A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Nicholls, a former member of the IAJGS board from the UK. He was on the board for about five years as secretary, a position he held for three years after being the board director and representative of European Jewish Genealogical societies. He joined the board as Chairman of the Jewish Genealogical society of Great Britain. Having had such an influence on the society, I knew he must have some excellent advice for anyone trying to conduct research into their own family tree.
The first thing I wanted to know was about searching for information outside of the United States, as I was curious about what others experience around the world when compared to here. He was able to give his view point and information as a citizen of the United Kingdom, explaining that they have it much easier than many other countries due to the various resources they have. Mark explained, “We have had, since July 1837, a national system of capturing all births, marriages, and deaths in a general register. So, we have a general register office which collects together all the birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates of everybody, hopefully, who has been born, married, and died in the United Kingdom.” He also stated that they have records of all citizens who were born, married, or died abroad known as consular records. In total, the UK has an extremely vast and well-kept record of all its citizens, which makes genealogical research rather easy to conduct there because things like maiden names, birth dates, and the like are readily available.
Mark also mentioned that there is a difference between the information available in Britain and Whales (where the general registration office is), and Scotland. “Scotland only started their civil registration in 1855,” he noted, “but they actually have a lot more detail on their certificates. So, there for its far easier to find out about female lines and things like that.”
Censuses was another advantage that Mark talked about, which he said are available up to 1911 in the United Kingdom. This is less than here in the United States, where they are available up to 1940. However, they still have access to plenty of information from 1837 to present day with all of the other resources; as well as local archives and synagogue records, which he stated were more scattered than other resources.
After discussing the situation in his home countries, I asked him about other countries who may not have the same resources that the UK and US are blessed with, to which he stated that looking at any type of records that are available. He stated, “I’m going to say records, but it can everything from what is held in the home, looking through old papers, looking through old letters. So, it’s looking at the personal paraphernalia that people collect over years.” Mark also talked about photographs as a good thing to look at. He mentioned that sometimes there might be things on the back that said where people were from, or that the location the picture was taken could reveal where people were from or traveling through. Immigration records were another source he offered. Passenger lists and documents about people who may have naturalized are available in some countries, including the United States.
Newspapers were also noted on by Nicholls who stated, “One of the greatest things in terms or resources is local newspapers.” Mark stated that things like obituaries located in the newspapers are an excellent way to locate family members. “You can actually reassemble whole families just simply from, say, one person or two or three people’s deaths in newspapers.” He commented, stated that it was something they did in the UK. The main Jewish newspaper for the United Kingdom is available online for subscription or through MyHeritage. This newspaper has information on births, marriages, deaths, forthcoming marriages and more.
Another great piece of advice he gave was to “start with yourself.” Mark noted that if you try to start from the oldest generation you know, it will be easy to get lost and confused by things like other families of the same name. It’s better to work backward because the one thing you know for certain is yourself and where you came from. He also stated that one needs to be “disciplined early on about recording the sources or where you found the information.” He stated that for every fact one records, they should also record the source so that when they look back at the information or show it to others they know that it came from a reliable place. Also, all information should be taken with a pinch of salt, as people will sometimes lie about things like age. It makes things a bit difficult, but not impossible. Just be cautious, about make sure to keep your facts straight and sources organized.
In short, Mark discussed how, no matter where you are, there are many different recourses available to conduct genealogical research. One simply needs to know where to look. So, don’t get discouraged and keep searching, because you never know where you’ll find that one bit of information that opens all of the doors for you.
To listen to the full interview, check out this link!