Testing genealogy knowledge
This week I prepared my first exam, for the ‘Australian Births, Deaths and Marriages’ course for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. I actually found it surprisingly difficult, partly because I remember sitting many exams in the past & finding fault with multiple choice questions where answers could be argued.
How do you measure somebody’s skills at using births, deaths and marriages indexes, and interpreting certificates? I didn’t want all answers to be found in the notes. (Although knowing “What year did civil registration start in NSW?” – 1856 – might be useful, because there is usually more information on a civil birth certificate than the early church records baptism certificate.)
I believe that effectively using BDM indexes is more about your searching skills and being able to analyse and look for clues in the results found. Such skills improve over time – perhaps because after falling into a trap you are less likely to do so next time.
In this exam I tested skills like recognising the possibility of spelling variations, where you won’t find the birth if you search for the name exactly as it appeared in the death index (using a wildcard helps). Or linking that bride named Annie with the birth of a daughter named Ann.
I think these are the real skills of researching family history. Not jumping to conclusions when you stumble on one person who happens to have the right name and is born in the right place, before looking to see if they might have died as an infant and so could not possibly be the groom in a marriage 25 years later. Alternatively if you look and don’t find, then thinking about how else to search.
Researchers need to be aware that just because the marriage certificate said they married at age 20, doesn’t mean it’s true. I always start searching a range of dates and increase or decrease the range if necessary. One couple in my family had 5 children and then were married. (The bride was previously married and could not remarry until after the death of her first husband.) I would not have found the marriage if I only looked before the birth of their first child.
One skill that improves over time that I did not test in this exam, is handwriting recognition. (Ironically someone in my family has dreadful handwriting and he is fantastic at helping me interpret old hard-to-read handwriting.)
What do you think of this? (I remember how hard I found this at first, but now it seems not bad.)