Working back to 1837/1841: some conclusions

Last week’s post showed how it’s possible to start with very little information, yet take a family tree back to before 1837.  In just one hour I created a tree, discovered 33 people, attached 72 Ancestry records, and referenced a few more from GRO and FamilySearch.  I took the tree back to Cyril’s 3x great grandparents, John and Hannah, who were living around the year 1800.

Before moving on, I thought it would be worth standing back a little to consider some issues this exercise has thrown up.

First – why did we just follow the men?
We each have 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents and 32 3x great grandparents.  The number continues to double with every generation – and that’s just the direct ancestors!  So we have to approach it gradually and logically.  My method is to follow back one surname as far as I can take it – and of course a surname is traditionally passed down the male line.  I then come back to the women marrying into that line and work each of their lines back in turn – maternal and paternal.  Eventually all lines will be covered.

Is it always this easy?
Ah, if only!  😊
In fact I really wanted to follow Cyril’s paternal line.  I recently found his surname in my own ancestry in the 18th century and wondered if we might be distantly related.  Since the online search could only reveal with certainty Cyril’s father’s full name – no year/ place of birth, parents’ names, etc. – it wasn’t possible to do that.

This doesn’t mean all is lost.  Having located the record for Alfred and Dorothy’s marriage, I could purchase the marriage certificate.  It would reveal Alfred’s age and occupation, also his father’s name and occupation.  Alternatively, the release of the 1921 census (anticipated in 2022) should show Alfred living with Dorothy and their young family, and will include his age, occupation and birthplace.  Either of these records would help me to locate Alfred in previous censuses, as well as his baptism and birth records, enabling me to take his line back.

So is there ALWAYS a way round?
Sadly, no.  Sometimes the records are just not showing.  Perhaps they don’t exist, or perhaps they’ve been wrongly transcribed.  Perhaps there are just too many people of the name you’re looking for born in the same place within a handful of years.  ‘Brick walls’, we call them.  I have several.  With luck, hard work and determination, eventually we may find some other evidence that will point us to the information we need.  But, hey – that’s part of the fun!  😀

What other information might be available about the people identified in Cyril’s tree?
Although I was just creating a skeleton tree for Cyril’s ancestors, lots of ‘Hints’ popped up, offering me other relevant records.  (I’ll do a separate post about using Hints soon.)  Even though I didn’t include these hints in my research at this stage, I could see that several were correct.  I saw, for example, military records from WW1 for some of the young men.  There was a fantastic series of photos shared by a family member showing Cyril’s great grandfather Charles Jagger with his siblings, their partners and their father Joshua.  I also noticed, very sadly, that Charles committed suicide.

What else might I expect to find?  Death records (I would have to buy the actual certificates for the full information), burial records, baptisms, electoral records, possibly mentions in the local newspaper or entries in directories, perhaps probate records, including digital copies of the actual will, and if these people were active in their church or the union, perhaps mentions in the minutes, etc.  All kinds of discoveries await!

When I work on a tree, I like to see what stories are emerging.  With just the skeleton of information collected in my last post two stories emerged for me:

The Jaggers were miners, and although they moved around a little, they were always part of a mining community.  Apart from the suicide, it struck me that other early deaths might have been occupational.  Were there accidents in the mines?  Do the certificates record deaths linked to occupational hazards for miners, such as respiratory?  I would try to find out more about the mines in the area, work out which ones these men worked at, perhaps even visit one if possible, or perhaps a mining community museum.  I would want to know about life not just for the miners but also their wives and families.

I also flagged up Nonconformity in my last post.  This is the umbrella term for Protestant religious organisations in the UK other than the established Church of England.  By the time of the more recent generations in Cyril’s tree, Nonconformity was widespread, but in previous centuries, Nonconformity, or being a ‘Dissenter’ was a huge commitment, impacting on every aspect of a person’s life.  This too, then, is something worth investigating.  How far back does Nonconformity go in this family?  Is there information on the history of the chapels they attended, about Nonconformity in the area more generally, or even Nonconformity linked to mining?  Early Nonconformity has emerged as an important story in parts of my own ancestry, and I’ll be exploring this is later posts.

Investigating such stories doesn’t depend on finding records about our individual ancestors.  We can learn much about them and their lifestyles simply by reading general historical accounts and records, visiting relevant places, and imagining our ancestors in this setting.  It’s one of the aspects of genealogy I most enjoy.

What about you?  What are the emerging stories in your tree?

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