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Family Tree Researchers.. Listen to Your Older Folk

posted 14 Sept 2010, 08:36 by Mpelembe   [ updated 14 Sept 2010, 08:38 ]

Advice I've been given and found useful, over the years, is
that our senior members of the family can be a gold mine to
listen to, should you wish to root out some leads for your
family history research. A word of warning, however, beware
of those false assumptions that have been passed down. The
tales that our old folk have to tell can sometimes be
blurred by the passing of time and are not quite a hundred
percent accurate. Theses stories may sometimes reflect the
"received wisdom" which has been passed down in the family
to them, that is tales which have had facts adjusted to
brush over something that was thought an embarrassment to
the previous generations.  I'm sure you know what I mean, an
aunt and uncle who lived together, out of wedlock, because
one or other of them still had a legal spouse alive
somewhere else! Many families close ranks and decide never
to mention the facts again in case they bring down shame on
their name. We forget how times have changed when today,
cohabitation is not even given a second glance in Britain
and many other places around the western world.

I've got stories that have sent me off in certain directions
trying to find an ancestor of Irish birth, only to find he
may well have been a colourful invention. I've vague
recollections of family tales of heroic deeds by certain
relatives, when the reality was less prosaic. Nonetheless
listening to our elders is an important place to start and,
on occasions, to go back to as a source.

I had a great opportunity, recently, to find out a bit more
from my father about his youth, holidays with his parents
and as a young man the trips he made on business. The
catalyst was a themed day out with him. My Dad and I went
for a Sunday meal in the dinning car of a steam train on the
Great Central Railway at Loughbrough. A problem can be
getting the chance to sit down and talk with our parents
about the old days. In our case a birthday treat on the
Great Central Railway steam train, offered a useful
introduction to some stories from the past that I had not
heard before. I learned about my father's train trips from
Birmingham to Devon on the Great Western Railway as a child.
Journeys he made in war time Britain, when he was no more
than a teenager on leave from the Merchant Navy and
travelling home in uniform to visit his mother. He also
recounted to me his foreign rail trips as a young
professional architect attending possible developments in
Portugal and Turkey before the days of inexpensive
commercial flights to these places.

But while it is great to listen and record these stories we
must remain vigilant. So many of us in our genealogy
research have jumped to conclusions based on incorrect
information, more especially when we are just starting out.
We are taught to listen attentively to family stories and
tales, because we know that older family members are often
our best source of information on our family history.
Memories, however, will often become faulty or can be
exaggerated with the passing of time. We need to have a
healthy regard for this and always try to confirmed these
oral histories by going to the actual records and documents
to confirm what we have been told. The same applies equally
to printed sources - simply because a family tree or record
transcription has been written down or even published in a
book or on a website does not necessarily mean that it is
correct. Never make assumptions about the quality of the
research done by others as we all make mistakes and that
includes the professional genealogists!

Always revisit your research and check to see if it may
include inaccuracies. Could you have misinterpreted some bit
of information that someone else has written down or told you
verbally? Have you jumped to a conclusion because it fitted
the theory, but without sufficient proof? In spite of these
warnings, please don't ever stop listening to family tales!
They can be priceless.

About the Author:

The Nosey Genealogist, Nick Thorne, has gathered together
tips and tricks used by professional family historians to
break down brick walls in family history research. See
reports, podcasts and screencast videos to help you succeed
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