Who do you think you are? Try genealogy…

By Helen Shingler:

Last week saw the return of the very popular BBC television series ‘Who do you think you are’ (Weds, 9pm).  It kicked off with Michelle Keegan (no pun intended – although I did just think of Kevin!)  Michelle uncovered a ‘link’ to the Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst but you needed to watch to find out exactly what that is! Maybe iPlayer?

Have you ever wondered where you come from, who your ancestors are or started tracing your family tree already?  I have been tracing my family history for several years.  My focus has primarily been on my maternal grandmother and grandfather because I was very close to them and we lived with them in their house in Hammersmith, West London when I was born.

There was always a family rumour that some members of the Ransley family tree had been involved in smuggling on the Romney Marshes, where my grandfather’s ancestors came from. So who wouldn’t be intrigued by this and want to dig deeper (not in the marshes though) so, I joined up to Ancestry.co.uk and started to excavate!  I did discover that the smugglers whose leader was George Ransley the head of the Aldington Gang (he was transported to Tasmania in 1827) were possibly very distantly related.  I did also reveal that my 5 X Great Grandfather had two great-nephews (brothers) who were hanged at Maidstone Prison in 1800 for burglary although I understand that they were actually highwaymen.  It seems their being highwaymen didn’t bother those that knew them but they broke the cardinal rule and burgled someone local on their own turf and were handed over to the authorities!

Initially, you are listing names, birth dates, marriages, children and deaths.  I will say that my research was somewhat easier because it was all in London and Kent.  There are plenty of records to search through including electoral registers, census and parish records.

My family tree started ‘growing’ rapidly and the branches spread out with often second marriages and many children until contraception and television came along couples often had large families of up to 10-15 children (not all survived of course).  I then started to become interested in the social history of the times, for instance, when my grandmother and great-grandmother lived in Bethnal Green in London,  conditions were often dire unless you belonged to the upper classes.

I came across the Poor Law Removal Act more than once and a mention of a workhouse.  These discoveries all impacted me and I realised how far we have come in just a few generations.

I haven’t finished my family tree research although I am taking a break for the summer months.  I have just taken the next step in finding out who I am by having my DNA tested and recently received the results!  I think a second article on ‘Who I found out I am’ is needed to cover that!

Thanks for reading and comments are welcome!


  • Sounds fascinating but how complicated is all the researching, I wonder? Any tips to find things or are there no short cuts?

  • Helen Shingler says:

    Sorry for the delayed response in replying, it is fascinating and totally addictive! If you use a site like Ancestry they offer suggestions and a ‘help’ button and will also start giving you ‘hints’ once you add a person onto the tree. Your tree will start ‘growing’ quite fast at the start through searching the census, electoral registers and BMD (Birth, Marriage and Death) registers, which is where I recommend you begin!

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