Hertfordshire Genealogy

Guide to Old Hertfordshire

Frequently Asked Questions

Ask Chris

Please Note: Due to old age (both personal and the computer) it is no longer possible to take on new research queries but questions directly relating to material on the site (including updates and corrections - especially to links) can still be handled.

The following text is kept as a historical record of how questions were handled in the past,

Questions for the Resident Genealogist

 

I understand that you are having difficulties in researching your Hertfordshire ancestors, or the town or village where they lived, and want some assistance or advice about how to proceed. Perhaps I can help?

I started researching my own Hertfordshire ancestors in 1977, and have not only traced a lot of ancestors  and cousins but also have done some in-depth local history research culminating in the book The London Gunners come to Town (about Hemel Hempstead in the First World War) and some in depth studies, such as my talk on the Brickmakers of St Albans. I started answering questions online in about 1998 and this site started, in its present form in April 2001. It has since expanded from about 200 pages to over 3400 pages of information and advice about the county. In addition I have built up a large reference library of books and other material on the History of Hertfordshire, which allows me to include otherwise hard to find facts.

 

If you simply want to exchange information with other people researching the same family, or to get someone to do a simple look up for you because you don't have the skill to do it yourself (and can't be bothered to learn how) you may find it more appropriate to use a site like RootsChat Rootsweb or Genes Reunited, or contact a local paper based website such as hemelonline, which has a Heritage section.

Why do you restrict questions to a single individual?
Why do you want documentary links to Hertfordshire?
Why don't you normally answer questions before about 1700?
Why don't you answer questions about people born after the 1911 census?
Why do you put such an emphasis on sources?

What can I do because I live so far from Hertfordshire?
Can you looks something up for me as I cannot afford the outrageous fees?
Can I ask more than one question?
Can I ask questions about buildings or events?
Will you post my family history on your web site?
After you have answered my question can I tell you what I found?
How can I contact other people researching my ancestors?
Will you do paid research for me?

How do I make a donation to thank you for the site?
How is the site funded?

 

Why do you restrict questions to a single individual?

Ask Chris is designed to help people when they  have come to a dead end in their research, and not simply to save them the trouble (or cost) of doing their own research. For this reason I ask you to restrict your question to the main thing that has brought your ancestral research to a stop and I will try to suggest ways you might be able to get round the blockage. If you want someone else to do your research for you by asking open-ended questions such "tell me all you know about ..." or make requests spanning several generations that could mean many weeks work, this is not the place to come.

Why do you want documentary links to Hertfordshire?

Ask Chris provides specialist advice on Hertfordshire because I have extensive knowledge of the county and have access to information on most of the county town and villages and their former inhabitants. Your question should make it clear why you think you need help from a Hertfordshire specialist.

Why don't you normally answer questions before about 1660?

The further you go back the fewer records survive, and most that do are slanted towards the high and mighty, with major gaps in our knowledge of the common man. I have no significant experience of working with older original documents as I cannot read Medieval Latin. For this reason it seemed appropriate to recommend an earlier limit, although I will look at interesting earlier questions where I feel I can make a useful contribution. When I started this site I accepted earlier enquiries but found that most enquiries before about 1700 were based on inadequate foundations. Over half of them were based on very dubious submitted entries in the International Genealogical Index (see The Limitations of the IGI and familysearch.)  If you have experience of research with 17th century records I may be able to help - but if you simply want to know more about a pre-1700 name on a family tree drawn up by someone else, and  where you have not yet verified the primary sources, I am afraid I cannot help.

Why don't you answer questions about people born after the 1911 census?

See The Policy on Questions relating to Living People. In addition most of my sources are inadequate for researching 20th century families, beyond what you can do for yourself online or by buying birth, marriage and death certificates, looking in online telephone directories, or from key reference books such as Who Was Who, the Dictionary of National Biography, etc.

Why do you put such an emphasis on sources?

See Sources and Reliability. The source of your information will say something about its reliability - and it may be that your problem is that you are putting too much weight on a dubious record. It is very important that you tell me if your information comes from an index or someone else's family tree or whether you have checked the original yourself. It can also save my time if you let me know what records you have checked with negative results.

What can I do because I live so far from Hertfordshire?

For comparative beginners it makes very little difference where you live. In the last few years a tremendous amount of information is available online, some free, some charged per page or on subscription, and other material can be purchased (see the tutorial for details). In addition parish registers and other records are available on microfilm worldwide through Later Day Saints Family History Centres (see familysearch for addresses) and specialist genealogical libraries. I live in Hertfordshire and most people in the USA or Australia live closer to a LDS Family History cantre than I live from the Hertfordshire archives (HALS). For more advance work with manuscript documents, which require a visit to the relevant archive, there are difficulties, but most people who ask me questions have not reached this stage in their research.

Can you looks something up for me as I cannot afford the outrageous fees?

Be realistic. Genealogy has never been cheaper - or perhaps you would prefer to return to the days when you (or your agent) needed to travel to each parish church in turn and make arrangements with the minister to look at the registers page by page, making a suitable large donation into the church collecting box. Despite the fact that I live in Hertfordshire, the cost of a return car trip to HALS to look at original records is about 30, excluding my time on the journey and at the records office!  Surely you don't expect me to spend my pension on providing you with information for free. What I can do for free is to search my own extensive conventional and digital library and look at non-charging online services. I can also search some (but not all) pay per view services and advise you on where you should look.

Can I ask more than one question?

Once I have answered a question for you I have no objections to follow up questions, as long as you can provide follow up information to show you have taken note of any advice I may have given. You can also ask questions on a different branch of your ancestral tree. I would not normally expect more than 2 or three questions from one individual a year.

Can I ask questions about buildings or events?

Try me - but remember that the same date limits normally apply and you should make it clear what you already know and why you want to know more. For many farm cottages and houses in towns I may be unable to help - but you may be lucky with large county houses, farms and public houses.

Will you post my family history on your web site?

No. There are a number of popular automated sites which allow you to post your family tree online, and your ISP probably provides you with space to hold you own web site. This site is manually maintained and the work involved in providing free space on this site makes provision of such a service out of the question.

After you have answered my question should I tell you what I find?

Yes please. It is very gratifying to know when the advice I have provided has proved useful. It can also be useful for other people to see how successful this site is - and I may be able to make further suggestions. In addition it may result in contacts with other people researching the same family.

How can I contact other people researching my ancestors?

Where someone has asked a question or commented on an answer a modified email address is given to allow you to contact them directly. Unfortunately many people change their email address without using tell me to alter it - and I cannot help if an email address is no longer valid.

Will you do paid research for me?

Sorry, but I don't carry out paid work - as I find it more rewarding raising money for charity. HALS will undertake some paid work and the Society of Genealogists have an online guide to selecting a professional genealogist - suggesting that rates vary from between 5 and 30 per hour. (For your information a typical answer on this site could take me a couple of hours - some much more.)

How do I make a donation to thank you for the site?

No charge is made for the use of this site, or for answering your questions. If you feel you have good a worthwhile service you are invited to make a donation to charity. I prefer it is you make an online donation to a local Hertfordshire mental health charity (which can be done in any currency, but with a minimum of 5.00) - and this will appear on the total on the home page. For smaller donations dropping a donation into a collecting box for a charity near you with similar interests (including a local Mind association)  is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

How is the site funded?

System support and web space on an ISP is provided by  HertsWEB without charge. The day to day running of the site, such as creating and updating individual web pages, is carried out without charge by the Resident Genealogist (me!). The purchase of books, postcards, etc., for use on the site is (in theory) paid for by selling off contents of the my attic, (plus duplicate and other material no longer needed in my library) on eBay under the name Chris_from_Hertfordshire . In practice it has been also subsidised from my pension.

HOME