Rate Books for Family History Research

Ancestors in Thorne Family treeFollowing on from the last article here I got a comment posted by James McLaren of the Channel Island Family History Society regarding using Rate books both in his specialist area of Jersey family history research and also for London by using the Land Tax assessments and the Electoral Registers on Ancestry.co.uk.

As my interest was piqued I have done a bit more research on the subject and share some of my findings here.

A rate book is a document that was used to record the payment of property taxes that was applied to both residential and business properties in the U.K. until its replacement with the council tax during the 1990s.

As a resident of Jersey I am well aware that, in our island, Rates are still levied by our civil Parish administration along with a recent addition of an island wide rate collected at the same time. Some part of that rate pays for the upkeep of roads, lighting, bins emptied while a small part of it is still used to upkeep the ancient Parish Church in each of the twelve parishes of Jersey.

I was, therefore, interested to find that rates in England and Wales were originally a levy for the parish church that, by the time of Henry VIII’s Reformation, were also being used for non ecclesiastical purposes such as repairs to bridges and local goals. Many rates collections were to support the Poor Law to maintain the workhouses and provide money for the elderly or incapacitated parishioners.

The theory of rates was that a property would be assessed at what its annual rental value was and each year I am intrigued to see what my house in St.Helier has been deemed to be worth in rent – if I didn’t need to live in it, that is!

Returning to my look at rates collected in bygone England and Wales, some householders will no doubt have objected to the level of assessment of their property. Appeals were then heard by the Justices of the Peace.

The collection, of these land taxes, would have been the responsibility of the parish constable, until the establishment of professional police forces when a full or part-time rate collector would have done the job. It was up to the constable to record the payments, and any arrears, in rate books which were then perused by the parish officials.

My investigation revealed that the earliest rate books stretch back as far as the 16th century, but you would be very lucky to find one from then. Most seem to begin in 1744, which was the year when ratepayers were given the right in law to inspect the rate records. Needless to say not all will have survived the passing of time and so gaps will occur.

So where does one look for rate books? The answer is in the County or City Record Offices and also at local history studies libraries.

The websites that I use the most at the moment are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To Take your family history further I recommend that you too consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer:

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online



Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk or The Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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NonConformist in my English Family Tree

Like me you may have gone back up the branches of your English Family Tree to find that some of your ancestors became nonconformists, that is they didn’t worship in the Established Church of England or have their children baptised within it and when it came to being buried they chose to have a ceremony conducted in a different Christian tradition.

This week I have been using the resources of TheGenealogist.co.uk’s BMD Registers to look at images taken from RG4 at the National Archives. These are registers (authenticated by the Non-Parochial Registers Commissioners) of births, baptisms, deaths, burials and marriages. They cover the period from 1567 to 1858. To find out more about them have a look on TNA’s website, but suffice to say that I have been able to use them effectively to fill in gaps when my forebears didn’t appear in the C of E parish registers.

One way of being alerted to possible non-conformity in a line is where you can only find your ancestor’s marriage in the Parish church. From 1754, and the introduction of Lord Hadwicke’s Marriage Act, most of the people of England & Wales were required to marry in the Church of England. For this reason you may discover that your ancestor’s wedding is in the parish church’s registers, but theirs and their children’s baptisms and burials are not. If this is the case then you should make a search of the non-conformist’s records for the area.

A difficulty can often arise when the chapel in question did not have its own register. This could occur when the chapel was served by an itinerant minister, responsible for a circuit of chapels in the area. In this case you would need to try and find out the name of the minister and the other chapels in his care.

Most of the surviving Congregationalist registers up to 1837, and some for the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Unitarians were surrendered to the government in 1840 or 1857. These are now held at The National Archives in mircofilm series RG 4, 5, & 8, and it was the first of those that I had been looking at on TheGenealogist.co.uk site.

I have written a short book, How to Search for Your English & Welsh Family History, that is available as a Kindle download from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, in which I delve further into the subject of nonconformist, in chapter 10.

If you don’t have a Kindle then you can get a free application to read it on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Simply click on the order button in the image below to buy yourself a copy now.

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Researching Scottish and Irish Ancestors

 

I’ve notice in my post bag a few of my correspondents asking for help with Scottish and Irish Ancestor research. For some it would seem that all the advice is very English centric and so today I thought I’d write a short piece for those beginning to look in Scotland and Ireland.

Scotland, in comparison to England, can be a simpler place to look for vital records because of the long established Scotlandspeople website that allows us to browse for records for free and then download the image on a pay as you go basis. You can, therefore, get access to not only the Scottish census records, but also Scottish wills, birth certificates and death certificates.

The Statutory Index, on this site, has entries from the indexes to the civil registers of births, deaths and marriages for all of Scotland, as far back as 1855 up until 2009.

The Old Parish Register Index, on the other hand, contains the entries of births & baptisms, banns & marriages and deaths/burials from the church  registers of some 900 parishes of the Church of Scotland from between 1553  and up to 1854.

The Census Indexes are name indexes to the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901and 1911 censuses for all of Scotland. You will be able to find that each index entry will list the surname, forename, sex, age, registration district and county of the people of this part of the U.K. while the 1881 census index entries additionally contain the address.

The wills and testaments index, that can also be accessed here, contain over 611,000 index entries to Scottish wills and testaments dating from 1513 to 1901. Each index entry lists the surname, forename, title, occupation and place of residence (at least where they have been given) of the deceased person, with the additional information of the court in which the testament was recorded, along with the date.

The Coats of Arms Index, is another database on the Scotlandspeople website and this contains entries from the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland from 1672 to 1907. Each index entry lists the full name, date on which the arms were granted, and the volume and page number in the register.

A point to remember, when researching in Scottish old parish records, is that the Established Church north of the border is the Church of Scotland. As a Presbyterian denomination they do not have Bishops and hence, unlike in England, there are no Bishop’s transcripts to act as a back up should you not find the record you are looking for in the parish register.

Kirk Session Records are the equilavent of the Parish Vestry records south of the border and these are all digitised and made available in Scotland at county record offices with the plan to have them online in the future at Scotlandspeople.

Scottish marriages can be of interest to English families whose ancestors ran away to partake in an irregular border marriage when Lord Hardwicks Marriage Act of 1753 compelled English marriages to be in Church of England churches unless it was a Quaker or Jewish marriage. In Scotland a couple could declare themselves to be married and to find a pdf on the extent of irregular marriages and where the current location of the records are, visit www.gro-scotland.gov.uk.

 

For Irish ancestors www.rootsireland.ie is a good place to start your research, while www.irishgenealogy.ie has coverage of other counties.

It is often said that Irish Family Tree research is very difficult and time-consuming and one of the main reasons is that there are a lack of records. One major missing plank is the lack of any complete Census records before 1901.

For this reason any records that have data within them which had been taken from the Irish Census are obviously of vital importance in Irish ancestral research.  One such source of this data is the Old Age Pension Claim Forms held in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (P.R.O.N.I). These give researchers absolutely essential information from the 1841 & 1851 censuses for Northern Ireland & Co. Donegal. Similar records are held by the National Archives in Dublin. These here are referred to as Census Search Forms and they contain the same essential information as the Northern Irish ones but cover the whole of Ireland, including some additional records for Northern Ireland

Researchers from www.ireland-genealogy.com have spent two decades transcribing these hand-written pension claim/census search forms. In some cases they are difficult to read and are in no particular order while the records held by P.R.O.N.I. are not indexed.

Their database allows a researcher online to search these records easily and so will save you both time and money. All you need to do is enter the surname you are researching and from the list provided decide which records you think relate to your family and then just click the order button.

As they point out on their site, these  records were hand written, and so in many cases the handwriting is very difficult to decipher; this coupled with the fact that much if it was written in pencil resulting in some words or letters having faded before the transfer to microfilm, has made the job of transcribing particularly difficult. Ireland-Genealogy.com  have not corrected spelling mistakes nor have their transcribers tried to amend anything that may not make sense. They have simply transcribed all of the information contained on each form. When they were in any doubt about whether or not they were reading a particularly untidy or faded record correctly they have put a question mark. A question mark has also been used when it was impossible to read.

Findmypast.ie

Recently we have had the very welcome addition of Findmypast.ie to the family history fold. This site collects together birth, marriage and death records and so features details of over 400,000 births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials from Ireland covering the whole island of Ireland and include over 150,000 newspaper obituaries and four indexes to wills, dating back as far as the 13th century. Many of these records are particularly interesting as they include more than just names, they also feature addresses and occupations. Vital records often make the best starting point for researching your Irish family history.

At findmypast.ie they have almost 150,000 names in census substitutes to help you fill in those missing gaps from the destruction of the census. You’ll find fragments dating from 1749 to 1901, as well as 19th century electoral registers. Anyone researching their 19th century Dublin ancestors will find a wealth of information in the 1851 Dublin City Census, which includes names and address of approximately 59,000 heads of households. We can also access the 1749 Census of Elphin, which lists all households, names of household heads, their addresses, occupations, numbers of children, adults and servants, by age and religious denomination – a remarkable document for such an early date. The Dublin City Census 1901: Rotunda Ward details 13,556 people residing in 1,334 properties across a 67-street space of the Rotunda Ward area of the city.

There are many other data sets including Land and Estate, Court and Legal, Military and Rebellion, Travel and Migration along with Directories dating back to 1814.

Take a look at this great website now by clicking the image below. (This is a compensated affiliate link.)



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Help Me To Get Back Before 1837 In English & Welsh Genealogy

A great many people who are researching their forebears from the British Isles, discover that there is a massive amount of family history information on the internet for the years going back as far as 1837 in England & Wales. Then, as I pointed out before in a previous article of mine about tracing an English family tree before 1837, it would seem to become more difficult for us researchers. What is the significance or the year 1837? This is the date when civil registration started in England & Wales. The state took over from the established church the registering of all the citizen’s vital records.

You may have been amazed at the ease you had finding later records of your ancestors on the subscription websites like Ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk, but then as you go back before the census records and the government run data for Births, Deaths and Marriages, you will have found that only a small number of all the genealogical records, that there actually are, have made it on to the net.

Parish Records can usually be found in the County Record office, or in a few cases the incumbent minister may still have retained them at the parish church. How do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This is the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the relevant counties that you are researching. These maps will not only show the boundaries of each parish, but also those of the adjacent parishes, which can be extremely useful for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about!

Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in regime, such as the English Civil War. Yet another political reason for missing parish records is the effect a tax can have on them. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day – although paupers were exempt. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so, with the collusion of many church ministers, you will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials. In contrast there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act was repealed in 1794, having been found to be largely unsuccessful.

An Act of Parliament, in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.

Baptismal entries now included the Father’s occupation and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, henceforth, included the parish of origin of both parties, their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also those of two witnesses.

Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of £5 was payable.

Marriages could have been solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for their ancestors, will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of bans was the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived, just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.

These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales.

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Administrations in England & Wales up to 1858

If one of your ancestors, in your family tree, died without making a will, then their next-of-kin could apply
to the church courts for Letters of Administration to be granted to them. What would happen is that they
would then be bound in law by entering into a bond to administer the goods of the deceased. As well as family it is sometimes possible to find that a creditor is granted the letters of administration, but in all cases they are referred to as an Administrator, if they are male, whilst a female is known as an Administratrix.

A will and testament from the 19th century
A Will from the 19th century, online

You may well notice that administrations, or sometimes admons,are generally less informative for the family historian than wills are. That said, however, If you have found that one of your ancestors left no will, but their effects were dealt with by and administration, then at least the document will include: the name of the administrator(s) and bondsman, as well as the the relationship of the administrator(s) to the deceased. This could indeed be valuable to someone tracing their family tree. In addition to which, the administration may often include a date of death and the value of the deceased’s estate, that could help you fill in some gaps.

As in the case of wills, until 1858 it fell to the church courts  to be responsible for granting administrations. So for that reason you will need to use the same system to find administrations as you would do for finding wills of the same period. The main point to remember was that it is the same two provinces – the Prerogative Courts of York and of Canterbury – each controlled by an archbishop, that England was divided into.

A subdivision then occurs into several archdeaconries, and then further divisions again into rural deaneries. What all this means to the researcher is that there are over 250 church courts who were responsible in some way for the granting of letters of administration.

So where do we make a start? One answer is to take a look at the A2A website (Access 2 Archives) on the National Archives website:
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a

It is a fantastic database covering a myriad of records from over 400 record offices across not just England, but the whole of the UK.  Some of their records go back as far as the eighth century, while some come right up to date.

It is possible to search it by name, or a place and also by a topic and while it may not cover every single record office, by the very nature of its substantial coverage it can be used to search for probate material by using the key words ‘wills, administrations or inventories’ plus the region of the country that your ancestor died within.

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Researching family in Jersey, part 9: photos, newspapers and books

To wrap up the series, there’s a miscellany of other potential avenues that are worth exploring.

First of all, there are photographs. If you have family photos you will almost certainly have cursed the elderly relatives who put them in an album and then never got round to labelling who, what and where they were. But… there are some useful tricks to use.

First of all, scan the photograph at the highest resolution you can. If you can be sure the photo was taken and developed in Jersey, you may be able to identify the firm who developed it. A gentleman by the name of Richard Hemery has put years of work into this, and for some of the better known photographers his efforts will allow you to pin the photograph’s date down quite well.

Halkett Place, St Helier, JerseyThis particular photo is a neat example. Richard’s work tells us there were only two firms who put reference numbers on the front of prints, both operating in the 1930s. But there’s more: a high-res scan picks up the name Le Riche over the shop awning behind and left of the lady, and also makes the colonnade on the right clearer. That pins the location down to Halkett Place by the Central Market, and the date has to be after 1932, when Le Riche’s (a long-established island grocer) opened their shop there.

 

“Ah,” you say, “but I don’t have that depth of local knowledge”. But other people do. The Société Jersiaise run an online photographic archive: two of their members are currently going through the massive task of cataloguing every Jersey picture postcard in existence. Talk to them: they could have the information to fill in some gaps. Or use the libraries (see below)

In addition, there’s what the newspapers may have said. The first newspaper on Jersey was published in the late 18th Century, and there have been a number of different publications since, right down to the Jersey Evening Post (usually referred to just as the JEP) of today. The JEP has always been a very parochial paper in the better sense of the word: it reports everything and anything that goes on. If your relative was a prominent member of a local church or a schoolmaster or a farmer, it’s quite possible that they’d get a respectable tribute from the JEP when they passed away.

The central Library in Halkett Place has a very comprehensive collection of microfilmed newspapers – they’re up on the first floor. You need to book a reader – it is worth doing this in advance, particularly if you want the one that will print to paper. E-mail je.library@gov.je and they will sort things out.

While we are talking about libraries, there are collections of reference books at the Coutanche Library (the NoseyGenealogist will be releasing a film guide to what they have shortly) and smaller collections at both the Archive and the Central Library to supplement your knowledge of Jersey’s history and culture.

This is of necessity a scratch at the surface of family history research. I hope you’ve found it helpful. Happy hunting, and – À bétôt!

 

Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society

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Getting Back Before 1837 In An English or Welsh Family Tree

Online-Old-Parish-RecordsThere is a large amount of information for family history researchers, tracing their English or Welsh family tree, for the years as far back as 1837 on the web and then nothing! I know that many people, that are researching their Family tree for ancestors from the British Isles, find that they have this problem. As I wrote about, in a previous article on tracing and English family tree before 1837, it seems to become harder for us. 1837 is when civil registration started in England & Wales and the state took over from the established church the registering the citizen’s vital records.

You possibly have been amazed at the ease you had finding those later records of your forebears by using the usual subscription websites. For example the likes of ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk for these dates. Then, however, when you come to trying to get back well before the census records and the government run Births, Deaths and Marriages data, you’ll no doubt have found that it is only a very small number of the total genealogical records, that there are, will have actually make it on to the internet.

So you need to go looking for the old Parish Records and they are usually to be found securely in the relevant County Record office. In a very few cases, however, the incumbent minister of the parish may still have kept hold of them at the parish church. A problem that you need to address from the outset is how do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This leads me on to the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the counties that your ancestors lived in. The maps will be of use in not only showing the boundaries of each parish, but also in giving you those of the adjacent parishes as well. Think how useful this may be for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about somewhat!

Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in political regime. One such important example is the English Civil War. Think also about how the politics of raising a tax can be a reason for missing parish records. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day on its citizens – although an exemption was if a person was a pauper. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so you won’t be surprised that your ancestors did this as well. What is more they did it with the collusion of many church ministers! You will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials at this time. On the other hand there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act, itself, was repealed in 1794 as it had been found to be largely unsuccessful in its aim.

Another Act of Parliament (Rose’s Act) in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.

Baptismal entries now had to include the occupation of the child’s Father and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, from now on, included the parish of origin of both parties to the wedding, also recorded were their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also the marks or signatures of two witnesses.

Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of £5 was payable.

When looking for marriages you should be aware that they can be solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for ancestors will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of banns is the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties and it is this which is recorded for us to find. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.

These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales. I have released a useful Audio CD on the subject called Getting Back Before 1837 in England & Wales, have a look at the page on my main website http://www.NoseyGenealogist.com

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Tracing An English Family Tree Before 1837

When you are tracing your ancestors in the British Isles there is a rich seam of information on the internet until we get back to 1837. This is the year when civil registration began and the state took over the registration of its citizens vital records.

Online-Old-Parish-Records

Many newcomers to English and Welsh family history are amazed at how easy it is to go to one of several websites, pay a subscription (or buy some credits) and begin finding records of ancestors with relative ease. Lulled into a false sense of security, we begin to think that all the information that we will ever need to find, for our family tree research, is going to be accessible online. But soon you find that quite a small percentage of all the genealogical records, that there are, actually make it on to the net.

So what are the other records that family historian with English or Welsh ancestry need to go hunting for? How about wills; manorial records; the many types of occupational records; various military service records; or, if like me you had a merchant seaman in the family, then the merchant navy’s records? This is just a short list, there are more!

What About Research Before 1837.

Once you have been able to get back as far as you are able to do, using the census entries and Birth Marriages and Death records, you will now need to turn your attention to Parish records – these date back to 1538 and a time when Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minster to Henry VIII, ordered that every wedding, baptism and burial should be recorded. Historically, England and Wales was divided into about 11,000 parishes. Your research will need to be in the Parish Registers relating to the place where your ancestor lived, in order to find out as much information on your forebears line in that parish.

Where should you look for parish registers? The answer is that the original will normally have been microfilmed and stored in the local County Record office. True that there are a few parishes where the registers are still with the incumbent minster; but the majority are now in the safe keeping of the relevant record office. An alternative, to looking at images of the original record is, if you have access to the web to go and look at the websites that offer transcripts of Parish Register for you to search. Remember, however, that a good genealogist will always understand that a transcription is secondary data only. It is an indication of information for you to follow up and so you do need to then go and confirm the details by looking for the original source. The reason is that errors may possibly have been made by the person making the transcription and you don’t want to allow those errors to get into your own family tree, now do you?

While English and Welsh parish records stretch back as far as 1538, not all will have survived the ravages of fire and flood, so don’t expect to be able to sail back as far as this date! The earlier records were recorded on paper, but from 1558 onwards the more durable parchment (made from sheepskin) was used in preference. Even so, very few parish record survive before the 1600s.

From 1598, annual copies were made and sent to the local bishop. Called Bishops’ Transcripts (or Register Bills in East Anglia), these make a good substitute for lost original records, and occasionally contain information omitted from the registers themselves. These Bishop’s Transcripts will often be in a better condition and also more legible than the original parish register and they can be found in the county record offices. While the older records were, in theory, supposed to have had copies made, it is believed that some never managed to be copied and others have been lost over time.

Family tree researchers need to be aware that there can be gaps in Parish Registers between 1553 and 1558 when Henry VII’s daughter Mary Tudor, a Catholic, was on the throne. Also there is the so called “Commonwealth gap” between 1642 and 1660 in the English Civil War and under Oliver Cromwell’s protectorate.

There is so much to learn in this area that I’ll be posting a second article on tracing your English and Welsh family tree before 1837 shortly.

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Family Tree Researchers See More Online Parish Records

I have noticed recently that there seems to be more Parish Records coming online for those of us researching our English Family Tree. Welcome news indeed for family historians that find it difficult to travel to the areas where their ancestors came from.

Websites such as Freereg.org.uk are aiming at putting more than a million transcripts on the web thanks to a programme of digitisation by the Parish Register Transcription Society (PRTSoc). Until recently this society has only ever made its transcripts available on CD, so this is good news.

In partnership with a technology firm called Frontis Archive Publishing, the first batch of transcripts have been uploaded from more than 300 parishes across 17 English counties.

To search the indexes cost you nothing. To view an entry is one credit and 10 credits can be bought for £2 with a sliding scale if you want to purchase more. The proceeds are going towards funding further transcription and should they end up with a surplus, then this will be given to the mental health charity Rethink.

While I am glad to see better access to transcript from the parish records there are some questions in my mind. We all know that transcriptions are no substitute for the original. Good family historians are taught to always go and look at the source material to make sure that no errors have crept into the transcribed record.

Other things to be wary of is who made the transcription that the index is based upon? Is the record a complete one without any significant gaps? Has the information been checked against Bishop’s transcripts and Licence records?

But, in spite of this, the fact that more Parish Records are finding their way online is wonderful news for those of us researching our English Family Tree.

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Am I really sure about that ancestor?

Family Tree on a computer

In my ancestor research I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of narrow thinking sometimes. Have you?

What I’m talking about here is the occasions when I’ve focused too strictly on what I am sure are the correct facts about a forebear.  I may have been sure that I knew that his or her name had been spelt in a particular way, or that they came from a particular place. Now here is the warning I am guilty of ignoring: Am I really so sure I know the facts?

When we, as family historians, ignore this question then we can so easily cause ourselves unnecessary grief and so much wasted time. Perhaps we were searching in the right place, but were we guilty of searching in the wrong way? What we need to do is to open up our minds to researching in a smarter fashion and often we will be rewarded by finding that record that we were looking for.

Just think how your on-line research could possibly improve if you were always to:

  • keep handy a list of the known surname variants for your ancestor’s name. For example in my family I have names that could be spelt as Thorn, Thorne, Stephens, Stevens and all manner of spelling of Sissill.
  • think about what common first-name nicknames may apply and also any regularly used shortened forms of names. For example Thomas may be written as Thos. Elizabeth as Eliz. or Eliza. and I have found a John as Jono.
  • have written down some of the capital letters that can easily be confused like J and I, for example
  • remember that place names can be confused – in my Devon branch there are two Galmptons very near each other and I jumped to the conclusion that my great grandmother came from the one near to where they lived. Wrong!
  • think about the length of normal life-spans and don’t chase someone with a similar name thinking they are one and the same. What about the date ranges for their marriages, deaths and births of their children?
  • keep notes, or research logs for your family searches so that you keep track of what you have already done.
  • remain aware of the gaps that there are in any particular record collections. If you are searching a particular period and can’t find an ancestor and this time frame also matches a known gap in the data, then this will stop you wasting more time than necessary looking.

So just remember these seven ways to avoid family research pitfalls and don’t make the mistakes that I did in the past!

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