Getting the most out of records: the bigger picture

When I’m working through records, particularly for births, deaths and marriages, I like to have a look at the other records on the page alongside the one I’m there for. Not only can they provide answers to questions that would otherwise meet a dead end (who are those witnesses at the family wedding? – they’re another couple who were also getting married that day), but they can be a great source for social history and of other people’s stories.

The recent release of the Irish BMD registers has been fascinating because you now get to see the full register page (up to four marriages per sheet and up to ten births or deaths). This shows up patterns and information that would otherwise be lost:

  • A number of births is registered at the same time by a local woman – possibly a midwife?
  • A series of deaths points to the impact of an epidemic on a small community.
  • Discoveries of a twin who had otherwise been lost to family history (sometimes multiple births are also indicated by a time of birth on a birth register).

By looking at pages of records for Dublin births, I realised that babies born at the Rotunda Hospital were usually registered by someone from the hospital and without their first names.  This helped me to track down the birth records for a family who had lived in a different registration district, and whose absence from the official records had been puzzling me for some time!

Likewise, looking at pages of records for deaths in workhouse hospitals (where many non-residents also spent the last few days of their lives), these were also often registered at the same time by someone from the workhouse, rather than a friend or member of the family. This helps to explain why the details on the registers are so often wrong about age, occupation or marital status, and has made me more confident that some of the death registers I have, but had put to one side hoping to find a better fit, are for the right individuals.

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