Search this blog

Research methods

by Rachel Knowles

Reliability of resources

Having spent over thirty years researching my family history, I have learnt that not all sources are as reliable as others. To be sure that my dates and details are correct, I try to use original documents wherever possible and I endeavour to cross-reference my research to give added reliability. Even then, I am aware that sometimes my research represents a “best guess” rather than absolute fact. Researching the Regency period is proving to be no different.

Primary sources

My aim is to use original documents, such as letters and diaries, whenever possible, as these will hold true reflections on the people and events of the period although these will necessarily be subjective, presenting information from the writer’s point of view.

Contemporary sources

I tend to give more credence to contemporary writings, such as Huish’s biography of George IV and Gronow’s Recollections, as the nearer something has been written to the time when it actually occurred, the more likely it is to be. However, these will almost certainly also be subjective and are not always factually correct.

Other sources

The internet holds a wealth of information, some of which is more reliable than others. Some people consider printed material to be more trustworthy, but in my experience, this is just as liable to error. I try to cross-reference dates and facts where I can, and note any irreconcilable differences.

Fatal errors

One book on Regency London that I was reading confused Frances, Lady Jersey, who was the mistress of George IV, with her daughter-in-law, Sarah Villiers, who was also Lady Jersey, and was one of the patronesses of Almack’s. Having discovered this error, I was unwilling to place any confidence in the rest of the content. Needless to say, this book does not appear on the bibliography of any of my blogs.