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

Friday, 29 June 2012

Detective work 2. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know...

Or rather it’s who your ancestors knew!
Pay attention to the families living close by on the census, everyone in the household – even unrelated people, and most definitely the servants! If you’re struggling to locate a family on the census, but you know where they were living ten years before or after, try searching for their neighbours – it may be that they’ve been mistranscribed, but they’re still living in the same house. I have found this to be a much faster way of locating people than browsing a census manually to find the right address.
Also keep an eye on marriage witnesses and will executors. They often crop up multiple times, and can help to confirm family links. For example, I recently confirmed that I had indeed found the right female ancestor because her spouse appeared as a witness at the marriage of her younger sibling. It’s hardly surprising really. Intermarriage between two families brings them together and creates new alliances. Or, there was already a level of friendship between the families, which was part of the reason for the marriage in the first place!
One of my ancestors, the travelling actor William Hayward (AKA Hedgcock) was a nightmare to locate. I only had him on the 1901 census, living in a boarding house. There was one other actor also living there, and I managed to find someone researching this man. They weren’t able to say whether or not there was a link between them, unfortunately, but it was worth a shot.
I keep a list of all the theatrical people I come across in my research on this branch of the family, because I spend quite a bit of time on message boards / forums full of people looking for theatrical ancestors, you never know when I might be able to lend a helping hand. For example, I found an 1891 census transcription of one Frank B Audas (and family). I was sure it was wrong, couldn’t decipher it from the original entry myself either, but when I was then tracing my own ancestor’s theatrical career through the Stage archives, I was able to find the right name: Frank Danvers. I very much doubt that anyone out there looking for Mr Danvers would have searched for him as Audas, so hopefully one day this useful snippet will come into its own...
I always feel that what goes around comes around – the more you can do to help other people in their research, the better it is for your own. Evidently, the ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ mantra doesn’t just apply to your ancestors, it applies to you too! Get talking to older family members, or, if they’re not around, maybe someone knows of an old family friend. You might even be able to track down some distant cousins who are involved in the family tree, or simply someone who knows something you don’t! Think of all of these people as your ‘witnesses’, and interview them with care!
L x

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