WATCHING a programme like Who Do You Think You Are? gives the impression that family history is straightforward. In an hour a celebrity is transformed from a bemused onlooker to the possessor of a sophisticated family tree and a raft of anecdotes.

What is not shown is the inevitable journey of false starts, errors, rethinks and long discussions with experts that enabled the job to be done. And yet researching family history is not beyond the reach of anyone who is comfortable with taking care, making accurate records, being sceptical when required and capable of picking others people’s brains.

These are the views of Paul Pinhorne, Chairman of the Hampshire Genealogical Society. He recently gave a video presentation to the Community Archive Forum organised by the Hampshire Archives Trust and the Local History Section of the Hampshire Field Club, now available on the HFC YouTube channel.

HGS grew from the South-East Hampshire Genealogical Society, which started in 1974. Today it has 1,900 members, many from overseas, and publishes a quarterly journal, The Hampshire Family Historian.

The last issue included an article by HGS member Rod Cross, who had been asked to research his barber’s family. It involved four grandparents with no less than 41 siblings, including travellers in remote rural areas. He was nonetheless able to find out much about them from census records, including comments such as: “Travellers who pitched their tent in Broad Chalke parish”, “Sleeping in tents”, “chair bottomer” and “Gypsies (Retired)”.

Benefits of HGS membership include contacts with a huge community of experienced family history researchers in groups throughout the county – at Fleet and Farnborough, Basingstoke, Andover, Alton, Winchester, Fair Oak, Romsey, Ringwood, Christchurch and New Milton, Fareham, Gosport and Portsmouth.

At the HGS Research Centre in Cosham, which is open in non-Covid times four times a week, members get advice from volunteers and access to a huge range of sources, including a local history library. Queries can be sent to

Over the years HGS members have accumulated a huge amount of information, some reaching back 500 years, on births, marriages, deaths (BMD), census records and monumental inscriptions from graveyards and burial grounds. Volunteers for transcribing even more are always welcome.

Recent additions include records of the Hampshire Regiment, the Royal Observer Corps and a Wills Index of Beneficiaries. Much of this data can be purchased on searchable CDs or PDFs from the HGS website, though in the future the emphasis will be on downloadable files and memory sticks.

Also for sale on the website are more than 100 village histories by HGS member Roy Montgomery, much on Portsmouth history, reproductions of Ordnance survey maps at a scale of 15 inches to the mile, and a range of booklets by professional genealogist Eve McLaughlin on topics such as Ancestral Records For Free, Nonconformist Ancestors, Manorial Records and much, much more.

Commenting on HGS, Paul said: “Family history is about much more than names and dates - there is a need to ‘put flesh on the bones’. This can be achieved via the natural synergy that exists between family history and local history. The Hampshire Record Office is an excellent source for those with ancestors in the county, as it holds virtually all parish records and much more relating to Hampshire life.

“When you start family history, collect as much information as possible from family members before it becomes too late. Do not discard anything and assume nothing until it has been proven. Make a note of your sources as you may need to refer to them later to prove accuracy. Start with yourself and build a family tree, perhaps using programs such as Legacy, Roots Magic or Family Tree Maker.”

Warning that only 10 per cent of material is online, he pointed out that the huge number of genealogy websites can be found on Family Search is excellent for BMDs before official registration started in 1837. FreeBMD covers the period 1837-1992. The General Register Office site can be searched for births 1837-1919 and 1984-2004, and deaths 1837-1957 and 1984-2019.

The Ancestry site gives information from across the world, including BMD and census records, military and emigration and immigration records – and much, much more. FindMyPast has similar records plus newspapers. The Genealogist has many records not found on other sites, such as landowners listed for Tithe Maps.

A little-known source included on Ancestry and FindMyPast is the 1939 Register, compiled for issuing ID cards and ration cards during wartime and later for the nascent NHS. Although it contains ‘many errors’ and is redacted for people reckoned to be less than 100 years old, it makes good the national census that would otherwise have been taken in 1941.

Other sources highlighted were the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for military and burial records. Also, Poor Law records, school admission records and wills in local record offices, together with downloadable wills from the National Archives. Emigration and immigration records not only reveal personal details, but also the date and port where people passed through and even where they went to stay.

HGS plans to build on the success of its Facebook page and make more use of videoconferencing. Paul said: “Our Andover group recently joined with family historians in Canada and we expect much more like this. We also want to restart a group in Southampton and forge closer links with local history groups, and we are always open to new members and volunteers to work on records.”

Hampshire Record Office holds a wealth of sources for researching Hampshire families. An introduction to some of its key sources will be given in an online talk on October 27 at 2.30, repeated on December 8 at 6pm. Tickets, £5, booked in advance via ‘Buy online’ at

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