January 2011

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

Cottages by the Aylesbury Road, Wing
Some genealogists find that they are interested in undertaking a one-place-study but aren't sure exactly which place to choose. If that sounds like you, here are some suggestions to help you narrow down which of your ancestral places would be most suitable.

  • Make sure no-one else is already working on your place - if there is an existing study under way, approach them to see if you might be able to collaborate. If you each have access to different source records, are interested in slightly different aspects, or have different skills to bring to the table, a joint study may work well. If the place you are considering is the one you are currently living in, is there enough interest to set up a local history group?
  • The higher the population, the more work is involved – if the population is over a thousand it takes a really, really long time to transcribe each census or work through parish registers. I would think a place with around 300 to 500 people at each census time is manageable but still large enough to give you plenty of variety. Smaller studies will progress faster.
  • If your place seems a little large, you may start by looking at just a hamlet or some other smaller subset, however consider the practicalities of locating information - a bigger place may be more time consuming but actually easier in the long run to research. If your place seems a little small, perhaps have a long-term goal to look at a natural grouping of villages in the immediate area.
  • Having a place name that is unique in that particular country helps – not all databases and search engines make it easy (or possible) to filter out the other alternatives.
  • If your place also gave its name to the registration district, this can be a little more difficult. It's fine if your place is large enough that anything in that registration district is relevant, but it's less appealing when searches in databases will bring up all the results for the registration district as well as the individual place with no quick way to distinguish between them.
  • Having a place name that isn't similar to any other place names in the same county, particularly when handwritten, also helps – you know how your eye is always drawn to your own surname on a page? The same thing will happen with your one-place-study name, and if there are several similar names it can get a bit frustrating.
  • Having a place name that is a generic word is more challenging. Mine is Wing, and as you can imagine this pops up frequently in historical documents in both its complete form (e.g. the wing of a building) and also as part of other words (e.g. owing, following).
  • Spend some time up front getting an idea of what records are available and how you can access them. If key registers are available only for physical viewing at a record office you can't get to, that may not be the place for you. The recent growth in online accessibility of scanned source documents has made things easier.

Of course, if you've already fallen in love with "your" place, all these considerations are out the window. At the end of the day, having a passion for your place will be more important than the ease of undertaking your one place study.

The author of this work retains all rights and must be credited when the material is displayed or shared. Any use of the material for commercial purposes requires the written consent of the author, as does any use of a significant portion of the material for purposes other than individual private research.

Picture credit: Cottages by the Aylesbury Road, Wing: © Copyright Stefan Czapski and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence; original at Geograph.

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