The perils of research

I’m having real fun at the moment tracing records for the workhouse. Working from, it’s a jump from one census to another, then on to births, marriages and deaths. In some cases, it’s easy to move backwards – with the Newing family, for example, there was a set of siblings which provided a group of names together – if the same combination of names showed up, with the right ages, then I could be fairly certain they were the right ones.

With smaller families it gets harder, especially if you know there’s someone else with a very similar name around at the same time.

There’s the constant opportunity to link up with someone else’s research, which can be useful – a good way of finding other family members quickly. You can compare what they have found out with your own research and decide whether it’s likely to be the same person.

The problem comes when you don’t know how thorough their research has been. Have they carefully checked their sources, or just picked on someone who sounds like they might be right? Are you following a true path or have you been lured onto a false trail, possibly never to realise it?

I’m currently researching Edward and Mary Goodwin, who were both in the workhouse in 1881, aged 74. Tracing back, I’ve found them in previous censuses, and am fairly confident that Mary was born Mary Sandy, and they married in 1845, as I’ve found both names in the marriage register, and their records appear on the same page, and they’re also linked in some other people’s trees.

But when I try to link up with other trees, some have Edward with one set of parents, some with another. Some have him marrying Mary Sandy, while one gives her another name.

I think he died in 1884, still in the workhouse, and I’ve found a death of Mary Goodwin recorded in Blean in 1882, which I’m assuming is also in the workhouse. Trouble is, all these other trees recording Mary Sandy have her death in Blean in 1884, with no citation recorded. With no evidence to back them up, I have no idea who’s right in all this, and to complicate things further I’m going to have to divert into researching another Edward Goodwin, middle name Packham, who was born at around the same time and who I think is occasionally getting mistaken for my Edward Goodwin. Better to research him and be able to recognise him when he crops up than to focus fully on the original one and just hope that the false trails get spotted.

I can’t wait to get to the historical records office to see exactly what sort of details I can find out there – I really think I’m going to head out there tomorrow, just to see what I can do. I did email them this morning asking for advice and guidance, and received a message within a few minutes – but that was just an automated email response saying if my message required a reply I should get one within 20 days *sigh*, just not used to that sort of delay in this electronic age. Still, it will be an interesting trip, even if I don’t get to do very much to start with. It’s really just having an idea of what they have and how I go about seeing it, and understanding what research I can do at home to maximise my time there.

I think it really is time I did my own research in how to research, rather than ploughing in, clicking on links I hope will help and really just feeling my way around without knowing very much about what I’m doing.

I think of this research as a three dimensional pin board, with multiple pins on multiple layers, with the researcher attempting to join different pins up from different sources to make a flowing line – the challenge is making sure that you wind the thread around only the correct pins, that each relate to the same individual. It can be so easy to make a slip somewhere, and then end up shooting off in a completely wrong direction.


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  1. Have fun tomorrow! – Is there a catalogue online? That way you can see what they have and pre order material to be ready. It would be worthwhile taking some ID with you, a drivers license or passport and a bank statement – that way you have photographic and address ID as many of the records offices issue cards following from seeing the ID.Nothing more irritating than not having the ID when you need it!

  2. I’ve booked my desk and I’ve sorted out library card and extra ID – they do have an online catalogue, but I really don’t know my way around it. I’ve got as far as – don’t know if that link will work, but it’s searching for blean union workhouse, I have a finding number G/BL, but no idea how that translates to actually getting hold of records. I did say to the library that I’ll need someone to show me the very basics, so hopefully I’ll know a lot more by this time tomorrow! Any advice welcome 🙂

  3. Have you checked out

    I have never been to this particular records office,because I have no direct Kent ancestry, but I have always received some great assistance where ever I have been, including those overseas.

  4. Hope you had fun xx


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