This is an excellent example of the kind of record which can be found on Ancestry with a bit of poking about in the Parish records ...if they're available for the place you are researching.

The above is the record for a Dorthea Mundy...she is one of the ancestors in my family tree...it's written in Latin which isn't as difficult to decipher as you'd expect. You can see the priest made a mistake in the bottom right-hand corner when he began to write 160 and crossed it out because he'd intended it to be 1610.

Paper was generally both in short supply and expensive, so records which were kept...and not all churches bothered...tended to have the words crammed together on the page in order to conserve as much space as possible. I have a copy of an Irish Christening record which also includes marriages...in the days when you married in the same church you were baptised in....so alongside the baptism record is the marriage record for the same person...but all written on the same line so deciphering it means finding a magnifying glass and your best specs!

It wasn't obiligatory to record deaths so it was left up to the individual priest whether or not he did so...but those that did tended to simply put women and children down as 'the wife of' or 'the child of' and didn't bother with their names or their age. Earlier marriage and baptismal records are the same...'the child of' and then the Fathers given name with no record of the Mother. I have another Irish record where a child was baptised in the late 1600's and he is named as 'the son of William' no surname for the Father and no name for the child.

Eventually records became obiligatory and they had to be available to any visiting Bishop or Government official upon request and copies were kept which were handed into the proper record authorities once a year. It was only once this happened that the local government and main government could begin to estimate birth and death rates etc. The beginnings of statistics...

There was a time when all the records for a church would have been kept in a locked chest within the church itself and for a small donation towards the new roof fund...English country churches always need new roofs...the Vicar would allow you to pore over the books to find your family. But that was when all churches were kept unlocked and you could come and go as you pleased. After many thefts of the church silver and plain vandalism the practice of keeping the records freely available stopped. Now the old books are more likely to be kept in a bank vault and you'd be lucky indeed to be allowed access to them. However, very many parishes have volunteers who are allowed access...they painstakingly transcribe the records they can and put them on line for all to read.

It's slightly different in Ireland because here most records have either been 'lost' or simply destroyed as being of no value...those that do still exist are guarded well by the local priests who are quite likely to refuse you permission to conduct a search simply because they don't want to oblige. But here there are also people in some parishes who have been able to gain access to records and have spent much time in putting them on line. Cork city has wonderful on-line records for instance, because it was one of the main cities from where ships sailed to America, so there is a passionate interest in the local history by amateur historians.

Then there are the census records...at least these are usually easy enough to read providing whoever transcribed them had reasonably decent hand-writing. Held every ten years from 1837 onwards in England and Ireland, the census provides information as to the ages and occupations and addresses of all the citizens. But for the family researcher they can be a great help or a feckin' hindrance. People lied for a start...the child of an unmarried daughter was often included as the child of the grandmother...to save face. The lodger...and many families had lodgers...was often the co-habiting partner of the widow woman so you need to watch out for children suddenly appearing who bore the lodgers name...and the names can drive the most patient of researchers to complete despair.

Henry...known as Henry for the last twenty years and two census returns suddenly decides he doesn't care for being called Henry, and changes it to Harry...and he never much cared for spelling his surname as White...so now he alters it to Wytite...then when he's an old man and presumably in his dotage, he goes back to plain old Henry White. So you have to look at his list of children...they are all the same...and his wife...she hasn't changed her name...and his occupation and make sure Henry, now known as Harry, is the same person you found in 1841.

In the earlier part of the 1800's many people were unsure of their date of birth so then we find the abt. The abouts...that can also change from census to census as people put their date of birth down as 1832 on one year and have a change of mind during the following ten years and put 1836 down on the next return. This is where the parish records don't fib...so if you are lucky enough to find them you can verify the actual birthdate.

My Irish grandfather is a classical example of changing names to suit his mood...he added a hyphenated surname which some of his children adopted and others didn't...he changed his middle name as often as he changed his socks...and he changed his occupation to suit himself...

The census returns began to ask for more and more information as time went on until the 1901 and 1910 returns were asking for details of how many windows your house had and whether or not you had outbuildings etc. Prior to those years the census asked whether you were...an imbecile or an idiot. The usual reply to those who fell into either catogory was 'an idiot since birth'...there are surprisingly few, bearing in mind the country areas where cousins marrying first cousins was a commonplace occurance. But maybe the babies who fell into the 'imbecile' list died young and simply weren't included.

So, the census returns can tell you almost all you need to know about your second cousin three times removed of your great grand aunt. Unless you happen to be researching an Irish family. Our records office was destroyed by fire during the 1900's...prior to that, most census records were deliberately destroyed because the paper was recycled. So you can find your family during 1901 and 1911 and before that you have to take wild guesses and hope against hope their parish records are online in some form.

I enjoy prowling round the census returns even if some are virtually indecipherable and I'm convinced a person was a publican and then realise they were a bonnet maker...I don't much mind the detective work involved when names altered and children appear and disappear again just as suddenly. I love reading about the old occupations which has me scurrying off to Google to find out just what was involved in being a cordwainer...I'm endlessly intrigued by perfectly ordinary families who had three domestic servants and wonder how in heavens name they managed to feed and house all those people when they had thirteen children and the father was a simple ag lab. I especially love coming across another person researching a branch of the same family as I am and finding they have photographs of stern looking men with neatly trimmed moustaches and ladies squashed into their tightly laced stays and wearing their best frocks...and I can happily acknowledge that unsmiling and rather frightened looking woman as my third cousin on the paternal side.

To find a Dorthea Mundy who was born and died during a turbulent time in British history when witches were burned at the stake and bear baiting was an entertainment and you'd likely die from typhus or smallpox and lepers had to carry clappers to enable people to get out of their way...and to know that Dorthea had the very same bloodlines as I have...that a tiny part of me is the same as that baby girl who was baptised 400 hundred years ago in a church open to the elements with the village pigs rooting in the reeds on the floor...doesn't that make it all worth the hours of pouring over the records?