I was researching an extremely distant relative by marriage whose family went right back to William the Conqueror and before. From others research, I found one of their forebears allegedly fought with William in 1066 and was named on the 'Battle Abbey Roll of Honour' which supposedly names all the knights who fought in the battle ...... although because it was such a feather in your cap to have come over with the William, it seems the monks made money by adding names to the list over the next few hundred years which makes it's accuracy dubious to say the least !
In 1889, this lady, Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina Powlett, Duchess of Cleveland (1819 - 1901), took it on herself to transcribe the list of over 700 names and research each one to find out what happened to their families after the battle. Goodness knows how long this must have taken her without technology of any sort. The research was eventually published in 1889 when she was 70 years old. These are some of the things she says in her introduction which I relate to and I'm sure are as relevant today as it was then :
"Chartularies and public records appear to be the only reliable guides in the study of genealogies, for the Visitations furnish no dates, and I own to having been lost in amazement at some of the pedigrees furnished by the heralds."
"I have found the pursuit of truth a path bristling with thorns, and beset with pitfalls. One of the chief difficulties to be met is the confusion caused by contradictory statements that no ingenuity can reconcile; and in too many cases conjecture alone is possible."
"Although I may conscientiously assert that I have taken all imaginable pains to be accurate, I am aware that I must have made plenty of mistakes. I shall be most grateful to be corrected."
"I have given all the anecdotes that I could collect, partly to relieve the inherent dullness of a mere catalogue of descents, and partly because many of them incidentally furnish vivid pictures of manners and customs long since passed away."
"I should, however, be the last person in the world to throw a stone at these sorely tried transcribers, for I can vouch for the difficulty of the task imposed upon them. No one who has not personally attempted it can conceive how tedious and laborious it is to copy the Roll; nor how persistently the long rows of disconnected names, piled one upon another, seem to slip out of their places."
"Before entering upon this vexed question of spelling, we must lay aside all our modern notions (I will not call them prejudices) in regard to the observances, distinctions, and exigencies that surround it in the present day. We live in an age when people are punctilious and fastidious as to the way in which their names are spelt. But it was far otherwise in medieval times. Men wrote their names when they could write at all in any way that occurred to them at the moment, for there was neither rule nor precedent to guide them."
"The pride of ancestry has in a great measure passed away; for the fast-rising wave of democracy day by day obliterates the old landmarks and traditions that were once held dear. Some, however, I trust there are, to whom the great names of the past remain a living memory ....... To them, I feel I owe an apology for this cursory and imperfect retrospect. The subject deserves to be treated by an abler hand than mine."
A remarkably modern woman who I would love to have a chat with.