Care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion

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

A bet­ter method of fam­ily his­tory re­search is to use both th­ese types of sources to­gether in an an­a­lyt­i­cal way, us­ing knowl­edge of the sources to ex­am­ine and weigh up the ev­i­dence you’re pre­sented with. Start with the facts pre­sented in pri­mary re­sources, but be aware that there can be mis­takes in them, even of­fi­cial sources such as birth cer­tifi­cates, and that con­flict­ing ev­i­dence oc­curs some­times be­cause of sim­ple cler­i­cal er­rors.

Read­ing this mag­a­zine and other ex­pert ad­vice in books, or by tak­ing a course, will give you a great all-round knowl­edge of ge­neal­ogy, and so you’ll know which in­dexes and data­bases are the most re­li­able.

How­ever, any ev­i­dence is only as good as the per­son pro­vid­ing it and the fur­ther away ev­i­dence is from an orig­i­nal doc­u­ment, or the per­son you seek, the less weight in gen­eral you can put on it.

Once you’ve gath­ered up all your in­for­ma­tion, take time to an­a­lyse the de­tail pro­vided by each doc­u­ment and record it in turn. Any trees drawn up by other peo­ple that do not show where the in­for­ma­tion comes from should be put to one side and treated with cau­tion, as well as in­for­ma­tion taken only from an in­dex, such as the parish reg­is­ter in­dexes on fam­i­lysearch.org.

To help you get your thoughts in or­der, write a chronol­ogy of events, and make a note be­side each event to say where the in­for­ma­tion has come from. Re­mem­ber that web­sites by them­selves are not sources, but are pub­lish­ers of in­for­ma­tion, act­ing rather like li­braries, so make sure you in­clude greater de­tail such as type of record, its date, where the orig­i­nal is held, and an ar­chive ref­er­ence code as op­posed to a web ad­dress.

Start with the GRO cer­tifi­cates you have ac­quired and write down the peo­ple, event date and the ex­act ad­dresses. Then comes the census, any pro­bate doc­u­ments, im­ages of orig­i­nal parish reg­is­ter en­tries and other au­then­ti­cated im­ages of orig­i­nal doc­u­ments. Th­ese will form the ba­sis and back­bone of your ‘case’.

Next, add in the in­for­ma­tion from any­thing that re­mains with­out a source, such as the fam­ily tree, any fam­ily sto­ries as well as in­dex in­for­ma­tion that needs to be checked with the orig­i­nal, like parish reg­is­ter in­for­ma­tion, or de­tails from the GRO in­dex to BMDs. Th­ese need to be fol­lowed up but they still count as clues. Add them to the chronol­ogy with a note about need­ing ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

Now you will have both pri­mary and sec­ondary in­for­ma­tion in your chronol­ogy and can be­gin to tease out the pos­si­ble and the prob­a­ble from the im­pos­si­ble and im­prob­a­ble. If there are con­flicts in the ev­i­dence, it is now sim­ple to ex­am­ine the sources side by side and con­sider which source is more likely to be cor­rect.

Your ev­i­dence is only as good as the per­son that is pro­vid­ing it

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