I am going to start this blog post by asking a few questions. If faced with compulsory military service today, what would be the impact on our own individual lives? Would we need time to settle our domestic responsibilities before being able to serve? Would it be in the national interest for us to stay in the employment, training or social role which we currently hold? And what personnel would businesses and industries require to ensure the continued support to our local communities, especially the young and elderly?
Fortunately for us in Britain today these questions are purely hypothetical but 97 years ago (give or take a few days), on 27 January 1916, the British Government passed the first Military Service Act, meaning compulsory military service for every British male aged between 18 and 41 who was either unmarried or a widower without children. Exemption could be granted from this conscription into the military forces with a Tribunal system established to hear applications and appeals at local district or borough level, County appeal and a final Central appeal level in London.
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Researchers spend a lot of time looking for documents. In fact, they may spend more time on this than on reading what they have found. It took me more than 20 years to find my great-grandfather’s birth certificate, but only a few minutes to read it once I had tracked it down. Not that I spent every waking minute of those 20 years in hot pursuit, but I did devote many hours to the problem during that time. It took quite a bit of creative thinking and the use of some less than obvious record sources to get there, but I made it in the end, and felt very pleased with myself as a result. The fact that the answer to one question presented me with another bigger, and so far unresolved, problem is neither here nor there.
Many kinds of research lend themselves to the use of standard sources which provide the essential information in most cases. Genealogists in particular use various birth, marriage and death records, census returns and probate records to work their way back through the generations. This works fairly well much of the time, but when you can’t find the marriage or the census entry you want then you become stuck. But when the direct approach doesn’t work there may be another way. Think about it; when you say that you need to find a death certificate, or a census entry, what you really mean is that you need the information that you would expect to find in that document, rather than the piece of paper itself. So if your search is unsuccessful, think about the specific information you want, and then consider whether you might be able to find it from another source. Sometimes you will find that there is more information in the alternative source than you would have found in your first choice.
PCC Will of Colin McKenzie 1808, en route from Jamaica to England
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