FAMILY HISTORY FOR BEGINNERS
is a considerable variety of material that might be considered within
this heading. Family documents can either provide the framework for a
pedigree, provide personal information to expand the family story or
possibly contribute to both. The value of family documents is not always
immediately apparent. These notes provide some indication of the
possibilities and problems that they present.
the greatest treasure in any family is the family bible. This may date
from the early 19th century or even earlier and will usually contain
"genealogical" pages for the family to record births,
marriages and deaths. Caution is, however, needed and the following
points must be watched. Firstly, it was common to enter earlier family
details immediately the bible had been purchased. These might be copied
from another earlier bible or from memory. There is possibility of error
in either case. Note the publication date of the bible and the dates of
the entries. If the entries pre-date the publication date by a lengthy
period, treat them with particular caution. Also, watch out for a
"run" of entries in the same ink, pen and handwriting. This
may be a sign of entries transcribed from elsewhere at a single sitting.
Be aware also that the birth dates of illegitimate children or children
born within the first few months of a marriage may have been adjusted to
"legitimise" them. Obtain certificates to confirm details in
Marriage & Death Certificates
may be fortunate to find original certificates or later copies. This
will save the need to purchase copy certificates and will speed up your
early research. Original certificates are particularly valuable since it
is not unknown for certificates to be lost or mis-indexed within the
registration system. It is also possible on a modern copy, if it has to
be transcribed from a poor quality microfilm that an error may be made.
For example a birth certificate, which names the mother as Mary Ann
HARMROYD, was transcribed as Mary Ann ARINROYD.
Birthday, Address and Autograph Books
will frequently contain names and various details of friends and family
members. It may be difficult to work out which is which. Birth dates
will often be noted but frequently the year will not be recorded. This
can still be useful when faced with two possible birth index entries.
Marriage and death dates may also be found in such books. Ages at death
may also be noted. Addresses may be particularly useful when searching
census records or electoral registers for the family.
of Military Service
might include discharge papers, pay books, medals, citations, items of
uniform (badges etc.) or other items. They will each provide some useful
data but the key piece of information you will be looking for is the
name of the regiment or vessel in which the ancestor served and possibly
their service number. These are essential details to access the wealth
of material, which can be found in military archives. Medals can usually
be identified by reference to specialist textbooks and their identity
may suggest further lines of investigation.
and Undertakers' Receipts
it can sometimes be moderately difficult to find a death certificate, it
is often a much greater problem to locate a burial. Cemeteries usually
issue receipts for payments for burials and these frequently note the
grave number. Even if an undertaker's receipt does not name the
cemetery, it will probably give the date of burial or will have been
produced shortly after the burial, which makes it much easier if one has
to ask the cemetery staff to search their registers, which are
frequently not indexed. A receipt for a headstone may also help but note
that this may frequently be erected months or even years after the
of registration were imposed during both world wars. The cards do not
contain much information but can still be of help. Firstly, they
required the new address to be entered on the card when the person moved
so providing a record of movement throughout the war years and some
years after. Secondly during WW2, cards for children aged 16 or less
noted the fact and named the parent. Date of birth is not recorded.
they will not often provide much help with relationships, family
photographs add a considerable amount to our understanding of the
family. They can show the clothes our ancestors wore, their hairstyles,
where they lived, worked and holidayed and many other aspects of their
lives. The principal problem is that seldom are the subjects clearly
identified, if they are identified at all. It is therefore important to
use the knowledge of other family members to the full. Even if names are
not provided, it may be possible to identify individuals with some
certainty from their presence in group photographs (particularly
weddings) or their association with a known house or business premises.
Some clues may be obtained if the photo can be dated and there are
several books that assist with this using clothing, hairstyles, poses
and photographic processes as clues.
and Work Records
records may include such items as school reports, university
publications and documents relating to employment. In addition to such
information as is contained in the documents themselves, they may point
you to other sources, school records in local record offices, university
alumni books or business records deposited at record offices or still
held by the businesses concerned. For professions such as medicine and
the law, there are professional registers and other sources available.
Societies and Other Organisations - Membership Cards & Publications
will at the very least provide some indication of the person's interests
and pastimes. If the organisations are still in existence, they may
still hold records, if defunct, records may have been deposited at local
record offices (for example friendly societies, trades unions,
charitable organisations etc.). Newsletters and other publications by
the organisation may also contain information if the person was an
active member. They may even contain an obituary of your ancestor. An
indication that the person was a member of an organisation may be found
in non-documentary form such as a badge or official regalia.
may contain valuable personal information that might not be found
elsewhere but even the most trivial holiday postcard will link a name
and address at a particular date (postmark if legible). With postcards,
it is often difficult to identify the sender since they are usually
signed with forename only and rarely carry the sender's home address.
Preservation of Family Sources
the history of your family is important to you, so must be the
preservation of family documents and artifacts. Take copies whenever
possible in case they are lost at a later date. Make sure the possessor
is aware of your interest. They may hand them over into your care or
make others aware of their value to you. If possible, encourage them to
specify arrangements for their care within their will or by enclosing a
note with the items with instructions concerning their disposal.