Genealogy Research Tips: An Interview with Derek Atherton

Derek is the founder of the Atherton One-Name Study. He decided to start the study when he ‘hit a brick wall’ with his personal research. Over 10 years he collected nearly 47,000 family names and constructed over 16,000 family trees. In 2018, Derek retired from the study to focus on his other family lines so, his passion for genealogy is being applied to new areas of research.

Derek, thank you so much for creating the Atherton One-Name Study. As a genealogy researcher what does a typical day look like?

It’s a matter of fitting in your research of the deceased, into your everyday life i.e. the living! I am fortunate in that I am retired and am keen to do something else other than golf. My mantra is ‘the three Gs’; Grandchildren, Golf and Genealogy – not always in that order, but that is my priority.

Photo by bruce mars on

What online resources do you recommend to other genealogy researchers?

You need to register with at least one of the big sites; Ancestry or Findmypast and supplement those with a lot free sites like FreeBMD, Lancashire OPC or Family Search. I also joined a number of genealogy forums; British-Genealogy forum, Family Historian User Group, Family Tree Forum, the list goes on! Certainly looking at the USA, my biggest help has been Find A Grave, which in addition to being free, also lists a lot of family members that have helped me fill in the gaps between Census’.  I’m not a great fan of Billion Graves; although they have a lot of information on the site, it is VERY rare to see birth dates, even when the age can clearly be seen on the gravestone!

Is there a feature on the Atherton One-Name Study website that you find the most useful with your genealogy searches?  

Using the search facility to find an ancestor on the site can be rewarding and informative.  Your nearest and dearest are likely to have even more information and particularly photos!

What have you learnt about genealogy research that you think would help others?

Remember that a lot of our ancestors were illiterate and couldn’t even spell their own names. Census information was put down by people who wrote what they heard rather than how the names were spelt. I have found a good number of Atherton families with ridiculously silly “transcribed” names by searching their Christian Names.

What advice would you give to those who are just starting out with their research?  

Do not guess at a relationship. Remember that you MUST have a source for all your information.

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What about those who have ‘hit a brick wall’ with their research like you did?

Patience and perseverance! As before, do not guess at relationships.  Broaden your normal search pattern as wide as possible.

Have you met any living family members as part of your research journey?

I met 2 x distant cousins online. One of them I eventually met in person but sadly she has now passed – Gwenda – she was of the Welsh “Taffytons”.  Both cousins helped me with my research enormously in their different ways.

What are your hopes for the future of the Atherton One Name Study?

I just hope you enjoy your time ‘in the chair’.

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