Using sources to fill in a family tree– in this lecture, we’re going to be looking at three documents and using the information found on them to fill in a family tree. Now, this should give you an idea of what direct and indirect evidence can be gleaned from documents and how to approach using a common genealogical chart. So, I’m going to use Scottish records here, which are blessed with a wealth of detail, but these techniques can really be used with any country’s records. To begin with, we’ll look at a birth record for a child named George Pearson who was born in central Scotland in the late 19th century.
And this record shows us George’s name, and it gives us information– when and where he was born.
In this case, the 7th of July, 1893, at 3:42 in the morning. He was born at Glenview in Bothwell and which we know from other sources is in the county of Lanarkshire in Scotland. The third section gives us his sex, which in this case is an M for male. And yes, that really is an M. A main challenge with records is getting to grips with the handwriting. And I can promise you that the more you look at old records and try to work out what they say, the better you’ll get at it. Next, we have his parents’ names, including the maiden surname of his mother. And that’s what MS stands for– maiden surname, which in this case is McLaren.
The other information we get here is his father’s occupation, which in this case is a wholesale stationer. And rather wonderfully, Scottish birth records give the marriage day and place of the parents, if they were married. And finally, we get the name of the person registering the birth which, in this case, is Charles Pearson– George’s father, who was present. And this means he was physically present at the address where his son was born, not that he was in the actual room at the time– which was highly unlikely given this time period. So now, we’ll see how this information can be used to begin to populate a family tree.
This is a standard ancestral chart, which we’ve adapted for use on our genealogical courses. It’s a four-generation chart and shows both the father and the mother’s lines of the person shown at position one, in this case the baby whose birth record we just looked at– George Pearson. Then we’ve been able to add information on his parents’ names, his father’s occupation, and their marriage date and place. This is a good start for our family tree, and the next record we’ll look at will add even more information.
This is the marriage record for George’s parents– Charles Pearson and Isabella McLaren, who were referred to back on George’s birth record. So firstly, we can see the date and place of marriage. As this information– along with the parents’ names and father’s occupation– agree with that found on the birth record, we can be fairly sure that this is the right couple. Then we see the names of the groom and the bride, along with the groom’s occupation and their marital status. And in this case, both parties hadn’t been married before as they’re shown as “bachelor” and “spinster”. So the ages come next here– with the groom being 33 which, subtracting that from 1891– i.e.
the year of the marriage– gives us a possible birth year of 1858. And the bride’s possible birth year being 1868 as she’s 10 years younger. The next column shows us where they were normally resident at the time of marriage. And then, we get the names of the couple’s parents along with the occupations of the fathers. And Scottish records are particularly helpful as they give both the father’s and the mother’s name, including maiden surname– unlike England and Wales where the mother’s name is still not given on marriage certificates. Along with providing valuable direct data, this also helps us be more confident that we found the right couple’s record and allows us to search for their parents with greater confidence.
You’ll also note that against some of the names is the notation “deceased”, and this is an indication that the person has died by the time of the event being registered. And here, we’ll see that the only parent still alive is Isabella’s father Duncan McLaren. And thus we can look for death records for the other parents. The last thing to look at here are the names of the witnesses– W. Martin and Kate McLaren. And it may be, given Kate’s surname, that she’s related to Isabella. And the other witness might be related as well. It’s just not so obvious from the name.
So with the addition of this further record’s data, our tree has become much more populated. We’ve been able to add in possible birth years for Charles and Isabella as well as possible birth places, based on their residences. We’ve also been able to push back another generation and give names, occupations, and years before which death has occurred. We have one more record to look at to complete our overview.
So, this is George’s father, Charles Pearson’s death record. And this is Isabella’s husband for whom we saw the marriage record in the previous record. And again, we see his name, occupation, and his wife’s name, Isabella McLaren– who’s still alive as there’s no notation of the word “deceased” here. And this information is good corroboration that we have the right man, as it matches with what was found previously. And here we can see that he’s a papermaker’s agent, which is in the same line of work as wholesale stationer as seen previously. And then we get the date, time, and place of death. And in this case, he died in Glasgow
on the 12th of July, 1914, at 6:45 in the morning. So as seen on the birth record, we get an indication of his sex and his age, which gives us a possible birth year of 1859. Then, we get his parents’ names, occupation information, and whether they are deceased– as both of them are– at the time of Charles’ death. And again, this information agrees with what was found on Charles’ marriage record, so we can be fairly comfortable that we have the right man on this record. The cause of death and duration of that cause is then given along with the information on the certifying physician. And he died of Lobar pneumonia, which he had for 10 days.
Then, we see the name of the person registering the death. In this case, it’s a son with the initials J.M. so it’s probably a different son than George, who we met in the previous records. Let’s see what this information now does to our family tree.
So, as you can see, we have quite a bit of information now for Charles Pearson, including some possible middle names which were given on his death record. We also know that Isabella died after Charles’ death date of 12 July, 1914, as she was shown as being alive on his death record. And we have another son, J.M. Pearson to add to the tree. Now, there isn’t a place for him on this tree. And really, we need to begin another tree, showing him in position one. So hopefully, this has given you a good sense of how much information can be derived from a handful of records and how they can really fill out a family tree.
Always remember to take down possible dates of birth and death and witness names as they can be very useful. And always use a pencil when you’re filling in a paper-based tree, because it’s amazing how often you have to change things.