Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reader Question: Locating extremely old historical documents

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
A friend and reader posed a question that I thought would be beneficial for everyone. She and her father are researching their family history and managed to get to 1764 but can’t find his birth certificate or who his parents were and the Census in the UK didn’t start until 1841 so they are at a loss for what to do.

Normally, for me that’s where I’d stop because living in the US I can’t really go any farther without traveling to the UK (or whatever country I’m researching) and that’s too cost-prohibitive right now. However, since my friend and her father live in the UK and I’m assuming their 1764 ancestor was also from the UK I have a few suggestions.

The first is to call and/or visit the older churches in the area where this ancestor lived. In my experience during this time period most of the documentation on births (or at least baptisms) were kept on file at the church. If you can locate the church documentation, you can search for his baptism and with that would include his parents’ names and possible other information related to that ancestor. Also using the parents’ names you can locate other siblings and possibly learn more about your family history through them.

Second, if you can’t find the church documentation, consider visiting the government offices of the county (or shire) this individual lived in. You might have to go to those surrounding in case the county lines are different now than in the past but the one he lived in will be a start. Ask them how far back their records for land purchases (deeds) and wills go back. You might be able to find the individual’s own will as well as his father’s or maybe his father transferred property to him when he came of age and that deed transfer is on file. Also remember that back then, the first born son was (generally) named after his parents’ fathers so you might be able to find out your ancestor’s father’s name through trial and error by using the son’s name.

If you can't afford to travel but can afford a phone call or two you might be able to contact these places as well. Often they will research and copy any documents found for you. Of course there is normally a cost for this so make sure you ask before you commit to anything.

I hope this helps you in your search. Let me know what you find!

Happy hunting!

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