Keeping Pets Safe in the Home

Keeping your pets healthy and happy extends beyond getting them veterinary care when they are unwell. It is important that you look after every aspect of your pet’s wellbeing and this includes ensuring your home is a safe environment for them to be in. If you have never had pets before it may surprise you that some everyday items are very dangerous because pets are willing to chew, eat and mess around with them. Think of your pet like a small child… Everyday objects quickly become risks or choking hazards.

According to American Pet Products Association, there are an estimated 78 million dogs and over 85 million cats owned in America. Keeping our furry friends safe and happy starts at home, use this guide to identify common hazards and put measures in place to ensure they are kept out of harm’s way.

Common Hazards

There are many hazards that are found within the average household, below we have outlined some of the most common threats pets may face within a home.

Strings, rubber bands, wires and cords

Ensure all threads, strings and cords are safely stored away or are kept out of reach to avoid pets becoming tangled up. A pet becoming tangled in thread or cable can quickly turn into a disaster. Becoming entangled is not the only threat here, another issue is pets chewing on these items. If your pet swallows thread or rubber bands it can cause an intestinal blockage – an issue that may require surgery to resolve and could be fatal. Chewing on the chords of electrical appliances brings an electrocution risk too. To eliminate these risks, avoid dangling wires and keep cords elevated so they are out of your pet’s reach.

Harmful Products in Accessible Cupboards

It is important to put harmful products that you do not want your pet to have access to into a lockable cupboard. Storing these items in a regular cupboard may seem like enough but as pets are able to open and get into cupboards it is necessary to attach a simple latch such as a child lock in order to keep them safe and ensure their access is restricted. This is particularly important for cupboards that contain chemicals, medicines or foods that are harmful to animals. An inexpensive latch is enough to prevent your pet from entering these cupboards and will completely remove the potential hazard.

Commonly Used Harmful Products

  • Household cleaners
  • Antifreeze
  • Rat poison
  • Insecticides
  • Batteries
  • Plant food/ fertilizer
  • Medicine

Store Medications and Cleaning Products on High Shelves

Similar to the last point, another way to stop your pets getting into cupboards or getting near toxic products is to store the items on high, out of reach shelves. This is effective for dogs and small pets that do not climb but cats tend to enjoy climbing so products on high shelves may still be accessible to them, in which case the lockable cupboard is the most effective approach.

Choking Hazards

Small items are a choking hazard to pets, everything from jewellery to paper clips to batteries could be dangerous to your pet. Things you would usually leave on coffee tables could become a serious problem if your pet decides to chew on the item. Simply be aware of this and move anything that could be a risk into a cupboard or onto a higher shelf.

Be Aware of Dangerous Plants

There are some common house plants that pose a risk to pets, if ingested these plants can cause everything from vomiting and lethargy to death. Over 700 plants have been identified as poisonous, these plants include lilies, tulips, oleander, yew, azaleas, English ivy and chrysanthemum – all of which can be dangerous if consumed by your pet. This is by no means an exhaustive list (for a comprehensive list, check out this resource by The Humane Society). Make sure you are aware of which plants are dangerous to your pets if you keep plants within your home.

Secure Bins Using Pet-Proof Lids

Use pet-proof bin lids that close with a latch so that your pet cannot get into the rubbish while you are away. Your pet getting into bins will not only make a huge mess but could result in them eating something that is harmful to them. A pet-proof lid is a simple, inexpensive switch that could save you a lot of hassle, worry and vet bills.

Keep Harmful Food Safely Stored

Coming home to find your kitchen has been raided by your pet is never a good feeling but when your pet has eaten food that can make them sick it is even more worrying. To avoid your pet eating food that is potentially toxic to them, ensure you store items out of their reach and within latched cupboards (child locks are ideal here) or pet proof food bins.

Common Foods that are Harmful to Pets

  • Alcohol
  • Yeast Dough
  • Chocolate
  • Grapes
  • Milk/ dairy
  • Mushrooms
  • Chewing Gum
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Meat Bones
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Coffee
  • Artificial sweeteners (& food containing artificial sweeteners, particularly xylitol)
  • Salt

What to Do if Your Pet Eats Something Harmful

Prevention is the best cure but if your pet happens to eat something that they shouldn’t, call a vet and speak to them about the situation. Your local vet will be able to best advise you on the next steps to take depending on what has been eaten and the quantities.

Room by Room Safety Tips

Keeping your pet safe at home can be quite a broad, generic topic so here’s some room-specific information to help you secure the danger hot-spots of your home.

Bathroom & Laundry Room

It’s best to keep the door to the bathroom closed as there are many hazards that your pet should be kept away from. Key issues can include:


Pets sometimes like to drink water from the toilet bowl, due to the cleaning chemicals you use for your toilet this can be extremely dangerous (not to mention unsanitary). Avoid this by ensuring the toilet seat is kept down and that your pet always has access to clean, fresh water.

Bathtubs or Sinks

Never fill the bath or sink with water and leave it unattended as this is a huge drowning risk for pets.


Before using your washer or drier make sure you pet hasn’t climbed inside, cats in particular like to curl up in small spaces such as washing machines and laundry baskets. Also try to keep the machines closed in between uses.


Some pets like to chew up whatever they can find, chewing clothes can not only ruin your favourite outfit but can be a choking hazard for your pet. Buttons and zips are a particular issue here. Keep your laundry in a closed laundry bin to ensure your pet doesn’t treat your clothes like a chew toy.

Razors and Toiletries

Keep these out of reach in a lockable cupboard to avoid your pet becoming injured or ingesting something that is toxic to them.

Balcony and Porches

These spaces allow you to enjoy some fresh air from the comfort of your home but can your pet safely enjoy these areas with you?

Balcony: Safety Barrier

The biggest risk of a high balcony is that your pet will fall off, to prevent this make sure you have a safety barrier around the edge of your balcony. Also, keep in mind the size of your pet and the size of the gaps within the barrier – block any gaps that your pet could fit through so you can be sure no accidents will occur.

Porch: Tight Spaces

There may be tight spaces under your porch that your pet could crawl into and become stuck. To avoid this, block the entrances of the crawl spaces with a mesh screen or barrier.


Pets love spending time in the garden, the fresh air and open space is great for them but take precautions to ensure your garden is a safe and secure area.


Going into the garden and realizing your pet is not there makes your heart drop. It is one of the worst feelings for any pet owner; avoid this by investing in a good, secure fence. Some pets are pros at escaping no matter what you try, if this is the case then you can put a GPS tag on your pet’s collar so you can always locate them.

Poisonous Plants

We mentioned toxic house plants earlier, the same applies for the garden too. Some plants may look beautiful but can be harmful to your pets so be aware of this when deciding what plants you would like in your garden. Another resource that can help you identify what plants are toxic to your pet is this ASPCA toxic plant list.


A garage, or shed, is usually full of potential hazards. Keeping things organised and off the ground can make a big difference to the safety of pets here.


Ensure you keep all tools out of reach, keep them in cabinets or hang them up. Tools can present multiple dangers, from their sharpness causing injury to being a choking hazard.


Garages are usually full of various chemicals and cleaning supplies. If possible keep these in a locked cupboard or stored on a high shelf out of the way. Immediately clean up any spills, just one tablespoon of anti-freeze can be fatal to your cat.


If you keep your pet in your garage for any length of time, keep your eye on the temperature of the room. Managing the garage temperature is often overlooked and it doesn’t take long for it to get extremely cold or unbearably hot so take the appropriate measures to keep the temperature comfortable for your pets. This is an important consideration for within your home too.

Pet-Safe Holiday Preparations

Decorating your home for the holidays is exciting but keep in mind that some decorations are dangerous to pets.

  • Avoid Tinsel – for some reason pets seem to love chewing on tinsel, this can be dangerous as it is essentially string and can cause an intestinal blockage which can be fatal. The same dangers exist with ribbons too so be aware of this when decorating and wrapping presents.
  • Avoid Toxic Holiday Plants – Lilies, mistletoe, holly and pine needles are all dangerous to pets so keep this in mind when decorating your home.
  • Hang Fragile, Sharp or Edible Ornaments Higher Up on the Tree – try to keep plastic and cloth ornaments on the lower part of the tree to keep your pet’s safe if they play by the tree
  • Unplug Lights When You Go Out – unplug the decorative lights before you go out and keep the cords off the floor to minimize risk

Keeping Your Pet Safe During Natural Disasters

Preparation can save your pets life during a natural disaster. These simple precautions can make a big difference if anything were to ever happen:

  • Microchip your pet & make sure they wear a collar with an ID tag – if your pet ever gets lost they can be easily identified and returned to you.
  • Keep their vaccinations up to date – this is important for their health and wellbeing and will reduce their risks if they escape or need to be temporarily housed with other animals.
  • Keep them inside during bad weather – keeping your pet inside will help to keep them safe during storms or floods.

Worried About Your Pet?

If you are out working all day you might be worrying about your pet who is home alone. That is completely understandable but there are a few ways you can ease your worries, reduce your stress and make sure your pets are fine.

Install Indoor Cameras

If you’re worried about your pet while you are away from home, think about installing indoor cameras so you can easily check in using your smart phone or laptop and see exactly what your furry friend is up to when you’re not there. In addition to the security benefits, these cameras allow you to instantly check on your pet and make sure they are ok.

Install Smoke Alarms That Sends You Alerts

Having smoke and carbon monoxide alarms is extremely important but what if the alarm goes off while you’re out but your pet is at home? There are alarms available that sends you and the emergency services an alert when there is a problem and this could save their lives if something happens when you’re not at home.

Useful Resources for Pet Care & Safety

Pets are part of the family so taking good care of them is of great importance to many of us, if you would like some extra advice or information use the resources below:

Pet Poison Helpline – This is a 24/7 animal poison control centre that offers expert help and emergency instructions for when your pet has eaten something poisonous.

ASPCA – this well-known cruelty prevention organization offers a range of expert pet care advice and information for owners.

Vets Now – this site offers vet advice and a database of pet care articles.

Blue Cross – this charity helps sick, injured and abandoned pets and offers veterinary care, expert advice and education for current pet owners.

American Veterinary Medical Association – The AVMA offers a selection of public resources related to pet care, emergency care, animal welfare and public health.

PetMD – pet health and nutrition information that has been written and approved by vets.

Animal Humane Society –  this animal welfare organization offers advice and information for pet owners.

Help for American Veterans

Statistics show that there is a staggering 18.2 million veterans within the United States. The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report states that almost 40,000 veterans experience homelessness each night. This is just one of many examples that demonstrates the sheer number of veterans that require additional support in order to live comfortably within the U.S.A. While serving in the military, there is ample support available but once servicemen and women leave the force they can feel isolated and struggle to adapt to such a huge life change.

Transitioning into civilian life is a difficult process, fortunately there are structures in place to make this easier. It is important to know what support services are available and to make use of them when it is necessary. The most important thing is knowing that you are not alone and that there are organizations (there’s over 45,000 military and veteran nonprofits in the U.S) that can support you whether you require financial assistance, housing support, employment, education or more, there is support available. Use this guide to help you find the assistance you are looking for.

Financial Benefits & Support

Leaving the military and then finding work outside of the forces can be a challenge, particularly with the current state of the job market. Struggling to find work can put a huge amount of financial pressure on you and can leave you at risk of homelessness. If you are unable to pay your bills or are in need of financial assistance, the following organizations may be able to provide you with some support:

  • Government – the government has a range of support programs available. They have a federal financial assistance program that is geared towards supporting veterans. However, some veterans are not eligible for the government support or cannot get the amount of support they truly need from government sources. Fortunately, there are countless organizations outside of the government that may be able to provide you with the help you are looking for. Below are some key organizations that you may want to contact:
  • The National Association of American Veterans – this is a great resource that lists what support and financial benefits are available to veterans.
  • The American Veterans Foundation – offers emergency services for veterans
  • The US Soldiers Foundation – offers advice and help to veterans
  • USA Cares – offers emergency grants to assist with everyday bills
  • Modest Needs – provides short-term financial assistance to those in temporary crisis. Particularly useful for individuals and families who are ineligible for government assistance but are a paycheck or two away from financial collapse and eventual homelessness.
  • Operation Family Fund – offers financial grants to meet personal, short term and long term living needs including food, rent, emergency trasport, legal expenses, medical expenses etc.
  • Operation First Response – helps families and individuals going through financial hardship.

The above organizations will be able to provide you with emergency grants and relief to help you pay your bills and afford everyday living but you may also be struggling with debt. According to a study, former military personnel carry more debt but have fewer assets than the average civilian. If you are concerned about debt, the following organizations may be able to assist:

  • InCharge – non-profit organization that helps military personnel who are financially struggling due to debt
  • org – although not exclusively for veterans, this debt advice service has policies related specifically to veterans
  • com – helps veterans gain control over their debt with practical advice on paying it off bit by bit

Pension Benefits

The government offer VA pension benefits for wartime veterans who meet the age and disability requirements and have little or no income. They also offer an Aid and Attendance benefit that is available for those who need help with daily activities.

Housing Support

When serving in the military, military housing is supplied but when somebody leaves the service they will also move out of the military housing. This can be a huge change and the aforementioned homeless statistics give us an indication of how many veterans struggle with housing. There are many types of support available when it comes to housing so be sure to make use of them.

  • The government offers housing assistance that can help veterans buy a home (or refinance a loan) as well as build, repair or keep an existing home. There are grants available for disabled veterans who need to make adaptations to their home in order to increase their independence and wellbeing. Government programs include:
    • VA direct or VA-backed home loan- the eligibility of this loan is based on your service history and duty status
    • Disability Housing Grants for Veterans – offers financial help to allow you to make the relevant changes to your home
  • Red Cross – Red Cross can provide financial assistance as well as urgent health and welfare services including food and shelter.
  • Volunteers of America – they provide support services and affordable housing to veterans and their families. They offer rapid rehousing, interim housing, transitional housing, permanent housing and more.
  • Homes for our Troops – this organization builds mortgage free housing and specially adapted houses. They also offer to adapt existing homes to improve handicap accessibility.
  • Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing – this program provides rental assistance for veterans who are homeless. They also provide clinical services.
  • SSVF – they provide supportive services including healthcare, financial planning, daily living, legal and childcare services to low-income veterans and families living in or transitioning to permanent housing.
  • Homeless Veteran Stand Downs – these are events of up to three days that provide food, shelter, clothing, health screenings and more to homeless veterans.

Education and Training

Veterans and their families may be interested in education or training programs but the cost of these can cause them to be out of reach. Thanks to the following organizations you, or your family, can enjoy education and training services that can improve your career transition, future prospects and make employment outside of the military more achievable.

  • The government offers education and training benefits that can help veterans and family members by assisting in finding the right program, offering career counselling and helping individuals afford to pay college tuition. They also offer veteran-owned small business support.
  • Folds of Honor offer post-secondary educational scholarships, they can be applied for now or can be held on behalf of young children until the time of enrollment. The scholarship can help to pay tuition fees, books, room, board, tools and equipment etc.
  • Military Scholarships – offers scholarships to military children.
  • Volunteers of America – in addition to the housing support we mentioned earlier, VoA also offer employment services including assessment, training and placement as well as compensated work programs.
  • Hope for the Warriors – offers career transition and education programs.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) – offers health, employment and education support for new veterans.
  • Thanks USA – offers college, technical and vocational scholarships to families of serving military personnel.

Health Care & Disability Compensation

Covering health costs is a big cause of stress and instability for many veterans, particularly those who have been injured in the line of duty. Below are some key organizations that offer assistance to injured veterans.

The government provide health care to veterans that covers the costs of regular checkups and specialist appointments. Other available services include home health and geriatric care, medical equipment, prescriptions and prosthetics. The government also provides compensation to disabled veterans in the form of a monthly tax-free payment. This compensation is available for physical and mental health conditions that developed before, duration or after service.

  • The Wounded Warrior Project – specializes in providing assistance to injured veterans
  • Disabled American Veterans – provides assistance to veterans who have been injured while serving in the armed forces
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America – offers assistance to those who have been seriously injured while serving in the military
  • Hope for the Warriors – this organization has a goal of enhancing the quality of life for service members and families who have been impacted by injury or death in the line of duty. Assistance includes immediate needs, family assistance and ‘warriors wish’.

Mental Health Support

Physical injury is often talked about when it comes to veterans but mental health is just as important. A large number of veteran’s struggle with their mental health after serving in the armed forces due to the nature of the work and life of serving. Transitioning into civilian life is often a huge culture shock and can be difficult to adapt to. The following organizations may be worth contacting if you are looking for support regarding your mental health and adjustment into civilian life.

  • After Deployment – a wellness resource that offers support to veterans who are struggling to adjust to life outside of the military
  • PTSD Alliance – this is an alliance between five organizations that specialize in offering a full spectrum of support, information and care to people suffering from PTSD
  • The American Psychological Association – offer insight into the psychological wounds veterans experience, the mental health needs of veterans and the role of health service psychologists
  • PTSD Anonymous – a nationwide network of community based support groups for those suffering from military trauma.

Crisis Support

If you are in need of urgent support, call the numbers below:

Other Support Options

There are a wide range of organizations available that provide a mixture of services, the following organizations provide services we have not covered but may be of interest to you:

  • Feed Our Vets – Assists more than 20,000 veterans and their families by providing free food
  • XSportf4Vets – use extreme sports as a way of meeting others and take the edge off of the transition to civilian life.
  • Next Step Service Dogs – use service dogs to help veterans with PTSD and TBI.
  • Veterans Legal Institute – offers pro bono legal assistance to low income and homeless veterans
  • Recycled Rides – a program designed to help ease the burden of transportation on veterans by providing refurbished vehicles.

Summary of Benefits

While the government is a great place to start when you are looking for support, it is not the only resource available. If the government isn’t able to provide you with the assistance you require, do not become disheartened. There are thousands of organizations that are equipped and capable of helping you in whatever way you require.

So many veterans are struggling because they do not know what support is available to them. Transitioning from the armed forces to civilian life is tough, the least we can do is make the switch easier for these brave veterans. We have tried to cover the main areas of assistance but if you are looking for something specific, we recommend you head over to the government VA site or the National Association of American Veterans as these are both good places to find out more about the resources that are available. If you are in need, please do not hesitate to contact these organizations for assistance, they will be able to help you get back on your feet.

Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching

Birdwatching, or birding, is a relaxing, fun and rewarding hobby that can be enjoyed virtually anywhere with very little equipment or prior planning. No matter what your age or location you can enjoy the pleasures of birding. Sometimes there is nothing better than getting out into nature and this is a low-cost activity that can be enjoyed individually or as a group. Use this guide to help you get started with your journey observing and enjoying the natural world and its feathered inhabitants.

What You’ll Need

  • A guidebook
  • Binoculars
  • Patience

Optional Extras

  • Scope
  • Camera
  • Notebook

Bird Guidebook

Having a guidebook on hand is essential, according to the American Museum of Natural History there are an estimated 18,000 bird species in the world. To the untrained eye, many birds are difficult to differentiate due to small differences such as beak or feather colour. A guidebook is basically an identification book that allows you to quickly discover what species of bird you are looking at. There are many different types of guidebooks, generally, beginner books list the most commonly seen species and arrange the birds by colour so you can easily narrow down the bird species to find the one you are observing. More intermediate books are available too, they usually arrange birds by shape and tend to be more comprehensive than the beginner books.

There are also countless apps available, although the high-quality apps will cost to download, they are usually worth it. An example of a complete (but pricey) bird app is the Robertson Birds of SA which is a comprehensive, interactive app packed full of photos, distribution maps and bird songs. Whatever book or app you decide to use, make sure it is local to your area/ country as bird species vary greatly between areas and countries.


Getting close to wild birds is often not possible so to get a detailed look at the birds you are viewing it is highly recommended that you invest in a pair of binoculars. You don’t have to break the bank – a simple pair of good quality, 8 power (the bird will appear 8 times closer through the binoculars) is often perfect for beginners and can be bought for less than £200.

Although there are cheaper binoculars available, a common issue with the lower cost options is the lens alignment, they frequently have poor alignment or are easily knocked out of alignment which means you will see two images that don’t quite match and your eyes will struggle to put them together. Misalignment not only causes you to struggle to see the details of the bird that you would like to see but it can also cause eyestrain and headaches so be sure to test the binoculars before you buy them. Misaligned binoculars can usually be realigned in a repair shop. The slightly more expensive options (£200+) usually produce better images, are more durable and are much higher quality. For more information on binoculars and what to look out for, check out this awesome guide by Birdwatching Bliss.

Binoculars or Spotting Scope?

Some people prefer to use a scope, these are very popular within birding circles but for a beginner, they are not really necessary. A scope allows you to see the finer details of birds and gives you close up access even when you are a considerable distance from the bird you have spotted (spotting birds across a lake is a great example). Scopes can be costly but you can find durable, lightweight scopes for a few hundred pounds – Birdwatching HQ share this guide on scopes to help you see what is available depending on your price range.


Now that you have your guidebook and binoculars on hand, you simply need to head out and start looking. You may decide to take a walk in nature, keeping your eyes and ears open for bird and calls or you may choose to sit in your garden and watch the birds who come to the birdfeeder. There is no right or wrong way to start your birding journey, as long as you are patient and curious you’ll do great. It is challenging to spot and identify birds but you will soon get to grips with the common species and begin to more easily notice their distinguishing features.


Although not an essential tool, many birders like to take a camera along with them to photograph their feathered friends. Photographing the birds can play a huge role in helping you to identify the species you’ve seen as you can compare the field guide descriptions to the photo you managed to snap. Not to mention, birds are incredibly beautiful and birding gives you an excellent opportunity to take amazing pictures of a variety of species. When taking photographs of birds, avoid using the flash.


You may also want to take a pen and some paper so you can begin your ‘bird list’ if you want to keep track of which bird species you have seen. It’s also handy to have as you can quickly jot down the features of the bird you have seen, or draw a little sketch, which can help you identify the species later on. It can be very interesting to keep a note of all the bird species you have spotted, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the list grows.

You’re All Set to Start Birding

Now you have the equipment needed to make a start. The best time to go bird watching tends to be early morning, the early bird gets the worm after all right? With that in mind, many birders head out before sunrise as this is the perfect time for hearing bird calls and seeing birds as they wake up with the sun. Although, different birds are active at different times of the day so if you want to spot a certain type of bird find out when they are most active before heading out.

It’s also best to avoid wearing bright clothes (always avoid red and white), instead opt for darker/ natural coloured clothes with comfortable, sturdy walking shoes and a hat or cap to protect your eyes from the sun.

Move quietly and slowly when you are birding to avoid scaring birds away. It doesn’t take much for a bird to fly off out of view so try to stay still and blend in. Oh, and don’t forget water and snacks, time flies when you’re having fun so make sure you look after yourself too.

Tips for Spotting

  • Always be on the lookout for birds
  • Listen to the sounds around you
  • Encourage birds to your garden with a bird feeder (or a birdhouse/ birdbath)
  • Get out before sunrise
  • Don’t forget your binoculars
  • Walk in the woodlands
  • Keep practicing
  • Visit your local national park
  • Join a birding group
  • Respect nature

Identifying the Species

Once you spot a bird, use these four steps to help you narrow down what the species might be. Looking at these key features will help you to find the right section of the guidebook and should help you more quickly and easily identify the bird.

1) First, look at the shape and size of the bird, take note of the bill size and shape too as this is very important. You can often use this information to try to determine which family the bird belongs to e.g. is it a duck, hawk, owl, heron, dove, sparrow etc. This gives you a very good starting point.

2) Now look at the bird’s colour – what’s the colour pattern, note where there are speckles, colour changes, lines, stripes etc.

3) Observe the bird’s behaviour – how does it fly?

4) Consider the habitat and area you have found the bird in. When using your guidebook use the distribution maps to help you narrow down the species. This is particularly helpful if there’s a couple of species you are trying to distinguish between- maybe one of them is far less likely to occur in the area and habitat you are viewing in, making it much more likely to be one of the other suspected species.

Remember that the illustrations in guidebooks should be used only as an example as the bird you see will not be identical to the picture in the book. The appearance of a bird can change depending on factors including the sex, age and time of year. Focus on the key markings and characteristic traits when identifying. If possible, write down as much detail regarding the bird as you can so that you will remember it when you are looking in the guide. If you can take a photograph, this will help you with identification too. It can be quite difficult to work out what species you are looking at so if you’re not sure, snap a picture or take down the details and ask the birding community for advice.

The more you practice, the more you will notice the subtle differences between bird species. It is always challenging to identify a bird for the first time but keep at it and you’ll be surprised how you start to remember the species.

Common Rules of Birding

The ethics of birding includes promoting the welfare of birds and the environment, respecting the law and making sure you don’t disturb the birds or their nests. Here are some of the most common birding rules that all birders are excepted to abide by for the safety and conservation of birdlife and for your birding enjoyment:

  • Do not disturb nesting birds, their nests or their eggs
  • Leave juvenile birds alone
  • Don’t use bird call audio to attract birds
  • Never enter private property without permission from the owner
  • Respect the bird’s territory and observe them from a safe distance
  • Avoid flash photography and playing loud music
  • Support conservation of habitats
  • Never litter

Join a Birding Club

Going out birding can be a solo activity, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be a huge amount of fun to go out with a group of people who are passionate and enthusiastic about bird watching. You will be surprised at how much you can learn from joining a club. The Bird Watcher’s Digest has a bird club finder to help birders find a club nearby that they can join.

Additional Resources for Bird Watching

Here are some of the best resources to utilise when it comes to bird conservation and bird watching.

Birdlife – This global organisation is dedicated to bird conservation and public education. They offer advice for bird watchers and plenty of information about the birds you may see.

RSPB – This is a UK based organisation that focuses on conservation work and developing reserves to protect nature. They offer guides on bird behaviour, identifying birds and practical advice for bird watchers.

American Birding Association (ABA) – ABA have lots of advice and guides for new birders, they have social media groups for birders who are seeking help with bird identification as well as a group for when a rare bird has been spotted in the area. They share identification quizzes and so much more.

Bird Watcher’s Digest – We mentioned Bird Watcher’s Digest above as they offer the ‘find a bird club’ feature on their website. They share great content for bird watchers and also plan events such as nature festivals.

American Bird Conservancy – The American Bird Conservancy offers the Bird Conservation Alliance which unites birdwatchers and conservation-minded groups.

Adapting Your Home If You’re Blind

Your home should be a safe place, somewhere you can relax and feel completely comfortable, unfortunately if you are blind or have limited vision your home may be the opposite of this. The hazards within a home can be easily rectified if you are aware of them, however it is often difficult for people with good eyesight to appreciate what the hazards may be for someone who is blind. We have created this guide so you can make the appropriate adaptations needed to create a safe home environment that promotes independent living for people who are visually impaired.

This guide will provide you with key adaptations, improvements and repairs that can be made around your home. These small but significant adaptations can help make your home more accessible for those with low or no vision. The adjustments you make will depend on the degree of visual impairment you are adapting for as people with low vision can often perceive colours, differentiate between light and dark and see forms while people who are totally blind have no light perception at all.

Use Contrasting Colours

Limited vision may also mean reduced colour perception so taking advantage of contrasting colours is a good way of making your home a more manageable environment. Using colours that contrast within your home, for example door frames or furniture of a colour that contrasts with the wall colour, can help make objects more visible in an effective and affordable way. Keep in mind that solid, bright colours are easier to see and can be used as a way of warning about a change in level (e.g. a ramp or stairs), a potential hazard (e.g. along the edge of open doors) and a way of coding and sorting files. Although you may think that patterns and stripes could be a good choice as they are eye-catching, these are best avoided for someone with reduced vision as they can create confusion.

General Colour Modifications that May be Helpful

  • Use bright colours that contrast with the walls for doorknobs, doors and door frames
  • Place a contrasting colour on the edge of the stairs as an indication of where each step begins
  • Use a contrasting placemat underneath your dinner plates to help you see the edge of the plate when you are eating
  • Emphasize the boundary between the floor and the wall using floor coverings – avoid patterned carpets
  • Use illuminated light switches to provide good contrast in dark and lowlight rooms
  • As a general rule, use light backgrounds and dark objects to help them standout – for example having dark furniture and a lighter wall will help you locate the furniture
  • Avoid using clear glass dishes in the kitchen
  • Install power outlets that contrast in colour to the wall so you can easily locate and use plug sockets
  • Avoid using patterns and stripes – instead go for solid, bright colours
  • Use brightly colours lamps and vases

Adapting the colours within your home to cause more contrast is an effective, affordable and easily achievable way of increasing your homes accessibility and making it easier for you, or your loved ones, to navigate. Red, yellow and orange tend to be more visible and remember to use bright colours as these are the easiest to see.

Adjust and Increase Lighting

Lighting can pose a problem for people with limited eyesight, particularly when lighting is too low or the lighting produces glare. Glare is bright light (it can be sunlight or artificial light) that is reflected into eyes, this glare can interfere with your sight and reduce visual comfort. Glare often occurs from light hitting surfaces such as high gloss tables and television screens. When you are making changes to the lighting within your home, consider if there is any glare being produced and take steps to reduce this in order to improve visual comfort within your home. Steps you could take to reduce glare in your home include installing window shades that allow you to adjust the amount of light coming into a room and using matt finish paint rather than glossy paint to reduce the amount of glare caused by flat surfaces.

Natural light is often preferred by people with low vision but artificial light is necessary to keep you safe and your home well lit. To make artificial light easier to deal with consider using 3-way light bulbs in rooms that you most frequently use, these bulbs can be adjusted to suit the amount of light you require. Another option is using bulbs that create lighting that more closely resembles natural daylight than regular bulbs. Having enough lighting is essential to helping you navigate your home safely.

General Lighting Modifications That May be Helpful

  • Keep hallways, entrances and stairways well-lit – artificial lights could be used on the staircase as a visual aid that makes it easier for you to go up and down safely
  • Ideally, all lights within the house should be at the same level to avoid confusing shadow formation
  • Place lamps on desks or in areas you often work to make completing tasks easier
  • Install lights within cupboards, cabinets and closets (ensure the light points at the contents of the cupboard rather than at the person who is opening the cupboard)

Whatever adjustments you decide to make to the lighting within your home, make sure that the lights are easy to switch on and off. The switches should be simple to locate with no trip hazards that could prevent you from reaching the switch safely. You may also choose to make use of tactile markers or railings that can help guide you to light switches too.

Reducing and Repairing Hazards

When you are blind or visually impaired even the most basic action such as closing a cupboard or drawer immediately after use or cleaning up a spillage when it happens can help prevent an accident later on in the day. The following preventative measures can be taken to reduce common household hazards:

  • Reduce clutter, including shelf clutter e.g. in the kitchen and bathroom
  • Fix any broken handrails and loose carpets
  • Install grab bars where necessary e.g. the bathroom
  • Keep chairs pushed in at tables and desks
  • Use nonslip flooring
  • Get rid of small rugs (trip hazard)
  • Keep low tables and objects out of the way of walkways and keep cables close to baseboards
  • Clearly mark all exits
  • Place items on easy to reach shelves
  • Repair broken paths or fences
  • Install outdoor lighting
  • Maintain plants and avoid overgrowth
  • Install easy to use door handles
  • Install a phone system so you can find out who is at the door before answering

Kitchen Modifications

There is no doubt that the kitchen can be a very intimidating place for someone who is visually impaired, fortunately there are a few affordable, easy to make changes that can reduce your frustrations and increase your independence.

Keep Items Labelled

There are labelling options to suit all requirements; so, whether you simply want to use visual cues such as large-print written labels or colour coding or you need to use tactile labels such as braille or bump dots there are plenty of available options. Labelling the items within your kitchen will make mix-ups and confusion much less likely to occur, particularly when it comes to tinned or bottled items.

General Kitchen Modifications That May Be Helpful

Labelling can help make preparing and cooking food easier but when it comes to actually using the kitchen there are a few adaptations that can make the world of difference, these include:

  • Always keep the kitchen organized
  • Give each type of food a designated place in the cupboard, fridge and freezer so it is easy to locate
  • Keep knives separate from other utensils
  • Have a chopping board with a light and a dark side so you can safely chop all colour food items against the contrasting colour
  • Put items you most frequently use in a specific, easy to reach location
  • Use tactile dots on stove dials to indicate settings
  • Use colour contrast where possible e.g. worktop, cupboard handles
  • Use markings or labels on food, medication and clothing to differentiate between items (braille tags, Velcro, craft paint, pins, rubber bands and markers can all be used)
  • Use different container shapes to help you identify different objects

Bathroom Modifications

The bathroom can also be particularly hazardous due to the moisture and limited space. Reduce the risk of falls and accidents with the following, easy to implement modifications:

  • Keep the bathroom organized so everything has its place and you can always find what you are looking for
  • Install grab bars
  • Label products
  • Label the hot and cold taps
  • Mark the ideal water level of the bath using bright tiles or rubber
  • Use non-slip flooring on the bathroom floor and in the bath/ shower
  • Ensure there is enough light in the bathroom
  • Use contrasting colours for the toilet seat and the sink

Bedroom Modifications

Your bedroom can be transformed into a comfortable sanctuary by making very few changes, organisation is one of the most important factors when it comes to bedrooms. It is best to store your clothes, jewellery and accessories in a way that is easy to access but without causing a trip hazard. Consider using storage boxes and cupboards along with the labelling techniques we mentioned earlier. You may also:

  • Organise furniture to reduce obstructions
  • Utilise contrasting colours when choosing curtains, bedding etc.
  • Keep electrical cables against the walls
  • Install blinds to help control lighting

Hallway Modifications

The hallway that links each room to the next is often overlooked when it comes to adapting your home, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. These include:

  • Installing hand rails to help you get around safely
  • Paint items that stick out or obstruct your path in bright colour to make it more visible e.g. radiators
  • Keep hallways well-lit (motion sensor lights are often a good idea for hallways)
  • Use contrasting colours or specific colour schemes to help you identify which room is which
  • Ensure there are no trip hazards or obstacles in the hallways

Modify Your Home for a Service Dog

Someone who is fully blind may have a service dog, service dogs transform people’s lives but some prior preparation may be necessary. If you are welcoming a service dog into your home, be sure you:

  • Add ‘tugs’ to doors, cabinets and fridge/ freezer so the dog can open and close the doors
  • Ensure doorways and passages are wide enough to accommodate you and the dog
  • Ensure your garden is securely fenced
  • Store medicine and toxic items in a safe drawer

Increased Security & Communications

Keeping safe and being in communication with people outside of your home is vital in case of an emergency, these modifications will make this even easier to achieve:

  • Contact your local fire service to fit and check your smoke alarms
  • Install an entry phone system so you know who is at the door before answering
  • Plan exit routes out of your home in the case of an emergency
  • Use a big button phone to help you dial numbers
  • Have a personal alarm in case you fall and need help

Modification Costs

The cost of making changes to your home varies greatly depending on the modifications you plan on making. You could spend less than £25 if you simply want to install markers and labelling systems in key areas of your home but you can expect this cost to go up to a few thousand pounds if you want to remodel your home. Fortunately, there are a lot of affordable modifications that can make a huge difference to your day-to-day life. If you need to make modifications in order to make your home safer to live in and to allow you to continue to live independently but you do not have the funds to cover these costs yourself, don’t hesitate to apply for financial assistance.

Financial Assistance

The vast majority of the home modifications we have listed above are low-cost but these costs still build up as you apply them throughout your home. We know it can quickly become overwhelming to adapt your home, but don’t worry as there is support available in the form of funding and grants. If you are in the UK, you will first be required to apply for a needs assessment (this is carried out by social services), a needs assessment determines whether or not you are eligible for assistance with home adaptations. An assessment may also need to be carried out by an occupational therapist.

After the assessment, you may be eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant which is provided to people who are disabled and need to make changes to their home. The grant is means-tested so the amount you receive will depend on your household income and savings but the grant can be up to £36,000. If your income is higher than your outgoings, you may need to pay towards the work that is being carried out. The disabled facilities grant can be applied for if you or someone living in your property is disabled and you or the person you are applying for either owns the property or intends to live there for the 5-year grant period.

The grant payment is either given in instalments while the work is being carried out or in one sum once the work has been completed. This financial assistance can be applied for through your local council and you can appeal the decision if you are unhappy with the outcome of your application.

VAT Relief

If you are disabled, you will not be charged VAT on products or services that are designed or adapted for a disability. This means that if you qualify for VAT relief, you do not have to pay VAT on home adaptions.

Home Improvement Agencies

You may also benefit from the advice and support of Home Improvement Agencies (also known as Care and Repair or Staying Put), these are non-profit organisations that provide specialist help with the support of local authorities and government. Home improvement agencies aim to help disabled, elderly and other vulnerable people live as independently as possible and will be able to provide you with information, support and assistance throughout the process of adapting your home. Generally, advice and the first visit by home improvement agencies are free but they will charge a fee if you would like further assistance from them. You can get advice on available schemes, alternative housing options, the process of applying for funding from the local authority, legal entitlement and more.

Enhancing independence at home while remaining safe is critical for those with low vision or blindness. The modifications within this guide will help you to do just that, although many of the changes are small and simple, the positive impact they have on the life of someone with a visual impairment is substantial. Adapting your house to suit your needs will help to transform it into a home that you are comfortable living in.

Beginners Backyard Astronomy Basics – Getting Started

Getting outside and looking up at the stars is one of the most underrated hobbies there is. It costs nothing, can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own backyard and will leave you in absolute awe of the universe. To get started all you need is a dark sky and some patience. If your child wants to learn the basics of astronomy, use this guide to begin exploring the universe no matter where in the world you are.

What You’ll See In The Sky

Some of the easiest items to spot include:

  • Constellations

These are groups of stars that form patterns in the night sky.  These recognizable images present a method of remembering the stars, and provide the stargazer helpful guides as to where to find neighboring objects in the sky.  Seafarers have used them for navigational purposes since ancient times.

Constellations have since been redefined as regions of sky, with official boundaries – much as counties within a state.  This has resulted in some confusion as to constellation membership, as during the process of drawing boundaries, some stars found themselves in different constellations.

A good star map can help you find the constellations (discussed later on).

  • The Solar System

The most visible satellite visible to even the naked eye while in the city: The Moon!  A vast desert of well-catalogued features, it is almost always visible except during the New Moon periods.

Also Read: How to observe the Moon at night with a telescope

We are able to observe multiple planets without using a telescope. For much of the year you can see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, although rarely in close proximity to each other.  Jupiter and Saturn are the easiest to see as they are brightest of the planets visible from Earth.

Jupiter glows white, while Saturn is a smaller, yellowish white.  Mercury often twinkles in a bright yellow colour as well.  Venus is large and silver, and Mars is a reddish colour.  Under certain conditions, Uranus can also be spotted with the naked eye.  With a good pair of binoculars, you may be able to see Neptune, too.

You will find it much easier to spot planets the farther away you are from light sources, though you can still stargaze in city limits. Books, magazines, and the Web can tell you which planets are visible on each night.

Also Read: Which planets are visible at night (2019) guide – For those who are ambitious, this guide goes into a lot of detail. If you’re looking for something for beginner friendly, check out this guide on

  • Meteor Showers

Seeing shooting stars is an amazing experience and they can be seen on any night of the year – if you’re patient, and more than a little lucky.  However, every now and then, there are meteor showers that are worth being outside to enjoy.

Some of the most well-known meteor showers include the Perseids in August, Orionids that can be seen between October and November, and Geminids in December (to name just a few).  Meteor-gazing is usually better after midnight and each meteor shower has a ‘peak night’ when the most meteor activity can be observed.

Read: EarthSky’s 2019 Meteor Shower Guide

Further Reading

The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Guide to Astronomy

A List of the Constellations

American Meteor Society’s (AMS) 2019-2020 Meteor Shower Calendar

Stargazing Tips

It is always best to observe the night sky from a dark location, avoiding artificial lights such as street lamps.  If it is possible for you to find a spot away from light pollution this is ideal but, if not, don’t worry – you’ll still be able to stargaze.

It’s also best to pick nights when the moon is not full and bright; aim for around New Moon or Last Quarter to get the best view of the stars. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the names of the phases just yet, it takes time and experience to learn these, below you will find a tool which can help you, no matter where you are located.

Tool: Moon Phases – This resource is very handy, simply put in your location and it will give you a Lunar calendar with moon phases to expect.

When you find your spot and get comfortable, give your eyes time to adjust to the change in light, which will take between 10 to 20 minutes.

Enjoy a Clear Night from Your Garden

Take some time to observe what the unaided eye can see: Look at the moon and familiarize yourself with the night sky.  Ignite that curiosity, because the reality is that you do not have to buy an expensive telescope to enjoy astronomy.  Let’s build up to that, so that when you do invest in the equipment, you’ll know how to use it, and you’ll know what you’re looking for.

You should be able to see some of the brighter stars and a couple of constellations too.

Top 10 Easiest to See Objects in the Sky

Britannica’s Guide to Astronomy and the Constellations

Use a Star Chart or App

It is up to you if you want to invest in binoculars or telescopes.  While these are great for seeing more detail, there is no reason you can’t start stargazing unaided.  With no aid, you’ll still be able to see stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies.

Something we do recommend is having a star chart on hand to help you identify the stars, planets, and constellations you are viewing.  Make sure the star chart is for your hemisphere and corresponds with the right time of year.

This is a mistake many first-time stargazers make: They use a chart that’s old or best suited to another location, then struggle to find constellations, leading to frustration and disappointment.

You may be looking for a more tech-savvy alternative to the conventional star chart, in which case you should consider downloading an app.  There are tons of great stargazing apps available that can help with your cosmic exploration.  Some of them even work using GPS so when you point your phone up at the sky, it tells you exactly what you are looking at and you can watch as the constellations appear on your screen.

These apps are a great aid when you are trying to locate a certain star, planet, or constellation for the first time.  Books and magazines are another great way to find out where to look and what to look for, while also giving you details on what it is you are looking at.


Sky Maps – This site offers a free monthly sky map that will help you identify stars, planets, and constellations, as well as bright comets.

Sky Map Planetarium App (Android)

Investing in Binoculars

Now that you have begun enjoying the night sky, you may be thinking about buying a telescope.  Many budding astronomers buy telescopes before they even look up into the sky, then those telescopes end up collecting dust in backrooms and attics.  If you are considering upping your stargazing game with a telescope, why not try binoculars first?

A good set of binoculars will be more affordable, easier to carry, and easier to use thanks to their wide field of view.  A pair of binoculars will help you see more without spending a small fortune, and are a more natural next step for backyard astronomers.  Binoculars will allow you to see the craters on the moon, and they will allow you to see the fascinating, finer details of the night sky, such as star clusters and Jupiter’s moons.

While learning to see these fascinating details through binoculars, you will also be learning the skills needed to use a telescope with confidence so that, once you decide to make that step, you will be getting your money’s worth – and less likely to let it collect dust.

Possibly the most important feature to consider in a telescope is the aperture: The wider, the better, as wider apertures work better in low-light conditions.  The list of resources below provides more information on these, and other, topics.

Additional Reading

How to Choose Binoculars for Astronomy

Choosing a Telescope

If you have followed this guide and are continuing to enjoy the night sky, you may be keen to get more serious about astronomy by picking up a telescope.  A telescope will allow you to see and enjoy even more, but there are different types of telescopes available, so here’s a short summary.

Newtonian Reflector

A reflector telescope uses mirrors to focus light.  These telescopes tend to be lightweight and affordable.  A reflector telescope is a good choice for observing faint objects that are deep in the sky – for example, nebulae and galaxies.  Generally speaking, this is the best choice for someone relatively new to astronomy.

Good for:

  • Excellent colour correction
  • Low cost all rounder
  • Observing deep-sky objects

Bad for:

  • Open to dust and dirt
  • Mirror misalignment


A refractor telescope is long and narrow, using lenses to focus on the image.  These telescopes allow you to see sharp images and lots of detail, but the downside is the cost (as these do not come cheap).  They are ideal for planetary observation and brighter objects, as opposed to objects in the deep-sky.

Good for:

  • Pinpointing star images
  • Easy to use
  • Maintenance free

Bad for:

  • High cost
  • Deep-sky observation


Catadioptric telescopes contain both reflector and refractor factors.  They are slightly more expensive than reflectors but considerably less than refractors, and make a great telescope for astrophotography.

Good for:

  • Compact and portable
  • Sealed from dust

Bad for:

  • Central obstruction
  • Minor false colour


Choosing a good mount is just as important as choosing the right telescope.  The mount keeps the telescope steady while allowing for a wide range of movement so you can easily track objects and look at different areas of the sky.

  • Altazimuth Mount – A simple, light, and easy to use mount that moves up and down, in, and left and right, but does not allow you to track objects.
  • Equatorial Mount – Moves in celestial north-south and in east-west axis allowing you to track celestial objects.

Resources provides information on binoculars, as well as telescopes.

A Short YouTube Guide to Astronomy for Beginners

Use Resources to Gain More Knowledge

After a few nights of enjoying the stars, something very exciting happens: You start being able to identify constellations and planets without the aid of an app or star chart!

But, the best thing about astronomy is that there is always more to learn.

There is a wide selection of books about basic astronomy available in local libraries and bookstores, in addition to magazines and podcasts that can take your new hobby to all new heights.  These resources can help you gain more knowledge on what you can see and when, the changes in stars throughout the night and throughout the year, and so much more.


Collins Stargazing: Beginners guide to astronomy

StarFinder for Beginners – A step by step guide to the night sky

The Astronomy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained



StarTalk Radio

The 365 Days of Astronomy (daily podcast)

Join an Astronomy Club

Share your interest with others!  There are countless astronomy clubs that have meetings and “star parties” (night-time observing sessions) you can join for free.  These are a great way to not only make friends with people who have a similar interest but also learn new tips, tricks, and skills.  You can use this as an opportunity to try out other equipment, such as telescopes or top-end binoculars, and learn the advantages and disadvantages of using them.

If you can’t find a local club, your local college or public library may have an Astronomy department or group which hosts public events and viewing nights.


Beginner Astronomy Meetups

AstronomyForum – Beginners’ Forums

ALPO Links to Astronomy Clubs

Further Reading

There are countless sites and resources dedicated to Astronomy and related fields that we didn’t have the space to include.  Here are some of the best for general information.

The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Astronomy

The International Astronomical Union (IAU)

NASA – When it comes to anything related to space, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a wealth of knowledge to share.

Cornell University – If you’ve got a query about astronomy, check out this page from Cornell University.  Their question and answer archive holds a wealth of information from, “What do I need to become an astronomer?” to the colours and distances of the planets.

Glossary of Terms – If you’ve come across an astronomy term you’ve never heard before, this glossary may be of use.

Astronomy for Beginners – This site has loads of buying guides, astrophotography tips, astronomy facts, and more for budding astronomers to enjoy.

Enjoying the delights of the sky on a dark night costs nothing. You can start learning today using the free resources and apps provided to help you identify what you are looking at.  You can see many of them without an aid, and there is always more to learn, more to see, and more to experience.  Astronomy is a hobby that will keep on giving.

Backyard astronomy is an enjoyable, relaxing hobby that can be experienced at your own pace.  The more you look at the night sky, the more it reveals, so get out there and keep learning!

Genealogy & Ancestry Guide

genealogy ancestry guide

Genealogy is all about researching your ancestry and finding your roots. It is an interesting and exciting journey to take and thanks to the internet, genealogy has become something you can start at any time from the comfort of your own home. Although, this doesn’t mean it’s easy or that you should only rely on online sources to fill in the gaps of your ancestry. As there is so much to be discovered, it can be difficult to know how to begin or where to start your search. This guide will help you get started with piecing together your family history and discovering the stories of your ancestors.

Approach Your Family

Before you even open up an internet browser you should speak to your living relatives. You may be surprised by the documents, photographs and letters they have kept safe over the years. Starting now and working back is the easiest way to begin creating your family history. Collect all the information you can from your family and keep an eye out for key documents including; birth certificates, death certificates, military records, newspaper clippings, diplomas and yearbooks. Be sure to make copies of all the documents you find. When talking to family members, note down all the details that are mentioned, even if they are not exact dates, as these nuggets of information may be able to help you find the facts later on. Although, remember that not everything you hear will be true so it’s down to you to weed out the myths and solidify the truths with facts and documents.

Make sure the information and document copies you collect are all safely stored and properly organised so you can easily access them throughout your genealogy journey. Decide now whether you want to keep a digital record or a paper record of your ancestry. If you want to keep a paper record, buy a folder or notebook dedicated to your family history so you can keep everything together and neatly organised. Discovering your family’s past will involve a lot of going back and forth between key documents in order to confirm various information and check that details match, this is why having the information you have found so far organised and on hand is important.

Begin the Family Tree

You can use the information you have already gathered from your living relatives to begin drafting your family tree. Start with yourself and record all the key information including birth, occupation, marriage, divorce and the places these events took place. Repeat this with your parents, siblings and grandparents if possible. If you discovered birth and death certificates in your family home, include this information on the family tree too. Work backwards and fill out as much of the family tree as you can. Once all the relevant factual information you have has been recorded, it is time to look online to explore the records, fill in the gaps and find out more about your ancestors.

Key Family Tree Information

  • You may have never seen or created a family tree before so here are some key terms and abbreviations you may come across during your search:
  • Vertical lines indicate relationships between parents and offspring
  • Horizontal lines indicate siblings from one set of parents
  • Dotted lines indicate a presumed relationship

You may come across the following abbreviations:

  • b = born
  • bapt = baptised
  • [=] / m = married
  • [1] [2] = first/ second marriage
  • d = died
  • bur = buried

Some common genealogical terms you may see include:

  • Relic = widow
  • Testatrix = a woman’s will
  • Dower = property rights of a woman in her husband’s estate

Online Investigations

Finding out your family history does not need to be expensive, a lot of information can be found online for free or for a small fee. There are several important records that are commonly used in genealogy, each record provides certain information that will help you to not only know more about the person in question but will also help you to find other family links and records too. When you are looking through records it is best to focus on one person at a time, don’t try to fill in all the blanks at once as it is easy to become confused and overwhelmed by multiple names, dates and unsolved mysteries.

Where to Start

When looking for records, the best place to start is with birth, marriages and deaths. It has been a legal requirement for these events to be officially registered for over 150 years (in the UK) and there are usually records regarding these events available before these dates too. These certificates will be able to provide you with vital information including names, ages, dates, addresses and occupations, all of which will help you to find out more about the life of that particular person.

Although, it’s not just information on that specific person that is found on these certificates; birth certificates will also be able to give you the names of the parents (the next generation of ancestors on your family tree) and marriage certificates will detail the father of the bride and groom too. You can search for certificates online for free but to obtain an official paper certificate costs a fee, viewing digital copies may be possible for a small fee on some commercial genealogy/ family history websites.

Census Records

The next port of call should be census records. A census has been taken every ten years since 1790 in USA and since 1841 in the UK so you should be able to find census information on relatives that were alive well over a hundred years ago. Census records allow you to piece together generations of your family and discover crucial and very interesting information about who was living where, what they were doing and who they were living with.

The census is essentially a population schedule that documents the members of each household, their relationship to the head of the house as well as their birthplaces, ages and occupations. You can use these records to track the movements of your ancestors and gather clues about their lives. Generally, the later the census record is, the more information it will have. When information was first gathered the census only listed the head of the household and the number of people living in the house but as time went on more and more personal information was recorded. Census returns are very easy to search and are available online and in local libraries.

Other Important Information Sources

Another record that may help you to put together the pieces of your ancestor’s life are their wills. The information contained within a will can vary greatly but they can be a great place to find names of relatives and particularly names of children. In the UK, the record of wills dates back to 1858. Although earlier wills may be found within local repositories as they would have been under the jurisdiction of church courts.

Other important sources of information include; baptisms, marriages and burials which can be found in church registers, deed and land records which can be found in county courthouses or sometimes online, passenger lists which can usually be found online and obituaries which can be found online and in newspaper archives.

There are countless websites dedicated to helping people on their genealogy journeys, many of the sites contain millions of records and may prove to be an invaluable tool in helping you to connect the dots in your family history. Some of the websites are free to use while others run on a payment or subscription basis. There are also sites that are dedicated to certain records for example military history or particular newspaper archives so don’t forget to make use of these troves of information when you’re searching for certain records.

Using Offline Resources

Although you can gather a lot of information from your computer, there are also important offline resources that hold millions of records that should be utilized during your search. It’s very important to point out that not all records are available online so you could miss out some vital parts to your ancestry puzzle if you restrict your search to online sources. These offline resources include:

  • The Family History Library

The Family History Library has over 2,000 branches across the world and holds the largest collection of genealogy materials in the world. If you are able to go to a Family History Centre you will be able to access billions of records and the centres experienced staff will be able to help you navigate the records and make progress in your search. Although it may feel daunting to go to a resource centre such as this, as long as you have an idea of what you are searching for before you go in and you talk to the staff if you’re unsure, you will find that these archives are interesting, informative places that are well worth taking the time to visit.

  • National Archives – National Archives is another fantastic offline option. They are a great place to find military records, early census records, passenger lists, passport and naturalization records and so much more. Importantly, you can find records in National Archives that are not yet available online.
  • Local and State Libraries – Libraries can help you find resources such as local history, newspapers, family history books and more. Consider visiting the library that is local to where your ancestors lived, you may be able to find clippings and information about the family there.
  • Courthouses – Courthouses contain valuable records including birth, marriage and death certificates, divorce decrees, adoption records, deeds, wills, tax records, court cases and some military records too. Visit the courthouse that is local to where your ancestors lived and you may be able to uncover a wealth of information about them.
  • Churches – Churches can be very useful resources too as many church records are not available online. However, finding the church that holds your ancestor’s records and actually accessing the records can be a challenge. Unfortunately, many church records have been lost over the years due to damage and neglect but if you can identify the church that holds your ancestor’s records and the records remain intact, it is certainly worth the effort.

DNA Tests

Something slightly different that has only recently become possible is taking DNA tests to help pursue and locate ancestors and family branches. The information obtained from doing a DNA test depends on the type of test used. It is an expensive avenue that may leave you with more questions than answers but can be very insightful if you have specific questions that you are struggling to find answers to.

There are three types of DNA tests currently available:

1) Autosomal DNA

An autosomal DNA test provides information from chromosomes inherited from both parents so looks at all recent ancestors. This test helps you to locate living relatives and people who are related to you within the past five generations. It can help to produce your ethnic profile and the general location of ancestors.

2) Y-DNA

Y DNA tests help you to trace your paternal lineage which is the Y-chromosome inherited from father to son. Due to this, the Y-DNA test can only be taken by males so if you are a female and are interested in the paternal line of your family, ask your brother or father to take the test for you.

3) Mitochondrial DNA

A mitochondrial DNA test helps you to trace your maternal lineage, it looks as mitochondria which is passed from mother to child. The test can help to find matches in genetic genealogy databases and will help to test ideas you have about your female ancestry.

Although DNA testing may present as an exciting and interesting way to investigate your ancestry, there are questions regarding its accuracy. There are many reports of people taking multiple genealogical DNA tests and receiving wildly different results from each company used. There are also scientific limitations to these tests which should be kept in mind if you decide to take this route.

If you have a question you want answered regarding a relation to someone specific then this could be a good approach to take but also keep in mind it takes around 6-8 weeks to receive the results of the test back. Ultimately, this may be a fun, unique but expensive way of getting information regarding your DNA lineage but cannot give you the accurate information you are likely searching for and therefore should certainly not replace the methods of gathering ancestry data we have discussed.

Genealogy Top Tips

Putting together the pieces of your family’s past can be challenging, at times you may hit a wall but don’t give up. When you find new information that fits the puzzle all the effort is worth it. Our top tips will help you to keep on the right track:

  • Always use birth (maiden) names to keep all the records of that one person together – It is easy to lose track of a married woman who has taken the surname of her husband, to help simplify your records keep everything on each woman stored using her maiden name. When you are looking for records, search using their maiden and married names to see what you can uncover.
  • Be organised – Although you will start with just a handful of documents, as you continue to dig and research your family you will accumulate more and more information and documentation. To avoid getting confused or misplacing important documents, make sure you keep them organised and filed. By being organised you will save yourself time and the next time you need to reach for that file to confirm a fact you can do so with ease.
  • When you find new information, verify the information using your primary documents – It is exciting to find a common thread during your research. However, before you file it as a fact, first compare the new information with your primary documents to confirm the information. Make sure the new information is backed with documentation and is definitely concerning one of your ancestors, not just someone with the same (or similar) name/ birth date.
  • Don’t rely purely on the internet – We mentioned earlier how important offline sources are. It may be tempting to limit your search to the internet but there are many records that are not yet available online so it is absolutely worth using offline resources during your investigations.
  • Check if anyone else is researching into your family history – Someone else in your family may have already developed a comprehensive family history that can be of huge help to you. Ask around in the family before you begin your research in case the information has already been collected.
  • Remember that name variations are likely to occur so be open to variations when searching records – The older the records are, the more likely it is that there are spelling errors or name variations. The spelling of a name may be for phonetic or maybe a nickname or middle name has been used. If you are struggling to find records of a certain individual, try to use name variations to broaden your search.
  • Never assume, always look for concrete proof of links between individuals

    Our final tip is to never assume because before you know it you could be unknowingly making your way through someone else’s family tree. Confirm any assumptions you have with concrete proof to avoid errors.

Seeking Help

Something that happens to absolutely everyone during their genealogy journey is hitting a wall. It can be so frustrating to not be able to find information on a particular ancestor but don’t stress. If you’ve not been able to uncover the information by yourself, connecting with others by approaching genealogy groups and societies can be a great way to get help and advice.

The Society of Genealogists

This society provides a combination of research material, guidance and practical support for people looking into their family history. Getting involved with a large charity such as this can be a huge help as you will be able to access thousands of records, unique research and more. The Society of Genealogists has the largest family history research library in the UK and this vast collection is open to members as well as non-members for an hourly or daily fee.

There are also local societies and groups that may be able to help you with your family history. A quick online search can tell you about local groups in your area that may be useful to join. If you would like an expert to do the research on your behalf, there are professionals who offer this service too.

Start Putting Together Your Pieces of History Today

Now you have everything you need to begin your journey into the past. Make the most of all of the resources available to you and remember that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to find out about your family ancestry. Start close to home by talking to your relatives and work from there. Before you know it, your family tree will begin to take shape and the names on the page will come to life as you gain knowledge of their occupations, marriages, children and more. Enjoy this unique and wonderful journey, be patient and don’t be afraid to ask others for help and advice.