Family History Federation

You will need to collect some names and dates from your family members.

Print a Devon Family History Society Acorn Club Pedigree Chart and ask for help to fill in some information. If you have a young brother or sister, they might like to use the Little Acorns

There are more family trees to print on the Links page

My Family Tree

Your family tree shows who your relations are and is a sort of map of how and who you are related to.

There are many different kinds of family which makes society very interesting.

Birth family can mean Mum and Dad and any children who share the same parents as you (your brothers and sisters).

Your Dad’s side of the family is called the Paternal side. Your Mum’s side of the family is called the Maternal side.

Brothers and sisters are called your siblings.

Siblings that share one birth parent with you are half-sisters and half-brothers.

Sometimes parents don’t want to live together anymore and one of them moves out. You may live with one parent and a Step-parent.

Children can also be looked after by other people, perhaps Foster parents, if their Mum and Dad can’t look after their own children for some reason. Sometimes these children can be adopted.

Sadly, sometimes either Mum or Dad dies.
Remembering dead relatives on a Family Tree can be a good way of learning more about them and sharing memories.

The most important thing about your family, whatever its mixture, is that you are loved and cared for.

Family Photographs

Ask your family if they have any old photographs to help you tell your family’s story. Maybe you will be allowed to photocopy them or scan them for your computer. Make sure you find out as much as you can about the people in the photograph and when and where it was taken. You will probably find there are pictures of people whose names nobody knows. This can be very annoying but if you keep asking different relatives, maybe someone will know who they are.

The backs of very old photos will sometimes tell you the name of the photograph and the town where the picture was taken.

Here are some from my family collection.

This is my great great grandfather Philip Woolgar. It is a particularly nice photograph because it gives me lots of information. I can see what job he did, he was a milkman and there is an address on the cart which tells me where he came from. This picture was taken about 100 years ago. You may not be lucky enough to have any that are quite this old, but even more recent pictures can be part of your family history album.

This is my great great grandfather Philip Woolgar
This is my great great grandfather Philip Woolgar. It is a particularly nice photograph because it gives me lots of information. I can see what job he did, he was a milkman and there is an address on the cart which tells me where he came from. This picture was taken about 100 years ago. You may not be lucky enough to have any that are quite this old, but even more recent pictures can be part of your family history album.
Here is one of my mum when she was small.
Here is one of my mum when she was small.
Here is a picture of me taken near to where I live.
Here is a picture of me taken near to where I live.
my family used to live in this house
Don't forget that pictures of places are important too - my family used to live in this house. If you don't have pictures of the houses and villages where your family used to live, maybe you will be able to go and take some.

Interviewing your Relatives

Members of your family can often be really helpful especially when you are just starting your family history. They may have all sorts of information that won’t be written down in any documents you can find. Only they can tell you that ‘Uncle Fred’ liked jam on his sprouts or that ‘Auntie Annie’ always wore a purple hat to church.

It isn’t always easy to decide how to collect and record information that your family might have. Different ways will suit different relatives so it is really up to you to decide. Here are some suggestions.

You could write a questionnaire and post or email it to them.

  • The good things about this are that you can decide exactly what you want to ask and they can take their time to think about the answers. You will also have a ready made, written record.
  • The problems are that some people find writing very tiring. They may not want to put some family secrets down in writing. They will only answer the questions you have asked and not tell you other interesting things that they may know

You could meet them and ask some questions

  • The good things about this are that you can ask them to explain anything that is not clear and ask extra questions that you might think of.
  • The problems are that you have to decide how you are going to record what they say and you have to live close enough to be able to meet them.

You could telephone them

  • This has the same advantages as meeting them, but has some additional problems
  • The extra problems are that your relative may not find long telephone conversations very comfortable for example they may be a bit deaf or their telephone may be in a draughty hallway. It is also even more difficult to record from a telephone conversation.

Questions you might ask

First of all, it is very important to make it clear that they don’t have to ask any of your questions if they don’t want to, or if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

  • Ask them about the names, including nicknames, of members of your family and how they are related to each other
  • Do they know when and where these people were born, married and died. Even if they only know a rough date this may help you.
  • Where did they live and when did they live there?
  • Can they describe their house, street or town?
  • Where did they go to school? What subjects did they learn? When did they leave school?
  • What jobs did they do?
  • What can they tell you about your relatives? What did they look like? Did they have any funny habits? What were their hobbies? Did they go to church? Did they go on holiday? If so, where?
  • Have they got any photographs, documents or heirlooms (precious things that have been passed down through the family) that you can see and ideally copy or photograph?
  • Do they know anyone else in the family who might be able to help with your family history?

It is often a really good idea to get more than one relative together when you are asking questions about the family, this way they jog each other’s memories.

How you might record this information

There is no easy way of doing this, but here are some suggestions. Whatever you do, don’t think you will remember what they say, because you won’t!

  • It would be lovely if you could video your relatives but this won’t work if they get shy in front of the camera and don’t say anything!
  • You could record what they say on a cassette recorder.
  • You could try taking notes but it is difficult to write and listen at the same time – maybe you could get someone else to take the notes for you but it is difficult to write fast enough.
  • You could write some of the family names on your own Acorn Club Pedigree Chart

Print this list of Family Heirlooms and check to see if anyone has anything on the list to help with your family research. Look for names, dates, addresses, special events and link them to people on your family tree.

When you want to interview someone it might be best to write or phone them to arrange a special time.

Most people would be pleased that you are interested in them but some may not want to be interviewed and would prefer to keep their life private. Respect this.

Also respect people’s wishes if there is a question they don’t want to answer.

Don’t rush them, let them have time to think and you may learn more.

When the interview is finished, thank them for their help.

Remember to take a notebook and pencil and/or a voice recorder with you.

Print this list of questions that you could ask when Interviewing your relatives.

When you have chosen your questions, write them in your notebook leaving a space underneath each question for an answer.


Nowadays, everybody has a surname, but it wasn’t always like this. I expect you can think of some of your friends who have the same first name. It could be quite confusing if there were three people called Tom in your class and they didn’t have another name as well.

Hundreds of years ago, it didn’t matter if you only had one name because towns and villages were very small and one name would be enough. Surnames began to be used when villages started getting larger and just one name didn’t make it clear who was who. Others in the village would begin to add an extra name so that people knew which John (or Richard or William) they were talking about. These extra names (that we now call surnames) can be divided into four groups.

  1. Names which came from the First Name of your father – so John the son of Richard would become John Richardson and John the son of William would become John Williams
  2. Names from the job that you did – so the John who was a Farmer would become John Farmer.
  3. Names from where you lived – This could be an important place in the village or the name of a village itself – so John who lived by the church would become John Church or John who came from Torrington would become John Torrington. place
  4. Names that described your personality or what you looked like – so John with white hair would become John Whitehead. These included animal names as, when surnames were developing, people would associate certain animals with particular characteristics – so the John who was very brave would become John Lyon (from the saying ‘as brave as a lion’).

Surnames began to be used in this country between 500 and 1000 years ago. To begin with, surnames were not passed down in families and one person may have more than one ‘surname’ during his life. As more records became written down it was important to be able to show which family you belonged to so you could inherit property. This encouraged people to stick to one name and pass it on to their children.

  • Can you find out how many people had your surname in England and Wales in 1881?
  • Look at the Census page Perhaps a relative has the programme Surname Atlas that will help you, or email and ask for a map showing your surname in 1881
  • Print this Surnames Chart and see how many different surnames you can collect. Most surnames developed from a father’s name, place name, a job or a nickname

Useful Website

If you can find any good websites for Surname Meanings, please let the Acorn Club know at

There are some people who specialise in researching just one surname – go to to find out if your surname is one of these.

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