There are those who say that it takes a village to raise a child. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that sometimes it takes a village to find an ancestor. Last week’s topic was whole family research. There is a technique that is often useful that is more extensive than whole family research. It is village research.
Understanding the nature of the towns and villages in which our ancestors lived can provide tremendous insight in our research. Understanding the village’s history, its geography, if there was a particular noble family who owned the land, and what the predominant religion was and what its customs were are all part of doing thorough research. It is also very enlightening in understanding the lives of our ancestors and helping them to become real people in our eyes.
In addition to the historical, geographical, political, and legal sides of the village research, there is also the genealogical side. For small villages, often the best way to research them is to link the entire village together into families. If the village is of medium size then it might be useful only to research those surnames into which your family married. You may find that researching all the surnames into which your family married leads you to researching the entire village.
In many ways this village research creates the most accurate genealogical picture. As you assemble the individuals who lived there into families the likelihood of making an erroneous assumption decreases. Evaluating each birth, marriage, and death in the village in the context of all of the families can give you a very clear picture of relationships and may point out inconsistencies you may not have otherwise found.
I have found an Excel spreadsheet to be a very useful tool to organize village data. I have done some of the village of Bedlington, where my wife’s family is from.
I organize each event (christening, marriage, and burial) into its own line with all the information from the record as well as a unique identifier. I leave a column open for the family identifier of the parents and of the children. This then allows me to start sorting the records by various dates and times. As I do this I see family relationship start to appear. I then begin entering the information into my personal record organizer. As I discover family relationships I give them a unique family number that associates a parent with their children. I work over time to identify all the family relationships. Some are very easy to identify, while others need research in additional records.
This type of research is time consuming but very rewarding. The lessons learned in doing this type of research will help you in all of your ancestral searches and the information gained will give you invaluable insight into the lives and relationships of your ancestors. Sometimes this is the only way to unravel genealogical questions. It really does sometimes take a village to discover an ancestor.