Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Engage Brain when researching please

I’ve recently begun to teach family history beginner courses and it is flattering if disconcerting to have my students hanging on my every word.  I do a homily on “Trust Nothing Check Everything” and one on “Corpse Brides and Bridegrooms” but am about to add another one called “Engage Brain” as it is all too easy when researching on the Internet to coast along with your brain in neutral and to accept facts without questioning them.
Bigamy was not that common

What is worse is when writers in family history magazines seem to do this too.  I’ll not embarrass them by naming the magazine but there it was in a text box recently:

“If an ancestor appears on the census in two houses, it might indicate bigamy”

Well it might but if I was a bookie I’d be happy to give you very good odds if you’d care to bet on it.

There is a much simpler more obvious explanation – they are two different people. 
Okay if it is a very uncommon name the odds are rather greater on the bigamy side than for a common name but consider this.  Did your family come from the area in which they are shown on the census?  Did they all work in one industry?  Is it likely that the Christian names are carried through from generation to generation?

My grandfather was called William and so was one of his sons and three of his grandchildren.  (His great grandchildren being born in an age which called itself modern mostly have less traditional names.)  An uncle and a cousin have William as their middle name.

My Fretwells were miners in Eastwood and I had real problems in the beginning because there are two William Fretwells born in the same year there who (probably) both married an Elizabeth.  (I didn’t send for both certificates as I was pointed in the right direction by a more experienced researcher at the time.)   Two John Thomas Fretwells, also born a few months apart in the same place, caused a headache for both of us until we sorted out that they were cousins not the same person in a bigamous relationship or double counting in the census.  Not that we ever entertained the thought of bigamy at the time.

 Cattle rustling is not the same as poaching the odd rabbit 

Something else which caught my eye in the same issue was an article on crime in the countryside which blithely stated that

  “In 1802 Edward Painter was hanged at Reading for the theft of two heifers from a local fair, presumably in order to feed his family of 10 children”

Now I don’t think the two stolen cows ended up in the family stewpot as the writer seems to imply. Cows are big animals and my Great Grandad who was a butcher in the mid to late 19th century  was reckoned to be out of the ordinary in being able to kill and butcher a cow by himself.   

Those cows would have been stolen to sell on to an unscrupulous butcher and would probably have been upwards of 196kg deadweight.  That  translates to 432 pounds at 10d a pound  (which is the 1801 beef price given in the online version of  “A history of Epidemics in Britain” by Charles Creighton (1891) on ) so that each cow could have been worth about £18 and he stole two of them.  Not exactly petty theft as is being implied is it?
Make yourself a better researcher 

Engage brain, use your common sense and life experience and think about what you are reading. 

Ask yourself -

Does it make sense?  

Is it likely?  Human nature hasn’t changed much.  

Put it in context - what was the culture of the time?  It is useless to apply today’s sensibilities to a different probably much more brutal era.

Put yourself in the situation and think about the mechanics of the thing – how would it have happened?  What would YOU have done?  Think about how you would go about stealing a cow from a market for instance.  Would you have needed an accomplice to handle two cows?  Would it have been an opportunity grabbed or a theft to order?

Being a better researcher is just a matter of thinking.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Dade registers – a genealogical goldmine

However convenient indexes and transcripts of parish registers are (online or otherwise) you should always consult the original entry in case it gives more information.  Dade registers are the most striking example of this.  The idea of the Reverend William Dade, a Yorkshire clergyman, they exist only from the late 1770s until the standardisation of the parish registers in 1812.  They were mainly adopted in Yorkshire although a simpler version exists in Durham and Northumberland known as Barrington registers.

Recording much more information about the antecedents of the person being baptised or buried, one entry can take your research back another two generations.  For example this entry from the Selby (Yorkshire)  Baptisms Register of 1786:

Mary Appleyard 3rd daughter of William Appleyard of Selby Labourer Son of John Appleyard of Seacroft Labourer by Sarah his Wife daughter of Richard Wilson of Berwick at Elmet Labourer
(Her Mother) – Elizabeth daughter of John Emmerson of Selby Labourer by Ann his Wife daughter of William Labourel in the parish of Stillingfleet Labourer
Born February 14th Baptized February 15th (1786)

means that you now not only know Mary’s parents but also her grandparents  -  John Appleyard of Seacroft and Sarah Wilson of Berwick at Elmet and on her mother’s side John Emmerson of Selby and Ann Labourel of Stillingfleet.  You also know her two great grandfathers, Richard Wilson of Berwick at Elmet and William Labourel of Stillingfleet, that Mary was the third daughter to be born to William and Elizabeth Appleyard and that she was baptized the day after she was born. 

Frustratingly sometimes an entry does not contain much information at all  - for example from the same register for 1793:

William Appleyard 2nd son of George Appleyard of Selby Labourer Born September 18th Baptized September 23rd (1793)

Then you wonder just why there is so little information given compared to the other entries.  Was the child illegitimate?  Did the mother die in childbirth?  Did the vicar not ask?  We’ll never know I suppose.

Another frustrating entry can be when the child’s and a parent’s names are given and then “vid ped book 2 page …..” which raises all kinds of questions as to what it means when you are new to these registers.  It is simple once you know – the Pedigree book it refers to is the actual parish register volume so Pedigree Book 2 is the 2nd register book and then you need to look for the relevant page to get the right pedigree (not always easy on microfilm but possible).

I can see that writing down the full pedigree each time would have been quite tedious and I thought at first that cross-referencing each one would have been quite as time-consuming until the penny dropped and I realised that of course the vicar would have been copying from that previous reference in the register anyway.

The entries themselves, because of the extra information they contain, span two pages of the register which means you must take care to match up the two pages properly when viewing on microfilm – the father’s pedigree is given on one page and the mother’s on the other.  The registers were sometimes pre-printed but sometimes the vicar ruled his own columns over two pages and sometimes turned the book sideways so as to use the long side of the pages and ruled his columns that way. 

In 1812 Rose’s Act was passed to standardise the keeping of the parish registers and every register was pre-printed and the same for each parish.  In many parishes the detail recorded was a big improvement on what went before but sadly this meant the demise of the Dade register.   However for that one short period they are a genealogist’s dream so thank your lucky stars when you find one!