I started my family history research in 1987 following my father’s death. I looked at the people who attended his funeral and wondered not only where all the people I remembered from my childhood had gone, but also who they really were – we often called people aunt and uncle as a courtesy not because they were related. As I had by then migrated to Australia, doing research in England was a slow process and involved many hours of searching microfilmed records and waiting for replies to letters sent by airmail to England. I was recently reflecting on the changes that have occurred in family history/genealogy research over recent years. The ease of selecting records found on subscription sites can often make us forget that there are many things to be grateful for. I was going to list ten things, but then realised that many of these were based on technology, so my list is now shorter but perhaps more encompassing. These are in no particular order. You can probably think of many more.
The number one thing to be grateful for is technology. Technological developments have given us the internet, which has revolutionised how we do things, and also spawned email and social media. Both of these have enhanced communication across the world at the click of a few keys on a computer or tablet. Technological developments have also allowed digitisation of millions of records worldwide, which can be accessed online from the comfort of our own home. Digitisation not only makes records available to researchers, but helps to preserve often very fragile original documents from overuse and possibly mishandling. There is still a thrill, however, in being able to look at old documents using white gloves to protect them.
In a similar vein, the development of websites by governments, organisations and societies, including subscription sites and portal sites, have facilitated research worldwide. Records such as civil registration, parish records, immigration, criminal and court records, often provide a framework for our ancestors’ lives. The challenge is to subject the search results to rigorous analysis to ensure that research can be validated. Indexing of individual records can save hours of browsing through record sets. I emphasise the word ‘can’ because we’ve all experienced problems with poor handwriting, mis-transcriptions, mis-indexing, mis-everything. Having said that, though, where would we be without the multitude of mostly volunteers worldwide who give up their time and energy to create these indexes which are fundamental search tools in our quest to find our ancestors. I am grateful to them, and maybe we can all play our part in correcting errors when we find them.
Although it has been around for many years, the use of DNA testing is a relative newcomer to the broader world of genealogy research. DNA testing offers the possibility of finding relatives through either the paternal or maternal lines, or through both sides using autosomal testing. Using DNA to confirm relationships of known relatives appears relatively straight-forward, the potential for confirming ‘unknown’ relatives is still dependent upon good quality research and increase in results in databases. Although I now have the results of my DNA tests, I still have to work out what they all mean. I plan to attend Helen Smith’s DNA interest group at GSQ to find out more.
There are two record sources that have been essential to my research. UK census records provide the ability to track family members back through the decennial censuses from 1911 to 1841 and, combined with civil registration records, has enabled me to track family groupings, occupations, movement around the country, etc. These results have been supplemented with wider reading to set my ancestors’ lives in context. The release of the 1939 Register has provided a much more recent record of family members and has helped to answer the question in the first paragraph – who were all these people I remembered?
|1911 census. Joseph & Mary Ann Kinston, Newhall, Derbyshire|
Derby Daily Telegraph 01 February 1950
The second record source, and final thing on my list, is the digitisation of national and local newspapers and their availability online. Although this could have been included under technology, I thought I’d mention it separately. Newspapers provide details of the day to day minutiae of life; announcements; advertisements; reports of trials, inquests, accidents, etc; sporting results; local, national and global news. A wonderful cornucopia of information about life in a particular place at a specific time. They allow us to speculate on how our ancestors’ lives intersected with the items reported in the newspapers.
So, my list of things I’m grateful for covers some very broad categories. Is there anything you’d like to add to the list?