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Top Down Research

Discussion in 'Search tips - discussion' started by Chris, Nov 5, 2019.

  1. Chris

    Chris New Member

    Provided a surname is not too common in a locality, top down research is a practicable approach for finding early ancestors with confidence by joining up one’s traditional bottom-up research to a comprehensive top-down tree for a surname. The methodology is simple.

    To create a top-down tree one extracts, in detail, all the marriage, baptism and burial entries from the registers for your chosen surname starting with the earliest marriage record one can find and continuing to say the 1850s when the first two detailed censuses are available. Local knowledge and a good map such as the first 6”= 1 mile Ordnance Survey map of your area will help you decide how wide an area you need to search.

    For example when building a top down tree for the Rostrons that lived in the eastern end of the Rossendale valley in Lancashire I had to extract marriages not only at St. Nicholas, Newchurch but also at St. Chad, Rochdale and at St. Mary, Bury in order to find the marriages of those that lived in the valley on the east side of Bacup and south of the river Irwell. In an agricultural area of north Yorkshire a 15 mile radius proved to more than adequate when reconstructing the tree for the Morgans of Helmsley. Some Family History Societies have compiled a marriage index which will be a big help if it’s comprehensive as was the case when building a tree for the Stuffins in the counties of Huntingdon and Cambridge.

    With a name like Rostron or Stuffins one has to be careful to ensure that all the entries are found because the spelling by the clerks was inconsistent. Even in the 19th century the surname at the baptisms of one couple’s children at St. Nicholas, Newchurch was recorded as Rawsthron, Rawsthrone, Rostron and Rawstron! Take no notice of the spelling if you find such differences - record them all in your computer under the modern spelling of the name so that they are sorted by Christian name and date of birth in the index created by your family history software.

    One then starts with the earliest marriage with obvious male issue to reconstruct the family from the baptism and burial registers and determine the children that survived. Most of those that survived will have married, sometimes more than once, and it’s not difficult from the details of abode/occupation and the names of any family witnesses recorded in the marriage register to decide on the probable marriages of the surviving children. Naming patterns may help to link families in subsequent generations. Continue until families alive at the 1841 and 1851 censuses are reached. It is then possible to “prove” that the earlier reconstructions from parish records are correct when families that agree with the census records are found.

    Once you have names and dates of burial do check for wills – an invaluable source for “proving” one’s reconstruction. Indeed a will may reveal “missing” baptisms - it did with the Rostrons.

    Finally be prepared for migration into the area. When you find records for people that were not descendants of your initial couple you have to start a new tree to accommodate them so you are likely to finish up with several trees not just one. That was the case for the Rostrons in Rossendale but many of the inhabitants in the early 1800s are the descendants of just two couples Edmund Rostron and Lydia Smith married in 1736 and John Rostron and Sarah Ramsbottom married in 1762.
    • Useful Useful x 1
  2. Susan48

    Susan48 LostCousins Star

    Thanks for this, Chris - and welcome to the forum.

    I have recently been following a similar top down reconstruction for my paternal line which ended up in Colchester but in fact originated in Suffolk. Thanks to a Suffolk will I was able to link branches of the family in both Suffolk and Essex. Unfortunately, the baptism of my 6 x great-grandfather which would link all the branches, and show where precisely he fits in, is proving to be frustratingly elusive!
  3. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Prior to 1837 family reconstitution is often the only way to make sense of entries in parish registers, especially when ages are not given in burial registers. See this book review.from 4 years ago.
  4. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    Yes, it's a fairly well recognised fall-back technique (along the lines of "if you can't go backwards, try going sideways"), but it does tend to rely on families having remained within - and married within - a relatively small geographical area, and it doesn't work so well in large conurbations.

    You do need to be aware of possible pitfalls, such as two couples with the same names having children baptised in the same parish at the same time, with nothing in the register to indicate which children belonged to which family - or even that there were two families! Even with wills this scenario can be something of a challenge to untangle!
  5. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    But that's one of the reasons why family reconstitution is a valuable technique!
    • Agree Agree x 2
  6. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    Yes, I agree it can sometimes be a valuable technique, and one I would always recommend trying if you are stuck - but there are nevertheless various pitfalls you need to be aware of when trying to reconstruct families in this way. Otherwise it's all too easy to inadvertently and unknowingly mis-construct families - I've done it and I've seen other people do it too. It only takes one distant marriage or one missing baptism to mislead you, and thus unwittingly put someone in the wrong family.
    • Agree Agree x 2

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