Volunteer Family History Site Smashed My Brick Wall

If you are having problems researching your family tree then maybe you can learn something from my experience here. I had got nowhere with this ancestor’s birth, marriage or death – on or off-line – then a chance visit to a Family History Website and an hour or two looking at the transcripts and a brick wall in my family history research came tumbling down! This, together with thinking of spelling variations of names, opened up a new line to me.

My paternal line in Dartmouth, Devon, UK has always been a bit frustrating once the census records ran out in 1841. This being the earliest English census on-line after which I had to start looking at parish records. I had worked out that my three times great-grandfather was called John Thorn and from the information given in the census collections I knew that he had been born in about 1795 and his wife, Elizabeth, in about 1798.

As a member of The Society of Genealogists in Goswell Road, London EC1. I knew that they’ve the largest collection of Parish Records in the country on microfiche. They’ve also got some transcripts of parish registers in the library.

Unfortunately Dartmouth parish records were not microfilmed, but a selection of Devon Family History Society booklets of the marriages of some of the churches in the town, including St. Saviour’s, were available. Scanning one book for any likely ancestors I noted down that on 13 April 1817 a John Thorn married an Elizabeth Sissell. With this tentative lead, I hit the Internet. I was looking for any evidence that this was the marriage of my ancestors. I opened the Dartmouth-history.org.uk website of The Dartmouth Archives and found that this voluntary organisation had a very comprehensive family history section with transcribed baptisms, burials, marriages and census records. I could read the very same details, as I had seen in London, on this niche site. The information began in 1586 and ran to 1850! There was the marriage of John to Elizabeth and this time I noticed that the witness were given as John Adams and Sunass (sic) Sissell. I assumed that this last person was a member of the bride’s family and perhaps was her father, but the name Sunass caused me concern as it didn’t seem very likely and I guessed it couldn’t be read properly by the transcriber.

After doing family history for a few years now, I’m aware that names can be transcribed incorrectly. Perhaps written down as the transcriber had seen them (as best practice dictates) and not changed to conveniently fit in with what is consider to be correct. I wondered if both the first name and the second had not been written down by the person in question, as they may well have been illiterate. When you come to do your own research you should bear in mind this point. The minister may have interpreted the name as he had heard it spoken to him and so in this case “Sissell” could possibly been “Cecil” or something entirely different. As for Sunass – at this point I hadn’t got a clue what that could have been!

There were no early enough christening records for John and Elizabeth on the Dartmouth Archives website, but I opened another browser and navigated to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website or FamilySearch.org and here I did a search for Elizabeth’s christening and was lead to a baptism in one of the other churches in Dartmouth, St Petrox, on the 16 September 1878. The daughter of James and Sarah Sissill was one Elizabeth Gardener Sissill – and here I noted that the spelling had changed to Sissill with an “i” and not an “e”. This record made me wonder if the witness to Elizabeth’s marriage could have been her father “James” and this has been interpreted as “Sunnas” because a flowing “J” for James had looked like an “S” and the other letters had been misread as a “u” for an “a” and the double “n” as an “m”.

So what I am emphasising here is to be wary of names and the way they were spelt. Before more general levels of literacy among the public became the norm, our ancestors relied heavily on a clergyman writing down their names as they sounded.

This breakthrough is down to finding that Dartmouth has an active family history website and then using their indexes in conjunction with other Internet resources, such as the LDS site. I could then take the names and details further by looking for death certificates for John Branton Thorn and his wife Elizabeth Gardener Thorn, as they had died after civil registration of deaths took place in 1837. From here a physical visit to the Devon Record Office to see the parish records may be the next step.

The first lesson is that you should always look to see what other research may have been done, for the area your ancestors came from, and that is published on the Internet. If you find a family history society, or local interest group with a website, can any of their publications or website pages help you with your quest? Secondly, be aware of the misspelling of names and keep your mind open to possibilities. In my case I need to think of other spellings for the Sissells or names that may have sounded like Sissell in order that I may trace this line back further and break down the brick wall.

Send to Kindle

Family Tree Research Begins With Listening!

A Grand Day Out for Family History on the Great Central RailwaySome advice that I have found useful, over the years, is to listen to the more senior members of your family if you want to get leads for your family history research. The stories that they have to tell can sometimes be coloured by the passing of time and not be a hundred percent accurate. They can sometimes reflect the “received wisdom” that has been passed down in the family to them, that is stories that have been adjusted to blur over anything that was thought embarrassing to previous generations. Nonetheless listening to our elders is an important place to start and on occasions go back to as a source.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn a bit more from my father about his youth, his parents and trips he made on business. The catalyst was a day out with him on the Great Central Railway. Now getting our parents to sit down and talk about the old days can sometimes be difficult and so the opportunity that a birthday treat of Sunday Lunch in a First Class dinner carriage on a steam train on the Great Central Railway, provided a useful way of learning some new stories from the past.

Family history over lunch on the Great Central Railway

My advice is to record what is said, using a Dictaphone if you have one, or by writing up your notes before you yourself forget them and store them away. The stories can then be used as leads to follow up in your family history research. Remember, however, to check any facts such as vital records details given with primary sources such as birth marriages and death records if you are going to enter them into your family tree! Mistakes are made, maybe not intentionally, but they do happen.

Send to Kindle

Family Tree Research Before 1837 in England & Wales

St Nicholas', Gloucester Parish Records are at County Record OfficeIn 1837 the General Register Office (GRO) was founded in England and Wales and civil registration took over from the church in this part of the UK. Two acts of Parliament were brought into law by the Whig Government of the time as they wanted to centralise data on the population…

1. The Marriage Act – which amended existing legislation for marriage procedures and brought in the addition of the registry office marriage that now allowed non conformist to marry in a civil ceremony instead of in the Church of England as previously required of all but Quakers and Jews. It is for this reason that sometimes you will see it referred to as the “Dissenters Marriage Bill”

2. An Act for Registering Births Marriages & Deaths in England – which repealed previous legislation that regulated parish and other registers.

The new laws brought with them a change whereby 619 registration districts came into force across the land. Based on old poor law unions that existed they divided up England & Wales into these various districts. A superintendent registrar was appointed for each district, with sub-districts created within the larger unit. And so from the 1 July 1837 all births, civil marriages and deaths had to be reported to local registrars, who in turn then sent the details on to their superintendent. Every three months the superintendent-registrars then sent their returns to the Registrar General at the General Register Office.

In a similar manner for church marriages, the minister was charged with sending his own lists to the GRO where the index of vital events were complied. This system means that many of us are able to simply find our ancestors in indexes and order copies of certificates back as far as the third quarter of 1837.

But if you want to get back before 1837 without the benefits of the centralised government records, then here are some pointers for you.

From the 16th century up until 1837 the parish church carried the responsibility of collecting records of its parishioners. While baptism was more important to the church than actual birth dates and burials were noted as opposed to deaths, the church was essentially an arm of local government collecting information.

Baptismal registers will normally give you the name of the child and that of its father, plus the date of the christening. Occasionally you may also see the mother’s name, most particularly if the child was illegitimate. In this case you could see the terms “base born” “bastard” or “natural born” on the record. Sometimes the godparents or witnesses also appear. This all goes to show how there was no standard format to baptismal registers until in 1812 Rose’s Act became law in England and Wales and standardised the information to be recorded on specially printed registers.

It should be noted, however, that Rose’s Act did not apply to Scotland or Ireland. These new standardised registers asked for more details than before and so now the clergy had to obtain the mother’s Christian name, the father’s occupation and his abode.

Churches kept parish registers locally. They were not collated or sent to any central depository but were retained by the churches themselves. In some cases, now, the registers have now been left to the county record offices and so you would be well advised to take a visit to the relevant record office to further your research and see the records most probably on microfilm or fiche.

The churches had a strong lockable box, known as the parish chest and into which it deposited its records. It was not just the registers that were kept in the parish chests, however, as the church was responsible for other types local government  and so various other interesting documents that may contain your ancestors’ names could have been locked away in these chests.

If you a beginning to trace your family tree before this then prepare your self for some brick walls. I found it frustrating that the Parish Records listed one of my ancestors marrying in Plymouth as a Mariner and gave no Parish from where he came. Presumably he sailed into Plymouth and married the girl, but where did he come form?

Send to Kindle

Secrets to Avoid Barking Up the Wrong Family Tree

Anyone who does research will testify to how frustrating it is to follow leads up blind alleys. In terms of genealogy, this could mean following wrong family lines. Anyone who has had a go at genealogy will undoubtedly be familiar with this scenario. It could be that you have been given a bad lead or perhaps misread some information that you have found. Either way, it mounts up to a lot of wasted time.

So how can this pitfall be avoided? Far from giving you a clever answer, I don’t believe that there are any, there are some general tips that I can give that might help you with your genealogy research. In fact the general principles could be applied to any type of research.

The first thing you should always do is keep a track of all of your resources, every book, every article and every web site. And get detailed information too. If your source was a book for example, get all the detail down to the ISBN number. If your research is by word of mouth, write down names, times and dates. Genealogy is all about information, so backing up your facts is critical.

Following a similar theme, you need to organise yourself and your research. File everything and file things where you know how to locate them. You will find yourself back tracking continuously, so make that side of genealogy as painless as possible.

Check your facts. Not just the literal snippets of information that you pick up, but also the logical order of things. Do the facts that you have collected make sense? Apply common sense to all of your findings and question them.

Do not accept carte blanche research from sources you don’t know. What I mean by this is really the types of research that one often sees advertised, offering to write up your family tree for a fee. Beware of these types of offers. The type of research upon which these tress are founded are often questionable. Save your money and do the research yourself. That is after all, part of the fun of genealogy!

If your family has spread it’s wings across borders, be very careful when collecting facts. As one example, dates can be written differently depending on where in the world you are at the time. Easy mistakes can be made under these circumstances. The date 05/04/75 means something different to people in the USA than it does to people in the UK.

Do not make assumptions about any piece of information that you might come across. Stick with the facts that you yourself have collected. One small assumption can lead you in all sorts of directions that you didn’t really want to go down. Remember that we refer to things differently now than we did in years gone by, so when something is taken from letters 100 years ago, it might not mean the same thing to you as it did to your forefathers.

Join up with web sites that have expertise in genealogy. Talk with like minded people and get the benefit of their experience. Not only will they have tips of their own to share to help you, they will have access to sources you might never have thought of. It is well worth your time talking to other genealogists.


Get an extensive look at one of the most remarkable Genealogy Reference Books there is available on the market today. Discover what going on in genealogy today!

Source: http://www.submityourarticle.com

Permalink: http://www.submityourarticle.com/a.php?a=31537

Send to Kindle