Recent political developments around the world, including the recent vote of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, highlight the relationship between politics and boundary changes and the movement of records around the world. I have experienced some of these changes first hand. For example, our family lived for two years in Panama. Some of that time was spent living in the Panama Canal Zone, a political entity that no longer exists. Where did the Canal Zone records go?
This is certainly not a recent phenomena. When I was collecting postage stamps as a child, I became aware of all sorts of places that no longer existed. Here is a short list of some of them focused on Europe. There are long lists of these countries online. For example: Former countries in Europe after 1815.
- Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic
- Austrian Empire
- Avar Khanate
- Catalan Republic
The list could go on and on and on. I still have postage stamps from some of these countries. What is important to realize is as far as genealogical research is concerned is that history matters. Already this week I had this discussion with a patron in the Brigham Young University Family History Library who was searching for his ancestors in "Germany" in the 1830s. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have had similar discussions about counties, cities and states in the United States. Currently, there is one of my lines on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree that shows birth places going back into the 1700s in West Virginia.
The tragedy of all this geopolitical confusion among genealogists is that many lines are misidentified through the same name = same person trap. I spent most of the afternoon yesterday focused on one small parish in England. The Richardson family lived in Glatton, Huntingdonshire, England. The only records show that the family lived, married, had children and died in that small parish. The time period involved was the early 1700s and my ancestors were primarily agricultural laborers. Here is a short summary of Glatton history:
Glatton was listed in the Domesday Book in the Hundred of Normancross in Huntingdonshire; the name of the settlement was written as Glatune in the Domesday Book. In 1086 there was just one manor at Glatton; the annual rent paid to the lord of the manor in 1066 had been £10 and the rent was the same in 1086.
The Domesday Book does not explicitly detail the population of a place but it records that there was 35 households at Glatton. There is no consensus about the average size of a household at that time; estimates range from 3.5 to 5.0 people per household. Using these figures then an estimate of the population of Glatton in 1086 is that it was within the range of 122 and 175 people.I left the footnotes in the quote in case you are interested in more information. This is sort of the reverse issue from that of changing boundaries. Once my ancestral lines converge on one small parish, it is extremely likely that many of the people in that small area have intermarried and I will find a lot of relatives. But it is also very likely that none of them moved very far and any names that pop up from distant parishes are not likely related. In this case, the Family Tree showed a number of non-Glatton connections that proved to be wrongly attached. In each case, a child was added to the family from a distant parish and the only real connection was the fact that the names of the parents matched.
If you understand this principle, you will be more concerned with the geography and history of your ancestral lines than you will be about their names and dates. Names and dates do matter, but focusing on the history of your family lines will inevitably produce a more consistent and believable pedigree.