is a considerable variety of material that might be considered within this
heading. Family documents can either provide the framework for a pedigree,
provide personal information to expand the family story or possibly
contribute to both. The value of family documents is not always
immediately apparent. These notes provide some indication of the
possibilities and problems that they present.
Possibly the greatest treasure in any family is the family bible. This may
date from the early 19th century or even earlier and will usually contain
"genealogical" pages for the family to record births, marriages and
deaths. Caution is however, needed and the following points must be
watched. Firstly, it was common to enter earlier family details
immediately the bible had been purchased. These might be copied from
another earlier bible or from memory. There is possibility of error in
either case. Note the publication date of the bible and the dates of the
entries. If the entries pre-date the publication date by a lengthy period,
treat them with particular caution. Also, watch out for a "run" of entries
in the same ink, pen and handwriting. This may be a sign of entries
transcribed from elsewhere at a single sitting. Be aware also that the
birth dates of illegitimate children or children born within the first few
months of a marriage may have been adjusted to "legitimise" them. Obtain
certificates to confirm details in all cases.
Marriage & Death Certificates
may be fortunate to find original certificates or later copies. This will
save the need to purchase copy certificates and will speed up your early
research. Original certificates are particularly valuable since it is not
unknown for certificates to be lost or mis-indexed within the registration
system. It is also possible on a modern copy, if it has to be transcribed
from a poor quality microfilm that an error may be made. For example a
birth certificate, which names the mother as Mary Ann HARMROYD, was
transcribed as Mary Ann ARINROYD.
Diaries, Birthday, Address and Autograph Books
will frequently contain names and various details of friends and family
members. It may be difficult to work out which is which. Birth dates will
often be noted but frequently the year will not be recorded. This can
still be useful when faced with two possible birth index entries. Marriage
and death dates may also be found in such books. Ages at death may also be
noted. Addresses may be particularly useful when searching census records
or electoral registers for the family.
Records of Military Service
might include discharge papers, pay books, medals, citations, items of
uniform (badges etc.) or other items. They will each provide some useful
data but the key piece of information you will be looking for is the name
of the regiment or vessel in which the ancestor served and possibly their
service number. These are essential details to access the wealth of
material, which can be found in military archives. Medals can usually be
identified by reference to specialist textbooks and their identity may
suggest further lines of investigation.
Cemetery and Undertakers' Receipts
it can sometimes be moderately difficult to find a death certificate, it
is often a much greater problem to locate a burial. Cemeteries usually
issue receipts for payments for burials and these frequently note the
grave number. Even if an undertaker's receipt does not name the cemetery,
it will probably give the date of burial or will have been produced
shortly after the burial, which makes it much easier if one has to ask the
cemetery staff to search their registers, which are frequently not
indexed. A receipt for a headstone may also help but note that this may
frequently be erected months or even years after the burial.
Systems of registration were imposed during both world wars. The cards do
not contain much information but can still be of help. Firstly, they
required the new address to be entered on the card when the person moved
so providing a record of movement throughout the war years and some years
after. Secondly during WW2, cards for children aged 16 or less noted the
fact and named the parent. Date of birth is not recorded.
they will not often provide much help with relationships, family
photographs add a considerable amount to our understanding of the family.
They can show the clothes our ancestors wore, their hairstyles, where they
lived, worked and holidayed and many other aspects of their lives. The
principal problem is that seldom are the subjects clearly identified, if
they are identified at all. It is therefore important to use the knowledge
of other family members to the full. Even if names are not provided, it
may be possible to identify individuals with some certainty from their
presence in group photographs (particularly weddings) or their association
with a known house or business premises. Some clues may be obtained if the
photo can be dated and there are several books that assist with this using
clothing, hairstyles, poses and photographic processes as clues.
Education and Work Records
records may include such items as school reports, university publications
and documents relating to employment. In addition to such information as
is contained in the documents themselves, they may point you to other
sources, school records in local record offices, university alumni books
or business records deposited at record offices or still held by the
businesses concerned. For professions such as medicine and the law, there
are professional registers and other sources available.
Societies and Other Organisations - Membership Cards & Publications
will at the very least provide some indication of the person's interests
and pastimes. If the organisations are still in existence, they may still
hold records, if defunct, records may have been deposited at local record
offices (for example friendly societies, trades unions, charitable
organisations etc.). Newsletters and other publications by the
organisation may also contain information if the person was an active
member. They may even contain an obituary of your ancestor. An indication
that the person was a member of an organisation may be found in
non-documentary form such as a badge or official regalia.
Postcards and Letters
may contain valuable personal information that might not be found
elsewhere but even the most trivial holiday postcard will link a name and
address at a particular date (postmark if legible). With postcards, it is
often difficult to identify the sender since they are usually signed with
forename only and rarely carry the sender's home address.
Preservation of Family Sources
history of your family is important to you, so must be the preservation of
family documents and artefacts. Take copies whenever possible in case they
are lost at a later date. Make sure the possessor is aware of your
interest. They may hand them over into your care or make others aware of
their value to you. If possible, encourage them to specify arrangements
for their care within their will or by enclosing a note with the items
with instructions concerning their disposal.
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