A beginner's guide to researching your family tree in Jersey

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Researching your

family tree

in Jersey


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Building a family tree for ancestors who lived in Jersey is no different from any other location. It requires painstaking research through the variety of records available today both within the island and now, thanks to the creation of Jerripedia in 2010, many of them online.


In some ways tracing a family lineage in Jersey is relatively easy, because successive generations of many families were born in the island, often rarely straying outside one of the 12 parishes in whose churches they were baptised, married and ultimately buried.

But what starts out as a simplified process is very rapidly complicated by the relatively small number of baptismal names which were commonly used throughout the island. It is by no means uncommon to find several people with the same forename and surname baptised in the same church in the same year, often with fathers, grandfathers and more distant ancestors with the same names.

Church and Registry records

The availability of church family records in Jerripedia from 2011 opened up an entirely new avenue of research for those with ancestors in Jersey who are not able to visit the island and examine the indexes in the Jersey Archive or Lord Coutanche Library.

Even many of those who live in Jersey are unable to view the original indexes because the Archive and library are generally only open within very restricted working hours.

So first-time users of baptism, marriage and burial records may find it useful to start by reading this general guide to using them as a research tool, along with other records available in the research centres and on this website.

The first important point to note is that the Church records currently available on this site, with a few exceptions, only go up to 1842. This was the time when central registration of births, marriages and deaths started in Jersey and records of these are held by the Registry Office in St Helier. They are also being progressively added to our database and indexes, although they do not contain as much information as the church records.

You need to be able to take your family lines back to 1842 before the records on Jerripedia become useful, but this can often be done with your own family records coupled with census records which are available on various pay-per-view sites.

If you are new to Jerripedia and family history research, you are about to discover just what good value this entirely free site represents.

Family documents

The best place to start any search for ancestors is by looking at documents retained by your own living relatives. It is never too early to start this process: many people who start building their family tree in later life immediately regret not having consulted parents and grandparents while they were still alive. Others are delighted to discover cousins who have already started building a tree and can draw on their experience and the information they have gathered.

Make copies of all available documents and photographs as they are discovered - birth, marriage and death certificates; photographs of family gatherings which have names on the back; family scrapbooks and birthday and address books are all rich sources of genealogical material.

Build up as broad and detailed a picture of your family as possible, including all cousins living or dead, who, although you may never have considered them as particularly close relatives, are all descended from somebody in your tree.

Once you have assembled an outline tree you are ready to start heading backwards in time, adding more and more generations, and this is where you need to turn to official records.

Parishes

When researching in Jersey it is very helpful to know which parish your ancestors were born, married or died in, but if you do not know, you no longer have to search through indexes for all 12 parishes to find the individuals you are looking for: the Jerripedia searchable database (see below) allows you to to carry out rapid searches without knowing which parish to start looking in.

Baptisms

It is best to start with baptisms. Once you have identified someone who you believe fits into your family tree, because the date of baptism corresponds with information you already have from family records, census records and other sources, you can start trying to work backwards from this baptism record.

Later records, particularly in St Helier, give more information than the early records which unfortunately show only the name of the child’s father, and possibly the godparents (soon to be available through the database).

Perhaps the record will show that the father came from a different parish from the one in which the birth was recorded; from the late 17th century onwards the mother’s name will be recorded; some parishes, notably St Ouen, sometimes show the names of the father’s male ancestors for several generations: All of this information helps you in your attempt to locate the baptism of the father and mother and the names of their parents.

Marriages

Perhaps you can find the marriage of the father and mother, either in the same parish as the baptism, or elsewhere.

Sometimes the combination of information in baptism and marriage records, helped by the male line living in the same parish for many generations, and marrying women from their own parish in their own parish church, will make the job relatively easy, but several people with a popular combination of baptismal name and surname may have been born close to each other and a considerable amount of research may be needed to establish who fits into your family tree.

Throughout the period covered by these registers a remarkably limited range of baptismal names was used within families – it is far from uncommon to find such lineages as 'Jean, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Thomas, son of Jean, son of Jean'. And different branches of the same family often used the same baptismal names. Sooner or later you are going to find that two Jeans, born in the same year, or even the same month, are candidates for a gap in your tree. How can you tell which was your ancestor and which a close cousin?

Burials

Consulting the burial registers can often help. If one of these two Jeans can be identified as having died in infancy, that rules him out as a father of the next generation and your search may now be narrowed to a single individual. But if you only know that a distant ancestor was named Jean and have no definite date of birth, and there are several born within a timespan of 20 years at a time when they could have been the father of the generation you are stuck on, the church registers may no longer be of any use to your search.

You may find the answer in one of the 2,000-plus family trees in Jerripedia, but beware! Other researchers may have made assumptions which cannot be supported by the information available and their mistakes may have been perpetuated in other people's trees. We believe that the standard of accuracy in the family trees in Jerripedia is very high, and many of the trees have been checked against the church records and errors emilinated. However, we are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any particular entry.

Adjacent records

Sometimes the best place to find information missing from a record concerning one of your ancestors is an adjacent record or one close to it in the baptism register. Often more details were recorded for the birth of one child in a family than for another, so you may find that the record for a sibling of your ancestor provides you with more information. Now that the page images of the transcriptions of the baptism registers are also available in our database, you can look for details of godparents, which can help considerably in expanding a family tree.

Missing records

It is very important to recognise that some records are missing.

In the first place, the parish registers start from widely different dates. Originally this was thought to be because, when the practice of creating registers was instituted in the 16th century, some parishes started recording baptisms, marriages and burials before others. It is now believed to be more likely that registers were all started in about 1540, but the earliest registers from some parishes have been lost.

Sometimes during a period of absence of a Rector from the island, church ceremonies were conducted by a substitute but no entry was made in a register. It was also the practice of Rectors to make rough notes of a number of ceremonies and some time later to enter them into their registers in batches, or delegate this work to a churchwarden. Sometimes records were omitted in this process. There is also a small number of records in several parish registers for which full information was not given, or was not recorded. Your ancestor's birth may have been entered into a register but without a surname, which produces the same result as if the record was never made.

The process used to scan the records at Jersey Archive website resulted in a small number of entries at the bottom of pages being omitted from the image entirely or rendered indecipherable, and these records are also missing.

It is also important to be aware that records may be present in the index but with a name wrongly spelt because of a transcription error; with an obscure archaic spelling of a surname; or out of sequence because of a date error.

If you do not immediately find an ancestor, keep searching in different areas of the index, having acquainted yourself with all the possible spelling variations for the family name. You will be able to check alternative spellings of many common Jersey surnames in our Family pages.

There is a particular problem with the spelling of surnames of non-islanders (often members of the Army garrison). In many instances these men would not have known how to write and spell their surname and being unfamiliar to parish rectors, the name was often recorded as it sounded to them, not as it should probably have been spelt. It is usually worth checking for other entries for the same person in further baptism, marriage and burial records, in your attempt to establish the correct spelling.

Database

All the information contained in the Jerripedia A-Z indexes for baptisms, marriages and burials has been uploaded to a database which was developed in Canada. This has enabled many errors to be identified and corrected and now users are able to search for baptisms, marriages and burials in individual parishes or across the whole island. And we have recently made this even easier by removing the necessity to register with the database site. You can move backwards and forwards between Jerripedia.org and jerripediabmd.net without needing to log into either.

Search results in the database are presented in date order, but can be re-sorted on a number of fields and a variety of reports produced. Searches can be narrowed down between start and end dates. It is also possible to search for words beginning with a single letter or a group of letters if you are not sure of the exact spelling of a name. In the original transcripts some spelling variations were grouped together, whereas they can be found separated in other folders. Often there is no real justification for choosing one spelling over another, because variations can be found within a single family group in the same parish register.

Some surnames have been rationalised into one or more of the commonest forms in both database and indexes, but the ability to cross-reference a database record with an image of the page containing it in the transcription folder will mean that researchers can take their own view on what was the most likely spelling of their ancestors' surname at any particularly point in time.

It is worth noting that any corrections, amendments or additions to Jerripedia family records are made first in the database, and the indexes are updated from time to time with the latest data in the database, which will always contain the most up-to-date information.

Censuses

Jersey and the other Channel Islands were included in the official British Government censuses from 1841 onwards. These household returns, giving names, ages, places of birth, relationships and occupations of the occupants, are an invaluable source of information for family historians. They enable you to identify ancestors within a household and obtain information about their siblings, parents and other relatives. The one drawback is that wives are almost always identified by their married name and there are rarely clues, such as the presence of the householder's mother-in-law, to their maiden name.

Censuses were taken every 10 years, and with a 100-year embargo on the release of the information about individual households, they are currently available from 1841 through to 1911. This means that it is possble to trace three or four generations of individual families, seeing how they have moved from house to house, parish to parish, and sometimes from France or other foreign countries to arrive in Jersey.

Access to the censuses is available on a number of pay-per-view and subscription sites. The quality of the transcriptions of the original forms varies enormously, and although corrections are continually being made, it can sometimes be very difficult to associate names found in the index with the real names of these people. The transcriptions produced for Jersey by the Channel Island Family History Society tend to be much more accurate than others, but they are only available to order on CD, not online. The society has also not yet completed a full set of censuses and some are also currently unavailable.

Jerripedia does not usually promote commercial sites but it must be said that by far the best online source is Ancestry, which has free indexes for the 1911 census and a range of subscription packages. It must be stressed that although an annual subscription to Ancestry UK may seem an unwarranted expense (think of a couple of rounds of golf), it is indispensible to those conducting serious research into families based in the Channel Islands and the UK. Ancestry UK contains all the censuses, a wide range of other resources, and millions of names in family trees already assembled by researchers.

Other resources

Other valuable lists of names of Jersey residents have survived and all the important ones appear in Jerripedia. Go to Other Jerripedia resources to find links to the various documents, including lists of wills, military censuses, emigrants to Canada, holders of public office, etc.
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