The North of Ireland Family History Society is expanding its Newtownabbey-based research centre due to a growing interest in genealogy.
Increasing numbers of people are now taking steps to find out where their families came from and who their ancestors were, partly thanks to popular TV shows such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’
While many people elect to take on the daunting challenge of time-consuming, painstaking research alone, more and more are turning to the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS) for help and advice.
Formed in 1979, the society now has 12 branches across Ulster and more than 1,100 members here and around the world.
Its library and research centre at Valley Business Centre, Church Road has a well-stocked library containing many irreplaceable books, as well as countless transcripts of church records, journals, maps and directories.
Having seen its numbers grow in recent years, the society is currently working on extending the research centre to allow it to hold special meetings and classes for those interested in family history, whether beginners or more experienced researchers.
Sandra Ardis, NIFHS education and development officer, joined the society in 2002 after carrying out some research into her own family history.
She insists that ancestry exploration isn’t as easy as it’s made to look on TV, but says the NIFHS can help by offering support and advice through local branches and its global network of members.
Her advice for anyone intent on tracing their family tree is simple: “Start with yourself and work back.”
“Always start with yourself and get written down your own details and your parents’ details. If it’s all drawn out in a diagram like a tree it’s easier to see,” she explained.
“Also, talk to your oldest relatives and ask what they know about where they grew up and what they know about their parents.”
The retired primary school teacher stressed that anyone researching their ancestry should be prepared to deal with shocks and surprises.
“People have found that their great grandparents weren’t actually married or that someone has appeared with another wife and they can’t find a death record for the first one.
“You just have to smile and say ‘Well that’s the way it was then’, whatever comes up. If you’re going to research you’ve got to be prepared to accept whatever comes up,” she said.
Mrs Ardis is also secretary of the Newtownabbey Branch, which meets on the second Monday of each month in Glengormley High School.
The local branch, formed in 1995, now has nearly 60 members - people of all ages - and that figure is continuing to grow.
For more information about the North of Ireland Family History Society, and details of upcoming meetings and classes, log on to www.nifhs.org