Top tips for family history research ... 1
Here are some of the key things I've learned through doing the family history research for my books:
- It pays to learn how to use sites like Ancestry and Find My Past: use one of their online tutorials or the Help pages, or see if your local library runs a familiarisation session, as mine does (I am a Family History Buddy there). I nearly missed some excellent leads by not knowing how to construct a search, or include the right geographical area, because I just launched in randomly!
- Don't forget real world sources: some of my most useful finds came from physical archives rather than online sources. I thought no newspaper had covered Dr Gramshaw's funeral until I went to the British Library at Boston Spa and looked at the original newspaper for that week - it was full of brilliant detail that changed my perspective on the story. Even if you can't get to a source, they often have online indexes so you can see what they have, and very helpful staff who will do the research for you, for a fee.
- Don't believe everything you read: or, as I have been known to shout at my computer, "Why does EVERYBODY lie?" For all sorts of reasons, some understandable and some frankly criminal, people do not always tell the truth. Even information from formal sources, such as marriage certificates and Censuses, can be wrong. People fib about their age, their relationships, their occupations, their qualifications and their marital status. It's best to test all information by comparing it to other evidence or sources, and don't begin to believe anything until you have at least one, and preferably two, bits of corroboration.
- Reporters are not infallible: the online British Newspaper Archive is a fantastic resource and can throw up incredible detail about individuals - or buildings or institutions. Not only articles, but family notices, letters and personal ads can surprise you with gems of information. But bear in mind that reporters can make mistakes. Names, places and even verbatim reporting of court proceedings can all be mangled or misrepresented in an article. So it's always worth comparing several different papers' reporting of the same incident to try to arrive at a consensus view of what happened or what was said. For example, a Coroner was reported to have said that a woman's fall was the 'possible' cause of a miscarriage; but another paper reported that he said it was the 'probable' cause. Clearly different emphasis that could have influenced the jury in reaching their decision. Comparing a lot of different accounts, I found that 'possible' seemed to be the actual word used.
More tips another time ... and do let me know if you have any tips to share ...