Getting Started

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    So you want to trace your family roots? There are lots of guides and resources on the Internet, and you should take the time to read some. What I’m offering in the following is some general advice based on my own experience, directly related to research my paternal Ayling family history, which I hope you might find useful in starting on your own journey.

    Where to start? Obviously, talking to your family members. Do as much research as possible at your immediate family level. Find out dates and names and places of birth and where people moved over time and so on. Go as far back in time as possible. Gather together whatever documents you can find, such as baptism, birth certificates, marriage records and death certificates. Write it all down. Get it all organized in a rough family tree on paper.

    When you have got your immediate family information gathered together, I strongly recommend you sign on to a genealogy service, such as, which I used. There are many other programs out there that you can try. Pick one that seems best to you. There are a number of benefits in using these services, but I think there are five main ones:

    First, your family tree will be displayed in a graphical format that you can then scroll up and down or across at many different levels. This feature becomes very important as your tree gets larger. For example, families in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s were having as many as 12 children. Each of these children in turn had many children. Your tree can get very large, very fast. Being able to scroll around and down family lines helps you sort out relatives from your main family line. You will be amazed to discover that, especially in the 18th century, there was not a great range of names used. You find many repetitions of John, James, Katherine, Jane, etc.

    Second, many records are now on-line and can be found using the genealogy search engines. also does auto searches for you and presents “leafs” or suggestions that bring up records that might link to your ancestor. You have to be careful that the record is a match. There are many duplicate Ayling names even during the same time period and geographical location. This is where your previous information gathering becomes important, at least in the first few branches upward.

    Third, your ancestors might already appear in family trees of other users. In other words, you may find that someone (like me) has already done much of the leg work for you such that you only need to link up your modern day family lines to an existing branch on the tree. I look at my tree and there are many dead ends in the mid to late 1800’s. I can’t bring the lines any further to the present because many public records end in the ealry 1900’s (e.g. census data). However, armed with you own family history you might be able to climb up to discover one of these “dead end” branches is actually very much alive. There are probably two dozen or so Ayling trees on Most are not accurate. And this is one of the big flaws in the program. A lot of people have “Ayling” as a side branch through marriage or maternal lines and do not put as much effort into checking accuracy as someone like me who is interested in an accurate paternal line. The fact that “leafs” include other users’ trees compounds this problem. Over and over I found that someone selected an ancestor based on someone else’s tree, who in turn found the ancestor from someone else’s tree, and so on. In many cases the trees eventually link back in a giant circle with no actual record or evidence to support the choice of ancestor. So be very careful. The best tree makers document their decisions in the comments section of each ancestor. There are times when you do have to make a best guess based on the evidence at hand. It’s best to record your rationale for a future Ayling researcher to find and consider –as I have done hundreds of times on my tree. We all make mistakes. I’m sure despite my best efforts there are errors in mine. And always be willing to reconsider previous choices when faced with new evidence.

    Fourth, you can contact other users who are also researching the Ayling name. I have made many very useful contacts, and friends, this way. However, make sure you do your own work before contacting people. The best way to make contact is if you have discovered some document or person like that the other user might not have on their tree.

    Finally, another benefit of a genealogy service is that most offer a free trial period, usually 14 days. If you set aside a couple of hours every night during that time, you will be amazed at how far you can get.

    When I started the furthest I could go back on my father’s side was an idea that his grandfather, Frank, came from a large family in the south of England. Like you, I found “The Ayling Story” on-line and was intrigued to learn more.

    Over the course of the past year I have managed to trace my line back to the mid 1400’s. You will find the Ayling name in many parts of the world today. However, as you go back in time you will find that our line was concentrated in the south of England in the 16th and 17th centuries –namely, West Sussex but also, Surrey and Hampshire. There are not enough extant records before the 1500’s to be able to trace the lines much farther back. I have copied out all the records I could find in previous posts to this Forum. I have also posted all Ayling names recorded in a number of southwest Sussex parish records on the message boards at However, these posts are accessible on the Internet by searching under “Aylings from…” or “Ayling Family Groups…” and just insert the name of the parish.

    Assuming you have managed to get your roots back to England, you will find that the best records in your early searching will be census records, which go back to 1840. There are some more limited census taking back to 1800 but the most informative was taken in 1850. I found my great grandfather, Frank, in the 1881 census when he was child. In doing so I found his mother. Ancestry found his birth certificate as well as a passenger manifest when he immigrated to Canada in the early 1900’s. No father was listed on the census, so I had to order Frank’s birth certificate to find his father, James. And so on. You can follow my journey by reading the comments I posted under Frank Ayling (1874-1959) and then working your way back father-to-father.

    Once you get into the 1840’s it will get harder to figure out your line, and you will have to rely on parish records. Ancestry will generate many records, but you will find that reading through to entire parish records will give you the context to assemble family groups over time. You will need to order the actual records in many cases because the search engine only shows abstracts of the document and don’t include all the information on the actual document. Going further back into the 1700’s you will also need to order Wills to sort out family lines, not just to confirm children but also to track property transfers over time to confirm descendants.

    Once you get far enough back, the previous records I posted on the Forum may be of use.

    Anyway, the best way to learn is in the doing. If you are persistent, willing to set aside blocks of concentration time to tackle problems, if you like solving mysteries and,most importantly, take time to imagine the lives that fill out the facts and figures, this research will be very rewarding.

    Feel free to reply to any of these posts (it generates an e-mail to me] if you have any questions in your own research. However, make sure to do the work yourself first and get as far as you can.

    Our own immediate histories are just a few lines in a vast Ayling story going back many centuries. In more recent times they include an Olympic rowing champion for Great Britain, a famous British water colour painter, a senior television producer in Canada, a jet pilot representative in NATO, and many more. I would always love to add your own “Ayling Story” to my family tree.

    Chris Ayling
    Cranbrook, BC Canada

    • This topic was modified 7 years, 8 months ago by ayling1.
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