"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, 2 February 2012

On getting more from the records

So, as I said at the beginning of On being a young genealogist, despite the idea for this blog occurring to me last February, it has taken me almost a year to put pen to paper. (Or hand to keyboard, to be accurate!)
Why? Well, it has been quite an eventful year, to say the least. In the course of 2011, I started a new job, moved to a new flat, went on holiday, was at risk of redundancy, survived but then moved to a new company, went on holiday again, moved my flatmate out and my boyfriend in... And that’s just the big stuff! In amongst it all, the blog idea just got a bit lost. Not the most exciting of explanations, I grant you. A lot can happen in a year!
We also completed the census this year. But what is contained in it will give very little hint of the events mentioned above. If a descendant of mine reads it in the future, they will know about my second flat, my flatmate and my first job. They might figure out that I had just moved house from the retrospective information I gave, but they won’t know that within five months of the census I had a new job, or that within nine months I had a new ‘flatmate’.  And remember, the last time they would have encountered me was probably on the census back in 2001, when I was 15 and still at school in West Yorkshire. I’m now in Cheltenham. And who knows where I’ll be by 2021!
However good a genealogist you are, you will only ever be able to get intermittent snapshots of your ancestors’ lives from the censuses and BMD records we rely on. Yes, a newspaper report or local directory can give you a bit more detail, but not that much.
Then again, there are things you can do...
The 2011 census return tells you that I live in Cheltenham and my job title is Development Editor.
From this, you can instantly deduce that I work in publishing.  You can find out quite a lot about what this job entails just by googling it. If you were then to look up publishers in and around Cheltenham, you would almost certainly be able to identify the company I used to work for. You could probably even get hold of some of the books they published in 2011 – although of course you would have no way of knowing if I was directly involved in producing them. With a bit of hunting you would probably be able to identify other people I worked with as well, and assume that some of them might be my friends.
Other things are slightly trickier, and you could get led down completely the wrong path...
Most people would conclude that I would probably have to have a degree to get this job. You might decide that it was fairly likely to have been in or near Cheltenham, given that I was born in Wakefield and have moved here. So you would check some university records. You wouldn’t find me, as I went to university in Durham, at the opposite end of the country, but it would be a reasonable assumption and worth a shot.
You could also so a bit of digging on my former flatmate. As she is from Wales, but is also an editor, you would assume that we knew one another through work. In fact, you would be wrong, because we met about five years ago while living in France – it was pure coincidence that we ended up working for the same company and then decided to live together.
Of course, it’s still only a snapshot of one brief period of my life. Joining up this dot to the next dot, a few years into the future, is still just a dotted line. But, making the individual dots bigger will give you a better picture. It’s this piecing together of the tiniest bits of info that makes genealogy so fascinating and rewarding. And creative – you can really exercise your imagination trying to visualise your forebears, their lives and their motivations.
You could argue that it’s a good idea to keep a detailed and accurate record of your own life, for the sake of future researchers, but I think that might spoil their fun slightly. Maybe we could all just leave a slightly exaggerated paper trail of clues instead? What do you think?
L x
Next time: In the news...

1 comment:

  1. http://genealogical.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/more-please/

    I think this blog probably says it better, and from a more professional and experienced standpoint!


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