History Group talk July 2010

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The talk this month was given by Mary Hyland of ‘Plantagenesta’ a Family History Research Organisation. The title of her talk was:-   “Dare you Climb your Family Tree?”
This proved to be a very interesting, informative and light-hearted presentation in which she explained the complications, pitfalls and the extreme pleasure that can be encountered when trying to trace your Family Tree. Mary set up this business a few years ago and she was able to relate some of the knowledge that she has gained during that time. One problem for the amateur researcher is the variations that one encounters of spellings, ages, places etc. These can vary so much.
Her first examples were the mixture of first names and surnames and how the two put together create some very amusing combinations. i.e. Heather Down, Rose Bush, Owen A Lott. It is hard to imagine that people have not give more thought to the resulting full name! Some well know people today are still calling their children by what we think are unusual names and the children have to live with that - poor dears! It is very nice to trace your family back several hundred years but she emphasised that what we should do is start today with ourselves. Something that you know for a fact, that is you and your spouse, then your children and grandchildren, your parents and grandparents. That could be five generations. The information about them should be reasonably accurate and the dates and details should be fairly easy to verify. It is important to ‘look’ beyond a name, where did a surname like that come from? Do not forget the ‘maiden names’ of your relations either. Some names relate to past professions, places of origin, foreign countries, and they can often involve a circle of mystery. Unusual names can sometimes help in your research as there may not be very many with that surname, but sometimes that can be a hindrance due to the misspelling of unusual names on documents and records. It has to be remembered that a hundred years ago, and more, many people were illiterate, unable to read , write or spell. When the records that you may investigate were written the person registering a birth, marriage or death would say his/her name and the vicar, registrar or clerk writing down the information wrote what he heard, or more importantly what he ‘thought’ he heard. Many families have found that their name spellings vary tremendously. In March or April every ten years there has been a census since 1841, there were very basic ones before that in 1801, 1811, 1821 & 1831 but they were only a ‘head count’. The next one is due in 2011. It has to be recognised that the census takes place at midnight on one specific day, and many years ago before the modern means of transport, the collectors of the information would have had to go out, sometimes in bad weather to collect the completed forms, at times they did not bother to go to isolated places. They, too, in many cases were not very educated so the details written down could vary in their accuracy to a major degree. The contents of the censuses must not be taken as ‘gospel’. Ages were often rounded down to the nearest five years so it is possible to find two or three children of the same age when in fact there are really a couple of years between them. The 1881 census is sometimes looked upon as the year of the ‘non-writers’ as many places were not included. This due perhaps to the family not filling in the form, the collector not bothering to collect the form, or simply that neither were able to do the task.
One interesting thing that does show up in some documents is the number of children that died young. As the years progressed the child fatalities gradually reduced. Girls could marry at 14years of age and boys at 12 years. Telling lies about one’s age is not a rare phenomenon. Many young men during ensuing wars lied about their age to join up! There is an old parlour game - ‘Chinese whispers’ - where a story gets passed around a room quietly by word of mouth only - when it gets back to the originator it may well have altered considerably. This happens with family history and stories, that have been passed down through the generations, they too can so easily get ‘embellished!’ This is a fascinating subject, an enthralling project to undertake but one must be aware of the pitfalls - just a few were explained to us during the evening.  A good website recommended is - The Family Tree Maker 2005. Books recommended were “From me to you Mum!” or “From me to you - Dad!” These have pages in them that prompt you to record bits of your life that you may feel  uninteresting to future generations, like what toys you had, accidents or happenings that you experienced, places that you had lived, things that you have never told your family, get one and see for yourself! Mary can be contacted at Powderham Country Store, Powderham Park, Kenton, Devon. EX6 8JQ or phone: 01626 890011 or email plantagenesta@fsmail.net Throughout the month of August they will be fund raising for 'Help The Heroes' at Powderham Country Stores. Happy Hunting and Good Luck and do not forget that there are skeletons in some cupboards! Do you want to know about them?

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