"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

On recording names

As part of my bid to get on top of my record keeping, I am setting up an entirely new system, consisting of a database of individual and household documents and an index spreadsheet which lists and cross references ancestors and contains some basic info as well, allowing it to be used for quick reference during research.  I’ve now compiled the bare bones of my indexing spreadsheet and put my direct line ancestors in to see if it works – and it does!
I’ll explain more later about how the system works, but they key thing is that having established the basic functionality, I began defining rules for inputting information. This is more complex than I initially thought, names being the most complicated issue: How to spell them, what about middle names, what about where names change...
I decided that my key aim was usability. But as I said, the function of my spreadsheet is two-fold: To index and cross-reference my individual records (and later household records too), and to act as a quick reference guide when doing research.
So, I want to put the fullest possible version of an ancestor’s name in my index, so that it gives the maximum amount of info at a glance for searching from. On the other hand, I can’t possibly include all variants of spellings, initials and even order of names, let alone the various shortened forms and nicknames that are often used, because it would become totally unwieldy. And that, after all, is what my individual documents are for!
I believe that the ‘industry standard’ (for want of a better term) is to use the name as it appears at baptism, which seemed to make sense, so perhaps I will use that as my baseline – where I have a baptism record, at least! In the absence of one I will have to 'compile' a name based on the information available to me, in order to give the most useful parameters for searching. In either case, I will make sure that all known middle names are included, regardless of whether or not they appear on the baptism.
I will not standardise the spelling as it appears on the baptism record unless I feel that it is likely to impair understanding (i.e. due to extremely poor spelling), or to mislead (i.e. because it differs wildly from every other known occurrence of the name). Where I have had to ‘compile’ a name, I will use the most frequently occurring spelling in the first instance.
In the case of shortened forms or initials, I decided that it would be best to give as much info as possible, so if I know what an initial stands for (from another record) I will expand it. Where only a shortened form appears, I will have to make a case by case judgement. For example: Will might not be expanded to William because I can’t be sure that it isn’t the name in its own right, but Wm or Thos, as often occur, can be fairly confidently expanded to William and Thomas.
The above applies mainly to the forenames of the ancestor. I had to rethink my rules on surnames, because I wanted consistency across generations within my spreadsheet for ease of reference and sorting.
So for example, if the same surname was spelt differently across different baptism records I would want to eradicate that discrepancy in order to index all ancestors with that surname under a single spelling. In this case the most frequently occurring spelling will be adopted, but alternative spelling linked with an ancestor will be recorded in their individual file. I will also create a separate list, to be used alongside, of alternative spellings of every surname, with an indication of frequency of occurrence and under which spelling ancestors of that surname are listed.
However, I have already identified one possible exception to that rule: Hancocks later became Hancock. This highlights the fine line between a spelling variant and a change of surname. My instinct (although I want to assess this properly by going back through the records) is that there was a distinct shift from one to the other. While there may have been instances of them being used alongside one another at different times (to be recorded as variant uses), if my perception is correct and there is a clear change of name then they must be essentially documented as two separate surnames. The reason behind the change is something I will then explore, and the point of change be identified in order to record them separately.
Another rule is that only one surname is used – the ‘final’ one. So Kathleen Birchall Geoghegan would take Geoghegan as a surname and Kathleen Birchall as forenames, even though Birchall (her mother’s maiden name) could potentially be considered part of her surname rather than a forename. Because both variants occur in record transcriptions, and it isn't always clear how the name was used, I decided that only the last name, which is indisputably used as a surname, should be recorded as such. (Though when carrying out searches it is wise to consider both variants) The exception to this would be where surnames are clearly double-barrelled / hyphenated in the records. There are currently none of these in my family tree – we’re not posh enough!
If I don’t know a name the field is filled in as Unknown. I am recording surnames at birth as the primary means of listing, with a separate column for married name, in which I record NA for men and Unknown if not known. This marreid name column refers to the married name that I have judged to be most relevant to my own ancestry. I then have a separate column for other surnames, to be coded for clarity: a name followed by (m) indicates a name from any other marriage. In either case, where no records have been found under the married name it is assumed to have existed anyway.
In other surnames section a name followed by (aka) indicates that this is a completely different name to their listed surname (not a variant), which has been used in a record. This section may include name changes, stage names - particularly relevant in my case, and names taken from step-parents.
Known forenames, particularly nicknames that differ drastically from the indexed forenames (as opposed to obvious contractions of them), will be recorded in the notes section. The obvious example from my tree is Ellen Geoghegan, who was also recorded as Dot Geoghegan in a couple of instances. 
All known variants of surnames and forenames, including all nicknames, and spellings thereof will be given in the individual record, with explanatory notes if necessary.
As you can see, this takes some defining, and I’ve had to do it for many other aspects of my index too. However, naming was definitely the most complex part. Thoughts and useful pointers on this topic gratefully received! I think now I need to boil these down into simple and easy-to-follow usage notes for my index, and then put them into practice and see how I get on!
L x

Monday, 27 February 2012

On sharing your family history information

Today I have decided to share with you an edited-for-blog version of my (rather long) response to a LinkedIn discussion:
In fact, the conversation went far beyond how to deal with such people, considering in more depth the pros and cons of sharing, how to tackle those who have misused information you have provided them with, and the merits of public or private trees on Ancestry on other websites. Many of those commenting were far more experienced genealogists, and in many cases they were professionals.
The conversation was extremely interesting and thought-provoking. I would certainly see I will be rethinking my attitudes to sharing information with others, and how I use the information others have given me. Here is my response in full, with minor edits:
I am always happy to share information – I would rather feel that I was giving someone what I knew to be correct than have them propagate something that I knew to be wrong. And I would never provide anyone with information I felt to be sensitive in nature.
But, I have never really thought much about my use of other people's information - obviously I wouldn't purposely 'misuse' it, but I didn't think that anyone would tell me something that they weren't happy for me to share elsewhere. I've also never credited someone's work, simply because it never occurred to me. Had they requested that I did, I would have done so.
In terms of making information public on Ancestry, I am quite open about it. However, I have never assumed that someone else's information is 100% correct and would always verify it myself. Apart from anything else, I find the process of checking out facts for myself better helps me to get a handle on the information. If I don't go through the process of checking it I can't get to grips with it.
I have never thought of the information in my family tree as 'published' - it's a work in progress and I know that there are probably errors in it, because I do use it to store 'unverified' information. Often I do add notes into it where I say what needs checking, but then sometimes I just keep this info elsewhere. I prefer to have my 'best guess' info in my tree because it makes searching easier - you can just strip it out rather than having to input everything.
I think it's quite unfair to assume that just because someone has incorrect information in their tree they don't care about doing diligent research. They may just be still working on something, or not have found the correct information yet. And we do have to remember that many newcomers are still learning.
It hadn't really thought about those ancestry users who might be taking my information as gospel when I know it isn't. (On balance though, it does serve them right for being lazy.) I intend, after reading this thread, to add this caveat to my tree in the hope that people will proceed with caution, but I suspect only those who care enough to do the research themselves will take much notice.
After five years of research, I am still a relative newcomer myself and have no pretensions to being the perfect researcher that many of you seem to expect every genealogist to be at all levels. It's a learning curve, and all of you would do well to remember that you probably made similar mistakes when you were starting out!
Overall, I think we all probably have different thresholds of what we feel comfortable sharing, and you shouldn't do anything you don't want to do, so a polite but firm no should suffice. But I would caution against being unduly harsh – you may be able to help people's attitudes more by working with them than by blocking them. I was always extremely grateful for help received when I was a true beginner, and for the time people took to explain how they had come by things, or why I should be careful about a certain source. Without this help I might not have improved as a researcher and my tree would be considerably poorer for it!
L x

Friday, 24 February 2012

On WDYTYA Live 2012: Must-see workshops – Sunday:

Wow, Fantasy WDYTYA Live is exhausting – so much to think about already and still Sunday to get through. Here we go...

What’s in a name? (11 a.m.) – I find names an extremely interesting subject.  It would be incredibly useful for my research to know a little bit more about localised names, for example.  This talk also touches on the one-name study concept, which I would like to know more about, and hopefully I might learn some basic methodology that I could then apply to my own research.
The plan: Find a book. Maybe I could find a one-name researcher and ask them for some general advice on some of my projects where their methodology might help? (If anyone reading can help, I’d love to hear from you!)

Harnessing the Facebook Generation (2 p.m.) – a talk looking at the ways in which genealogy is changing and the ways in which it can appeal to the ‘Facebook Generation’. I suppose I would almost count as a member of it, so I’d be interested to see how others, and perhaps older genealogists, see things...
The plan: Keep doing it, and keep talking about it...!

Charts to Visualise Your Family Tree (3 p.m.) – as I mentioned in On writing it all down 2. Paper family trees, I like a visual layout, and I’ve recently begun experimenting with new formats for presenting information, so I’d be looking for new ideas and tips for improving those charts I already have.
The plan: Maybe some online research could yield some interesting examples I could try?

By her labour’: finding female forebears (4 p.m.) – regular readers will know that this is a topic I’ve discussed a couple of times. Women are notoriously more difficult to find, because their maiden names are easily lost and there is less occupation information available for them. I’d be most interested to see what this talk could suggest.
The plan: Keep muddling through, I suppose! Make notes of what has worked for me and others to refer to as needed. Maybe I’ll write a post on it once I’m confident!

So, plenty to be getting on with then! Reminds me why WDYDTYA Live is so important. Next year I will definitely be there!
L x

On WDYTYA Live 2012: Must-see workshops – Saturday

On reflection, I think Saturday would have been my choice of day to attend. I would have hit all the stands in the first couple of hours, and then spent most of my afternoon in workshops. There are some fascinating things going on, and in a couple of places I was really torn in my workshop choices. Fortunately, as I’m not actually going I can work on them all! Here’s my not-at-all realistic Saturday workshop plan:

Organising your research with technology (12 p.m.) – Although I prefer to keep my own records on paper and electronic files (Word, Excel, etc.), I’d be interested to see if there’s anything I’m missing out on, in particular new software I might not be aware of.
The plan: A bit of internet research should get me up-to-speed, but it’s not something I’m likely to dedicate much time to at the moment, which is exactly why a summary in workshop form would have been so helpful!

Keynote workshop: Breaking the Barriers with Social Networking – Strategies and Tips (1 p.m.) – For one thing, this is the keynote, so I’d expect it to be pretty special. Also, despite being relatively young and a Facebook user (and now blogger), I’m not really using Facebook for genealogical purposes, nor am I currently on Twitter, which I suspect would be central to some of this workshop. This would be my absolute must-see of the weekend I think!
The plan: I suppose I  need to get tweeting, get Probably Arboreal onto Facebook and see what happens. I usually find it easier to learn this sort of thing by doing, as I have recently with blogging, so I suppose I just need to set aside some time and dive in! Anyone got any tips?

Irish research online (3 p.m.) – As I do have a couple of Irish ancestors and haven’t managed to get any further back on either of their lines after they arrived in the UK, this would probably be the most useful workshop I could attend all weekend. I did attend an Irish genealogy  workshop last year, but didn’t come away with anything that particularly helped, but this seems much more focused on doing research online and from a distance, so hopefully it would be able to provide me with some useful leads.
The plan: Basically, I need to do some thorough research to come up with ideas about where to start. Plus there must be loads of Irish genealogists out there, and there’s no language barrier, so I probably need to get chatting!

Exploring  Google+ as a Tool for Family Research (4 p.m.) – don’t know a lot about Google+, so this would be very interesting. As I already use Facebook for social purposes and LinkedIn for work purposes, perhaps Google+ could become my genealogical equivalent. I want to know more...
The plan: Check out Google+. There’s plenty of buzz in the blogging world at the moment if the articles LinkedIn are suggesting to me are anything to go by, so I just need to do a bit of digging and then make an assessment of how useful it might be and how to use it.

Google Search Strategies for the Family Historian (4 p.m.) – I have no idea why this and the Google+ workshop were scheduled at the same time, as they seem to me like they might be of relevance to a similar demographic. Forced to choose, I probably would have gone for this one on balance, just because I know how useful Google can be (I’d say I’m an ‘intermediate’ user), and I want to know how to make it even more efficient at telling me what I want. I really hope this wouldn’t have disappointed...
The plan: I already have some useful tips on using Google search. What I need to do is keep collecting them, and start putting them into practice until they become second nature. And of course, they’re exactly the kind of thing I should be blogging about, once they’re tried and tested.

Moving from amateur to professional genealogist: Are you ready? (5 p.m.) – My attendance here would be more out of curiosity than anything else. I suspect that the answer is currently no, I’m not ready. But I hope to be one day, and I’d like to be prepared to recognise when, and know what I need to do to achieve it! Fortunately I should have about fifty years ahead of me to get there!
The plan: I think this is something I can look into and work towards quite slowly, but I should definitely be drawing up a list of things that I need to know more about and getting to work on them.

See you tomorrow for my final day of fantasy WDYTYA Live!

On WDYTYA Live 2012: Must-see workshops – Friday

Almost impossible to decide, as there are so many I would have liked to see, and across all three days as well – in fact, had I been going, choosing which day to attend would have been almost impossible! Here is what would be my perfect workshop calendar for Friday:

Historical Maps – How to find out more about Family History (10.30 a.m.) – Old maps are fascinating things, but beyond checking out proximity of location I’ve  never come up with a particularly useful way of using them, so I’d be interested to see what suggestions this  workshop has.
The plan: Find a book / website that can offer some beginners guidance on this, then put it into practice. I don’t use old maps enough, and I need to change that!

Surnames, DNA and family history (12.30 p.m.) – a talk on ‘the link between surnames and DNA, what it tells us about history of surnames in Britain as well as famous cases and unexpected results involving this research’. To be honest, it might not be the most useful lecture, but I reckon it will probably be the most interesting of the weekend!
The plan: There must be a fascinating book on this topic somewhere...

Family history and education (2.30 p.m.) – I totally support the idea of making genealogy part of mainstream education. What a fascinating thing to have done at school, and how relevant so many of its skills are to History and other subjects. A proper family history project in a classroom environment could be so engaging. I’d be interested to find out more about the ‘campaign’.
The plan: Check out the Making History project online. Maybe even get involved, if I can...

Reading the writing of the past – Paleaography (4.30 p.m.) – an essential skill as a genealogist, but one in which I have never been given much guidance. Although I’ve read a lot of material about doing genealogical research, there’s never been any real focus on this, so I’d like to learn a few basics and find out how I could learn more.
The plan: I think a book might be the way forward, or maybe even a course of some description. I need to look into this...

Come back tomorrow to see my ideal Saturday sessions...

On WDYTYA Live 2012: Must-visits and must-buys

Unfortunately, I’m not attending WDYTYA Live this year, mostly because I’m a bit skint! However, I am reflecting on what I would be doing if I were there, and, crucially, what I intend to do to fulfil the same needs instead...

First up, my must-visit stands:
Archives for London
British Deaf History Society - Last year I spoke to a them about my Birchall Geoghegan ancestors, many of whom were deaf and dumb from birth. I now know a lot more about these ancestors, including that they attended a specialist school in Manchester, so I would hope to pursue this further with the society and see if they could give me any further historical contextual info and tell me what records might be available and where to find them.
East Surrey FHS
Family History Bookshop
Lincolnshire FHS
Manchester and Lancashire FHS 
North of Ireland Family History Society
OxfordShire FHS
Pahro Teaching and Tutoring Ltd– they advertise ‘short and reasonably priced online family history courses’, which are certainly what I am looking for in terms of training, so I’d definitely be picking up some literature from them and chatting to them about their courses.
Somerset and Dorset FHS – as I’ve recently added teeny-weeny Somerset village to my family origins, I’d probably be looking to get my hands on a CD of parish records if possible
Surrey History Centre
Yorkshire Ancestors (Stand 27–28) – Given that Yorkshire is probably my key research area, I’d be mad not to look at what they could offer me, in terms of materials to buy and what they have in their library.
The plan: Websites, to begin with. I should be making notes of what they have that might be of use, and following up by contacting them where necessary.

And my must-buys:
Books  - I can’t even begin to list the books I might buy, the possibilities are endless. I’d be picking up stuff that would be of use to my research, or just of general historical interest. Or indeed of genealogical research interest.
Family and Local History Handbook – This is one book I would definitely be buying. I bought the entire back catalogue last year, so I’d be looking to top up with new editions, including the newly launched Irish edition. I highly recommend it – see their website
Magazines – I would consider a subscription for the right magazine. Though I don’t really buy them at the moment, I do tend to scan them and occasionally buy if something appeals.  At the show I would definitely be scanning any available back issues for anything particularly useful and purchasing if so.
Storage solutions – I’d be looking for an inexpensive storage solution, but most importantly one that I felt would work, as I’m sure it’s quite a personal thing. (Anything has to be better than my current selection of falling apart folders and envelopes stuffed full of barely-organised paper!)
The plan:
Books are not an issue, I buy them constantly anyway. I should probably start taking more note of what I actually want in terms of specific books or general topics. I might order the FLH Handbook online in due course.
I am also going to start following the websites of some magazines and buy a few issues, and see if there is anything I would consider subscribing to long-term. More likely though I will just pick and mix, as one magazine is not always going to cover areas of interest.
Storage solutions require some consideration and research before I make an investment. However, it is a priority because my current system is untenable. Plus it will force me to sort through the paperwork and electronic files I already have, which will probably help my research.

Pop back shortly to find out about my WDYTYA Live fantasy workshop programme...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

On James Wade, mason

One of my current ‘projects’ has been trying to tidy  up my family line, which of course inevitably leads to new discoveries and new loose ends.
One of my loose ends was Hannah Wade b. 1812, Horbury, my 4x great-grandmother, straight down the maternal line.  I had very little info on her before her marriage, so I started hunting. It was very little trouble to find her marriage to John Phillipson in 1836, in St John’s, Wakefield, but this didn’t give me much else to go on. The name of (presumably) a relative, John Wade, appeared as a witness, but a less common name might have been more useful.  However, I’m lucky in that the parish registers are pretty much fully available for the area, and I soon found that there was really only one feasible record for her baptism, in 1816. Her parents’ names are given as James and Mary Wade. James’ occupation is recorded as ‘mason’.
This is where it gets interesting.  An Ancestry search of other baptisms initially threw up fifteen potential records ranging from 1805 to 1827. Although not completely unfeasible that this couple had that many children, as I started examining the records it became apparent that the suggestions were for children of a Sarah, a Mary and in one odd instance, an Elizabeth. However, in every case the father was named ‘James Wade, Mason’.
There were, it seemed, two possiblities – that the same man had been married twiece or three times, and fathered several children by each wife, or that there was more than one James Wade, Mason living in Horbury at the time.
I began sorting the records to try and get a better idea of the picture:
Sarah’s children were baptised in 1805, 1806, 1807, Dec 1808, Jun 1810 and 1812.
Elizabeth’s sole child was baptised in Apr 1808
Mary’s children (my line) were baptised in Dec 1810, 1812, 1814, 1816, 1818, 1819, 1823, 1825 and 1827
In every case the parents are described thus:

James Wade, mason, and Name, his wife 
Given the overlaps, I initially concluded that there must have been three separate men. But Horbury was a very small place (population of 2,475 in 1822), and it didn’t seem quite feasible. I decided that I needed more information.
Firstly I looked for the relevant marriage records. I quickly found Mary’s; it appears both in the parish records and in Pallotts Marriage index:

James Wade, Mason & Mary Pickard, Spinster, by Banns 25 Dec 1809. Witnesses: John Wright. John Roberts.
This ties in neatly with the baptism dates for James and Mary’s children. I couldn’t find any birth info for her, but there are plenty of other Pickards in the records, including this:

May 1798 Sarah Pickard , daughter of Simeon, weaver, and Clementia buried.
This caught my eye because one of the younger children of James and Mary is a Simeon Wade. Family names are so useful, so although it’s not conclusive, there’s almost definitely some sort of family connection there – and that usually means it’s there to be found in the records! 

However, I had no luck locating conclusive records for the marriages of Sarah and Elizabeth. They may not have been from the parish, of course – generally the marriage took place in the woman’s parish, so they may have married elsewhere.
There is one possibility in the IGI for Sarah: James Wade married Sarah Dews, Wakefield All Saints, 1790. It sounds a little early for the children I have though, so I may need to investigate potential earlier baptisms.
The other difficulty, of course, is that baptisms don’t always occur immediately after birth – indeed, my Hannah Wade generally gives her birth date as 1812, but her baptism doesn’t take place until 1816.
I then turned to hunting out possible James Wades, it seems there were at least two young James Wades in Horbury around the right period:
James Wade son of John baptised July 1784
James Wade son of James baptised June 1791.
The elder James could potentially have married any of the three women, while the younger would have been perhaps too young for Sarah (assuming, again that he was still an infant at baptism), but could perhaps have married  Elizabeth and would easily have been old enough to marry Mary in 1809. In fact, given that only one child was born to Elizabeth in this period, it might be reasonable to assume that she died and her young widower remarried. This would tie in very neatly with the two known James Wades in Horbury at the time.

Of course, there is a lot of work to be done to verify (or even just back-up) any of these theories. To start with a death would need to be established for Elizabeth, and James Wades in the area would need to be ruled out.

The records for Horbury are teeming with Wades, and in amongst them I found this rather intriguing one:

James Wade, mason, buried 1792.
I suspect we might be dealing with a large family of Wade stonemasons who are rather fond of the name James!

L x

Monday, 20 February 2012

On Shakespeare

This year’s Valentine’s Day surprise from my lovely boyfriend was a mystery daytrip – to Stratford upon Avon. He knows how to keep me happy! Despite the freezing wind, it was a really lovely day. The highlight for me was seeing Shakespeare’s grave and baptism and burial records in Holy Trinity church.
I always think that people seem much more real when I can see a grave. It’s as if they were just a paper trail before that, and then suddenly they leap out of the pages and become a physical being. It probably sounds odd to many of you, and even more so in reference to a legend like Shakespeare, whose works surely bring him to life anyway, but that’s just the way I react.
It costs £2 per adult to see the graves (of Shakespeare and his family), but the staff in the church were very friendly and they positively encourage you to take photographs, which is quite refreshing. And to be honest, if they hadn’t asked me to pay I would have made a donation anyway, being conscious of the need to preserve our historical buildings.
Shakespeare’s grave has obviously been touched so many times, before it was cordoned off, that the inscription has all but completely worn away, though there is a sign bearing the verse. He lies with his wife to his right and children and family members to his left. On the wall above is the bust of Shakespeare, one of the very few ‘portraits’ (two or three, I believe) we have of the playwright, although it is not known how accurate it is, particularly as it has been repainted in the intervening years. In a glass case nearby, the parish records are written in faded and barely legible Latin that I was quite impressed I could make out – clearly the years of squinting at censuses have paid off!
There were also some brilliant displays, which clearly explained the role of the church in Shakespeare’s life – baptism, marriage and death. These focused on what we know about Shakespeare’s connection with the church and the records, and what we can deduce from what we know about life at the time, and some useful comparisons with modern traditions. They were written so that they could be easily understood with people whose knowledge of this kind of history was basic – I imagine even older children or those who didn’t speak a lot of English could have grasped most of it. And yet, the information itself was interesting enough that I was able to take something away from it. Very impressive and well worth a visit in my opinion!
Of course, I bought a book; I always do on these visits – Michael Wood’s In Search of Shakespeare. I’ve only just got started and I’m already finding it fascinating, despite having read much on Shakespeare’s life before. I would particularly recommend Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: the world as a stage – if you’re at all familiar with Bryson’s writing I’m sure you can imagine what he brings to this topic!
The thing that always impresses me about Shakespeare research is in fact how much info there is out there about him; how detailed a picture the people who write these books are able to build up. He was born nearly 450 years ago. That they are able to tell us where and when he was born, the names of his parents and grandparents, and so much about his life, is quite impressive. We’re well beyond the 1837 pale here, after all!
I edited that last sentence – initially I went for ‘surprising’ rather than ‘impressive’ – because actually it doesn’t surprise me at all. Increasingly I understand the methodology used, and given how many others are digging around for info on him, is it any wonder there’s plenty uncovered? If only there were this many people around the world who wanted to help me find out about my ancestors!
In fact, I do have one particular ancestor who is quite well known in his field ­– more so than all the millhands and ag. labs, at any rate! The result: there is more material than there might otherwise be, and more people are interested in it. On the other hand, I wonder whether there isn’t this much info out there for all of our ancestors, if only we knew exactly what we were looking for and where to find it...
L x

On my new calendar

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve recently been putting a lot of my energy into a few different genealogy projects. Since I wrote my posts On writing it all down, I’ve found record-keeping has been on my mind, and I’ve been inspired to experiment with new ways of documenting and presenting my research.
You might have noticed the new calendar feature on my blog (see left!)
This was one of the new things I decided to try last week, after I realised that I’d ‘missed’ an anniversary – the birth and marriage of my great-grandmother Victorine Hayward on 16 February 1916 and 1931 respectively. I thought it might be nice to pop some reminders into my calendar, for sentimental reasons, and perhaps for blogging reasons too, but then I thought it would be great if I could share these on the blog as well, and so the calendar was born. Hopefully any family members reading will find it an informative and useful tool!
It is still a work in progress. It currently records a selection of births, marriages and deaths for my direct line, up to roughly the 4x great-grandparent mark and where I know the exact dates. There are still some to add, and I also intend to put baptisms on there in due course.
It was easy to do using one of the blog widgets, and it is a fairly quick and enjoyable task. Alongside the calendar, I began a spreadsheet recording the exact dates I currently have for each ancestor, generation by generation, because I don’t currently have anything as straightforward of this. Again, this only tackles the direct line at the moment.
I have found in the course of these current projects that each new method of recording reveals something different to me. So, what did I learn from my calendar / spreadsheet?
Firstly, there are some dates that are significant to more than one line of the family – albeit in different years. For example, 11 July is the anniversary of both my grandfather’s birthday and the marriage of my 3x great-grandparents.
I also realised that I tend to think of all of my dates and my lines quite separately rather than how events relate to one another.  For example, I forget that same generation absolutely doesn’t mean same age. My grandparents were born between 1909 and 1938 (notice that my oldest grandparent is in fact older than my great-grandmother Victorine, mentioned above!)  This then skews my entire tree, so that each generation of my maternal line tends to be born some twenty or thirty years earlier than the equivalent generation on my paternal line. Although this isn’t drastically new to me, these tiny little reminders adjust my perspective a little, and you never know what new discoveries might result.
Lastly, I realised how lax I’ve been about recording specific dates in general. I’m particularly bad with death dates, probably because they mark the end of an ancestor’s story – far less appealing than the beginning! It’s a very bad habit, and one which I am determined to correct; after all, if you don’t know when an ancestor’s story ends, how do you know when to stop looking for them?
L x

Friday, 17 February 2012

On the news

Life kind of took over this week and I haven’t managed to post for a few days. To be honest, I’ve had a bit of ‘writer’s block’, plus I’ve been dedicating quite a bit of my time to some family history projects (which I will tell you about later).

But first: In search of inspiration, I turned to news, and found a few interesting articles to share – with just a brief comment on each.

First, the death at the age of 110 of Britain’s last First World War veteran.
What I liked about this story:

a) The fact that it was a female story of from the First World War, where we tend to get more 'male' accounts. I’m aware that I might be making myself sound a bit of a feminist, which I’m not really, but I do think that people in general people are drawn to stories that reflect their own gender experiences. I started my research with my female line and I have tended to lean towards the female stories rather than the male I think.  

b) That her contribution only came to light through someone’s research. It reflects on the people of that generation and on their times that she never ‘blew her own trumpet’. Whereas now we regard the actions of those involved in the war as heroic and admirable, Florence Green’s reticence reminds us that to them it was just their duty, their daily life, albeit in extraordinary circumstances. It also serves as a reminder that there are so many amazing stories waiting to be uncovered in the course of our research – it’s stories like this one that inspire and motivate me in my labours!

Next, the question: Were extreme suffragettes regarded as terrorists?

This story highlights the differences in perspective that occur over time, how views and standards have changed. I can’t imagine not having the right to vote, and yet when you think about the kinds of actions these women took, it is easy to see why they might have been considered terrorists – they were putting themselves and others in danger in a bid to overturn what was an established social and political order.  It reminds us that when we do think about social groups, whether class, gender or race, we have to be careful not to apply our own standards to the past.

I loved this article too: U.S. Government Still Pays Two Civil War Pensions.

I did the maths, and as far as I can tell, they must be well into their hundreds, and their fathers were likely to have been into their sixties when they fathered them. It’s almost unbelievable that there are people out there still alive who could have heard a first-hand account of a war that ended nearly 150 years ago! It reminds me that even though times have changed, this kind of history is still not all that long ago, and it makes my struggles with tracing as far back as the 1880s seem ridiculous really!

Last but not least: MI5 spied on Charlie Chaplin after FBI asked for help to banish him from US.

The interesting thing here isn’t that they thought he was a threat, but that the authorities found it impossible to find a registered birth for Chaplin – sound familiar anyone? And then there’s the family letter mentioned – if only I could find one of these for one of my unanswered questions!

So, that’s my little round up of pertinent news for the week. I’ll try to write something a little more substantial for you next weekend. Happy weekend all!

L x

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Five top tips for finding your ancestors

1. Google them repeatedly.
And check other websites regularly as well, obviously. The internet changes every day, you never know when things will have been updated. I go back to the same sites again and again, and Google the same things often over time, just to see what new info is thrown up – you’d be surprised! Google is possibly the ultimate tool for a genealogist – I’ll talk a bit more about making the most of it another time.

2. Buy their certificates.
I know it can be pricey, but it is worth it. I admit, I don’t have all of the ones I want yet, but I intend to get them. There’s nothing like seeing your ancestor’s handwriting – you can also compare this against other examples of their handwriting if necessary too. (Or seeing the ‘X’ and realising they’re illiterate – equally useful and interesting.) They are invaluable in checking and confirming your information; things can be mis-transcribed all too easily. And they’ll stop you assuming someone is your ancestor when they’re not.

3. Record your non-ancestors too.
If you find an individual and a family who you a) have confirmed aren’t connected for whatever reason or b) thought might be yours, but then turn out not to be – take note. The mistakes you make and then rectify are equally a part of your genealogical ‘journey’; cheesy but true nonetheless.  On a more practical note, it means you have a definitive record of people you’ve discounted, that you can check future possibilities against. Plus, you never know when someone might contact you wondering if you’re connected to them, and instead of just saying ‘no’, you can say ‘no, but is this a possible candidate?’ – and then hopefully karma will return the favour for you someday too!

4. Don’t ignore their siblings!
I’ve got a real bee in my bonnet about this – see On siblings and extended family. What I would say is, take the time to work through them, even if it’s just basic names and birthdates, and see how much easier it then makes it to see the direct line afterwards. In an area where there are lots of people with the same surname, and half of them have the same Christian name too (Mary, anyone? I think I must have at least 20 different Marys in my tree!) it can make all the difference. It’s like undoing a giant knot – time consuming and frustrating, but ultimately the only way you’re going to get to the one thread you’re after!

5. Broaden your parameters.
If you can’t find an ancestor based on what you think you know about them, take it away. I know that Ancestry and other websites are constantly telling you that ‘even a guess can help’ – but sometimes a guess can be such a hindrance! Can’t find an ancestor? Take letters out of names, take away birth dates and places, triple check everything in handwriting for possible spelling and/or transcription errors. Search for every member of a household using the minimum possible information, even ones who you suspect might be dead or living elsewhere. The tiniest clues can help. You will find them somewhere!
Happy hunting!
L x

Monday, 13 February 2012

On Mappy Monday: Aardvarkmaps

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of geography, but it’s very important as a genealogist that you know where people are. And how better to plot locations than by making a map?
I thought this might be a useful exercise in reminding me where to look – it gets quite hard to keep track of when you’ve got 600+ people in your family tree! A fair few of my ancestors travelled quite a bit so it’s definitely worth having a comprehensive map of locations and proximities.
I also expect it to be interesting to plot where people were at different dates, to track migration patterns. Hopefully this might help me work out more about their lives and occupations, and maybe even fill in some gaps.
So, I’m using Aardvarkmap.net which basically allows you to ‘pin’ places on a map and add in whatever info you like.
The advantages are that it uses Google maps, which we all already recognize and know how to use. It’s also quite simple to use in itself, with plenty of space to record whatever you want. You can zoom in and out so you can be as precise or approximate as you want in your markings. You can either link to your map or, build it into your webpage as I’ve done here. Plus you can log back in and update whenever you want (although then you do get a whole new version of the map, so you have to update links etc.)
I’m starting with family surnames and dates only. I might build on this later by adding specific individuals, known addresses and parish records. You can check out my map using the page links to the top-left of the page, or by clicking here.
If you hover over the little white icons you can see the place names, and if you click on them you will get pop-up balloons with surnames for that area. This will give you some idea of my family history name and location interests – please do give me a shout if any of these coincide with your own!
Beware though, you need to be using / viewing your maps on a regular basis – if not, they disappear! The help forums say ‘after a lengthy period of non-use’ – but I wouldn’t say a week was particularly lengthy!
Anyone else using this or something similar? How useful do you find it?
L x

On siblings and extended family

In On writing it all down: 2. Paper family trees I talked about the difficulties of recording siblings on a family tree – namely that they do take up a lot of space on an already crowded page.
It got me thinking that siblings and extended family are really important. Most genealogists, in tracing their families, focus mainly on the direct lines. This is understandable, and for me too they are always the priority. But that doesn’t mean we should neglect our ancestors’ brother and sisters, and even cousins.
For one thing, research around the lives of siblings can be just as useful for providing the sort of background that I talked about in On getting more from the records. Can’t find much on your ancestor? Check out one of their siblings and see what they’re up to around the same time. Not foolproof, but often very interesting! This is particularly true if your ancestors’ tended to all work in the same industry or live in the same areas. Which leads me onto the next point...
Sometimes, researching a brother or sister in more depth can provide the vital key to getting over a brick wall, or solving a niggling mystery. It stands to reason that the more avenues of detailed information you have about all members of a family, the more leads you have to check. If you’re wondering about an ancestor who seems to have disappeared into thin air, check the census records for their siblings, or one of their children who isn’t in your direct line. Are there any likely candidates in those households? I also tend to keep a record of visitors and lodgers to a household and search for them if all else fails... you never know!
On a similar note, if you try to keep at least a vague idea about the other descendants of your direct ancestors, you’re far more likely to someday come across someone whose family history is connected to your own, who can help you as much as you can help them. They’re a resource equally as valuable as any document you’re likely to find and just as likely to help you solve a mystery – remember, so much of family history is about what is remembered and passed down the generations. Imagine if that distant cousin is in possession of a family photograph you’ve never seen, or the family bible with a list of dates that isn’t recorded anywhere else.
Most of all though, I think it’s wrong to reject siblings as somehow unimportant, because they have inevitably had an impact on your ancestor’s life. I know just from my own family that extended family often played a key part in raising a child or looking after someone in old age, even into the twentieth century – if this isn’t a major contribution to the health of the family tree, I don’t know what is!
Think about your own siblings and how important they are to you. Then imagine that one day a descendant of yours is researching you, but dismisses your brother or sister on the grounds that ‘they aren’t my direct ancestor’. I certainly don’t like this thought – without my brother I wouldn’t be me, anymore than I would be without my parents!
Previously, I’ve argued that genealogy isn’t just about getting as far back as possible (length), it’s also about the depth of your knowledge – finding a story and understanding the background. I’d like to add to this and say that it is also about breadth – remembering that you are not the only descendant of you ancestor, and that chances are there are distant relatives also living in the world today who are equally a part of your family’s history .
As always, let me know what you think...
L x

Next time: making maps...

Friday, 10 February 2012

On writing it all down: 4. Online or Software

There are lots of options within this option, and obviously a lot of the functionality depends on what you’re using. My most recent methodology has been simply to try and make full use of the family tree builder on Ancestry.co.uk. I have always used this, but previously I used it mainly as a means to store the records rather than as my go-to for reference to my info. Having switched to it mostly for convenience, I’ve actually found it very good.
From a research point of view, it is great that it suggests records and allows you to connect to other members. However, I do think this engenders a kind of laziness in research which annoys me. I occasionally catch myself adding a census record without having really read it properly. this worries me – I might be missing crucial information, and I’m certainly losing the joy of the research by doing so. If you do this, then it just reverts to a list of names and dates with little meaning attached.
Also, in the last couple of years I’ve been making a conscious effort not to rely too much on other Ancestry members' info. I do worry that if that person has it all wrong, just accepting their info can basically spread an entirely made-up family tree that then become impossible to un-ravel. If I really am stuck, I might take their info, but then I will do my best to check it out and verify it. And all credit to other Ancestry members; when I have gone through this process I have usually found that their info checks out.
Essentially though,  Ancestry (and I assume other software and websites) allow you to do a combination of the things I’ve talked about in this posting – Have a page per individual, easily see their family and how that fits together, hold all records and documents in one place, and see the entire family tree overview in one go. The pros and cons of its search and member functionality are a debate for another day. In terms of recording my own research, I have found it really works, and would absolutely recommend it.
On the other hand, I do fully intend to attempt to get a proper, personal system going too. Reading back over this blog, I think a combination of these techniques, properly used, could really do the job quite well. However, I am still open to suggestions. I’m sure there are ideas I haven’t considered that would really help.
I also note that there are a couple of relevant workshops at WDYTYA Live this year, which might be worth attending, if I do make it.
L x

Next time: Why is extended family so important?

On writing it all down: 3. Freehand

A working document was my next port of call. When I began the rather laborious task of researching my father’s family tree, which was more complex than anything I’d done previously, I started a Word document of notes in what I can only describe as a ‘freehand’ format. I was literally writing down what I knew, my thought processes and what I came up with. Later, if I found it to be right I’d go back to the relevant bit and note this too.
What’s really great about this is that it helps me remember how I came to a conclusion. Have you ever gone back to a branch of your family tree you haven’t looked at for a while, and thought ‘how did I make that connection?’ Then you might have to retrace your steps to verify it, wasting valuable research time.
The notes make for an interesting read – I rather like the idea of recording how I do my research as I go. It means that my genealogical research becomes a family history story in itself. It echoes the idea that part of the fun of family history is in doing it, not just having the information.
I’d like to take a more methodical approach to this too, so that I can tick of where I’ve checked, what I haven’t looked at, what still needs to be verified. But of course, that requires a more careful consideration of what is needed and how best to go about it, which inevitably makes note-taking more laborious and thus less convenient.
The problem with this is fairly obvious. It doesn’t provide a detailed, logical record of each family member. You can’t easily flick through and find what you’re looking for (although search works), nor does it give you an overview in the same way as a family tree. It’s not even a coherent narrative, although obviously that could be improved.
I found that this method worked best when I was working through some of the trickier bits – but then I always like to get my thoughts down in writing when I’m struggling. I suppose if you’re not that kind of person it might not work so well.
When it came to the easier bits it slowed me down, and instead of actually typing things out, I would find myself just copying and pasting information. It makes for a good record of the evidence you’ve collected (particularly if you’re diligent about recording where it came from), and indeed the order in which you found it, but it loses some of its appeal without your own words in there, and you just end up with a mass of non-organised, non-filtered evidence.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

On writing it all down: 2. Paper family trees

I love the look of a family tree – there’s something very magical about seeing yourself at the bottom, and watching all this interlinking of people that all leads to you. They are a very visual representation of your family as a whole (or a part of it). They show you how individuals are linked and how the different branches fit together.
Of course, you can play around with the concept of a family tree to show pretty much anything you want – I’m using the term very loosely to cover any kind of large-ish paper-based chart.
For example, I’ve experimented with tweaking my trees to accurately show the birth and death dates of each person, almost in a bar chart style. This allows you to see who is contemporary to whom in your tree. A variation on this is to produce detailed timelines for a selection of your ancestors, to see how the various events in their lives relate to one another. Or, try using a tree or chart to show your ancestors generation by generation – this is particularly useful when you’re trying to work out how many great-great-greats you need!
Another chart form I’ve used is to create what I’ve called a ‘relationship map’ to show how different people are related to a single individual. It’s basically a spider diagram with a branch each for parents, spouses, siblings, cousins, lodgers, even ‘servants’. Then from each branch have branches linking off to show the name of each connection, with any other info you want about them. You can even then link these connections to each other, to make it clear how they’re related as well. This can be quite useful if you’re trying to visualise a complex household, or a family group that is split over several households. And this is exactly what family trees are great for – visualising information.
The problem with a family tree is that it can’t contain very much detail. Not just in terms of each individual, either. For example, it’s not easy to see when and where people were living together. Nor is it easy to get everyone’s siblings on the tree. (Not with the number of children many families had in the past anyway!) Because of this a family tree often only ends up showing the direct line. To me this detracts from the completeness of the picture – siblings are important.
A family tree can also be fiddly to create, either by hand or on the computer. Realistically you need a MASSIVE piece of paper, which then creates storage difficulties. Again, altering them might not be particularly easy. If you realise that you got the wrong person down as someone’s mother but you had perfectly planned your family tree space to fit their family, and then you have to replace them with another family that just doesn’t fit the gap, you’re going to be kicking yourself.
Which brings us to another issue – is a family tree really a good method for recording information as you find it out? I reckon it’s useful and interesting as a presentation of a (fairly) complete picture, but not exactly a working document. Which leads me onto...