Parish records

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - MASTERCLASS -

With­out an ex­act parish to start look­ing in, the search can seem hope­less. In such a case, the only thing to do is to build up knowl­edge of the whole fam­ily, per­haps a sib­ling has a more un­usual name, or an oc­cu­pa­tion for which place of birth would have been recorded. If so, fo­cus your re­search on that sib­ling.

When you do have a parish, or a set of pos­si­ble parishes, make full ex­tracts of all peo­ple with the sur­name in the parish, col­lect­ing bap­tisms, mar­riages and buri­als in or­der to put them into trees. In par­tic­u­lar, child buri­als will elim­i­nate can­di­dates. I re­con­structed one fam­ily in Wales with the sur­name Evans who, just to make things fun, had a branch known by the sur­name Thomas. I did this by fo­cus­ing very closely on one parish and a cou­ple of farms in that parish, us­ing those peo­ple with the more un­usual first names to lo­cate other likely ar­eas to search, while at the same time also work­ing up bi­ogra­phies of those fam­ily mem­bers who had the more un­usual oc­cu­pa­tions. By fo­cus­ing on peo­ple who stood out, with pre­cise lo­ca­tions, the pieces of the puz­zle were all cor­rectly fit­ted into place, both be­fore and af­ter civil reg­is­tra­tion.

As you search, work out the widest pos­si­ble scope of the re­search and don’t give up be­fore you start be­cause there is a very long list of pos­si­ble names. How many can­di­dates do you ac­tu­ally have, where were they born and when? Get or­gan­ised and make lists of them. A spread­sheet will help you do this. Me­thod­i­cally elim­i­nate those who can­not pos­si­bly fit be­cause they don’t match with what you know for sure about your John Smith.

Be pre­pared to re­search peo­ple who will not be re­lated to you and will be elim­i­nated. Make up de­tailed notes on the fi­nal can­di­dates into a pro­file sheet for each of them, along with in­for­ma­tion about close fam­ily mem­bers, and as you re­search, fit the facts into what you al­ready know about them. Note down ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing from each source you find, not just birth, mar­riage and death in­for­ma­tion. You must be as ex­act as pos­si­ble and keep notes of lo­ca­tions, ad­dresses, wit­nesses to events, oc­cu­pa­tions – any­thing that can help you dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the can­di­dates. Use time­lines and chronol­ogy in the can­di­date pro­files to help you visualise what was hap­pen­ing in the lives of each per­son and when. Draw up trees and drop-line pedi­grees to visu­ally show how peo­ple are con­nected to each other. Us­ing all of th­ese tech­niques, you should find that all but the most im­pen­e­tra­ble ‘Which one is mine?’ ques­tions can be solved.

Use time­lines and chronol­ogy in the can­di­date pro­files to help you

Mul­ti­ple can­di­dates with the same name in the Gen­eral Reg­is­ter Of­fice birth in­dexes can prove daunting un­less you know where they were born

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