I thought I would share a bit about how I find and use old records to learn about my ancestors’ lives. I’ll use the baptismal record of Nancy Casbon as an example. Nancy was the daughter of James (“James Casbon of Meldreth (~1772-1833)”) and the sister of James (“James Casbon, Farmer and Carrier, 1806-1871, Part 1”). I speculated earlier that her father was a landowner, mentioned in the 1820 Award Book for the enclosure of Meldreth.
James married his second wife, Mary Howse, in 1796. How can we learn about their children? For this example we’ll do an online search using one of my favorite sites, FamilySearch (Https://www.familysearch.org). I like FamilySearch because: 1) it’s free, although you need to sign into the site to access some of the content; and 2) the data collections are extensive, drawing from the millions (billions?) of records collected, filmed, scanned, or transcribed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“LDS” – Mormons ). I have no affiliation with the LDS church, but I’m sure grateful for all the genealogical records they’ve stashed away. We’ll start at the FamilySearch opening search screen.
Detail of screen capture from https://familysearch.org/search
In this case we’ll leave the First Names and Birthplace fields blank. I’ve filled in the fields for Last Names and Birth Year so that the search includes anyone with the Casbon surname born between 1795 and 1815. We’ll limit the search to records from Cambridgeshire. One nice thing about FamilySearch and other online genealogy sites is that they use fuzzy logic to find similar-sounding surnames, so the search will still yield results even if the “wrong” spelling is used. It’s also possible to use “wild cards” (“*” and “?”) in place of letters to find even more variant spellings.
Here is a screen capture of the results of the search (there are actually several pages of results, but the closest matches to the search criteria appear first).
Bingo! You can see that three of the first four results show the names of children born to James and Mary Casbon: James, born 7 September 1806 in Meldreth; Mary, christened 20 May 1798 in Meldreth; and Nancy, christened 26 January 1800 (my third great grandfather Thomas, son of Isaac and Susanna, appears as the third result). Now that I have names and birth/christening dates, I can enter this information into my genealogy software (Family Tree Maker®). Since we’re interested in Nancy today, we click on her entry and see this screen.
This screen tells us that Nancy’s baptism information is contained in a data collection titled “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.” The collection only contains limited transcripts of the church records. The citation tells us that the source of the information is Family History Library (FHL) microfilm 990,297.
Let’s say we want to see what’s on that microfilm. Why? Well, because the microfilm can show us information that might not be included in the transcript. Also, it allows us to see records in chronological order and get a sense of who and how many people were getting baptized, married and buried in the parish at any given time.
It used to be possible to order microfilms from the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, and have them delivered to a local Family History Center (located at LDS churches) or even my local library. However, just a few weeks ago FamilySearch announced that they will stop distributing microfilms as of August 31, 2017. They are in the process of scanning every microfilm and converting them into digital images, a project they hope to complete by the end of 2020.
Fortunately, the digital images of the Meldreth parish registers have recently become available on the FamilySearch website. The images aren’t indexed, meaning you can’t look up individuals using the search page. Instead, you have to locate the file (i.e., Meldreth Parish registers) using the online catalog, and then browse through the images to see what they contain. Also, the parish register files can’t be viewed from home – you have to go to a local Family History Center to see them.
So, I went to the nearest LDS church (A.K.A. “Family History Center”), logged into FamilySearch, and located the link for the Meldreth parish registers. This is what the screen looks like.
Detail from screen capture, Meldreth Bishop’s Transcripts (I don’t have a screen copy of the parish registers, but this gives you an idea of what the screen looks like). (Click on image to enlarge)
Each thumbprint image represents a frame from the FHL microfilm. Each frame of the microfilm contains a photograph of a page or two of the parish registers, consisting of several books. The images can be viewed individually and downloaded. Here is the frame with Nancy’s baptismal record.
Unenhanced digital image of frame from FHL microfilm 990,297, showing Meldreth parish baptisms, 1796–1800.
(Click on image to enlarge)
I like to make the images more “presentable,” so I do a little enhancement with photo software, straightening, cropping, adjusting light and contrast, and adding a sepia tone effect. Although artificial, I like to think this last step gives the image a more realistic appearance. Here’s the enhanced version.
And here is a detailed view showing the entry for Nancy’s baptism, January 26, 1800.
The column on the left is titled “Born.” You can see by the dates that children were not always baptized the same year they were born. You can also see that the year of Nancy’s birth is illegible, either because it has been erased, or just badly smudged. This means we really can’t know for sure when Nancy was born. Since her sister Mary was baptized in 1798, it’s likely that Nancy was born sometime between 1798 and 1800.
This is just a small example of the genealogical research process. For me each new bit of information is a new discovery, a small piece of a larger puzzle. The puzzle will never be completed, but every piece put into place makes it a little easier to understand the whole.