By the late G. D. Hawkins


It is suggested that in the following thoughts there are the germs of some good lectures and/or magazine articles. I invite any of the experts in our hobby to develop these ideas freely. 


Are we fooling ourselves?

I suppose most of us family historians are (whether we realise it or not) aiming at the biological truth of our ancestral relationships, but are we fooling ourselves? Apart from our need to take care in understanding the records as presented to us, is the information which we are deriving from the records always as true as it is given? Did the informants always give the whole truth? Did a mother always even know who was the father of her child!?

Perhaps there is nothing we  can do to alter this situation. However, we must --- as always in family history --- be careful and appreciate the circumstances in which records were made. (We have a tendency to regard official records as "gospel"; we must realise that even official records depend on information given by the public.)


Scope for faults in records

We tend to regard records (particularly official records) as the truth, but it is usually not long before the novice family historian begins to realise that records do contain errors. It may be worth trying to list the causes of faults in records --- why records depart from the truth.

Informant did not really know the information he gave.

Informant only wanted to get rid of the questioner.

Informant felt he had reason to hide the truth.

Questioner misheard the informant.

Questioner did not appreciate the meaning of what he was told. (Family historians can often be stumped because a place name is in some way misleading.)

A mistake was made in transcription. (All records as now held have a background of a lot of transcription.)



Spelling and seeming spelling errors are in a class of their own. Not all spelling variations should be regarded as errors; accordingly, family historians should not be narrow in assuming that their particular ancestors had a particular manner of spelling their surname but should realise that in former days spelling was not a fixed thing as it usually is now.

Over the ages, both pronunciation and spelling have varied and the interaction between the two is quite complex. Even at any one time, individual clerks had their own individual practices in spelling.

In olden days, the informant was usually of no help to the clerk as the informant probably could not read and write and therefore could not check spelling and accuracy.



Few family historians give much thought to genetics. This is perhaps unfortunate, as genetics is a large part of family history and family history can be of much help in connection with the genetic factor in medecine.


Future of Family history

Are we nearing the peak of the family history hobby? Of course, there has "always" been genealogy --- witness the Bible --- but where will family history be in the future?

Family history as a mass hobby perhaps started with the better availability of records. It is now being helped enormously by computer facilities, especially the Internet. The rise of the family history hobby has some way to go yet, but is it then doomed to decline? The later census records are embargoed, families are much more mobile than even only a few years ago, electronic data is perhaps less secure than paper and traditional family structure conventions are disintegrating.

Is there any hope for the future of family history? Will there be any point in it? 






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Furness Family History Society. Established 1993. Affiliated to the FEDERATION OF FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETIES.