Another plug for Family Reconstitution

If you research a War Memorial, you unravel the links joining the families in a Community.  This is no surprise to addicts of Family Reconstitution but that approach itself ia certainly a theme that my family history groups might sometimes feel I over-stress.

And why not, when time and again, we prove that its rewards include the resolution of many a research puzzle.  It also provides useful information about population history for local historians.  The publication of the 3rd edition of Andrew Todd’s inimitable guide, Nuts and Bolts—see details belowhas provided me with the perfect excuse to revisit aspects of this tool, as a theme over three sessions in the months ahead.

The 2nd edition became one of my key texts for family history research, and I never tired of dipping into, again and again. I have two copies of the 2nd edition to loan out to other members of my U3A groups, and I’m now enthusing over the 3rd edition to the extent that several members have already ordered their own copies.  However, if you already have the 2nd edition, then that gem has probably already fostered the analytical skills you need.  There are some additions, more diagrams, and the layout is easier on the eye.

One thing that I have done since buying the 3rd edition, was to obtain a second-hand, ex-library copy of An Introduction to English Historical Demography—its details also below.  Andrew Todd mentioned that Wrigley provides  ‘an especially detailed account’ of family reconstitution techniques in Chapter 4, which runs to over 60 pages.  This is particularly helpful for local historians, recording data for an entire parish. A more recent text is available at extortionate prices—caveat emptor.

Researching the men and women commemorated on Ham’s War Memorial, often requires me to reconstitute the families in this closed parish, in some cases right back to the early 19th century.  As with other parishes I have researched, Ham’s 19th century and early 20th century working residents turn out to be related to many others in the parish.

Researching a war memorial that provides very little information other than initials (which can be incorrect) and surnames which may be misspelt, matching a name to a service record can be tricky. Most of those listed could eventually be found recorded within the parish at one point, for example in a census, or in parish or borough records.

H.GUNNER and E.PARSONS, had no obvious link with the parish.   In the case of these two, there were three soldiers on the CWGC database of casualties, who could have been H.GUNNER and 60 who could have been E. PARSONS.  In both cases, family reconstitution helped me to match these names to the correct servicemen, and, in time, documents were found which enabled me to establish their link with the parish.

H. Gunner, never a resident in the parish, was Harold Anson Gunner, the son of a Headmaster whose work had taken his family from Huntingdon to Cornwall.  Harold, who boarded for many years in a house in Wandsworth, was a member of the Choir of St Andrew’s Church while E.Parsons  was Ernest Charles Parsons, the son of a Wiltshire policeman, and was eventually linked to Oak Lodge, a large house on Ham Common. As he had previously worked as a manservant in a large house in Cornwall, he may well have been employed at Oak Lodge as a driver or footman, in the service of Alexander Mackenzie Hay, a self-styled “newspaper proprietor.”

As a professional family historian, I avoid using the stories of my clients’ families in articles or in my blogs. Fortunately, the voluntary research that I conduct into War Memorials, provides what was initially an unanticipated bonus:  it bountifully makes up for that restraint, since the documents I find and the arguments I construct in verifying relationships in that research, provide abundant resources to stimulate the interest of the enthusiastic learners in those groups.

Now, as a resident within the former parish boundaries of Ham, when I walk its streets and pass the houses and workplaces of “my” war memorial people, I reflect on their stories, their families, their associates and their neighbours, losing something of the feeling of myself as an Incomer in a parish which retains still a sense of being ‘closed’.

Recommended Reading
Todd, A., Family History Nuts and Bolts: Problem-solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques, published Andrew Todd, 2015 (3rd ed.)
Wrigley, E.A., (ed.), An introduction to English Historical Demography from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth century, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1966.