14 Day Challenge #4: Analyze the Sources

14 Day Challenge #4: Analyze the Sources

[I’m participating in the 14 Day Mini Research Like a Pro Challenge. Thanks to Diana and Nicole at Family Locket for sharing their expertise and guiding us through the experience.]

Today’s challenge is to carefully examine the two English census records that provide the information that serves as evidence for my great-great grandfather’s death. Building a strong foundation for new research is very important, right?

In the works-for-me research process that I’ve developed over the last few years, this is the time when I look at the sources I already have to pull out information that can serve as evidence for answering the research question. (I still remember the day when I finally figured out that information becomes evidence when it’s considered in light of a research question. It was a big, satisfying, and extremely useful leap forward.)

For research focused on my family, this step often involves a bit of clean-up before I can proceed. I’ve been a skilled collector of records for, what? Forty years? But it’s only in the last few years that I’ve understood the power of citing my sources and the efficiency of creating citations and adding them to source documents as I go.

So, often, as in this case, the first thing I need to do is create citations for the sources I’m going to work with — namely, 1891 and 1901 England census records.

The flow that works for me is to open a new document in Pages (I’m on a Mac and I’ve actually created a source template with a hidden table for consistency’s sake), insert the image, add the citation, and save it as a word processing file.

I’ve settled on this routine for a bunch of reasons:

1) I can easily make changes–something I still find myself wanting to do fairly often.

2) I always know where to find my best-effort citation for any source.

3) I can easily print a paper copy or export to pdf when I want to share.

4) I can mask excess margins around images (double-click the image and shrink the view window) while at the same time keeping the original view accessible.

The result looks something like this.

I also save the image as an image file because, depending on the size of the image in the word processing document, sometimes it’s easier to work with a record that way. (My dream is to someday find (or write) a program that will pull a citation from an image’s metadata and neatly print it above or below the image in appropriate way–with italics, as needed, for example–but so far no luck.)

Why am I saying all this on this fine Friday morning before I’ve even had my breakfast?

Because  I quickly realized that I couldn’t create the citations that I want to include in today’s evidence analysis document without understanding more about the records.

The National Archives to the rescue! I found a wonderful page that is a must-read for anyone who is new to working with England census records.

“How to Look for Census Records,” The National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/census-records/ : accessed 25 January 2019).

I learned two very important things.

First, the census pages that are available online are derivative records. They were created by copying information from sheets filled out by a household member into “enumeration books.”

And, second, the key pieces of information needed to find the records are  the series and piece numbers (found in the small ruler beneath the images) and the folio (stamped) and page numbers (pre-printed)  found at the top of the pages. (They’re marked with red arrows on the image above.)

I may end up tweaking the citations, but for now, they should do, and that lets me move on to the actual assignment. (If you have suggestions for how I could improve them, please leave a comment.)

The image below shows where I’m at when it comes to answering the question of when and where Nicholas died. The document isn’t fancy, but at the moment, it meets my needs.

It’s been instructive to see how other 14 Day Challenge members approach it, though, and I’m thinking I might make some changes going forward.

I’m also thinking I’d really like to take myself out for a nice working breakfast. Bagel sandwich, here I come!

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