LDS films & their usefulness to family history

One of my bugbears about current family history is the near-total reliance on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the internet but there’s a time and place for everything. Yes the IGI does provide a glimpse into potential ancestral families but this is a plea for people to move beyond that and look at the actual record. Don’t forget: not every parish has been indexed in the IGI so you are only seeing part of the story. Early or damaged films are probably less likely to be indexed just because they are such a challenge. 

With all the microfilmed parish records held by the LDS church, and a LDS library in most towns/cities, there’s little reason not to take advantage of these records, especially as they only cost around $A5 for a 90-day hire…one of the cheapest family history options around. As of next week, you can even order them from the comfort of your own study.  

The first records most people will want to look at will be the parish registers (some back to the 16th or 17th centuries) -either the actual original record, or if that’s not available you can try the Bishop’s Transcripts which are a transcription of the original records as sent to the Bishop. Where one of these records has been damaged over the centuries, the other may provide a more-easy-to-read option. Sometimes the date span covered by one of these records is wider than that for the other, letting you take your family back a little further. 

Another disadvantage of the IGI is that is only includes marriages/banns and baptisms. It doesn’t include burials and you need these to know when older family members die, or when a child dies in infancy. Also it is worth remembering that not every child is recorded in the registers -they may have been baptised but a clerical error might have omitted them from the records, or they may not have paid the fee so their name wasn’t entered (I have seen this situation referred to explicitly in some Scottish parish registers).

Another advantage of reading the actual film is that it may tell you a little more eg the occupation or place of residence of the family, so you can differentiate between two families with the same Christian names…or even find out there is more than one family in the mix. A burial may tell you that a child you thought was your ancestor can’t possibly be because she was buried as an infant some months after burial. A burial record may also give you a clue about where the person lived, letting you link up families and confirm which person you’re looking at, or you may find they were buried as a pauper…sending you down another research trail.

Don’t forget, too, to check both marriages and banns if both have been recorded -one may tell you more than the other.

Of course the sad reality is that the records are only as good as the person documenting the event -if the parish clerk or minister was lax in his documentation, you may learn very little more than you would from the IGI, but you won’t know until you read the film, so give it a go.

What else might you find? Some parishes will have no records, some will have many. I recommend you try them all…you’d be surprised what you’ll find. Sandon, Hertfordshire records include a couple of  manor rolls, none of them useful to my own research but without checking how would I know?

Parish chest records -the workaday records of the parish’s operations -can be a gold mine or a complete fizzer. Some are purely accounting records, though you can still learn a lot from those. Others include the election of parish officers over the centuries eg election by the vicar/parish of “surveyors of the highway”, “overseers of the poor”, churchwarden or parish constable. In the case of my Kent family from Sandon, Hertfordshire, there are records of the family’s involvement in these roles over a period of 200 years…certainly a great way of adding to my family’s story.

Transcriptions of monumental inscriptions could be very helpful if they’re available for your parish and may add more info to what is available via online services such as findmypast.

To use examples, LDS films have enabled me to:

  • confirm the marriage from another parish is that of an acestor I theorised it might be
  • find that the IGI baptism I thought was an ancestor was that of an earlier child of the same name who died in infancy
  • a signature of an ancestor -written in 1722
  • confirm the names of parents through burial records placing parents and child in the same small laneway
  • learn about the involvement of ancestors over many generations in their official parish roles
  • learn about the neighbours of my ancestors and study birth and death patterns as part of a wider migration study.

I hope that this post encourages you to give the LDS films a try and see if you can enrich your own family’s history. It won’t always solve your brick wall problems but at least you know you’ve tried.

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