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Practical Tips for Researchers

These tips have been learned by (sometimes bitter!) experience. You may think they just reflect common sense - but sense is no less valuable for being common and if they end up saving you time and/or money that can only be a 'good thing'! More tips will be added as time goes on - let us know of any of your own that you would like to share.

Tip #1 - Photocopying documents

I had a lot of early 19th century letters photocopied during an archive visit abroad only to find, 3,500 miles later back at home, that a combination of thin paper, dense ink and the practice of 'cross writing' * meant that the resultant photocopies had almost six pages of writing superimposed. Since then we always take an A4 or 8.5" x 11" sheet of black paper (ask your local photo shop - it comes from boxes of photo paper) with us when visiting archives.

Old letters were written on very thin paper, and if you try and photocopy or even photograph them the text shows through. But there is a simple way of minimising the problem

Place the (thin) problem document to be copied on the glass in the normal way, and place the black paper ABOVE the document being copied, then if the photocopier light/dark control is lightened a couple of stops none of the text from the reverse of the paper will show through. As a stopgap, if you haven't a sheet of black paper with you, make a blank photocopy with the copier open and nothing on the glass. Not as dense as photo black paper but better than nothing. [JL-J]

{short description of image}* Cross writing - an explanation: When paper was scarce and delivery expensive, letters were sometimes written, firstly in the normal way, on the first page, paper turned over, second page written, then the paper was turned through ninety degrees, and pages three and four written over one and two. Then, the paper was turned through forty-five degrees and then pages five and six written over the previous four pages. A variation of this was when subsequent pages were written between the lines of earlier pages. Certainly makes transcription a challenge - to see an example click here. [JL-J] http://everything2.com/title/cross+writing more information courtesy of “Oakling”.


Tip #2 - Photographing tombstones

I recently photographed an ancestor's tombstone for e-mailing to other family researchers. I made a point of deliberately photographing the stone from the angle which included a large memorial (the most prominent memorial in the graveyard). This will enable other researchers, if they take a print with them, to line up the photo and easily find the smaller tombstone. This tip can be helpful if, as these were, all the inscriptions are lichen covered. In larger cemeteries you can usually take two pics from divergent angles, which allows easy triangulation - especially useful if you've spent hours locating a weathered stone amongst hundreds and want to find it again. Row counting may not be the easiest way, especially not if in the intervening years more stones have been added, or as sadly happens, vandalised - thus leaving what could be critical gaps in the numbering sequence. [JL-J]

Tip #3

Contributed by Joyce Fey: “If you are embarking on researching your family history, start by talking to the oldest spinster in the family. They always know all about everyone!”

Tip #4 - Your Tip or idea?