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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree June 2019 > PUTTING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY INTO CONTEXT

PUTTING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY INTO CONTEXT

No family lives in a bubble! Our lives are shaped, and even completely changed, by context – what goes on around us. Here professional researcher Kim Cook shows you how to gain a much richer feeling for your ancestors’ lives by exploring the five key research elements you really need to know about…

DISCOVER YOUR ANCESTORS’ WORLDS

5 KEY RESEARCH APPROACHES TO ENRICH YOUR GENEALOGY

First let’s think about what context is in terms of ‘family history’. Context starts with family, spreading out to the local, the regional, national and international, impacting in varying degrees on family life. To understand the events that shaped the lives of our ancestral families, we need to consider these five elements of context.

1. Family

Documents give us the facts of our ancestors’ lives, but it’s not necessarily obvious why their lives shaped up as they did. For that, we need to dig deeper, studying and interpreting documents from wider sources alongside each other.

Manchester Cathedral was one of many churches popular with couples who wished to avoid opposition to their marriage

What can parish registers reveal?

Parish registers from 1538 until the 20th century give us essential information, but studying them the old-fashioned way, page by page, can give even more insight.

Reading all baptisms for the relevant period may reveal children born outside wedlock or from a previous marriage, those who died young, without featuring in a census, or children who lived with other family members, changing the family dynamic.

With no relationships shown in the 1841 Census, some children in a family may be step-children, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren.

Examining all marriage entries may reveal family members witnessing other marriages. Were these other couples extended family, friends, or colleagues? If the same witness name crops up repeatedly, was he a parish clerk or churchwarden?

When an expected family marriage isn’t found, a search of banns should indicate the parish where it took place. Where there are no banns for a missing marriage, this suggests opposition, impediment, or bigamy. A couple facing family opposition would pay for a month’s lodgings in a distant parish and have banns called there. Once banns had been called three times, the couple could marry there. City churches, including St Martin in the Fields, London, and Manchester Cathedral, were noted for such marriages.

Hints of legal issues

Legal impediments were a tougher hurdle, particularly when there was a prohibited blood or marital relationship (as listed in the prayer book, Table of Kindred and Affinity), between bride and groom. Where a widow or widower wished to marry the sibling of the deceased spouse (forbidden affinity), the couple, and often close family, had no option but to move far away, permanently, where the previous marriage was unknown.

Escaping a bad marriage was legally impossible for most people until 1857, and even then it was expensive and difficult. The only way was for one of them to move away, and become known as single or widowed. If another love bloomed, any marriage was legally bigamous, although bigamy was rarely uncovered.

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About Family Tree

What is it about family history that's captured your imagination? Whether you're seeking the story of your WW2 veterans who fought at D-Day, or tracing your tree across continents to bring your family back together again, we've got a host of advice and tales to help and inspire you: 1. Gen up on your ancestors' role in D-Day (75 years ago this June). 2. Discover how to use DNA, combined with the paper records, to trace family worldwide. 3. Learn about the top 10 genealogy sins - and how to repent and become a better family history sleuth! Plus DNA tips, reader stories, expert advice on your questions and brickwalls, and so much more... - including that all-important topic of 'How to write your family history'! Enjoy