the article and data that initiated the Ravenstonedale project
our project page on the Family Tree DNA website
Researching families in the British Isles
As you have found your way to this page of this website, I assume that you are interested in your family history and have discovered that some of your ancestors came from Ravenstonedale (or you may have followed a link from one of my other webites). I imagine that you started your research with known family members’ dates and places of birth, death and marriage, and then tracked backwards through every census, recording dates and places of birth of all the children in each family group? However, once you get back beyond the 1851 census (which is the earliest one in England & Wales to record this information), you will need to resort to parish registers to identify baptism, marriage and burial entries for the individuals in your tree. I hope these notes will help you once you reach this state of your research.
Unless you are able to visit the relevant County Record Office in person to examine the original parish registers, you will be limited to such on-line sources as are available. Subscription sites Find My Past, Ancestry and The Genealogist all provide access to the 1841 – 1911 censuses and they are all rapidly increasing the availability of transcribed parish registers for various counties in England and Wales (often with images of the original entries) – so these should always be checked if at all possible. If you have ancestors in Scotland, you will find excellent coverage on Scotland’s People http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/ (this is a fee-paying site). For a very useful guide on researching your ancestors in England, I recommend reading Peter Calver's MASTERCLASS in this issue of the Lost Cousins Newsletter!
1824 map of counties in England and Wales by
George Carrington Gray (click to enlarge)
Starting from the last place that you identified your family in the 1851 census (or the place of birth if that is different from the parish where the family was living), you now need to start searching parish registers. I find it helps to work with an atlas beside me, to sure that there is some logic to the location of the parishes where I find entries that match the people in my trees. Some families remain in the same village for centuries and everyone appears in the registers for that single parish. Others move around (particularly agricultural labourers, who may have each child’s birth registered in a different parish depending where the father found work that particular year) … but the parishes are generally grouped in the same part of the county (often in the same Poor Law Union, as it was very difficult for working class families to just move to another parish without a Settlement Certificate).
During the latter half of the 1800s, as the Industrial Revolution took hold and families could no longer afford to make ends meet working in agriculture, you may find families suddenly disappearing from the area where they had lived for centuries and reappearing in a more industrial area (often with the head of the household - and quite a few of his children) now being recorded in the census as working in the mines or cotton mill. But from 1851, the census entries will tell you where they were born so you can be pretty sure it is the same family.
It is a bit more complicated if you have ancestors in Ireland as apart from the 1901 and 1911 censuses, there are only a few surviving parishes for the 1851 census available to help you confirm family groupings. Currently you can search indexes to all Irish civil registration records online at http://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/ and either transcriptions or images of the actual certificate are available FREE online. This site also has some Church of Ireland and Catholic parish registers available. Catholic Parish registers for the whole of Ireland have now all been digitised and can be browsed online at http://registers.nli.ie/ but you have to trawl through the pages of each register searching for your family members – though FMP is gradually providing indexed Irish Catholic records (with links to the original images), which should help you identify the right location.
The November 2016 issue of the Newsletter of the Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) included an item 'Focus on Irish Family History' which is well worth reading.
But, whichever county in the British Isles you are researching, having a clear strategy to locating the necessary records, does not always work if you are restricted to researching on-line! So quite often I have to turn to Family Search, which provides a free index to the entries in a substantial number of parishes in the British Isles.
At this point, I must tell you that I am regularly sent family trees for inclusion on this site, or on either of my one-name study websites, which seem to have been produced either from public trees on sites like Ancestry or My Heritage, or entirely from records located on Family Search (and you should also be aware that many of the 'parish records' provided on Ancestry are actually sourced from Family Search). Some of the trees I am sent contain very obvious errors, often as a result of the compiler’s lack of understanding of the geography of the British Isles, but sometimes because no attention has been paid to available census entries to confirm family grouping, or considering the possible age range at which women are likely to bear children! My first task is always to try to replicate the details on the tree using actual census and parish register data – and it can be very hard to explain to someone that a key person in their tree actually died soon after birth, so cannot possibly be their great grandfather! The lack of burial records on Family Search is just one reason for the many inaccurate trees that you will find online; another is the practice of ‘cherry-picking’ a marriage for a couple with the right names – regardless of the logic of where such a marriage took place in relation to the births of the couple themselves and/or children. If you are struggling to find a marriage for a couple you have located in the census, it may help to know that it was very common for marriages to take place in the bride’s parish, and in some communities the first child would also be born at the bride’s family home, even if the couple lived elsewhere.
BEFORE YOU EVEN BEGIN … If you don’t live in the UK (or even if you do!) take a look at the brilliant map provided on the Family Search website at http://maps.familysearch.org/#layer When you first open this map, it shows the OLD counties of England and Wales as they were in 1851, before they were reorganised – various changes to the county structure were made in 1889, 1965 and 1974, some of these changes were reversed as recently as the 1990s! For example, you will not find Westmorland at all on a modern map - it was merged with the old county of Cumberland to form Cumbria. You can search for a placename (which will drop a pin on the location), then zoom in and click the ‘Layers’ tab and select ‘Parish’ which will bring up a map showing the boundaries and names of all the adjacent parishes.
It is often helpful to find an old Ordnance Survey map which shows the old roads, and physical aspects of the region, as this will help you to work out how likely it is that your ancestors would have moved between the different parishes where you have located possible relatives. For example, I know that there were old droving routes connecting Ravenstonedale with the Yorkshire parishes to the south and south east – and that the many nonconformist families would have thought nothing of walking many miles across the fells to attend a meeting house located in Sedbergh, Garsdale or Dent. Some will have met their future wives at such meetings.
When I use Family Search, I use targeted searches whenever possible, and locate the batch numbers for the Parishes where I think there is a possibility of locating the family I am researching. Archer Software’s ‘Guide to the British Batches’ is invaluable (and includes more parishes than the earlier list created by Hugh Wallis): You will find it at http://www.archersoftware.co.uk/igi/
If you DO need to resort to a general search through an entire collection of Births, or Marriages, there are links on the introduction page of the Archer website which will take you straight to the correct collection.
BUT, you must ALWAYS remember that not all parishes are included on Family Search, and even those that are represented do not always have all years included.
Another very important thing to remember, is that the extracted entries from the various parish registers are only an INDEX, and they have been transcribed by a person who may not be familiar with the local names. So as well as possible transcription errors, the original entry may well have included additional information about the people involved. If at all possible, original records should always be examined.
One other crucial factor that you should keep in mind if you use Family Search as the main source of information, is that very few burial records are included in the collection. Knowing if the child you have found in the baptism records actually lived to adulthood is crucial if you are not to make substantial errors in your family history research!!
Expanding your tree sideways to identify cousins
This is probably more satisfying than attempting to take your tree back hundreds of years. If you can locate distant cousins researching the same family, they may be able to provide more factual details about the ancestors you share (and even photographs and stories about their lives), and if you have taken an Autosomal DNA test, this is the best way to discover how you are connected to your closer matches.
This page http://www.adamthwaitearchive.org.uk/one-name-studies/ on my Adamthwaite Archive website explains how one-namers approach genealogy, and it is the way that I research all the family trees that appear on my ADAMTHWAITE and APPLEBY websites. I often start with the grandparents of someone who has contacted me asking for help in working out if they belong to an existing line. As I locate each person, I draw a rough tree in pencil.
Once I have taken a family line back as far as I can with confidence, using reliable parish registers and census entries, and entered the details I have found onto my Legacy family tree program, I produce a descendancy chart on my printer. I work FORWARDS from the most distant known ancestor (MDKA), following the families of all his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I attempt to identify each individual in the parish registers and locate them in all the relevant census entries – once they disappear from the census I try to find a death/burial entry for them or a marriage if it is a female. Sometimes whole families disappear, so, if I can’t find them elsewhere in the country I start to search passenger lists to discover if they have emigrated. I also refer to Probate Calendars, burial sites such as Find A Grave or Deceased Online, Military records, even Newspapers and Apprenticeship records, to locate people who disappear from the censuses. As I go, I add all the census and PR data that I find onto excel spreadsheets, marked up with the name of the line. This prevents me allocating a particular family or event to more than one family tree. Sometimes, I discover that the family I am researching does actually connect to an existing family tree! The spreadsheets are loaded up onto the relevant study website, along with the final version of the descendancy tree, to help other people who visit the websites to identify their own ancestors.
Additional information about individuals is brilliant at providing clues about their actual lives - and can sometimes be found in Newspapers, Tithe Maps, reports of Court Cases, Poor Law records, Wills, etc - it is always worth searching the Discovery catalogue of the National Archives as well as online catalogues of the relevant County Record Office.
For the one-name study websites, I only include individuals who still carry the Adamthwaite or Appleby surname (though I try to include the names of spouses of married daughters), but for my own family history research, I include descendants of married daughters too.
The most recent generations can be the most difficult to research as in the UK we have no censuses after 1911, though the recently released 1939 Register has provided a lot of valuable information. However, we are lucky in the UK to have indexes to all the civil registration records covering the period from 1837 to ten years ago, and it is often possible to produce a chart which includes living people (though I never include recent generations in charts on the websites). If you can find some of these people on websites such as Genes Reunited, Facebook or Ancestry you may well learn much more about your shared ancestors - and a new friend to share all those discoveries!
Good Luck! and remember, I am always happy to help you to research your Ravenstonedale ancestors!
but keep checking to see what information I have added to this section!
example of a rough first draft - click to enlarge
a different tree, but this is the next stage - I have added notes to show the censuses where I have found each individual as well as the extra information these have provided
The red square on the map of the British Isles above indicates the location of the area covered in the map below...
I regularly mention how helpful distant cousins can be in researching branches of your family tree. The Lost Cousins database is designed specifically to help you locate those distant cousins - and as well as Peter Calver's brilliant Newsletters, if you take the time to enter those families you have identified in key censuses in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as the USA and Canada ... you are sure to discover others researching the same families!