Absent Names – Radical Opportunities

Absent Names, Radical Opportunities

A sound technique for family historians to ensure that you capture the essential data for every individual in the family tree is the ‘BMX’ formula. B=Baptism, M=Marriage, X=Burial. If you have a date for each of these in one parish, then that person did not move far, for very long, especially if there are several children baptised in the same parish.

Every item of data missing from this formula is a challenge for the average family historian and an opportunity for the radicals among us. It may just be a fault in the registers, but, more often than not, it is evidence of movement into or out from a parish. Map these happenings along a century of records for a family line and you have clues about migration, kinship, trade, status for that family. Repeat the exercise with other family historians and you have clues about society as a whole. Read about the BMX Project.

The BMX Project

A sound technique for family historians to ensure that you capture the essential data for every individual in the family tree is the ‘BMX’ formula. B=Baptism, M=Marriage, X=Burial. If you have a date for each of these in one parish, then that person did not move far, for very long, especially if there are several children baptised in the same parish. Every item of data missing from this formula is a challenge for the average family historian and an opportunity for the radicals among us. It may just be a fault in the registers, but, more often than not, it is evidence of movement into or out from a parish. This is much more interesting than just collecting names, especially for the eighteenth century and earlier, before civil registration and the census.

Normally, family historians trace ancestors in their direct family line and are less interested in where spouses came from, or siblings that go missing from the records. The absence of a baptism record identifies individuals who came in from outside the parish. The absence of a marriage record identifies those who married outside the parish. The absence of a burial record identifies those who died elsewhere. The interesting questions are: where and why? The questions become collective and radical when we consider other families than our own. Pursuing the answers to these questions is best done on a collective basis.

A longitudinal study of several families in one parish over a period of a century from c1700- c1800 will provide comparative data. The information will provide clues to patterns of mobility among adjacent parishes and further afield, the extent and dispersal of kinship networks, the identification of social networks surrounding trade and marriage at different levels of society, issues around illegitimacy, single parenthood, poverty and rules of settlement. Read in conjunction with the specialist literature on these subjects in books, journals and theses, the data may both illuminate and challenge what has so far been concluded. The results may be of interest to your local family history society, to the wider local and family history community, and to academics. Engagement in discussions and debates in this way is what can make family history ‘radical’.

An Example

This example uses my own family name. Essentially there were three lines of descent evolving into the name Bashforth, from the late 17th century to the turn of the 18th century, all in the same parish of Silkstone, near Barnsley. Each name is given a single, unique reference number [SN1 to SN100], to which was attached the BMX data.

Ref ID Surname Forename Birth Marriage Burial Notes
SN001 Basforth William X 1706/11/14 1757/02/03 Dodworth
SN002 Basforth Bryan X X 1728/05/11 Hoylandswaine
SN003 Basforth Nicholas X X 1722/07/01 Dodworth
             

Additional information can be provided in a notes field, or a more complex arrangement can be made to add essential data. Depending on the level of sophistication required, the data can be captured in tables, spreadsheets or full databases. The last of these options is the more desirable, permitting more sophisticated data interpretation, but I have used a simple table here as a starting point. The three male names are the heads of families producing children in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Simple tables like this are useful to explore the basic principles, iron out problems, target potential opportunities and to help identify how complex a data capture system is required. Even this simple version raises questions. Where did these three come from, when and why? Two of the marriages occurred outside the parish: who to, when and where? The limitations of the simple table format are also exposed: how to account for wives, how to capture relationship data – part of the perennial problem for family historians as to how best to display their data.

Does the idea grab your interest? Have you thought about this before? Have you tried to create a database like this? Is it possible with conventional, commercially available software? Please share your ideas!

 

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