Welcome to The Parchment Rustler

Seven years old: I’m clutching a pen and my brother and I are asking questions, lots and lots of questions. The sheet of paper in front of us gradually fills with names – some we know, others we don’t. Bold lines crisscross the page, drafted out by my mother, ascending from the familiar names at the bottom to the strangers that lurk, barely discovered, near the top. Answers just lead to even more questions: who are these people, where did they live, how are they connected to us, to me? A dearth of family photographs leaves only a blank countenance for most, to be filled with a small child’s wonderings. Did they look like me?

Most genealogists and family historians can recall the first time the doors of the subject were opened to them. It’s a long time ago now since that day when my brother and I quizzed my parents and I saw a pedigree chart take shape before my eyes for the first time. Since that day, I’ve had the delight of uncovering a wealth of fascinating stories – some uplifting, some sad – and of bringing to life the characters I saw on the family tree, and extending to the many branches that lay beyond. Tales of scandal and divorce; lives spent up and down the waterways; farmers, entrepreneurs, cotton weavers, pedlars, engineers, brewers, cordwainers; deaths young and old; and women who bore child after child in unenviable circumstances.

What is research? Photo: Alastair Kay (2012)

Through this blog, I’m hoping to share with you some of the aspects of that research which I particularly enjoy. One major theme will be research methodology, which I’ve enjoyed teaching professionally for many years: the process by which we reach our conclusions is every bit as fascinating to me as the narratives that it brings into the light. And as a scientist by training, I find genetic genealogy a particularly exciting place to be and I’ll be sharing some insights from the science world right here. You can also join me to geek out over Latin and palaeography skills too.

DNA Extraction: experimental samples suspended in TE buffer. Image provided by Patrick Alexander (2010).

If you’d like to join me for the journey, then feel free to subscribe to The Parchment Rustler and jump into the conversation in the comments below. You can find more out about me on my biography page, or get in touch over Twitter, where I tweet as @ScientistSoph. I look forward to connecting with many of you, sharing ideas and experiences, and talking about research strategies, archives, genetics and much more. See you soon!

Will of Henry Harrap of Brighton, dated 1861. Photo: Sophie Kay (2019)

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