20TH CENTURY KIN
Genealogist and author Emma Jolly explains how to get the best out of online resources and uncover rich details of recent ancestors
Our expert shares 20 useful tips to help you learn more about the lives of your recent family
As we move further into the 21st century, more records from the previous 100 years are entering the public domain. In the past few months alone, we have become able to access the 1939 Register on three different sites ( ancestry.co.uk,
findmypast.co.uk and myheritage.com). Even though we are closer to the 20th century, researching recent ancestors can often be more difficult than looking into their Victorian forebears. You may struggle to find out much about their everyday lives, while other relatives seem to have completely disappeared.
Your kin may be hard to trace because restrictions remain on some records of individuals born within the past 100 years. Other ancestors may have become ‘lost’ as a result of some of the consequences of the many military conflicts of the 20th century. These include deaths overseas, rushed marriages and illegitimate children.
While the First World War centenary commemorations have helped to bring more records from that period into the public domain, Second World War service records are still retained by the Ministry of Defence.
Also 20th-century ancestors may be difficult to locate if they took advantage of improved travel opportunities. By the 1960s commercial flights were more popular than sea travel, but airline passenger lists have not survived. Migration to and from the country increased thanks to post-war Commonwealth immigration, Indian independence in 1947, and the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme to Australia of 1945–1982.
As with previous centuries, criminal and immigrant ancestors, and those in certain occupations (such as actors), often changed names informally, with no official record.
This article guides you through some of the most useful records for 20th-century research, helping you to improve your knowledge about family over those decades. These tips will enable you to discover more about your relatives’ lives, residences and characters during one of the most fastchanging centuries in human history.