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Your Family History Answers Maybe Off-line

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on October 3rd, 2010

Sometimes we just need to accept that not every answer to your family history questions will be on-line. I’ve discovered this with my research into my British Family Tree, but it can be the same where ever it is in the world that you are looking for ancestors. You’ve searched for an ancestor using the various on-line tools and failed to find any trace of them?

The temptation is to believe that, because they don’t appear where we think that they should, that we are simply not going to find them. Well, what I need to remind myself  when I am on the trail of my UK forebears, is that not every record for Britain is on the web and even for those that are mistakes have been made and omissions may have occurred.

Anyone with a British Family tree is well catered for by the availability of paid and free look up websites.

Taking, for example, my family tree in England. My 4 times great grandparents, John and Sarah Thorn for whom I had obtained their names from the baptism information that I had got from a search of the International Genealogical Index at familysearch.org for their son, also called John, my 3x great-grandfather.

Baptismal font St. Saviours, Dartmouth, Devon, UK.

Baptismal font St. Saviours, Dartmouth, Devon, UK.

Remembering what the family history professionals teach, that you should always use information that has been transcribed as a finding aid only – using it to seek out the original record, I visited the Devon County Record Office in person and looked up the microfiche copy of the baptism of John Brampton Thorn in St.Saviours church, Dartmouth on the 28th September 1794.

Having verified that their names were correct, on the IGI, I had then searched for the marriage of John and Sarah. I knew that a number of their children were baptised in the same church and that there was only one other possible child christened earlier than my great-great-great-grandfather in St Saviours in 1790, however it was not certain if this individual was of the same family of Thorns. I was hunting for a marriage around 1794. Frustratingly, there were no likely candidates in that particular church.

Searching the IGI around the area came up with nothing and so I expanded it outwards. With my “possible parish” list I  searched on-line for the marriage and came up with some in Exeter for 1793. Were the Thorns from Exeter? Well the answer turns out to be no!

Visiting, in person, the Devon Family History Society in Exeter I explained about my brick wall and the staff looked at their data for marriages 1754 to 1812 for a John Thorn marrying a bride called Sarah. At this point I had no maiden name for Sarah. After a few minutes, for the bargain price of only 15 pence I was handed a list of seven marriages. The very first of which was a John Thorn and Sarah Branton married on the 12 January 1794. The bride’s surname was to become the second name of their child and my 3x great-grandfather. The parish was not Exeter, nor anywhere from around Dartmouth, but Plymouth Charles!

Having obtained this information off-line I then went back to the internet just to check if I could have found it there. On the IGI there was no record and various other websites I went to all returned no matches either.

The lessons I learnt here, is that not every record is accessible on-line. Remember this in your family history research.

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