Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family histories, Huh?

     After spending countless hours in front of the computer running down family information I thought I should add some notes on the histories or "our" stories. This will help any future amateur geneologists, you can learn from my mistakes. LOL

    I can't tell you how important is is to know the place, and I mean the exact place, where people came from or where they went to. One of the most useful tools in finding people are the census records. I've searched needlessly through thousands of pages not knowing that my family isn't from Montague township or even Lanark county. What is a 10 minute drive today encompasses three counties and six or seven townships. Township and county boundries and names change with time as well so double check for the time you are looking at. In some cases the location is almost if not more important than the given name.

     Having said that, the census records are wildly inaccurate and often contradictory. There are several reasons. Early Canadian records, pre Confederation, were in some cases deliberately mis represented. People were afraid of being taxed so the answers are false. The census was also at the mercy of the enumerator, if you weren't home,  answers could be provided by a child or neighbour.

     Literacy was also an issue. It is hard to imagine now but the literacy rate in England was about 40% in 1800, 25% in Ireland and about 70% in Scotland. What constituted literacy was also different, being able to sign your name in the parish records was considered being literate in some cases. So you have people who can't read giving information to enumerators that can't be checked or verified. It results in some creative spellings let me tell you. We are also at the mercy of transcibers in the modern indexes. The old records are hard to read and mistakes get made. I have found several just because I know what the name should be. I couldn't find the Lumsden family because it was transcribed as Lamsden in the early records.

     Age is also very fluid, the largest one I have found is a ten year difference. As it turns out, until the Child Labour Laws and drivers license came into effect, age wasn't all that relevant to a lot of people. You could serve in the army at 14 or 15 and be an old pensioner by 25. People didn't think much about it. You worked until you couldn't, married when your parents said it was okay and had children until you couldn't.

     Given names are also a bit of a crap shoot. First, families passed on names so you end up with lots of related people with the same name in the same area. Although it can be helpful sometimes it can also be hard to make sure you have the right "William, John or Mary". One of the saddest things I have encountered is multiple occurances of the same name in children. It usually indicates a child's death. Renaming a later child was a sign of respect. To avoid confusion, many people went by their middle names or nicknames. For example, Grandma Craig's grandparents were "Bert" and "Lena" Wood, everyone called them that and the 1911 census records them as that. Their marriage certificate lists them as Charles Albert Wood and Lurinda Stewart. Never would you know that from Bert and Lena. Be prepared for names switching as well, John William can become William John at the drop of a hat, there doesn't seem to be any consistancy in record keeping for many of the early records. In that vein, people also are recorded either as Sarah or Maria depending on the documents with the full name being Sarah Maria. It can be maddingly frustrating.

     The histories are as accurate as I could be. If the only source I had was anecdotal, I'll say so. The census records, death certificates et al are to provide context and confirmation of family stories and connections.

     The histories started out as an extension of identifying and getting old family photos. Just as an aside the first photgraph was in 1837 in Paris. I have been lucky enough to have had a lot of help for the Craig and Dowsett families and am hoping the Lumsdens, Woods, Fishers and Sadlers will come out of the woodwork as I continue. It has been a lot of fun and incredibly interesting to find out about the family and the times they lived in. I have found out I am not the product of generations of farmers like I thought. There are a few scattered through the family tree but a lot of the family started out in the trades, coopers, blacksmiths, moulders and in the case of the Dowsetts, the military.  Who knew, not me, that's for sure.

     At some point we all wonder, where do I come from? Hopefully these family histories can shed some light on any questions you might have. It also provides a starting point to help pool information that various people have found. It kills me how expensive the ancestory sites are, they've got a good thing going. Posting on the blog offers a free starting point for any future research. Feel free to share anything you'd like posted or just say hi if the family posts are your ancestors as well, after all there are thousands of us out there. Mwahahaha

Take care.


  1. I would just like to say how much I appreciate all this work you are doing!! If I had more time and resources ($$$), I'd love to help out. It's so interesting. For me, I always wondered are we Irish, Scottish, English....mutt? No one seems to really know for sure. (although I guess the redheads and freckles are kind of a give away - LOL). I can't wait to find out all that you discover! I hope others come to know how important this is too.

  2. Just you wait, LOL. It is kind of addictive doing this. It is amazing how much time I have just "lost" sitting down to the computer chasing down leads. Unfortunately it is very time consuming and the posts for the Fishers, Sadlers, Porters, Craigs(yes another whole Craig family from Grandma Fisher) Leachs, Lumdens and Woods are going to be a while. I have been neglecting my recipe testing skills, Grandma Craigs doughnuts later today MMMMMMMM
    I've got Grandpa Craigs lines done enough for now so I think Grandpa Fishers are next but probably not until the end of April. Anticipation LOL


Thanks for your comment, I hope you enjoyed your time in the "Kitchen".