Friday, February 17, 2017

Challenges in Researching British family.

First, let me say, that compared to the United States, England, and several European countries, have far superior records. That said, the challenge for those of us in the United States is access to those records, and then a complete and utter ignorance of the country we are researching.

I know there are folks that have trees back the 11th century, but I am not that ambitious, mainly because I am somewhat dubious of the veracity of those trees, and because it is so dang hard to get it past the 18th century. The one family I have successfully crossed the pond (as they say) with, is the Brunson, and that is solely because of the archeological research of Earl Colne, which shows the family in the 16th century into the early 17th, and then colonial records in New England which are far superior in some areas than any other record type in the United States.

So what does one do when you are trying to research British ancestors? There are sources of records available now online that were not available 10 years ago, including parish registers. However, what I found when I really got somewhere, was actually joining and reading message boards for England was what helped me understand the differences between the United States and England.

Did you know that if you order a death certificate in England it tells you nothing? Unlike the States, the place that tells you the most information is the marriage certificate, and then only after about 1850 (I don't know the exact date). England has had censuses every 10 years for a very long time, but until 1841, the census didn't list household members, and is more of a tally form than our early censuses. So they aren't available. You can't find a census online prior to 1841, because there isn't a lot of use for you.

I think there are some common assumptions you can make for certain time periods that are likely true. For example, the States and England between 1750 and 1800, the ability to read and write is an informative piece of information. The general public didn't have that ability. Certain trades, and the wealthy or nobility had that, but children weren't routinely schooled. Religious rights, parishes, where you could and could not get married, that was very different. So you really need to find someone who can educate you, or find the information yourself before you search.

Don't forget geography either, that is really hard. The same village may have been in three different shires over the last 200 years. That will effect your ability to find records when you search records on something like Ancestry. Because parish records are the main source of what you can research successfully from the United States.

 And yes, it is very confusing why someone is listed in one place for birth, another for marriage, and lived another and they are all 5 miles apart. Only to find out that the marriage was the only place they could marry, the baptism was non conformist, and not located anywhere far from where they lived.

Non conformist, that's another term you may run across. It means they didn't practice the religion of the Church of England. Oh and the English, particularly the working class, they liked certain names. My ancestor George Henry Timmins is probably one of 20 born the same year in the same 20 mile radius.

Then there is the class system. I am not even remotely related to anyone noble enough to not have a trade, at least as far as I can research. My family at most were tradesmen, and at worst, they lived in the workhouse, or the poor house whichever you prefer. They didn't live in an England that reminds one of Jane Austin but rather of Charles Dickens. They worked all their life, and if they lived to get old, they had to live with family or in the poor house. They aren't buried in marked graves either.

Among this class, early death isn't uncommon. Neither is illegitimacy, though I understand that Bastardry Bonds and work house records are very informative, you have to go to England to see those kind of  records. I am sure there are other records that would be beneficial as well, but I am not literate enough in English records to know that. Which I guess is my point.

I don't generally try to cross the pond with my colonial families, because at that point I am in the 17th and early 18th  century and I already know how hard it can be from tracing my late arrivals back to before 1800. It can be a needle in a haystack search, and it isn't one I am relishing taking on yet.

So I work on the one line I know for sure, and the one that I should be able to find, and that's it. Most of what I have researched centers around the Black Country of Warwickshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire. It is a tale of miners and glass cutters, and families who were the backbone of the English industrial age. If I ever get back far enough, I just may find a freeman or a tradesmen, but for now, it is plain working class families, who can be found when they are born, when they marry and when they die in parish records, and that's about it. There are no wills. There aren't any convict records that I have found, just marriages, births and burials. And  a lot of frustration.

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