Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Changing Times

Have not written for a while as there have been other things that needed doing. A couple of Saturdays ago we went to a family wedding. It was a happy day with the bride especially radiant and we all had a good time catching up with what had been happening to family members who we had not seen for several years - as seems to be the way of weddings.

The ceremony - as is becoming increasingly common (and popular) - was not held at a church or at a Register Office, but at one of the growing number of fashionable locations newly licenced for weddings - in this case, a hotel.

As I watched the ceremony and the signing of the register, naturally my mind turned to the implications of all these trends to the family historian of the future.

Today, most family history research requires us to have a good grasp of "location" - there is a continuous need to know "where" so that we can track our ancestors in the available records, many of which are tied to the Parish where they lived. While that is often a tremendous advantage, if they move - or if they came from elsewhere - it can become difficult to track the move with confidence. That's particularly the case if the move involves a change of County - mainly because of the way our historical records were made originally and are stored today. While it is certainly the case that the more global search facilities that have emerged over the last five year or so have alleviated the problem greatly, on the fringes, it remains a problem.

Things have changed dramatically during my lifetime. When, as a teenager I sat in the pews of the Beeston Parish Church and listened to the calling of Banns, it was pretty rare for one of the parties to be not "of this Parish" but 20-30 years later, with much greater individual mobility, the opposite usually applied. Most married someone from outside the Parish. The Vicar even had his little joke, complaining that they were all "away matches" this week.

Now, however much the changes are popular and in tune with modern thinking, more often than not, the old norms do not apply - we can no longer expect to find the wedding taking place in the bride's local Parish church - which would have traditionally been the first place to look - and might be in any one of diverse locations, many of them hard to predict but just as likely as a place of worship or the Register Office. And the need for residence in the Parish is no longer a requirement - just notice given to the parties' local Registrar - and then the venue can be anywhere in the country.

It all seems a nightmare when we think of using our traditional methods, but actually it is unlikely to be a problem. Technology will undoubtedly make direct access instantly available, "location" will be irrelevant - if you know the names, they will be found, wherever. Of course, this will bring its own problems - all details will potentially be available to anyone which many will find unacceptable, and rules of access will probably need to be established.

One thing for sure though - family history research will far less interesting !

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