To mark the start of the new year we are delighted to bring you a guest post by Celia Heritage. Celia is a professional genealogist and lecturer in Family History and, yes, her surname really is Heritage. Celia offers professional research service, online research advice and Family History Courses. She is currently working on putting her popular 5-week beginners’ and refreshers’ course “Building Your Family Tree” online and has several talks on using maps in family history coming up in her talk schedule over the next few months.
Using Maps for Family History Research
As family historians we often become set in our ways in the types of records we study. Records of birth and marriage tell us about our ancestors in relationship to other people, while census records provide us with a glimpse into the lives of our families once every ten years, showing us where they lived and what they did for a living. If you hope to really get to know your ancestors however, it’s time you turned to other sources and two of the sources we regularly underuse are maps and directories. We are very lucky to live in the world of digitisation! Digitisation has revolutionised family history, taking records that were previously only available in isolation on the bookshelf and, not only making them accessible at home via the Internet, but evolving them in order to achieve a far greater depth of meaning.
Whereas maps tell us what sort of environment our ancestors lived in, giving an indication of local facilities from railway stations, public houses, factories and public baths, directories give us specific information about the people who actually lived in that environment: where they lived and often their occupation. Directories are excellent sources for fleshing out your family tree. I traced two of my own relatives Joseph Hemus and his wife Martha in the post office and trade directories for Birmingham between 1880 and the 1920s. From the directories I discovered that although Joseph ran a draper and hosiery business, his wife had her own business as the proprietor of a domestic service agency, initially from the same address as her husband and later at a separate address. The directories also showed that Joseph and Martha had originally lived in and run his draper’s business from one premises but, presumably as his business prospered, he was able to rent separate premises for the business a few streets away from the family home. In his later years a study of the directories once again shows that he moved the business back home and guess he must have downsized the business in his later years.
The beauty of the AddressingHistory project is that it marries these two concepts, producing as it does the results of a surname search in the directories plotted on a map of the environment in which they lived. This means that not only is it easy to pinpoint exactly which part of the city an ancestor lived in at that time, but that you can simultaneously locate other family members with the same surname living in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh directory of 1784 predates the first national census that was of any use by some 57 years while both the 1865 and 1905 directories are useful stop gaps in between the decennial census returns. And while we are here – the other great thing about this project is that with the selection of three maps many years apart it makes a superb tool for watching the city of Edinburgh develop through the years before your very eyes!