Another piece of the jigsaw

WHETHER you're interested in preserving your past, solving a family puzzle or searching for an ancient link to royalty – uncovering your roots has never been more popular.

Hit TV show, 'Who Do You Think You Are?' is now in its fifth series and regularly tops the ratings with its range of celebrities going on a – sometimes painful – journey down their ancestral path.

Even Jeremy Paxman, the seemingly unflappable 'Newsnight' host, was seen to shed a tear after hearing of his grandmother's hardships in the Glasgow's old tenement closes.

Even the airwaves are full of family tales, with popular Radio Scotland series 'Digging Up Your Roots', returning for its fourth series in January.

And, across Falkirk, more and more family history enthusiasts are delving into their past.

Carol Sergeant from Larbert has been investigating her family history for around 20 years and has been on the committee of the Central

Scotland Family History Society since its inception 18 years ago.

So what inspired her interest?

''I suppose I was just curious about finding out about my own family,'' explained Carol. ''And, after studying history at university, I was interested in the social history of it all.''

One of the most interesting parts of family history is the unknown.

Some may have some ideas about their own background, but many start their research with a blank canvas. Indeed Carol found herself quite surprised by some her findings.

''On my side of my family, I got back to about 1700 and, on my husband's side, I discovered that they had travelled round much more than we thought," she said. "Before they settled here they had come

from places in Ireland, Perthshire and Ayrshire.

''The records also showed that the family who came from Ireland changed their name twice as they felt it sounded too Irish.''

Today people have more resources than ever to help unmask some of those ancestral skeletons.

One avenue, for both beginners and those wishing to further their existing knowledge, is the local family history society. Ian Anderson is treasurer of the Central Scotland branch.

He said: ''Right now we have about 350 members and at our meetings on the second Wednesday of each month, we regularly get about 50-60 coming

along.

"At the meetings, we will have expert speakers dealing with a variety of things relating to local history and genealogy and also just have a blether amongst ourselves about how we are all getting on."

Investigations have to start somewhere, however, and at Callendar House you can gather the first clues by examining their microfilm copies of the births and marriages registers.

Elspeth Reid, archivist at the museum, said: "These were the only records before 1855 prior to civil marriages and deaths requiring to be registered in the area.

''During that time it depended what church you went to as they were the only ones that carried out any form of registration.

''If they went to the Church of Scotland, you will find that you should find some information. But if they were members of the Baptist Church you would be unlikely to find anything, since they baptise you when you are an adult.''

Once you have an idea about who your forebears were and where they lived, staff can help you complete the picture of their life.

"Some people have already done the work on the Internet or on the micro films and want to find out how they lived their lives,'' Elspeth explained

''We can provide photographs to show what street they lived in and where they worked. For example we have a number of pictures of the Carron Iron Works.

''They might not see their relative in the picture, but it gives them an idea of the conditions they lived in and how they lived their lives. It gives people an idea of their social history.''

But genealogy is a lot more now than simply spending a dusty day amongst the archives. It's also the second most popular search on the

Internet and a plethora of sites now exist for unmasking clues about your past.

Taking advantage of these online sources can be daunting to some, so at Denny Library researches can attend classes to gain some confidence.

Lorraine Alexander, a librarian at the facility, said: "We run Internet taster sessions and take people through the web, telling them about the best family history websites, the ones to avoid and the charges of using different sites.

''After that we would advice them how to take it on further by pointing them in the direction of local regsiter offices."

Carol added: "There are certainly more options now when I started.

"I began by going through to the Registers House in Edinburgh and looking at the births, marriages and deaths and speaking to members of the family. Today you are always getting different indexes, while the internet has made it much easier for people.

''But the great thing about family history is you can put it away for a while and nothing changes – which means you can just pick it up and continue where you left off.

"It's a bit like jigsaw puzzle and you are always trying to put all the pieces together."