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Get Into Genealogy Part 2

It must also be remembered that some names can be spelt in different ways and these variations may have been misread and not transcribed correctly. A classic example is the surname Gardener, the original derivation, one would assume, being attached to a person who tended gardens for a living. Although they sound very similar, the other spellings can confuse searches - Gardner without the 'e', and Gardiner with an ' i '. Add to these the possibility of poor or faint handwriting and even Garner comes into the equation. Be wary of strictly following only those entries spelt in a particular way. When the line of current research does dry up, it may be advisable to consider one or more of the other spellings as a possibility; and have a look at references to them in the various document sources before dismissing them.

A valuable resource of the genealogy detective is people. Those still living who are members of the family, or unrelated individuals who might have known one or more, may provide snippets and anecdotes verifying or refuting specific details of earlier times. This is especially important when factual data is confusing. It might have been assumed that the family being investigated was resident in a particular area during a certain period - records relating to this place seem to confirm it as likely, and the tree should continue on from there. Then an old friend claims that this couldn't be because the Grandfather and his own were, at that same time, both members of a town band many miles away in a different county. Following something like this, records in this other county might be checked to discover there was a family of the correct name living there, as were ten more with the same surname. Perhaps the way to go then would be to compare the given names of children born to each of the possibles with the idea of eliminating the ones which had too few offspring, not enough, or bearing different given names.

Unfortunately, names themselves can be a problem, both given and surnames. Imagine trying to tie down an Evan Williams who was thought to be living somewhere in the Northwest of Wales in 1899. Both names were popular, still are, making the task daunting. When it comes to given names, the reference to any old Tom, Dick, or Harry isn't far wrong; and as for family names - those from the father's side, and the maiden names of the mothers - they are rarely unique. In fact, some seemed to be a prerequisite for breeding like rabbits! Faced with a conundrum of this magnitude, many will be tempted to give up in despair, which is a pity, for here is where the real detective work comes in.

Let me introduce you to the personal side of investigations which TV and Movie cops do all the time, interviewing "persons of interest" along with those who may have seen or heard something. They usually add: "Anything you can remember, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, give me a call." Much of the information acquired is dismissed as irrelevant or unreliable, and this is your brief - to decide what is, or is not, pertinent. To be successful, you must remain aware of human nature and failings. Memories can't always be relied on, particularly from those individuals who like to tell a good story and may have filled in a few blanks with assumptions, or used some poetic licence to spice it up.

Then there are the "quiet" witnesses, wary of divulging information which could bring to light an indiscretion of their own that they would prefer remained buried. In some instances, this tendency is less personal than it is endemic. My wife and her sister hail from the West Country in England, a region well-known for stand-offish inhabitants reluctant to accept strangers into their midst. Even someone born there, but of parents from a different county, are still likely to be regarded as a "foreigner". Interesting, perhaps, but as we were just needing factual data, what the people of the area thought about others seemed irrelevant. Unfortunately, there was another trend that went cap-in-hand with this reserved attitude - West-Country folk are very secretive. Even in this modern age, it is understandable how certain facts might be embarrassing, or thought of as shameful, such as illegitimate births, criminal activities and suchlike; in olden times, family pride and standing mattered more so. Having accepted this, the two sisters were still puzzled by an inconsistency regarding what was best to keep quiet about. Their father had been born out of wedlock and that was freely admitted; yet their mother had told neither of them that she had once been a school teacher - what was so terrible about that? There were also discrepancies of knowledge about uncles and aunts - my wife thought one thing, whereas her sister claimed she had been told something different. Apparently, official documentation would be needed to prise open some of the family's locked boxes.

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