The process of accumulation
continues. until eventually the trail dries up. It might take
you to various little known sources of documentation, perhaps
relating to small religious orders or now outdated trades and
professions. It might even bring you to the genealogist's dream
of finding his or her family recorded in the Doomsday Book,
which commenced records in 1086.
If your search is local, your task might well be extremely
easy in the initial stages, given that our ancestors were not
frequently renowned for a travelled existence. Many in fact
lived their entire lives in one county, and it is quite
conceivable to derive a great deal of information from one
day's sifting through county registers, nearly all of which,
when completed, are stored in local county record offices. Of
course if you are tracing the history of a well-travelled
family, then your task becomes more complicated and of
necessity far more costly to you.
Returning to the subject of County Record Offices, here one
will find official census returns providing names, ages,
marital status, occupation and county of birth of everyone
living in one particular household. Such records are released
to the public only after 100 years, but when opened are
generally pounced upon by, genealogists for the wealth of
information they contain.
Another useful source of information is the International
Genealogical Index, produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as 'Mormons'. Most
information is-stored on microfiche, and includes parish
registers for much of Britain. Many Mormon Churches in larger
communities have information which they will readily allow
access to with prior approval being requested.
How Far Back can a Family be Traced?
Though it is not impossible to trace back to the 11th
century, the task obviously becomes far more difficult the
further back in time one travels, not the least of one's
problems being the level of intelligence, writing ability and
accuracy of those responsible for whatever records were made of
births, marriages and deaths, if, that is, the record was made
in the first place.
Another problem frequently found to impede access to
information is that of the family's surname. A common surname
will ultimately present very many difficulties as one begins to
sort through the hundreds of Smiths, Joneses, and other such
names which have survived the passage of time virtually
An unusual name however, or one known to originate from a
particular region, and your task becomes far, far easier. Some
names also derive from the family's primary occupation as we
Official registration of births, deaths and marriages, has
been compulsory in most of Europe and the U.S. since the mid
In theory, and often also in practice, it is easy to trace
families back to these dates of compulsory registration. This
must not however be taken for granted since those. 'skeletons'
known to exist in most family cupboards can often lead the
researcher off on a false trail, or perhaps worse still, not
come to light in the first place. Here is where a little
detective work comes to the rescue.
The astute researcher might uncover various information the
less seasoned historian might instead have dismissed or perhaps
not considered at all. Birth certificates for instance are
dated on the day registration takes place, which could
obviously be days or weeks after the birth. When registration
was made compulsory a fine was introduced for registrations
made more than 42 days after the birth, as a result of which
parents late in registering adjusted the date of delivery to
suit their own requirements.
And given that not all people, even those responsible for
completing official records, enjoyed the greatest degree of
communicative skills, it was not unusual for parents to produce
variations of their surname to the official recorder, or for
the latter to hastily enter a name he 'thought' the respondent
Amongst many inconsistencies that can
make life anything but easy for the researcher, are the
tendency for many names to be reversed on entry to official
records. John Henry, for instance might be entered with his
surname featuring first, therefore to all intents and purposes
making him today's 'Henry John'. Some Christian names and
surnames are still unlikely contenders for their alternatives,
but it must not be assumed that this is always the case, and
even the most unlikely of transpositions can find its
improbable counterparts mellowed with time. That 'Henry John'
might for instance become today's 'Henry Johnstone' - a far
more likely proposition.
Much useful information can be derived from birth
certificates, which amongst other things include the
child's; name and date of birth, the mother's name and maiden
name, and usually the father's Christian name, address and
occupation. After 1875 the father of an illegitimate child can
only be named on the birth certificate with his consent. Other
anomalies which might lead to red herrings, or indeed to
camouflaging useful information, include such as the actual
time of birth of a child, a fact not usually entered for other
than to indicate the debut of siblings - multiple births
- a fact which might go unnoticed due to the high infant
mortality rate of years gone by, when short lives faded
quickly into oblivion.