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East Sussex - Iron Country
(Collectors Corner)

Genealogy/Family History
(Is incredibly healthy for you)
by Margery Farmer
Local Genealogical Site Links

If you need an excuse to sit endlessly before your computer screen, genealogy/ family history is a hobby begging for your attention. Genealogy is probably about lineal descent, whilst family history is, perhaps, more laterally orientated; the history of any given time and how it might have affected your ancestors in various parts of the country and world.

For many people the subject of genealogy only catches their interest after some loved one departs this life and leaves them a house clearance job. The stack of hoarded bills, receipts, used bus tickets and tantalizingly un-named, undated old photographs bring out the Sherlock Holmes in most of us. As we gaze at the faded image, (PC speak for photo), of some forgotten relative - or was it picked up for the frame at a car boot sale? - We wish the late lamented had thoughtfully filled in the missing details for posterity.

Computers and genealogy are a burgeoning partnership, with lots of exciting
programs available, and computer buffs eager to share their expertise. The Mormon Church (LDS), is exceptionally generous to non-church researchers, allowing us access to their local British Family History Centres. and thus the contents of their vast Salt Lake City library in Utah. Where all sorts of modern media is available, from microfilm and fiche, CD-ROM through to those old-fashioned wads of paper between hard covers.

The LDS Church is microfilming as many parish chest records as individual Bishops will allow. They also have a nice little partnership going with our Public Record Office (PRO), and the Australian and New Zealand PROs to film documentary material to exchange. It is, in effect, a massive preservation and conservation programme. Fragile old manuscripts are incapable of surviving the ravages of time and today's increased usage. Apart from satisfying many users simultaneously, dispersed multiple copies of each item avert the tragedy of 1922 when the Irish decided to make a bonfire with their precious archives. A drastically effective way to procure anonymity and spite descendants.

Genealogy/Family history is a life long passion, sparking interest in diverse allied subjects that quite often lead to specialization in specific fields. It is all there to add fascination to your study. The Civil War, Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions, Enclosure Acts; the result of which caused so much hardship and population migration. Local customs, fashion, cartography, architecture, the masons who built fine bridges, the carpenters who left pews and rood screens for us to admire. Add Local history, current events both local and national at any period in history as they unfurled before different generations of ancestors. What forms of transport were available, and who could afford to use them? What did they eat, how was the food cooked? Did they appear in any criminal records, were they forced to accept Parish relief? How about apprenticeships and Bastardy Orders? Do records of such events still exist, and where? So much is still there for us to observe, the smooth fields, handywork of countless generations of stone-pickers. All those intrepids who crossed oceans in boats we would hesitate to cross a millpond in, to scour the world for riches we now take for granted - tea, coffee, exotic timber, and rhododendrons - the list is endless. And how on earth did they cope without sellotape? Above all, we have inherited language so rich that the rest of the world is pleased to share it with us.

Then there is the wonderful excuse for going to visit the villages and towns inhabited by your very own ancestors, tracking down the actual house or site and photographing everything in sight. What better reason could there be for buying that new digital camera? You then bung the whole lot on the computer for posterity. If you are unable to get your ecstatic relatives to buy copies of your masterpiece, get your own back by giving them copies at Christmas. Keep a stock of questions at the ready to test whether they've read you to the end!

These examples are a small sample of parallel interests accompanying an interest in genealogy to absorb your mind and enrich your life. Be warned, whatever you may dream up, some ancestor got there before you, and did it. You will find they even pinched your ideas for naming children; you will be amazed at just how much you have inherited.

Genealogy is about working back from known facts. Verify family hearsay if possible, but don't bank on it until you can prove it.

Allowing just three generations per century, you could clock up at least 262,144 ancestors back to the beginning of the l5th.century. Back two more generations it rises to a staggering 1,048,576, and that is just my ancestors. Add your million or so and these suggestions that world population was smaller than now looks remarkably iffy - or there's been a lot of surreptitious inter-relational activity going on. Four generations to a century and you've got even more mind-blowing gr.gr.gr.dot recurring grandparents than you will know what to do with. Now explain Adam and Eve!

Civil Registration started in 1837, with the reign of Queen Victoria. A birth certificate should name the child's parents, give father's name and occupation as well as mother's maiden name plus address. From that information it should be possible to find a marriage between the child's parents, which hopefully will tell you whether they were single or widowed, their addresses, church/religion, both fathers names and occupations all round, The witnesses may prove helpful - or remain a complete mystery. Always make allowances for the first child's birth to be phenomenally premature; by several years in some instances.

Birth, Marriage and Death ( BMDs) indexes may be consulted at the Family Records Centre, Myddelton St. Islington, London ons website: http://www.ons.gov.uk as well as at many libraries and County Record Offices (CROs). Index information is sparse giving only surname, christian name, registration district, page and volume Nos. year and quarter (April, June, Sept, Dec.) for all three types of event. Intuition and educated guesses are a useful standby.

From Sept. l9l1 birth entries include mothers maiden names. From 1912 spouses names are included in marriage indexes: Both entries must tally. From 1866 death indexes include the deceased's reported age.

Death certificates give cause of death; the hypochondriac in one can pick up a whole galaxy of quaint illnesses from which to suffer - quite hereditarily too. (New word). Scotland's civil registration started later, but gives more information.

Addresses on certificates lead to appropriate Census Returns (C.R.s), also on microfilm and microfiche at user-friendly Myddelton St. County ROs and various libraries. Authorities down the ages have had many a stab at collating us, starting probably with King William's Domesday survey in 1086. The Church and Government, always anxious to extract the last groat, have battled it out until the State streaked ahead with a national decennial census for England and Wales starting in 1801. The first truly useful CR for family historians is the 1841, although some earlier ones are useful where exceptionally perceptive enumerators collected information beyond the call of duty, with us lot undoubtedly in mind.

Sometimes more questions can be posed than answered. Whatever made a man born in Reading in 1825 take his Harrow, Middlesex bride to a remote Kentish village to make bricks; and why were two of their children born in America before returning to the remote Kentish village to resume brickmaking?

The 1851 CR has been widely transcribed and surname indexed by Family History Societies in most counties. The fruits of their labours are on sale in book and microfiche format. F.H. Societies collaborated with the LDS (Mormons) and transcribed and indexed the whole 1881 CR for England, Wales, Scotland and the Channel Islands. The massive undertaking is on microfilm and fiche in ROs and libraries. A C-D ROM set of 16 compact discs is even available for sale, either in its entirety or in any of 8 regions.

The census returns are often instrumental in bridging the gap between civil registration and pointing the researcher towards a home town, village or area and the parish chest, Parish registers started in 1538, in the reign of Elizabeth I, many are extant. After centuries of damp and mice most, since 1979, are now looked after at controlled temperature by CROs, thanks largely to Lord Teviot's stirling efforts to save them. One of many good reasons for saving the House of Lords; preserving parish registers is hardly a vote catcher for any political party. Copies of parish registers are available on microfilm and fiche, many have been transcribed and indexed.

Our ancestors were very mobile, and sometimes take a lot of tracking down. Anthony Camp, a very distinguished genealogist, once wrote that in the l7th. century half the Population lived in different parishes to the ones in which they were born. Many died in the same parish, but had lived part of their lives in other parishes. People did not always stay put unless they inherited property. You may discover illustrious ancestors, with ready-made pedigrees to save you having to decipher all those early manorial manuscripts with Latin abbreviations in atrocious handwriting. Of course, you will miss the exhilaration of making your very own discovery. There are so many records available to further our studies. Land and Window Tax Assessments, Gamekeepers licenses, Electoral Registers, Poor Law Union Records, Newspapers - locally from the 1750's as well as reprints of old directories,'0/S maps, road atlases etc., Genealogy has the added virtue of giving you a reason to leave your screen for the great outdoors or some other screen elsewhere! Just think how incredibly healthy that is for you.

Publications such as Family Tree, Practical Family Tree and Family History Monthly are full of interesting articles and excellent question and answer sections. They are well worth obtaining from newsagents or by postal subscription.

If you are a collector, of Family History, or anything, we would love to hear from you.
Tell us about your collection, especially if it is interesting, unusual or amusing.

VillageNet 1998

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