Question: When talking
to an elderly family member would the information they provide be considered reliable?
Answer: That’s a very good question. You will have to
establish for yourself if the source has a reliable memory regarding other interests as well. If this individual can remember
other details in their youth with clarity, if they can identify old photographs with names and places, then you have a source
of direct evidence. It is always best to use two or three sources to confirm family relationships. In this case an elderly
family member can provide essential links to family groups, and then you can follow up by obtaining resources to confirm the
elders first hand knowledge. Sometimes it’s best to have three, four, or more sources that report the same fact to really
confirm validity. It becomes very important as you travel back in time.
Question: Didn’t a lot of surnames result from occupations?
Answer: Yes, that’s very true. For example: someone who
had repaired roofs with thatch in England may have ended up acquiring a surname like Thatcher. One legend is that homes having
thatched roofs, which is thick straw piled high, had no wood underneath. Since straw provided warmth and shelter it was a
place for animals to get warm. So many cats and other small creatures like mice and bugs, carved out a place and lived in
the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying:
“It's raining cats and dogs”. It was then time to call Mr. Thatcher!
Question: How would I know if my ancestors just
took on an orphan and gave them the family surname?
Answer: With all the epidemics in Europe, and elsewhere around the globe, this certainly
happened frequently. Keep in mind that in all families there have been situations were a person’s parentage has been
in question for one reason or another. Every person we identify on our family tree is a decision we base on the documented
evidence we have accumulated. The idea is to use the best evidence possible to establish an ancestral relationship. Be critical
when you are looking at documentation.
Question: When did birth certificates start being used?
Answer: Back in 1837 the countries of England and Wales started a central records location
for all documentations of births, deaths, and marriage. Primarily this was done for tax purposes so they knew how many people
they could tax, or will be able to tax in the future. Compulsory registration of births started in the United Kingdom in 1853.
It was slow to move around the various British colonies. Prior to this the records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths were
recorded in local church records, in family bibles, or personal journals that people kept who knew how to write. That’s
why finding publications, journals, or similar historical records are so important. This provides a focus on the general area
where additional source information might be found.
What is the Doomsday Book that I keep seeing referenced?
Here is the short answer. In the year 1086 there was a survey conducted in much of England and Wales to find out the value
of land, and livestock, owned by individual landholders. This survey was conducted for tax purposes. Since it had to do with
taxes it was considered the “Day of Judgement”, or Domesday, for the landholders. Since whatever was decided was
unalterable the landowners were liable for the tax. The survey was actually two independent works that are jointly referred
to as the Doomsday Book. It is a great source of documentation, and the beginning of family lore for those who may be able
to reach back into British history that far.
Question: When did
the use of surnames begin?
Answer: Although this would seem to be an easy question to answer it is complicated. Generally speaking
in Western countries the surname is meant as a family name. The family name meaning started to appear around the year 1375,
and is known as the “last name” in Western cultures. In some countries located in Eastern Asia the family name
is actually placed before the individuals first or given name. This is an important point to remember as your genealogy extends
back in time across Europe.