Lies, damned lies and family history – Wim Zwalf

Wim entertained the meeting with a new talk he has been driven to research as he feels he has taken both strands of his family tree as far back as records will allow. This has meant that he now needs to look in more detail at some of the stories and tales that have circulated within the family (and indeed every family) – the stories from “Aunt Ada” which may have a kernel of truth within them but may also be lies or damned lies.
Wim started by suggesting that the reasons for some of the incorrect information may lie within transcription of documents which may have been difficult to read because of difference in the way we recognise certain letters or combinations of letters. There have also been problems in the accuracy of transcriptions such as the IGI, parish records and censuses. Wim illustrated this with an example of a marriage which had been mis-transcribed with the bride’s name being copied from the line below. He had also spent considerable time trying to trace a census entry which was given as ‘Culnaort’; after considerable effort and visits to Northumberland it turned out that the place was actually ‘Cullercoats’!
Wim explored the history of family members who had emigrated to Australia and by looking at census records was able to identify the links that had led to his relative emigrating. He also used a wide range of materials to extend his knowledge of ancestors – advertisements and newspaper reports (from Dutch papers) which disproved a family story that a great grandfather had died a ruined man following a fire at his business premises. In fact he died some years later having retired to a popular retirement town.
We were all impressed by the information that is provided on Dutch marriage certificates (since 1812). The documents are family trees in themselves and provided information about the principals and their parentage (including occupations) as well as the witnesses.
Yet again Wim presented us with an entertaining and informative talk which made us think about how we research and what additional sources we might use to extend our research – and how to check whether a story is a lie or is in fact family history.
[Margaret Lake ]

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