Essential Reading

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Day Your Ancestor Was Born

Ten ways to find out more about the day of your ancestor's birth

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

[This article was first published in the now obsolete Discover My Past England 2010]

Alice Fletcher, my great-great aunt was born in Wigan, Lancashire on December 31st 1864. It was New Year’s Eve, so I can imagine straight away something of the atmosphere of that day. But to really understand your ancestor’s life, you should aim to find out much more about the world at the exact time at which he or she was born. With the aid of the internet, you can now do just that without moving from your chair.

1. Date of Conception
Some sites can tell you the likely date at which your ancestor was conceived. In the case of Alice Fletcher, the likely date of conception was  9th April 1864 – a Saturday. (See, for example, 

2. The Birth Itself
To find out more about the way in which your ancestor is likely to have been born visit This site discusses shows how the whole business of childbirth changed from century to century including such matters as who might have been present at the birth, the methods of delivery, types of pain relief available, the length of the lying –in period etc.

3. The Day of the Birth
Check out the archive of the Times newspaper details of events around Britain on the day that your ancestor was born. For local news contact your local library or record office where you are likely to find microfiches of the local papers. Bear in mind that there may have been many of these. Local websites such as can provide information on contemporary events.

3. Festivals
It may be of interest to you to know at what times of year, Easter, or other religious holidays fell in the year that your ancestor was born. Visit In 1864, Easter Sunday had fallen on March 27th, so Alice Fletcher was not the result of some overenthusiastic holidaymaking!

4. Prime Ministers and Monarchs

You can find out who was Prime Minister on the day your ancestor was born at On the day of Alice’s birth the Prime Minister was Viscount Palmerston of the Liberal Party. For a list of English monarchs see Alice’s monarch was Queen Victoria born on 24th May 1819. She came to the throne in 1837 and by 1864 was 45 years old and had been monarch for 27 years.

5. Famous Contemporaries.
You can check online to see if anyone famous was born on the same day, or in the same year. This can help you to place your ancestor historically. The site will give you the names of famous people who were born and who died on this date in this year (and in other years).

6. Compare dates with those of other famous people
It’s always useful to compare your ancestor’s dates with those of a very well known person. Other famous people whose lives may usefully be compared alongside your Victorian ancestor are Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Florence Nightingale (1820-1910).

7. Great Events
Check to see what famous events, both in Britain and around the world, took place in the year your ancestor was born. See or The year of Alice Fletcher’s birth, 1864, saw a flood in Sheffield causing a reservoir to burst and resulting in 250 deaths.
8. Cultural Advances
The Library history timeline at allows you to see the key events in various categories ( Politics, Power and Rebellion, Literature Music and Entertainment; Everyday Life; Sacred Texts; Medicine Science and Technology) in each decade since the mediaeval period. This can help you to understand conditions at the time of your ancestor’s birth.

9. What Money Could Buy

Find out how much currency was worth at the time of your ancestor’s birth at which gives you the purchasing power of British pounds from 1264 to the present.

10. Other Useful Timelines
There are a number of other histories such as those of women’s rights, education or medicine that may be of interest to you as you start to understand your ancestor’s life paths. The history of women’s rights, for example, can be viewed at
A timeline of the history of education is at

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

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Keywords: European ancestors, Europe, ancestry, family history, genealogy, oral history, England, English, language, immigrants, immigration, regions, regional, British Isles, UK, England, English

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