01 January 2013

2012 - The year in review

I had thought that this past year hadn't been quite as successful as the previous one based on exciting finds, but in reviewing all my work for this post, I'm not so sure that's correct. True, there haven't been as many well-known/famous people popping up in the family tree, but I've still found out huge amounts, but with a lot more hard slog.

I thought for my review of this past year's research I would focus on the most useful resources I've used. Not the ones that anyone can plug a search into and find info - like Ancestry or Findmypast, but the ones where it takes much more patience, but in the end can be so much more rewarding because you discover a titbit of information which no one else has known about perhaps since the time the relevant person and their close relatives died.

I love research and have no problem trawling for hours through parish records or newspaper articles to find useful information. Often it involves the use of Google Translator to translate things from French or German, but that's just more of the fun! So here are the most useful resources that I've used this year for finding obscure bits of family history information:

FamilySearch microfilms
I am enormously grateful to Pauleen Cass for putting me onto this wonderful resource. Although on FamilySearch you are able to search for records online, the Church of the Latter Day Saints has microfilmed thousands, possibly millions, of parish records from across the world, which you can borrow for a limited time for a small fee, and access through your local Family History Centre. You can find the records available for borrowing through their catalogue search. Through this service I have searched through many for baptism, marriage and burial records for lots of Beringers this year, as well as some of the Baumgartens in Germany. There is no way I could have accessed all of those as easily if I were trawling through the same records in the local archives in Germany. Here, I can take down the information, go home and translate it, and then go back for more when I know who else to look for. As well as the vital records I also checked out a merchant navy record for someone who turned out to not be a relative. Looking through parish records takes a lot of patience, especially when they are written in other languages, but you can find out so much that you just can't get anywhere else.

Gallica is a search engine for French documents. Although you can choose to have the search page in English rather than French, the results are in whatever language the document was published in - most often French. From Gallica I have, over time, found an awful lot of information about the Weiss' and my research this year on William Baumgarten was definitely aided by Gallica. Usually when I use Gallica, I find any articles which appear to reference the person I am interested in (because I can't read French), then type the relevant paragraph(s) into Google Translator to work out if they actually are about the person I am researching. It's a slow painstaking process, but can be quite rewarding.

British Newspapers 1600-1900 (Gale)
These British newspapers are what I return to time and again when I am researching my English and Scottish relatives. As a resident of NSW I am eligible to be a member of the State Library of NSW, and in their e-resources I have access to this database (through a password), from the comfort of my own home. If your relative won any "biggest turnip" competitions at the local fair, got in trouble with the law, had possessions stolen, played in the local cricket team, advertised their business, etc, there's a chance they got their name in the paper. Once again it is a slow painstaking process checking through sometimes hundreds of articles to see if any of them actually refer to your own relative, but you can find some gems. I have found lots of references to my musical relatives importing instruments, advertising music lessons, their latest published music, or write ups of concerts they were in. If the felt they were important enough (or rather had the money to pay for it) they might also have placed birth, death or marriage notices. However I also have many other relatives who seemed to keep their heads down, out of mischief and never rated a mention. It can be a real mixed bag.

UK National Archives Documents Online
The UK National Archives can be a goldmine of information - well what would you expect?! Through their catalogue you can search all collections or just online collections. With the online collections, for a small fee you can download the document straight away. It is very useful for wills and military records. The family line that I myself have traced back the furthest - the Peisleys in the 1600s (through the Weiss', Baumgartens and Joynes) - it was mainly because of information in wills that led me back so far, as the parish records that far back don't contain much useful family history information. Be prepared to decipher difficult handwriting.

So there's my top options for finding obscure information about your ancestors. Happy 2013!

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