1. NEW Foundations of Family History course

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    Foundations of Family History We are delighted to announce the launch of our two-part beginners’ Foundations of Family History course for research in England and Wales. This is an Anytime course, so there is no fixed start date, you simply work through the material at your own pace.

    When you embark on your family history journey there can be a lot to take in, with so many different records available, how do you know where to start? Developing an understanding of the records you work with increases your ability to get the most from them. Just as important is methodology and technique, how to most effectively build a family tree in which you can be confident.

    This two-part course will introduce you to the four fundamental genealogical sources in England and Wales: records of civil registration (birth marriage death certificates), census records, parish registers and wills and probate records, and start you off with some good methods and techniques that you can continue to apply as you progress your family tree further. The topics covered in the two parts of this course are as follows:

    Foundations of Family History Part 1 – Getting Started

    • Lesson 1 – Gathering information and interviewing relatives
    • Lesson 2 – Storing your family history research (including software options)
    • Lesson 3 – Civil Registration (birth, marriage and death certificates)
    • Lesson 4 – The census records
    • Lesson 5 – Building your tree with confidence

     

    Foundations of Family History Part 2 – Next Steps

    • Lesson 1 – Introduction to parish registers
    • Lesson 2 – Deaths, burials and obituaries
    • Lesson 3 – Getting started with wills and probate records
    • Lesson 4 – Problem solving

     

    Starting with an Anytime course gives you a feel for how Pharos course materials are presented, without the need to set aside fixed times for tutorials or complete work by particular date. Anytime courses are made up of a number of ‘lessons’, where one week is about equivalent to the amount of material we would teach on a tutor-led course in one week, but you can set your own pace. Each ‘lesson’ includes exercises for students to work through, websites to visit and search techniques to try out, so there is plenty of ‘doing’ as well as reading.

    You can read more about how different Pharos Tutors courses work here: How Courses Work.

    You can read more about the new courses here:
    Foundations of Family History Part 1 – Getting Started
    Foundations of Family History Part 2 – Next Steps

    LAUNCH OFFER: We are offering students who buy Part 1 and Part 2 of this course as a single purchase a £10 voucher off their next Pharos Tutors course*.

     

    * voucher will be sent out within a few days of purchase

  2. Understanding evidence, Part 2: Derivative records – some grey areas

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    Guest Post

    Janice Heppenstall

    Janice Heppenstall is a graduate of our Advanced Certificate programme (with Distinction). She has a passion for finding the extraordinary in ‘ordinary’ people’s lives, using their stories as a springboard to explore the local, social and political context in which they lived. She blogs regularly on family history and genealogy topics at English Ancestors and is also to be found on Facebook.

     

    This is the second of three posts looking at different types of documentation and other sources that we, as genealogists, draw upon to evidence our research. These posts focus not on distinct record sets like censuses, birth registers or manorial records; rather they provide a broader look to get us thinking about the relative value of ‘evidence’ from different source types.

    In the first of these posts we focused on primary sources, which we often refer to as ‘original records’, and secondary sources. We looked at how we can use them together to build a fuller picture of our ancestors’ lives and experiences. In this second part we’re starting to look at derivative records.

    Derivative records are created after the event but based directly on an original record. In other words, information is copied from the original to another document. As such, there is scope for error in their creation, based on illegibility of the original text, carelessness, or other errors and omissions. There are several types of derivative records. In this post we’ll start with some grey areas: certain record types that are contemporaneous to and certainly look like originals but strictly speaking are not.

    Censuses, 1841-1901
    In the first post we differentiated between the 1911 and 1921 censuses and all those that went before. Why are these ‘original’ records, yet the earlier ones are not? When we find the 1911 or 1921 census return for our person of interest, we see a single sheet completed by (or on behalf of) the head of household and relating to the members and housing conditions of that household. This is an original record and primary source. By contrast, for the earlier censuses what we see is a long list of all residents in a specific locality, arranged by household and organised according to the route the enumerator took as he walked from house to house, collecting the information. You might have explained this difference with reference to illiteracy rates: that since a great many people were unable to read and write, the enumerator simply arrived on the doorstep and wrote down the information he was given; but this is not true. Individual records were created for each property, and this was then transcribed onto the lists we see today. The original household sheets were then destroyed. In other words, all we have left for these earlier censuses is the contemporaneous derivative record. This might explain some inconsistencies. The second child of my great grandparents is referred to in the 1881 census as Jane (female). He was actually John, a boy. Another great grandfather, George, appears as ‘Enoch’ in the 1891 census. Was this a mis-transcription, or did George object to nosy-parkers coming to ask him questions? (I have spent a lot of time playing hide-and-seek with George, and I suspect the latter…)

    Civil Birth, Marriage and Death certificates (Civil BMDs)
    Are they original records? You would think so, but they are not necessarily so. Imagine yourself registering a death in 1851. You would go to the local Register Office. They would record all the information, give you a copy, keep the original for themselves and send a third copy to the General Register Office (GRO) in London. Of course, there were no photocopiers: the only way to do this was to write it out by hand several times. In other words, when we buy Civil BMDs online from the GRO, what we receive is a facsimile of a hand-written copy of the original record, i.e. a true copy of a derivative record, and not the original itself. You can choose instead to buy your BMDs from the local Register Office. However, some don’t offer this service, while others don’t have the capacity for creating facsimiles of the originals, in which case what we receive is a modern handwritten or typed copy of the original – again, a derivative record. Might this explain an odd discrepancy you’ve come across?

    Bishop’s Transcripts (BTs)
    BT’s are an interesting grey area. They are the copies of parish registers that, from 1598 until around 1800, church ministers were required to keep and send annually to the diocese office. They are contemporaneous with the originals, and written by a churchwarden who may have known the individuals involved. Even if a parish’s records from this period have not survived, there is the chance that the BTs have, since they will have been lodged with the diocesan records, quite separately from the parish, and possibly in different archives. As copies, strictly speaking they are derivative records and may contain transcription errors. However, sometimes they contain more information than the originals, and are often invaluable in providing a second chance in deciphering 17th or 18th century handwriting.

    Let me give you an example from my own research:
    The first image below is the 1819 Bishop’s Transcript of the baptism of my 3x great grandfather’s first child. When I found it I was in no doubt that this was the correct Thomas Mann and son James Sword Mann. However, since my 3x great grandmother’s name is Lucy, and the mother’s name here is Sophia, my assumption was that Thomas must have married twice, his first wife, Sophia, having died not long after James’s birth.

    James Sword Mann, Bishop’s Transcript of Baptism Register Entry, 15 August 1819, Norwich, St Martin at Oak www.ancestry.co.uk Accessed 12 December 2022. Original data: Norfolk Record Office, Ref: BT ANW 1819-n

    Some years later another I found the parish register record for the same baptism, below. It contained all the same information: James Sword, son of Tho[ma]s and Sophia Mann. Clearly, the BT had been absolutely correctly copied from this original record. However, here, the clerk has added a note to the effect that he has realised the mother’s name of ‘Sophia’ should be ‘Lucy’. The note was dated seventeen years later, 14 August 1836.

    James Sword Mann, Baptism Register Entry, 15 August 1819, Norwich, St Martin at Oak www.ancestry.co.uk Accessed 12 December 2022. Original data: Norfolk Record Office, Ref: PD 15/10

    In this example, the BT is a faithful copy, but whereas a correction has been made to the original, the BT has been left with the incorrect information. Only by using the one original parish register entry do we see this additional important information.

    What all these types of sources have in common is that they are contemporary copies. You may come across other examples, such as the copying of information from chapel of ease records to the main parish register, or post-Interregnum transcriptions made by the parish clerk, based on notes received from the interim civil parish clerks. They are contemporary, and undoubtedly they have value. In some cases they are all we have. But they are copies nevertheless, and as such there is the possibility of error or omission. The important point to take away from all this is that we should be aware of the nature of the record we’re looking at, and we should record that along with the information from the record.

    In the final part of this look at different source types we’ll focus on more modern derivatives: transcriptions and indexes; and we’ll meet up again with James Sword Mann and his parents.

     

  3. Understanding evidence, Part 1: primary, secondary and original sources

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    Guest Post

    Janice Heppenstall

    Janice Heppenstall is a graduate of our Advanced Certificate programme (with Distinction). She has a passion for finding the extraordinary in ‘ordinary’ people’s lives, using their stories as a springboard to explore the local, social and political context in which they lived. She blogs regularly on family history and genealogy topics at English Ancestors and is also to be found on Facebook.

     

    This is the first of three posts looking at different types of documentation and other sources that we, as genealogists, draw upon to evidence our research. These posts focus not on distinct record sets like censuses, birth registers or manorial records; rather they provide a broader look to get us thinking about the relative value of ‘evidence’ from different source types. In this first part, we’re looking at some important terms used to distinguish source types: primary, secondary, original and digital surrogate. The second and third posts will build on this, looking at a range of what are termed derivative sources. Although our starting point is that some types of evidence carry more weight than others, as we shall see, none should be disregarded because there is value in all. It all depends on how we use them.

    Primary sources are created at the time of an event, or not long afterwards. These include what we, as genealogists, tend to refer to as original records. They include the documents from official bodies and government offices that are the nuts and bolts of our research, such as civil birth, marriage and death certificates; records of baptisms, marriages, burials; wills; property documents, e.g. deeds; apprenticeship records; Court records; newspaper reports; and the 1911 and 1921 census (we’ll consider the earlier censuses in the second post). These types of original documents provide us with the hard facts that enable us to build our trees. They can include far more information than the mere fact of a particular event having occurred. A baptism record, for example, essentially has the date and location of the event, the child’s name and the name of one or both parents. Depending on the year and the parish, it may also include place of residence, father’s occupation, both parents’ fathers’ names and the child’s actual date of birth. Some even include the day of the week on which the birth occurred! It will of course include the denomination, and there may be other notes in the margin. That’s a lot of evidence! The important point here is that we are looking at the original document with our own eyes, and we see for ourselves what was written. We can examine it closely, decipher the handwriting, verify that this is the correct document for our research and get every last scrap of information from it.

    When we refer to ‘original records’, strictly speaking what we mean is the actual original documents lodged in archives like the local Country Records Offices, the National Archives at Kew, National Records of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) or other diocesan, university or specialist archives. However, increasing numbers of such documents have been photographed and made available to us online, through various websites. The availability of digital images can mean it is no longer necessary to handle the originals, which are stored away, safely. Indeed, often they are no longer available for the general user, meaning the photographed copies of them are what we must use. Archivists refer to them as digital surrogates. In almost every case they are as good as the original, but just occasionally they are not – we’ll see an example of this in part 3. When we rely on these surrogates, it’s good practice to say so. We can refer to them as ‘digital images of the original documents’ and give the website.

    Whether we see the actual original documents or an online photograph of them, we can be reasonably confident that most of the information in these original documents/ primary sources is true. Why only reasonably confident? Because the information recorded is only ever as true or as accurate as the facts provided by the informant. In the 1911 census my great grandmother added six years to her second husband’s age to make the age difference between them less obvious. Another example: the marriage record for my widowed 3x great grandmother has her father’s surname as ‘Moss’, which is actually her first husband’s surname. Sometimes we have to read between the lines, recognise human error, make allowances for individual foibles, and on occasion perhaps witness a web of deceit unfolding before our eyes.

    Letter

    Family letters are also original documents (Karen Cummings’ personal collection)

    However, primary sources do not have to be from official bodies. We might also have personal items such as photographs of people and places; letters; memoirs; diaries; and spoken accounts by people who witnessed an event. In the case of photographs, sometimes simply seeing the image can be sufficient for our information needs: ‘Oh look, that’s Auntie Ethel at Grandma’s Ruby Wedding party, so she must have emigrated after 1977…’ However, often it’s what’s written on the back that adds vital information. The name of a studio on the back can help narrow down the date of the image, or there may even be a date stamp. Alternatively, someone may have written a note on the back. On the back of a group photo taken at the start of my Dad’s National Service training he has written his Platoon, Company and Regiment, along with the full address of the barracks, the date, and a signed dedication to his parents. But beware! Notes may have been added later by someone whose knowledge of the photo is based on hearsay. My Mum incorrectly labelled a photo as her ‘Uncle David’. Meanwhile, her cousin had incorrectly labelled a different photograph of the same man as ‘Uncle Albert’. It took a collaboration between the two daughters of these cousins – myself and my second cousin – to compare what we had and work out that these were in fact two precious photos of ‘Uncle Joe’, who had been killed in action in 1917, before his nieces, our mothers, were even born. This opportunity to exchange stories and photos is one of the things I love about finding new cousins via online trees. Another more distant cousin sent me a memoir written by his late aunt. It included information about family relations and tensions relating to my great grandfather and his birth family – information I simply never would have found any other way. Again, beware, though! A diary entry and a memoir is the writer’s ‘truth’, which on occasion may differ from the reality.

    Moving on to secondary sources, these tend to be published works in which the author describes, summarises, discusses or in some way draws upon information gathered from other sources (primary or other secondary). A secondary source may be produced many years after an event. The author may have had no physical connection whatsoever with the original event; and yet with the benefit of distance, hindsight and objectivity, the author can present an overview that adds context to our own research, helping us imagine our ancestors in their setting. Examples might include historians’ texts based on research about a person, locality, event or period of interest; literature contemporaneous to the time/ events; and modern historical novels or films based on sound research. Unless you are actually reading a book about your ancestor, such texts are unlikely to refer specifically to your family, but they can provide a fantastic backdrop to your research. While reading recently about trench warfare and the Western Front, I decided to watch a couple of films about the First World War to help me visualise what I had read: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) and War Horse (2011). The depiction in both films of ‘No Man’s Land’, the area between the opposing trenches helped me to imagine the utter horror of ‘going over the top’, even down to the placement of coils of barbed wire laid by the troops to make an attack more difficult for the opposing side. Joey the ‘War Horse’ is seriously injured when he becomes entangled in one of these coils. In this example, my reading and the films were secondary sources, but both helped me to understand the conditions and horrific reality of life and death in the trenches for my own kinsmen. They enhance what we find in primary sources. Sometimes secondary sources include great photos and maps, or direct quotes from primary sources, guiding us to them so we can examine them for ourselves. Reading about the 3rd Battle of Ypres, where my aforementioned great uncle Joe was killed, I learned of diaries kept by his commanding officer and was able to locate these and read this factual account (primary source) of Joe’s final weeks, days and hours – even though he wasn’t mentioned by name. Other published works may be memoirs written by people who were there. Strictly speaking these are primary sources, but we can use them in the same way we use secondary texts, to help us understand the context and reality for our family.

    To summarise, then, primary sources are the original records made at the time of an event. They provide us with the essential data for our research. We simply could not progress without this information. The historian’s and genealogist’s mantra is always to get as close as possible to the original source. Today, often this means using online digital surrogates – photographs of these originals. However, although these records can help to pad out what we know about our ancestor – their occupation, maybe a physical description, evidence of regular drunk and disorderly behaviour, perhaps, and so on, they do not in themselves provide depth and context. What was life like on a prison hulk? Why were so many people in the north attracted to Nonconformity in the eighteenth century? What were the stages towards universal suffrage, and what can I deduce from the fact of my ancestor’s right to vote in a specific period of history? For these and many more questions and themes our research can benefit enormously from secondary sources.

    In the second part we will move on to derivative records, starting with certain types of records that appear to be originals but in reality are copies.