I have a box full of some rough paperwork I have gathered over the years - jottings of conversations with close relatives, photos with captions on the back, addresses, letters - all in a muddle and a heap. I systematically started to divide it all up into my side of the family and my husband's side. Then for each side I subdivided material into maternal side and paternal side.
I started with my mother's side. I have a lot of information on this part of the family and still have my mother around to ask any questions, if need be - or so I thought. However my 93-year-old mum now has lapses in her memory, it seems, and cannot even recall the name of the hospital I was born in, so obviously she is no longer a reliable source for anything or anyone even further back in history.
My paternal side will need a bit more thought as those records stem from Germany. Maybe I need to go out there for a holiday to research them. Yes, I shall book a flight some time.
My first realisation is that the material available online is not totally reliable. For example my maternal grandmother was called Elsie but the census online shows her as Elni. I knew I had the right person because all the parents' and sibling details on the census are correct. However, when I compared the original hand-written census where her name was clearly "Elsie" with the later typed-up version, it had become "Elni". Another relative who has the name Armstrong as a middle was clearly shown as Armstrong in the handwritten version but shown in the typed version as Arabella. I am sure HE would not have been happy about that! My daughter reckons they use electronic readers to transpose the handwritten versions into typed versions and the electronics go a bit haywire sometimes. You're not kidding.
Another problem is finding the correct dates. For relatives I know well, I may know the exact date of their birth but even this is not straightforward. My mother-in-law, for example, was born in late 1925, but her birth was not registered until 1926, so in researching ancestors back in the 1800s, I am not entirely sure I have found the right birth or death dates or even the right person as there can be hundreds of John Smiths and surprisingly as many Edith Hedleys (which you would think much rarer). How to know for sure that you have the right one? It is only recently that mothers' maiden names have been added to the birth certificates, so before that there is no way of being sure you have the right John Smith unless you cough up £10 each time to receive a copy of the actual certificate. It can get quite expensive.
The last few weeks I have concentrated on Greg's side of the family, as I was invited up to my sister-in-law for a special occasion last weekend and wanted to take some f my research to show them. I have found some interesting things and interesting professions on their side of the family.Even two sets of cousins marrying over two generations. I've gone as far back as the late 1700s and am now working out how to go further back still.
I am getting a lot of fun out of this and it will be something to leave the next generation. The sad thing is that when we are young, we don't really give a toss about our ancestors and it is only when living relatives pass away, that we wish we had asked more. I intend to leave plenty of records so that Kay and her cousins can have this information to hand, when they feel ready to ask those questions.
Look up this link to a video clip from BBC's Who Do You Think You Are when actor Danny Dyer (who plays pub landlord in our long-running soap Eastenders) finds out who his ancestor is. The look on his face is priceless.