One of the more important things to do in your research is to "kill off" your ancestors by finding a death registration or burial record for them.
The first rule in family history is to work from what you do know to what you don't know. Start with yourself and then move backwards chronologically generation by generation. When researching each individual start with the most recent event and then move backwards chronologically through the person's life. This means you start researching the death of your ancestor before researching their marriage and birth.
Why is this important?
If you don't kill off your ancestors, you may make incorrect assumptions, or lead yourself down the wrong ancestral line by researching the wrong person or family.
I was researching my ancestor John Ketland in the Parish Records of Bloxwich, Staffordshire for the year 1794. From information on the 1841 English census, I knew John's approximate age. I found an entry for 1795 in the Parish Baptisms. The entry read: Feb[ruar]y 22 John son of Mary Ketland, 1 years old. Base. From this information I was able to confirm that the Mary Ketland found in John's household in 1841 was his mother. I was not able to find any other Ketland children in the parish register who belonged to Mary. Base means that John was illegitimate. Who was John's father? Hmm. That may be difficult to find out, since I didn't have any clues as to what the father's name might have been. I thought I had hit a brick wall. I assumed John was illegitimate, and Mary's maiden name was Ketland. Further, I didn't just assume my theory was correct, I knew it was correct because I had found the baptism. And so, I reported my findings to my Ketland cousins, telling them it was unlikely we would find John Ketland's father.
Six months or so went by before I looked at Mary Ketland and her son, John again. It was then that I realized I was missing Mary's death information. I had not killed her off. I performed a search of the Civil Registration Death Index at Free BMD, found the appropriate entry for Mary Ketland and sent for a copy of the Death Registration Certificate from the GRO. Two weeks later, the certificate arrived in the mail. Excitedly, I opened the envelope, and pulled out the certificate. As I was reading it, I just about fell over for this is what I saw:
You will notice in the far right column it reads "Widow of Samuel Ketland, Plater".
WHO was Samuel Ketland?! Wait a minute! Mary was a widow?...which means she was married, and Ketland was her married name, not her maiden name. Furthermore, it seems that I had a new ancestor named Samuel Ketland which means that my Ketland line was no longer a brick wall. My assumption about Mary had been incorrect. And now, I had to tell my Ketland cousins that I had made an error.
However, before I did that, there was something else I needed to do first. Right. Order the death registration certificate for Samuel Ketland, and kill him off!
Go through your family history records. Do you have a death certificate and/or a burial date for each of your direct line ancestors? If not, I recommend you get busy and kill them off!
Copyright 2009, Kathryn Lake.