June 2006

Alex Coles, alex.coles@one-place-studies.org

This article was originally published in the June 2006 issue of 'Bucks Ancestor', Buckinghamshire Genealogical Society.

Genealogical wisdom dictates that your family history will never be complete, so you should always write it up now. I decided to listen to this particular piece of wisdom, and set off to add some context to my own people by investigating the places they lived in. One village, Wing, took on a special significance as the family had stayed put for several generations, a rare thing in my family!

I think it all began with deciding that transcribing the whole parish in the 1841 census would be a smart idea, as I would probably turn out to be connected to half the population and it would save me time later. Then I wondered how much competition my blacksmith POLLARDs would have had – reviewing the numerous directories of the 19th century would tell me that. After that I had to learn more about straw plaiting which was very big in Wing. Surely such information might be useful to others, perhaps I should add it to my existing website? That’s about when it got out of hand - naturally the project would need its own domain name so that search engines and fellow researchers could easily find and bookmark it, and naturally those fellow researchers would be hungry for new information each time they visited………hey presto, the Wing One Place Study flung itself into existence!

It wasn’t quite that easy, of course, to commit to it. Didn’t you need some sort of seniority in genealogical circles to do such a thing? Wasn’t it madness for someone living on the other side of the world to “claim” a parish they’d never even visited? And surely it was the height of insanity to attempt a one-place-study when you had no ready access to the record offices that hold so many tantalising resources. Madness it was perhaps, but so be it! The reality is that if you do feel that connection to a place and no-one else is out there already doing it, then you are the right person for the job.

I see a one-place-study as bringing together the “standard” sources of information about the residents of a place with the more obscure references about the people and the physical and social environment in which they lived. It’s good to know that the DIMMOCKs, DENCHFIELDs and HARDWICKs were the main carpenter families in Wing in the 1860s, but even more fascinating to think they were likely gathered together in 1863 to watch Thomas “Wingflyer” WILLIAMS run for glory along the Cheddington Road against William LANGHAM from neighbouring Mentmore (sadly the glory went to Mentmore, but Langham did have a head start!)

Creating your own transcriptions of the parish registers and census records is a good starting point. With your soon-to-be in-depth knowledge of the families of your village you will likely make a better job of it than anyone else. I decided to prioritise burials first as the key pieces of information from baptisms and marriages could be found in alternative resources like the Phillimores series and the extracted batches of the IGI. I am rethinking this strategy though – I have compared my transcribed POLLARD baptisms to those found in the IGI and discovered the omission rate in the IGI was almost 25%, so getting accurate baptism transcriptions underway soon is a must!

You will be surprised at how often you come across other resources that have useful information. You finally have another excuse to buy interesting-looking CDs, books and fiche – after all they *might* have something about your village(rs) in it! Some ideas to get you started:

  • I can’t get to the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies in person, but the Access to Archives website has abstracts of some of their holdings – landowners, criminals and removal cases are frequent finds.
  • I have transcribed the relevant entry from each Bucks historical directory I can find, as well as created a consolidated index of names from those directories which is great for tracking how different trades ran in different families and who was running the local pubs at any given time!
  • Newspapers are fabulous for adding colour – your local library may offer in-house or online access to The Times Online (juicy cases heard at Aylesbury did make The Times), BGS’s own Barbara Quick is doing a fantastic job on the Leighton Buzzard Observer at http://www.leighton-linslade.com/lbo/, and the Windsor-Eton Express and Northampton Mercury are being transcribed by Richard Heaton at https://web.archive.org/web/20170324153930/http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com:80/~dutillieul/index.html.
  • Check for a local War Memorial listing servicemen from the village. You might also find your local soldier boys stationed away from home at census time.

Following on from the article in the January 'Bucks Ancestor', were there Methodists in your village in the 1890s? Check the index at http://www.methodist-central-hall.org.uk/ to work out the fiche reference for the circuit your village fell under, then ask at your local records centre or library to see if they have the fiche for the Methodist Roll (Auckland City Library here in NZ does!) which records in their own handwriting each member that provided funds for the building of London headquarters for the Wesleyan Methodist Church. I have gathered plenty of Wing people, which makes up for the fact my great-grandfather Alfred Henry COLES, son of a Methodist lay preacher, is still eluding me somewhere in London...

You will likely have better luck than me investigating electronic databases or internet search engines for your village – as well as popping up as a place in Bucks and Rutland, Wing also gets flagged by search engines in the form of wing commanders, hospital wings, the follo”wing” people appearing in such-and-such a document, etc. Anyone undertaking a one place study of Mentmore, for example, won’t have the same problem!

How you structure your study depends on the kinds of records you have and whether you are online or offline. I decided that my website needed sections for “primary” transcriptions (parish registers, census, directories) that should be as exact a transcription as possible and include all pieces of information from the original record. However other areas are more an accumulation of snippets from a variety of sources that lend themselves to a particular theme, be it bad boys, military men, bigwigs, nonconformity, immigration or health – these tend to include a bit more of my own commentary along the way! If you decide to have a website (by no means compulsory but highly recommended – if you don’t have the tech know-how perhaps you could pair up with another genealogist who does, and work on the study as a team) I do recommend you get your own domain name right at the beginning, which is also a good time to decide whether you want to include things like a guestbook or a database of your visitors’ research interests (in the interest of minimising everyone’s spam I decided to do this behind the scenes, that way I can put people in touch with others who will be genuinely thrilled to hear from them).
Remember to stay focused on the goal of bringing the parish to life, particularly if you have a website with links to other websites. Are they really offering something of specific interest to your village? I have a short list of links to the one-place-studies of neighbouring villages (good source of brides and grooms!), the one-name-studies for surnames found in Wing, and websites of fellow Wing researchers that have included details about their family on their website – anything more generic doesn’t make the cut as there’s plenty of good websites out there dedicated to a wide range of genealogical links.

The absolute best part about running a one-place-study is of course meeting your new neighbours – or at least the descendants of your ancestor’s neighbours. I wouldn’t say that I have a torrent of emails, but the steady trickle lets me know that people are finding the website of value. Behind the scenes I am (extreeeeemely slowly) compiling a hopefully definitive family tree for each surname in Wing, and there’s nothing like a new enquiry from a new person to get a new tree going! You will slowly find that in a lot of cases you do have pieces of information that is helpful to prove or disprove a conclusion that another researcher has come to (and vice versa of course), and working together to untangle the twisted web of information and misinformation is extremely rewarding. Other researchers may have old photos, documents or stories relating to your place of interest that they are willing to share with others. I have also been in touch with someone who, as it turned out, had no Wing connections, but was kind enough to think of me later when she came across an old magazine article about Wing. You become a veritable magnet for information about your parish! Isn’t it nice to know that all those stray snippets now have a good home?

And on a more selfish note, new family members will be able to find you much easier. Before my website went live, I had no luck finding any other POLLARD descendants, but now several have found me and together we have danced triumphantly on the brick wall.

"One Place Genealogy” by David Hawgood (ABM Publishing) gives a good overview of how to go about a one-place-study. As always, Google is your friend – “one place study” will bring up plenty of websites to browse for ideas and inspiration. Buckinghamshire is quite under-represented at present - I for one would love to see more people adopt a parish so if you are tempted please jump in with both feet! I’m happy to help out anyone who would like a bit of support or guidance. And, of course, if you have Wing ancestors and haven’t emailed me or visited the website, I expect to hear from you soon!

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