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All in the family: Jonathan Hopson is on a journey of discovery tracing his ancestry

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The fascination with our heritage and discovering our personal history is something which interests many people, but where do you start.

West Berkshire born and bred, Jonathan Hopson has been tracing his family connections and he explains how you can go about looking for information on your past and the resources available.

The release earlier this year of the 1921 census records for England and the success of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? where celebrities are given a potted history of their ancestors, sometimes digging up notorious villains or royalty, is testament to the interest in family trees.

Jonathan Hopson has been tracing his family tree
Jonathan Hopson has been tracing his family tree

In particular, the release of the census records has generated a significant increase in the number of people researching their family history.

National censuses started in 1841 and take place every 10 years.

The 1920 Census Act made it illegal to publish personal information from the 1921 and successive censuses until 100 years after the census was taken.

The 1931 census records for England – but not Scotland – were destroyed by fire in 1942 and there was no census in 1941 due to the Second World War.

The next major release of census information will be in 2052 when the 1951 census is due to be published. So if you haven’t already plotted out your family tree, 2022 is a great time to start.

To find out more about the national census visit www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/census-records/

The 1939 National Register, set up as an emergency measure for the issuing of identity cards prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, has been available on a subscription basis since 2015 and includes much of the same information as the
10-year census.

There is a wealth of family history information available online with many websites offering annual subscriptions covering the national census, births, marriages and deaths, military records and British Newspaper Archives etc.

Two of the more popular family history sites are Ancestry, www.ancestry.co.uk and Find My Past,

A popular free website listing searchable Birth, Marriage & Death data from 1837 onwards is

Official copies of Birth, Marriage & Death records can be ordered from the General Record Office www.gro.gov.uk and their online databases of birth and death records are freely searchable.

Locally, Berkshire family history researchers will find a wealth of resources and information available at Berkshire Family History Society (BFHS)

Camp Hopson's drapery bazaar in the centre of Newbury
Camp Hopson's drapery bazaar in the centre of Newbury
Jonathan Hopson's father David
Jonathan Hopson's father David

A previous mayor of Newbury, Joseph Toomer, undertook a census of the borough of Newbury in 1815 and this information is available from the National Archives and on CD from BHFS.

As well as being written down longhand on paper, family tree research results are probably better transferred into a family tree software programme, eg Rootsmagic, Family Historian, Legacy etc.

Most family history software can import and export family trees using the industry standard GEDCOM file format, which enables the exchange of genealogical data between different genealogy software.

Family tree research frequently yields fascinating facts about one’s ancestors and can uncover connections between different families that are unknown.

Once I started researching my own family tree, it became apparent that four Hopson siblings from a family of 10 had married siblings from the same two families.

Two other Hopson siblings from a family of four had also married two siblings from the same family.

I am still working my way through these histories and will go into more detail on the Hopson family history in my next article in September.

Are you researching your family history? Have you discovered surprising local connections? Email Out & About editor Geraldine Gardner at geraldine.gardner@newburynews.co.uk and we could feature your family story.

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