roots in the past, such as Wilf, Harry, Olivia and Emily, children who are often named after a forebear.

Mr Miller says his own interest was reawakened by the birth of his son Ned 15 months ago.

"My father died quite young, as did his parents, so I wanted my son to be able to get to know about them in the future. Already it's easier to find this out than it was 10 years ago. Just imagine how easy it'll be for him to do his own research when he's my age."

The Family History Show is at the Royal Horticultural Society New Hall in London on 1 and 2 May. See the Society of Genealogists in Internet links for more information.


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