Family History – Fact or Fiction

On 15th March, Pat Hase gave an extremely entertaining talk on how to set about doing family history and some of the problems and pitfalls one might encounter.

She began by warning members it could become obsessive but could also be exciting and lead to a better understanding of social history.

She explained that one of the main difficulties with research was deciding what was fact and what was fiction. Her own grandfather told her wonderful tales when she was a small child, but few of them seem to have been rooted in fact and even when they were, they were much embellished. She thinks that many people start their research hoping they will be related to royalty or money but are more likely to uncover a child born out of wedlock, a death in the workhouse or another so-called scandal.

She told a delightful tale of a couple who got married, went abroad for their honeymoon and came back 6 months later with a baby. The explanation given by the mother was that it was hot overseas and things therefore happened more quickly!!

She warned that people should not believe everything they read on the internet. Americans are particularly guilty of passing on misinformation apparently!  People have built their whole family tree on spurious information. One had traced his family back to a Princess Margaret who had apparently married an agricultural labourer (which seems unlikely) and another reported family history of the Puddy family had traced their family back to a John Puddy who, it turned out, actually died aged 5 years.

She showed a photograph of herself as a baby taken in August 1939 pointing out that photographs can be a very useful source of information, not only about your own family, but also about social history as well.

She suggested that people should start with themselves and work backwards and that is was wise to follow the female line. After all, as she pointed out, the man named as a father on a birth certificate might not always be the father of the child! Interestingly it is now possible to get DNA testing done and this is always done on the female line. She also stressed the importance of speaking to relatives and friends as there are often things that your family didn’t bother to tell you but which friends of theirs sometimes know.

The 1939 register, taken as war began, is another important source of information giving, as it does, the ages and occupations of everyone at a certain address at that date. Anyone still living has been redacted from the register. As evidence of the usefulness of this she explained that on the register her grandfather’s date of birth was the 14th November, which is what he had been told, yet his actual birth certificate stated the 21st November. It turned out that, as births had to be registered within a certain time, his hadn’t been done within that period and so, to get round this, the registrar had simply added a week to his date of birth. This, not surprisingly, caused him much annoyance when he had to wait an extra week to get his pension.

Pat went on to encourage people to collect family memorabilia; diaries, family bibles etc. but there was a caveat to this. Apparently the Hase family bible has many wrong entries. It turns out that it had been copied by someone who had made mistakes in doing so. Her message, therefore, was to use original documents wherever possible as transcriptions might have errors. Surnames, for example. can vary. Researching the Hase family she has seen umpteen variations of the name. So beware.

Civil registration of births, marriage and deaths started in 1837 and the registration district was the Poor Law District so, for example, the Axbridge registration district actually includes 38 parishes.

Before 1837 you have to search Church records, which give baptisms, marriage and burials. Again, Pat made the point that baptisms do not always follow shortly after births. Some people were christened as adults and sometimes several children were baptised at the same time.

Another thing to be aware of is that between 1754 and 1837 marriages were required to be in church so many of those between non-conformists might appear to be childless, but this could be because the children would not have been baptised in the Church of England.

A useful source of information, she explained, are the census returns, which were done every 10 years from 1841 although a few were done earlier than that. In the 1841 census the information contained is, owever, limited.   It doesn’t give the relationships between family members, where they were born and adults were told to approximate their age to the nearest 5 years (although they could give their right age). Again there was a warning; the census returns can contain errors especially regarding age. This may be due to the person lying or transcription errors. Giving the example of her husband’s grandfather, he appeared to age very rapidly from 1841 to 1851 and on his death certificate in 1859 he had aged considerable yet again!. Transcription errors also often occurred on death certificates. On that of one William Hase, his wife appeared to have a different surname, but this was a simple error made by the person making the record.

Regarding where people lived, it is useful to look at the tithe apportionment maps which are available at the Record Office and which give the names of the landowner and the occupier of the land by tithe number around 1840. The Genealogist website has this information but you do have to pay for it.

Pat recommended drawing out your family tree to help see where people fit together. For families in this area she said that people did not always get married in the Parish of the bride and that some people got married in Bristol churches.

Newspapers are another source of information and the Western Gazette in now available from the Newspaper archive. She found some interesting accounts of the Hase family causing a disturbance in the papers and was quick to point out that she only married into this family!

She ended by going back to the tales her grandfather told her as a child. Apparently the Long family (her own family) was very important in Bristol; her great grandfather watched the riots in Queen Square, her great great grandfather owned a coal mine and her 3x grandfather owned 150 houses used on the London Stage Coach run. Going back another generation her 4x grandfather had entertained Garibaldi in his house when he visited Bristol.

On investigation it turned out the coal mine was actually sand pits and Garibaldi only stopped in Bristol for 10 minutes when the train stopped at Temple Meads.

Despite all her many warnings, her final message was to enjoy doing your family history but don’t believe everything you find.
Pat can be found every Saturday afternoon at Weston Town Hall and is happy to help anyone with their research, and their website www.wsmfhs.org.uk has lots of information on it to help as well.

 

 

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