Family history research - top tips 2
More thoughts based on my experience (of making lots of mistakes) in family history research:
- Hang loose on spelling! I've found many a time that its no use expecting to find anyone's name spelled the same way every time. Researching Offley Shore for 'The Nightingale Shore Murder', I nearly missed the earliest reference to him, in the 1861 Census, because his first name was written 'Offay'! His sister Urith became Edith. Avoid ticking the 'exact' box in the search, and be prepared to look at records that don't seem relevant, just in case.
- Never assume: always be prepared to say 'it looks as if', or 'he doesn't appear to have married', because, in my experience, the minute you say 'he didn't', someone will find a new source that shows he did! I find Census data particularly seductive to assumptions: I'll think someone only had three children because three appear on the Censuses, only to realise later that there was an older child who had left home, so appeared somewhere else.
- Ask people: there is such a wealth of information online and in archives, it is tempting to construct your whole story from this. But real people - whether locals with long memories, archive staff or other people on genealogy sites - can bring a whole new perspective, and often a dose of reality, to the narrative. Local history groups are great for informal archives. And I am lucky to have some wonderful volunteer genealogists based at our local cemetery who have not only a great database of graves, but also spades to uncover lost memorials for me.
- List sources as you go: so many individuals, websites, books, groups, organisations and directories have helped me with my research, I would never remember to list them and thank them when I give a talk, if I didn't note down every source as a used it. It's also useful when you want to double-check a finding: I have frustrated myself many times by not recalling where I learned that someone got a medal, or had a baby, or was up in court ...
I hope these few thoughts are helpful. They may seem obvious, but I need reminding every day of my research ...