Monday, February 24, 2014

Methodology Monday (NEHGR): Connecting across the Atlantic in the 1600s

In colonial New England, the classic genealogy dilemma -- "Where did they come from?" -- takes on a standard form: "Where in England?" Christopher Robbins and other researchers had Nicholas Robbins's 1650/1 will, a 1635 ship list that was a close match, and a tall brick wall across the ocean, consisting of far too many local English parish records to go through one at a time.

Technology came to the rescue, allowing him to search consolidated on-line indexes. The resulting parish registers in Kent matched the family almost perfectly. The author sought local help and was amply rewarded by an unpublished Ph.D. thesis with additional material on the family. Read the whole thing in the October NEHGR -- either on line if you're a HisGen member, or in any good genealogy library's collection.

But technology is not a cure-all. Without careful correlation between records, bigger and better indexes just offer ways to make bigger mistakes. Correlation is more fruitful when we have a family unit (or a group of associates). One match could well be a coincidence. Two or three are much more likely to be a breakthrough.

Christopher Robbins, "New Evidence for the English Origins of Nicholas Robbins," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 167 (October 2013):245-50.

Harold Henderson, "Methdology Monday (NEHGR): Connecting across the Atlantic in the 1600s," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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