I’m struck by the variety of work I get in response to my adverts. You might think it’s obvious what requests will ping into the inbox of someone advertising family history research in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset – please find my westcountry ancestors. But it seems that task comes in many forms.
Recent work for me has ranged from ‘please find my father’, to ‘please find details of the life of this specific 19th century surgeon’, to ‘please find all my ancestors’.
It was the second time in recent months that I had been asked to find someone’s father. This was puzzling, as I hadn’t advertised as a private investigator. It was not a task I had anticipated, but I had a go. I didn’t succeed, unfortunately, but in the process of trying, I did uncover enough new information about the client’s family to make it more likely the father will be traced at some point in the future.
I love research into individuals. At least, I love it when that individual left enough traces for something to be found. Tracking down enough to transform a name into a personality is very satisfying. And when that person is the ancestor of your client, it’s delightful to be able to help them imagine that person as a living thing, rather than a mention on a burial register. It’s a kind of resurrection by archive.
I am often astonished at how much information there is, even on relatively low-status people, although it doesn’t always seem like that to start with.
It’s a process of accumulation: a mention here, a connection there, this website, that paper archive ... leads and clues, and luck, Of course, it doesn’t always feel as if progress is being made. But, after a while, you review what you have, patch it all together and realise a person is taking shape.