What to look for
You might have a particular theme to guide your search, but in the earlier stages it’s worth noting anything that might be relevant or seems interesting. Start by looking for some obvious things and flesh out the details as you go along. There will be aspects of the subject’s life of which you were unaware, so as well as your core focus be prepared to explore unexpected avenues too, using what you find as a stepping stone to find out more
There is no set formula. There are standard things you can look for, but the emphasis you put on different aspects will vary with the subject – both the individual and whether the story relates to something wider. Here are some suggestions, but there may be other aspects, and you should be willing to follow any unexpected leads as well.
Information about people
Look for basic life facts and key life events as a framework around which to hang the rest of the story.
- Basic identity – (full name, DoB, DoD, DoM [shorthand for Date of Birth, Date of Death, Date of Marriage]) – You may start with only an initial(s), or one forename with no initials, but the more you can get the more you can narrow the search.
- Place(s) – Associating people with places can help separate people with the same name, and also link different aspects of their lives, helping to build a chain of information. For example knowing where they worked may give clues to likely tower and society affiliations, and vice versa.
- Family – Family connections help give a rounder picture, and may also provide leads to new information. In particular, if there are other ringers in the subject’s family (quite likely) then researching the others might turn up information about your subject that a direct search may miss.
- Pictures – Pictures help bring people to life, and can also help to separate people with the same name who you might find in searches. But be cautious of pictures unless you can authenticate them by cross checking. Pictures found on genealogical websites don’t always show the person the purport to.
- Career(s) and/or hobby(s) – Ringing is only part of life, even for fanatical ringers. Other things they did can be just as interesting (maybe more interesting) and help to fill in the overall character.
- Ringing performances – Peals, quarters, etc, feature strongly in most ringing careers and give a good indication of ringing activity. Because they are well recorded they can also help to provide links to places and people. Quarter peal records can be better than peal records for identifying where people lived. More quarters are rung and more people ring them, and quarters are more likely to be rung in home towers, or at least by local bands, whereas peals are fewer, with ringers often travelling farther to ring them.
- Ringing roles – Many ringers have held one or more office in towers or societies (tower captain, ringing master, secretary, president, etc) all of which add to their story and provide potential links to other sources.
- Ringing related activities – Many ringers make their mark in an area doing things other than just ringing, for example in composition, teaching, writing or bell restoration.
Information about organisations
If you are researching the history of a ringing society or tower band you may well have access to minutes and reports that mention members. Societies are likely to have more complete records, and since membership records normally associate members with towers, they may help to identify ringers at a tower that doesn’t have its own membership records. Of course you will be interested in more than just people, but they will still be an important part of the story, and with more people, and more lines to follow, reaching a dead end on some of them might be compensated for by more success with others.
Information about places
Ringers’ lives were lived within a community so it can help to find out about what the place was like at the time. Was it urban or rural? What were the dominant occupations? Was this changing? Was it isolated or well connected? Was the population stable, growing or declining? Was it culturally cohesive? Was it affluent? Was life hard or easy? Any of these factors might help to explain what made people the way they were, and to understand the conditions in which ringing took place.