In my quest to find the anonymous author of the 1831 travel diary, the first clue to pop up was almost too indistinct to be of much use. Heraldic bookplates emblazoned with “BAKER” were pasted inside the cover of each volume. Take a look:
This narrowed my search to a few thousand individuals, assuming “Baker” on the crest indicated his family name, not the name of the bookshop where the diarist purchased the blank diaries. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single Baker in my family’s history. Genealogical research usually starts with a current name and traces it back through time. To identify my diarist, I had to reverse the process. I hunted for a 19th century name using sketchy clues buried in hundreds of pages of handwritten text. Which clues would lead further along the right path and which would dump me at the end of a blind alley?
Good news: after extensive searching, I found the diarist. When I tried to trace his descendants to the present day, however, I encountered sad news: two of his children died in childhood. There’s a reasonable chance he had other children who lived to produce further generations, but with a name as common as Baker, I’ve not found enough evidence to prove it.
If you have anyone named Baker in your genealogy, check old books which have been passed down through your family for a bookplate like the one above. If you find one, you could be holding a missing piece of the puzzle. Please respond—you’ll make my day year.