Sunday, 22 May 2016

ESM's QuickLessons A DearMYRTLE Genealogy Study Group Lesson 9

Hilary Gadsby

QuickLesson 9: Census Instructions? Who Needs Instructions?    
Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 9: Census Instructions? Who Needs Instructions?” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : accessed 22 May 2016).

Do you read instructions? 
Or are you one of those who thinks they know how to do it and then when something doesn't fit goes to the instructions to see how it should be done.

I started to research in the days when the only census information on the internet was the transcribed 1881 census at Family Search. If you wanted to see anything else or find anyone you had to use indexes compiled by a local family history society. The only way to see an image was to go to the archive or Family History Centre to find it on microfilm.

Today viewing a census page and obtaining the information from several censuses can be done within hours or even minutes. But do we understand what the record is we have before us. Why was it created and by whom, what were they expected to do and how did they do it.

In my research I have used census results in England and Wales and in preparation for this study group I decided to find out more about these and give some suggestions for anyone not familiar with them.

I thought I might have to do some searching and initially thought that The National Archives might have more on their website. However I found another website had all that I wanted and more.

On this website they also have images of the 1911 Census Schedules which include instructions on how the form should be completed.

These formed one side of the form and the other side was to be completed by the householder.
Another site which has more information is the Guide to Census Reports. The particular guide of interest to genealogists is that detailing the history as it helps us to understand the records and the reason they exist.

Whilst census records are a mainstay for 19th century research they did not exist prior to this and we need to consider what alternative records we may use.

The range of records available to assist our research is vast and we cannot expect to understand but a small proportion of why these records exist. 
We need to understand that to make best use of them we need to discover 
  • why 
  • who 
  • where
  • when 
  • how 

We cannot fully understand the society that our ancestors lived in. 
However researching can improve our understanding.

No analysis of the information in a document can be considered thorough if we do not know exactly what we are looking at in that document and the circumstances that required that document to exist.

Birthdates could have been written in a bible if you could write, because there was no official way of recording it, and it was a good way of remembering the date when you had a large family. 
Once official records existed, some may have continued to record in their bibles, but others, chose not to as, they now had an official piece of paper. 

Whilst genealogy has no set of instructions we do have guidelines which if we choose to follow will help us build our case like the castle in my previous post rather than the priory.

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