Revisiting some basic principles
The greatest impediment to most family history research success, has little to do with research and research skills but rather more to do with the ability to organise. Investment in a good computer program for family history is a good start but not essential for organising one’s research. Even with a computer program a Research Log in some format to keep a summary record of the work should be maintained. Use column headings or fields such as date, research goal, search location, record, search range, result/comment.
Be prepared to research offline. While it is true that the Internet has greatly changed the field of genealogy and new data is being placed online every day, researchers still need to refer to microfilmed records, photocopied documents from archives, or other traditional means to obtain key details. A good strategy is to utilise the Internet to gather initial information, streamline the steps of the research process, and network with others. Of course if you are lucky enough to find some online data you need to test its validity. Is it an image of an original record or a transcription?
Some mistakenly think that just because the material is presented in a published form, that somehow it must be correct. Some have even knowingly published false material. Others presented the material from their very early researching, only to later find that it was not quite correct. A person once submitted some material on the Jaunay family to the FamilySearch web site. He later discovered his error and resubmitted new material and to his dismay discovered the old version was also retained giving the impression of two people sharing the name with distinctly differing origins!
Mistakes occur when the search for original documents is not undertaken, but merely previous researcher’s work is taken on as being correct. Unfortunately the great bulk of available material is compiled and therefore should only be used as a guide to research. It must be confirmed by seeking out the primary sources. This stance does not put down the good work done by many diligent people who tried their best.
A thorough researcher will always attempt to verify material and any researcher worth their salt always confirms findings in any secondary source with reference to the primary source.
To be absolutely certain, you really need to locate two independent sources. This becomes especially important as your work goes back in time and you eventually find your work centred on a small village populated by numerous people all sporting the same names!
Thus if you find a baptism date via FamilySearch you will check the entry by referring to the film of the original baptism register which can be processed for you at your local FamilySearch library. An independent source that collaborates this entry may be a record in a family diary or a baptism certificate issued by the parish priest. Of course often you will count yourself lucky to find just one reference to the event!
A search of the published civil registration indexes that fails to find a person is not an indication that the event did not occur, rather that the event was not registered. For example it is well known that many South Australian children born to Catholics, the Irish or the Scots were not registered prior to 1875 but often their baptism can be located. Many remote deaths were never registered but can be found in other records such as police journals, intestate estate records and inquest files.
It is timely to revisit some of the basic principles in family history research.
Always work from the known to the unknown.
Never jump a generation without confirming the link to the current generation being examined. The Web is riddled with faulty pedigrees whose flaws often reveal a failure to work generation by generation from the present towards the past. When online pedigrees are examined and gaps in the lineage are found then there has to be some doubt on the validity of all the data from that point back in time.
While it is tempting to begin looking for ancestors in the UK and Europe, research needs to begin in Australia. The initial goal is to identify the town or village of origin. This information can often be located in Australian records, at home or from family sources.
Never assume anything
All research has to be backed up with facts. Sure, make assumptions to guide the research process but if a concrete result does not eventuate, the assumption has to be dismissed!
Do not base research solely on the way the name is spelt or because a family member insists that a surname has always been spelt that way. Surname spellings often vary in grammatical context. Many European immigrants anglicised their names upon arrival. Some adopted the English equivalent, while others made the spelling appear more British, or chose a similar-sounding name.
Wars changed the face of Europe. Invasions and other internal conflicts in countries also contributed to changing political and geographical borders. Towns and villages were destroyed and renamed or found themselves in new countries. Therefore, current place names may not have existed during your ancestor's time. Check maps and atlases, and gazetteers.
Above all do not buy into myths or misconceptions.
Preconceived values and emotions just cannot get in the way of research. If any of the following come to mind then barriers to open research is being thrown up…
• He was born in September so I’ll look the year before and earlier for his parents’ marriage.
• Of course they were married…
• She’s described as his mother-in-law in the 1851 census so she must be his wife’s mother.
• They’re baptised on the same day so they must be twins.
• They both said they were 21 on their marriage certificate so were both born in…
• The name is Blomiley in the 1700s. Blummelie, Brimiley Bromley are nothing to do with my family.
• The minister wrote my ancestor’s name as Amery and he must be correct. What if he did sign the register as Emery?
• Of course she married in this county; my ancestors didn’t move about.
…to be continued.