STARTING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY

Be warned! Family history can be addictive. Also, like any good researcher you should be prepared to accept, with equanimity and a degree of detachment, anything discovered. Several books for the beginner are available.

The first phase, before going out on the trail, is to put down tidily on paper what you already know. Secondly, talk to all your relations and anyone else who might be able to give stories, facts and clues. Do not reject anything you are told, though treat all indications with caution until they can be substantiated.

A golden rule is always to proceed from what you know towards what you want to find out. This means that most research is backwards in time; it is in fact difficult to work forwards. (Prospects of success can vary with surname frequency, religious denomination, personal status etc.) The easiest research period is from 1891 back to 1837. Later than 1891, researchers are heavily dependent on existing family knowledge and great effort should be made to ensure that all such family information has been retrieved. Before 1837, the luck element increases greatly.

In recording information, always annex the identity and edition of the source, the date of research, the extent and objective of the scan and the extraction criteria. You will then have a record both of what has been studied and, almost as important, what has not been considered.

The budding researcher should always remember that someone else may already have done research in or near the field of interest. There are directories of such interests and these should be consulted.

Often, the best place to start searching is in the appropriate reference libraries, in order to obtain outline place and date information for the people involved. The reference library will probably have local history books, commercial street directories, registers of electors, census returns (from 18;1R and the International Genealogical Index; the last (also known as the Mormon Index) is an index (by name within county) to many of the baptisms and marriages in the British Isles to about 1875. Then, the resources of the appropriate Record Offices can be used; Record Offices holds parish registers (of baptisms, marriages and burials in date sequence) and a wide variety of other original documents from the locality. In all source locations, make use of whatever indexes exist. However, remember that they are only indexes and often contain errors; don’t make statements from indexes but study the records to which they refer. (Remember that the IGI is only an index.) If the location of a birth, marriage or death is not known, the national Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths should be used. Then, an approach can be made to the Superintendent Registrar of the District indicated. Birth, marriage and death certificates can be obtained (for a fee) from the local Superintendent Registrar. When the date of an event is known, the local newspapers (held in the local Reference Library and/or the local newspaper office) can provide valuable information. The other principal local source places are the cemetery office and the relevant church yards. Although they may be transcribed for various purposes, original notes and transcriptions should be retained; it is advisable periodically to check these original transcriptions for re-interpretation in the light of developing knowledge. Remember that family history has the nature of a chain, one faulty link can wreck a large extent of a presentation. Family trees can be drawn, but these should be regarded as only summaries of and keys to the stock of information. Computers can be used in several ways for simple text, for lists, for translating data from other sources and for comprehensive handling of family history information.

 

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Furness Family History Society. Established 1993. Affiliated to the FEDERATION OF FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETIES.