When digging into your family history it is important to get to know the area where your family lived. The more you know about it the better off you will be at tracking down those elusive members that just don’t seem to show up for 20 years – they must be on a census somewhere.
This is not just about knowing that the transcription of house name “Saft” is actually “Taft” or that there is more than one house on Unst called “Garden” so you can look for detail about which one it is. It is also going to help you spot the relatives you’re after when you’re looking further afield.
Let me give an example. When you’re looking at people in a census return who were born where they live now, their birthplace will generally be recorded correctly, for example, “Unst, Shetland”, possibly in part, because the enumerator is also from the same place and therefore knows how to record that place. When they live further afield, the enumerator will not necessarily know the place they were born and so will have to record whatever they tell him. I’ve seen a number of examples of this during my research, here’s the most recent one which prompted me to write this post. In this example without the local knowledge of, in this case, Unst, you might not realise they were the same people.
|ROAD, STREET, &c.,
and No. or NAME of
|NAME and Surname of each
to Head of
|17 Bellevue Cres||Jas White||Lodger||20||Baltasound, Shetland|
With local knowledge I know that Baltasound is in Unst, and that this is therefore my missing James White. Without that knowledge I might have skipped over this record assuming it was somewhere that wasn’t Unst.
So get some maps out and start familiarising yourself with the area. Perhaps even make a visit there to see the places for yourself. If you’re researching Scottish areas, you might find the Old Maps I blogged about before useful for this.