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Researching your Twentieth Century Ancestors


9 January to 13 March 2023 – Monday evenings, 6-7:30pm

Take a deep dive in to resources and techniques for researching ancestors who lived in the twentieth century. Many records in this period are still closed and inaccessible for privacy reasons.  Have you found ancestors on the recently released 1921 census, or do you have DNA matches you wish to place into your family tree?  Take this online course to learn more about the lives of your parents and grandparents’. Expert tutors will show you how what records are available and how to get the most from them.


What is included?

  • 10 week evening course delivered over Zoom
  • Access to recordings for 2 weeks after each lesson
  • Access to Q&A sessions with our expert tutors
  • Downloadable and printable handouts containing vital lessons
  • Recommended reading


What lessons are included?

  • Tracing Living Relatives with Eilir Daniels: Eilir will present an overview of how to go about searching for living relatives. As well as explaining how to research forward in time by unearthing clues from a range of modern sources, she will also examine the ultimate goal of living relatives research - making contact with those family members.
  • 20th Century Perspectives with Else Churchill: This session will include case studies using newspapers, social media as well as Else’s mother’s papers from the 1948 nationality act, Windrush and inward bound passenger lists. 
  • Using oral history in family history research with Mary Stewart and Cynthia Brown: Oral histories can bring a new dimension to genealogical research, not least in terms of the emotional impact of hearing voices from the past, and in their potential to complement and challenge existing histories. Oral history archives also represent a valuable but underused resource for information about localities where your ancestors lived, the nature of the work that they did, and other ‘What was it like?’ questions. We will give some examples and pointers about where to access archived material, along with guidance and links to further resources about the practical and ethical issues around recording oral histories.
  • Hints and tips for using C20 civil registration with Antony Marr:In this session we will learn how to make the most of birth, marriage and death registrations.  Antony will provide tips on searching the indexes and extracting all possible information from certificates.
  • Records of the Modern Records Centre with Melissa Prior: The Modern Records Centre is the main repository for archives of trade unions, employers' organisations, pressure groups, fringe political parties and transport. Melissa gives us an overview of the collections of interest to genealogists, and how to access them.
  • Transport for London Corporate Archives for Family History with Melissa McGreechan : In this presentation we will provide an introduction to TfL Corporate Archives collections and the service we provide showing that it’s not all about transport! You can research the city we operate in, its communities, our impact on design and the built environment, and discover the stories of the staff who have worked for us. The session will focus on providing practical advice on the best ways to access name rich content: what research can be done remotely, what information is available to Archive staff and what research needs to be conducted by personal visit. We will guide you through the catalogue; online digital collections site, Ancestry, staff magazines and research guides.
  • Twentieth Century census returns and the 1939 register with John Hanson: The format of each of the available census returns from 1901 to the 1939 Register is different and therefore what you can search for and how to do it successfully changes with each. We will look at what changes there are with each one and give some ideas of the best way to search with each.
  • 20th Century Business and Employment Records for family history research with Else Churchill: What business records are available to find out more about where your forebears worked? We may know the name of an employer from the 1921 census, there may be records at the National Archives, locally, on a genealogy website or elsewhere which will provide more details.
  • C20 Military Records with Simon Fowler: Due to two world wars, there can be few families without twentieth century military ancestors. Simon explains how to learn more about those that served during both world wars, and post 1945.
  • Women, Auxiliaries and the Home Front with Emma Jolly: We learn about the lives of our ancestors during the world wars. As well as examining clues in the 1939 Register, Emma explains how to find out more about our ancestors’ lives in wartime.
  • Uncle Jakob’s Story with Else Churchill: The opening of the Arolsen Archive, Germany’s minority census of 1939, and access to other pre and post war documents add weight to a tragic story of Jakob Zingel—arbeiter, KPD member and resistance fighter. The KPD was the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) before WWII, an underground resistance movement in Nazi Germany, and then it was banned in West Germany in 1956. Jakob’s story reflects some of the horrors of the 20th century Nazi Camps and the records that survive from this period.


Time and cost:

Cost £200.00/£160.00 SoG members.  Not an SoG member? Join now and benefit from members rates, access to our experts and our archive. For full benefits see here.


A reading list is included in the price of the course.  Each class will include discussion and the chance to ask questions. Bring along your research queries. You will have access to the recording of each talk for two weeks.

Each class will be recorded and available to students for two weeks. Bookings accepted on this course until 22 January.


Your tutors:



Antony Marr. A professional genealogist and owner of Chalfont Research.  He completed the Post Graduate level certificate in ‘Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies’ with the University of Strathclyde and holds a Certificate in Education. Antony previously worked in the police service, and later as a Deputy Registrar in Buckinghamshire, dealing with all aspects of the registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages. He was previously the chairman of the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives.

Cynthia Brown.  A social historian who has conducted extensive research into her own family history. She is active in the field of oral history as a trustee of the Oral History Society, one of its Accredited Trainers, and co-author with Mary Stewart of the oral history and family history guidance on the Oral History Society website. 

Eilir Daniels. Eilir founded the research service, Your Welsh Ancestors, almost 15 years ago. Her degree involved studying how industrialisation affected different aspects of society from the eighteenth century onwards, and this academic background now serves as a firm foundation for her research work.​  Eilir carries out work for individuals, solicitors as well as for radio and TV programmes, including regular research for the BBC's flagship Who Do You Think You Are? series, as well as for various S4C and BBC Radio Cymru/Wales programmes. Eilir is also a Pharos Tutors instructor and teaches its regular course, as well as their new Tracing Living Relatives course. She  is a Full Member of AGRA (the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives).

Else Churchill is the Genealogist at the Society Genealogists in London and a has over 30 years of experience as a genealogist. Formerly a professional genealogical librarian and researcher, Else has worked for the SoG since 1994. She is the Society’s subject lead, working across the organisation and runs the publishing programme.

Emma Jolly. A graduate of IHGS and is a member of the professional research body, the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA).  She is a regular contributor to family history publications. Emma has written five books dedicated to different aspects of genealogical research, including My Ancestor was a Woman at War, published by the Society of Genealogists. She is also editor of the Society’s newsletter and website stories.

John Hanson. John has written extensively on family history subjects and has been a lecturer and teacher in family history for over twenty-five years, particularly on computers in genealogy and the census. He served on the executive committee of the Guild of One-Names studies for several years and also as a trustee and served on many committees at the Society of Genealogists. He is currently the research director of the Halsted Trust and is a Fellow of SoG.

Mary Stewart. Lead Curator of Oral History and Director of the oral history fieldwork charity National Life Stories. She studied her family history for her MA degree and her current research is on the relationship between family history and oral history. Mary is a Trustee of the Oral History Society, a member of the British Library/Oral History Society Training Liaison Group, and a founder member of the Historians Collaborate network. 

Melissa McGreechan, Assistant Archivist, TfL Corporate Archives Assistant Archivist responsible for access and user services at Transport for London. Her remit includes managing the search room, enquiry service, our volunteer programme, and our publicity and outreach activities.She has over 15 years’ experience gained working for TfL, Cambridgeshire Archives and the London Ambulance Service. Melissa has spent much of her career building volunteer communities to support core activities; making use of the diverse skill sets on offer to find new ways to add value, explore different perspectives, and break down barriers to access.  

Melissa Prior. Melissa is the Outreach and Widening Participation Officer at the Modern Records Centre and works in collaboration with the library and other departments in the university, developing resources, designing exhibitions and running outreach activities for students, school children and other archive researchers. 

Simon Fowler.  Simon is an experienced family history teacher, writer and researcher. He worked for The National Archives on and off for over thirty years. Today he is a professional researcher mainly on family history and military topics. He is the author of Tracing Your Army Ancestors and Tracing Your First World War Ancestors, published by Pen & Sword. He has written regularly for genealogy magazines and has authored over two dozen books.   Simon teaches at Dundee University, Pharos Tutors and regularly lectures for the Society of Genealogists.

New to Zoom and would like to attend the course but not sure how it works? Do contact us if you would like to arrange a free taster session.

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