Samantha's mysterious grandfather Daniel MacMeec who birth certificate started her on the family history trail.
Samantha's mysterious grandfather Daniel MacMeec who birth certificate started her on the family history trail. contributed

Discovering your family history

A weekend away that turns to tragedy for a young family, a great-uncle who spends a large chunk of his life in a 'lunatic asylum' and a tenuous connection to an English baroness - these are just some of the skeletons I have found in my family tree since I started researching it more than 10 years ago.

Genealogy or researching your family history has become a very popular hobby, especially with the advent of the internet. and similar websites are enjoying an amazing growth in interest as people sign up to search through military and census records as well as birth, death and marriage certificates.

The family researcher's excitement at finding that little jewel of information about their family can be likened to perhaps scoring a goal.

While always curious about my forebears, it wasn't until the night on the internet I came across my Scottish grandfather's birth certificate on a website that I was hooked. I actually danced around the room at my discovery.
Since migrating to Australia when my mother was only sixyears old, my grandfather had kept his side of the family a huge secret.

The reasons why he never talked about his family are still a secret but that's what keeps a genealogist interested.
This first night of discovering my grandfather's birth certificate meant I also scored a win with my great-grandparents' names.

The beauty of Scottish tradition too was that my great-grandmother's middle name, also on the certificate, was HER mother's maiden name.

I was on the path to finding a whole missing branch of family.

I have since gathered more than 1500 ancestors and current family members into my tree, met and 'discovered' missing and previously non-existent cousins, found heroes and villains, cheered at some of their exploits and cried when tragedy has struck.

Even beyond the grave I feel like I have bonded with family members I have no chance of ever meeting.
One recent discovery I made was about my father's aunt, my great-aunt. She had been married twice and I went in search of the reason why her first husband left.

The answer lay in a newspaper article published in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1931.

My great-aunt, her husband and three-year-old son were travelling with another family on a weekend away in the Liverpool region, south-west of Sydney.

The truck they were travelling in blew a tyre and overturned.

The women and children were thrown freeof the lorry, but the two men in the driver's cab were burnt alive.

I sobbed as I read the details of the accident, imagining what my great-aunt must have gone through as she watched her husband die.

But there have also been exciting discoveries, such as finding out that my great-great-great grandmother and her first husband (I am descended from her second husband) have a great-great granddaughter who is an English baroness. It's about as close to royalty as I think I will ever get, but it was exciting to find out.

So where is the best place to start if you've suddenly become curious about your own family history?

Many 'how to' guides will recommend that you talk to older family members first.

If you are an older family member, start recording all that you can remember about your family and write names, places and dates on the backs of photographs.

Local family history groups are treasure troves of information with internet access and as well as hard copies of books and documents.

They are usually staffed by volunteers who are only too willing to help.

Who knows, you may find royalty hiding in the branches of your family tree.

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