Family historyFree resources

Background information

A couple of days ago, someone asked on one of the groups I am on, how people find information to fill out their family history.  She was researching the plain births, marriages and deaths information for the family, but wanted a little more colour, some information to bring the time period to life.  I have a number of suggestions.

Firstly, if you run out of things to investigate for a family, or they are in a profession which has very few written records, try researching the places that they lived. I should think nearly all of us have agricultural labourers in our family trees somewhere, and it can be very difficult to get any more than the plain event information for an individual.  However, it is possible to investigate the kinds of employment that was available.  In the 19th century and before there may be information about local hiring fairs, and you will likely be able to find general information about what sort of things your ancestor might have been doing.

There may be a rural museum or a museum of country life local to your ancestor, which can give valuable background information.  This is the facebook listing for the local Museum of Lincolnshire Life, which is at Lincoln, and has a great deal inside it of interest to a local or family historian.  Unfortunately it is closed for the time being, but they seem to have a lively Facebook and Instagram account.  There are often locational groups on facebook or village websites on the internet, which you can join, or local history groups with websites.

I highly recommend the Geograph project, which may not only have some useful information for an ancestor, but may also include a photograph which is released under a creative commons licence.  For example, putting “hocking” into the search bar threw up this page of photographs, some with a building designed or dedicated to a Hocking, some with the word Hock in them, it’s a bit of a magical journey finding things, but worthwhile. Putting Uxbridge in, brought up a number of different views of the town.

The other source of a LOT of useful information is the Internet Archive.  To obtain the results partly captured in the picture above, I simply put in the name of an ancestor, and although it is annoying that it shows me results for all of the Thomas’s and not just the one I am looking for, it is also a wonderful thing.  Among the results you can see above are:  A Life of Luther, that might be interesting to someone with a confirmed supporter or Luther in the family; a vade mecum for “modern” midwifery, dated 1840, could be useful for someone who wanted to know what birth was like then, or who has an ancestor who was a midwife or doctor, or for anyone who would like to know what would have happened in particular circumstances at that time; the Life of Thomas Muir, advocate, who was sentenced to transportation for sedition, useful for anyone with someone working in the Scottish courts around 1800, lots of names and great detail about the case; On the loss of Teeth and the best method of restoring them, dated 1857 by Thomas Howard, surgeon dentist to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which might be useful to anyone wanting detail about dentistry in the 19th century, either due to having a dentist in the family, or a family tale about dentistry; A treatise on the treatment and education of the blind published 1895; A guidebook to the local marine board examinations; and picturesque illustrations of the Isle of Wight, dated 1834, surely of interest to anyone who has ancestors from the Isle of Wight.

This was just a random search for a random name, but threw up so many books which might help give colour and background to a family story.  If I search for something specific there is even more chance that something useful might arise. If you know the occupation of your ancestor, a general search for information about the profession may throw up some useful material. It’s not often possible to find specific information for a specific ancestor, but by thinking around their life, and finding accounts which are similar to their own accounts, you may well be able to add colour and life to their part of the family history.

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