Sunday, 28 December 2014

My Golden Rules for Genealogy

In response to Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over: Golden Rules of Genealogy I present my take on the Golden Rules of Genealogy:

I don't have a lot of Golden Rules, because I believe the golden rule of golden rules is less is more. Keep the list of golden rules small and they become easier to understand and follow - too many rules just makes my eyes glaze over.

  1. Do not trust any one single source. Always try to find an alternate source for every piece of information. Also, be wary of falling into the trap of thinking two sources are distinct sources when they are in fact copies or deviates of one another. Case in point: Bishop's Transcripts are simply copies of the original parish registers. If you have a copy of the parish register, then the Bishop's Transcript is not a different source. Bishop's transcripts can be useful if the original parish registers cannot be found however.
  2. Listen to family stories, but do not believe them. Family stories can be a valuable tool in tracking down your ancestors' stories, but do not put 100% faith in the remembrances of your relatives. Use the stories to guide your research, but do not be deterred if your research turns up something different. A number of our family tales have been disproven by diligent research, but in most cases there was a grain of truth hidden amongst the stories. Sometimes the truth was much more interesting than the stories!
  3. Document your sources and where possible get copies of all relevant documents. Oh how I wish I had done this when I was starting out. I have a whole heap of documents that I simply have no clue where they came from. Parish registers, census sheets, birth, death and marriage certificates - some great information here, but I do not know where they came from. In some cases I have added events to my ancestors' entries in my tree but I cannot verify the data because I do not know what the source of that information was.
  4. Look beyond the individual you are currently searching for. If you find an entry in a parish register, scan a few pages either side of the one your ancestor appears on to see if there are any siblings or other relatives listed there too. When looking at census records, scan for other houses on the same street - you may just find other relatives living close by. This can be a useful technique to help break through brick walls.
  5. When you keep running into a brick wall, walk away. Not forever, just a brief break. Move on to another relative and come back to the brick wall at a later stage. Sometimes you get yourself into a bit of a rut and will keep running the same searches over and over again. Give it a bit of time and try to approach the search with a fresh mind. Also, keep coming back to your brick walls at a regular intervals - maybe more record sets have been transcribed/indexed which will reveal your ancestor, or maybe you will come up with a novel way of searching for them. Try searching for known relatives of theirs and scan the record sets in the general vicinity for a glimpse of your ancestor. Look for birth/baptism records of a sibling or cousin and then search the register pages near that person. Try looking at nearby parishes, even if you know the town your ancestor was born in - in one case with my family, the family church was being rebuilt so baptisms and funerals took place in a neighbouring parish. Come at your brick walls from a different angle with a fresh mind and you might just have some luck.

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