University of Leicester eBulletin

How to climb your family tree

September 2002

In response to what it called 'the huge surge of interest in family history', the University of Leicester is breaking new ground in the city and county by offering people the means to help them find their ancestors.

A block of six double-sessions devoted to 'Skills in Family History' is to be the linking theme of the forthcoming two-year Certificate Course in Local History at Vaughan College, part of the University's Institute of Lifelong Learning.

'Lots of people find it difficult to get further back than their grandparents,' says the course director, Dr Graham Jones. 'We'll give them the skills to go much, much further back - to Elizabethan times and even into the Middle Ages if the conditions are right.'

Students will gain the know-how to pick up traces of their ancestors in a wide range of sources, beginning with civil, church and chapel registers of births, deaths and marriages, and moving on to probate records, including wills and inventories. Census records will also be explored, as well as military and colonial records.

Eventually they will be able to take the exploration of genealogy back into the Middle Ages, by studying such documents as manor and muster rolls and taxation lists. The history of surnames, too, will be studied.

Skills taught will include palaeography, the study of ancient handwriting, and there will be visits to Leicestershire Record Office and local holdings of the electronic International Genealogy Index.

'We're delighted to be able to include this programme within the Local History course,' says Dr Jones. 'To be fully enjoyed, the exploration of one's family involves not only the making of the family tree - and that requires special skills on its own - but also the ability to set individual ancestors in their time and place. In short, to see them as people of flesh and blood living out recognisable lives in their particular communities and localities.

'Family history is fun because you never know what you'll find in your family tree. My own ancestors include a woman described in the parish register as "lewd and disorderly" because she had two illegitimate children, and another lady fined for emptying a chamber-pot over the mayor.' 

Further details of the Local History Certificate can be obtained from Vaughan College, tel 0116 251 7368. The first meeting of the course is on Thursday, September 26.

Ather Mirza
Director of Press and Public Relations
University of Leicester
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Last updated: September 2002
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