Friday, November 15, 2013

Genealogy is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces

Help Desk
The following is a piece of advice aimed at people who think they have got stuck, and is based on my reply to a recent query.

Tracing your family tree is like doing a jigsaw puzzle where key pieces may be missing and some pieces may be wrong, incomplete or misleading. Others pieces may have come from a completely different puzzle. The fun is in trying to fit the surviving pieces together and filling in the gaps.

What you have done is found a "place of birth" piece which doesn't fit on a modern map of Hertfordshire and assumed that you have hit a brick wall.

But there is no reason to come to a halt. Use your imagination! You have other pieces of the jigsaw you can place. You know your ancestor's names (you have several pieces which can be used separately or together), when she was born, and the county in which she was born. So are you really stuck?

In fact the answer to your question is available to you online in minutes if you ignore the "place of birth" piece and use the others. What you will find in the first five minutes online will depend on which genealogy package you are using.

If you are using FindMyPast you should look at the 1871 census for anyone with her first and last name born in Hertfordshire in about 1867? This will provide you with the name of her father and also allows you to identify the mysterious "place of birth".

Ancestry is not always better than FindMyPast but in this case it is very much more informative. A search for her, born Hertfordshire in 1867 will quickly provide you with a ready made family tree (I didn't bother to check how far it goes back) and if you add the place and date of her marriage it will provided you with a copy of the marriage register - which includes the name of her father. The family tree may also make it possible to contact distant cousins you didn't know existed.

But remember, when trying to solve your ancestral jigsaw puzzle, most of the fun comes from trying to work your way round the "missing" and "mysterious" pieces.  If you think you are stuck collect all the pieces you can find and try various combinations. You will find yourself shouting "Eureka!" every time you find a place for that awkward piece you put on one side some time ago when it wouldn't fit.

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This is the newsletter for the Genealogy in Hertfordshire Web site. Comments on this blog are moderated and may be transferred to the web site where appropriate. If you have a local or family history query you want answered you must use "Ask Chris" - See box in right hand column. Anonymous comments cannot be answered.