Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A-Z Challenge: C is for Certificates

When people first start to look into their family history, they often begin with birth, marriage and death certificates.  I know I did - and I leapt into the detective work of tracing and establishing a family tree by pouncing feverishly on each certificate as I found it, often focusing only on the name of the individual it concerned.  I didn't, for instance, look at a birth certificate for someone called John and notice that his father was called Henry and his mother was called Mary, who was listed with her maiden name.  I just looked at 'John'.

But it's when you come up against those brickwalls I mentioned in my previous post that you realise you really should have looked at all the other information that was just sitting there, waiting for you to notice it:
  • Parents' names (including mother's maiden name)
  • Father's occupations
  • Address of event
  • Whether the couple were married by licence or by banns, in a mainstream church or nonconformist
  • Is the father listed as 'deceased'?
  • Cause of death
  • Witnesses to a marriage; informant of birth/death
And then there is locating the certificate itself.  If you are hunting through the General Register Office's indices for the registration number, it is always worth remembering (put up a sticky note on the wall so that it is in front of your nose) that the event was not necessarily registered at the same time as the event actually happened.  The indexes are divided into four quarters: Jan-Mar, Apr-June, July-Sept, and Oct-Dec, so my birth (in November 1959) was actually registered in the March quarter of 1960!  I have several instances in my family tree where other family members told me I would never be able to find the birthdate, because such-and-such an individual had changed his age and run away to sea...but I found said individual.  He had been born on 31st December, but registered in the next year's first quarter!

When I began to research my family history, over thirty years ago, looking for the reference to a certificate meant a special journey to St Catherine's House in London.  I grew impressive biceps as I heaved huge books from their places on tall shelves and turned crackling pages as I visually scanned line upon line of beautifully-written handwriting.  Now I switch on the computer and go to FreeBMD - and all it takes is a click of the mouse.  How astonished my ancestors would be at this technology!  FreeBMD volunteers (I was one) have transcribed over 214 million records - and they still haven't finished.  But I will be forever grateful that they have worked so hard - and so too are my ancestors.

1 comment:

  1. Certificates certainly hold a wealth of information--though getting them is another story all together.
    Great A-Z post!
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

    ReplyDelete

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