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Finding Old Friends and Family Tracing

Get tips on the best ways to find old friends and family members online and also to research your family tree.

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Hobbies and interests
Posted 18 October 2022
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Reconnect with your past online

With over half of Britons (51%) saying that they find it difficult to make new friends, retirement might give you the time to revive old relationships. From online tools to social media, there are so many ways to use the internet for reconnecting with old pals – school mates, clubmates or ex colleagues - as well as long lost family members. The internet has made mapping out your ancestry far easier too. This article looks at the best way to approach finding information about the important people in your life, past and present.

How to find old friends online

If your friend is in the UK, then People Finder on 192.com, is a good place to start. It allows you to search the Electoral Rolls from 2002 onwards with only a surname and location or to do more advanced searches (using your friend's age or the name of a person who they live with, for example).

If you know only part of your friend's address, such as the road name or postcode, the Post Office website could give you their full address. Also, you can search BT's online phone book to find telephone numbers using just a surname and location (unless your friend is ex-directory).

How to find old friends on Facebook

Social media icons on a smartphone screen

Social media is by far the best way to find old friends online. The first place to try is the world’s biggest social media network, Facebook, which had 2.934 billion users in July 2022 (that’s around 40% of the world’s population!) Facebook makes it easy to reconnect with old friends. Here is a guide:

Use the search bar

Type any details you have on the person you're looking for: their name, workplace, school, email address, etc into the search bar at the top of the homepage.

As you start typing, you'll be given suggestions for people matches in a drop-down menu. These are based on your profile, so, for example, you’re more likely to get suggestions from your own city or school (if you have given Facebook this information). By choosing 'See all results', you can also filter results to show only 'People'.

Found your friend? Simply click 'Add Friend' to send a friend request. Use the down arrow next to 'Add Friend' button to send a ‘Hello, it’s been a long time’ type message too.

Check the friend recommendations

Facebook suggests people you might know, based on factors like how many friends you have in common.

To view your recommendations, select the 'Friend Requests' button (it resembles two people). For each suggestion, you can either 'Add Friend' or 'Remove'. When you ‘remove’ you will be given new suggestions.

Import your email contacts

You can also import your collection of email addresses onto Facebook which can help you find people you know on the platform. To use this tool, select the 'Friend Requests' button (as above) and click 'Find Friends'. As well as your friend recommendations and requests, you'll find an 'Add Personal Contacts' box. This page also gives you the options to search for friends by hometown, location, school, employer and more.

Invite friends to Facebook

If turns out your friend isn’t on Facebook but you have an email address for them, you could always send them an invitation to join. Simply type in their email address and click 'Invite Friend'.

Still struggling to find your friend/relative?

If you can’t find your long lost friend or relative using the free channels then it might be time to call in specialists. Finder Monkey offer a people tracing service and you'll only pay a fee if they find the person you are looking for.

You can make new friends too!

Over a quarter of Britons (26%) have friends they’ve never met in person. Instead they enjoying interacting through social media, online hobbies, gaming and discussion forums on shared interest sites, for instance, Gransnet and Silversurfers.

If, however, you are looking to make new friends IRL (in real life) read our tips for getting to know your neighbours and advice for making new friends in retirement. And, of course, many people join our lively retirement living communities partly to meet new people and reinvigorate their social life.

Got back in touch? Keep the relationship going: read our guide on staying in contact with friends and family using online tools like Facebook Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp.  

How to trace your family tree

A grandfather holding his smiling granddaughter

Perhaps inspired by the popular BBC TV series Who Do You Think You Are? many people are tracing their ancestry as a hobby - and you can see why. Tracing a family tree can be an incredibly fulfilling. You never know where your family’s roots will lead you - you may resolve some long-held myths or even discover a famous relative - and there are a number of benefits too, including:

  • Gaining a sense of who you are and where you come from.
  • Finding biological relatives (if you are adopted or searching on someone’s behalf).
  • Passing on knowledge to your children/grandchildren/future generations.
  • Finding living relatives to exchange information with.
  • Learning about history and what life was like for your ancestors.
  • Feeling inspired to visit places where your ancestors lived.

Top tips for family tracing

Tracing a family history can be a challenge though. Tony Griggs of Mr Genealogy, gave us these tips:

  • Start by documenting what you know for certain and move one stage at a time.
  • Don’t accept family folklore as gospel until you have seen documentary proof.
  • Don't accept online family trees at face value, some are very good, but some are complete fiction.
  • At the most extreme, tackle your ancestry like you are the judge in a criminal trial: is there enough evidence to prove that the records relate to an ancestor, or could it be someone else with the same name?
  • Don't think that you’ll get back to the times of  Charlemagne or William the Conqueror. It’s very difficult to trace families in the British Isles back to someone born before the late 1700s.

Tony adds, “Do be prepared to open a Pandora's Box - in other words there might be a few skeletons in your family’s closet…I traced one client's ancestry back to early Victorian Whitechapel, only to discover that they were associated with Ikey Solomon, widely believed to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens' character Fagin from Oliver Twist, and he had been implicated in a theft of £4,000 of gold dust from Falmouth Docks.”

Getting started on your family tree

Start with birth certificates from, say, your great grandparents. These will name both the parents and give the mother's maiden name allowing you to work your way back in time. A search can then be made in the index of the General Register Office (in England/Wales), the National Records of Scotland or the General Register Office Northern Ireland.

You should also be able to find a copy of the marriage certificate. This will give the ages of the bride and the groom, along with the names and occupations of their fathers (and, since 2021, mothers). You can then find their birth certificates and repeat this process back to the first ancestor born/married after 1837 (1855 in Scotland/1864 in N.Ireland).

The Victorian Census was taken every ten years from 1801 and along with more recent census records is available online and can be a good source of information too.

Before the early 1800s, you have to turn to different records, for example parish registers, probate records, poor-law records (to name but a few). Many of these have websites with some images, but it may be necessary to visit an archive to access the originals. Other sources, such as newspapers, can be used to flesh out your understanding of a period in history. Try the British Newspaper Archive

Free tools to discover more about your family tree

There are lots of free tools to help you trace your family tree including:

  • FreeBMD allows you to search some birth, marriage and death indexes for England and Wales.
  • FamilySearch offers the ability to search records from all over the world and receive expert support over the phone.
  • Roots Web provides genealogy chat and lots of helpful information for your search.

Paid tools to help you research into your family

If you are not getting anywhere with your research or would like more tools to indulge your passion, you might want to consider these paid sites. Many offer free trials, tutorials and then subscription services.

A rewarding hobby

Researching your ancestry is a painstaking task with plenty of dead-ends and blind-alleys along the way, but for many people it becomes an absorbing pastime that brings both joy and interesting stories to document and share with their families.

Finding new hobbies is also good for your health. “Being positive and open, willing to try out new things, and engaged with what’s going on around us turns out to be incredibly important in sustaining our wellbeing as we get older,” says Caroline Abrahams of Age UK. And a study by the charity and the University of Southampton which analysed data from 15,000 people aged 60 and over and found that taking part in activities, such as photography, painting and writing, was the most significant factor in boosting wellbeing. Find inspiration for more retirement hobbies.

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