Start your family tree – the time is NOW

In what is the last few days of 2014, I’m thinking back through to last January and my 2014 genealogy resolutions (more on their progress or otherwise, and my 2015 ones to come).

Man holding magnifying glass and death certificate
I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by ‘new records’ right now.

This year has been a busy one for genealogy as an industry, and history as a whole, what with some significant world war anniversaries.

Meanwhile, I’ve continued working on my trees, undertaking a couple of bits of free detective work for a friend and also in response to finding a family bible in an antiques store, busily updating my Family Tree UK site with some nice Structured Data for the benefit of Search (yes, my inner nerd has been binging on that), finding a ghost, and joining a one-name organisation that’s found its way through somewhat of a sudden unexpected and perhaps turbulent period of change, I’ve been merrily receiving emails about the latest new sets of hundreds of thousands of newly-available records.

That list of newly available records has kept on growing and growing and that kind of leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I feel like I’ve dropped the ball and let my genealogy badge slip.

Perhaps I should just draw a line, and start again?

Only joking, I’m not about to throw 20yrs worth of work away.

But, there’s so much ‘new’ out there, that I feel a bit lost in the noise again.

This is why, if you’re only just starting, or you’re toying with the idea to explore your tree, or to find out if your old grandmother’s rumours were in any way true or just romanticised whimsy, then this is the time to start it.

Book yourself into a session with your local archives, or talk to your oldest coherent relatives, find out the photos.. but make sure you use the sites that carry the ‘human’ bits of genealogy and record them too – not just the number counts of a census return, but the newspapers, the scraps of info from war records, and the scribbly notes in parish registers.

How does that help me?

What I need to do is climb back down my tree branches and stand at the bottom of the family tree, look upwards, and then slowly learn to climb it again. By doing so, I should find new information that helps to make those old branches grow a little bit more.

In my random casual looks for records against close relatives, these new record sets from the likes of the British Newspaper Archive and FindMyPast, have allowed me to fill in more of the everyday lives of people I thought I had already.

I’ve only just dipped my toes/fingers/nose into their millions of records that they’ve been steadily releasing this year. Kudos to FindMyPast, who despite taking a massive backlash when they altered their website, on a scale that was a-kin to the Ancestry Search Change Disaster (remember that?), I think they have led the way with getting the more numerous and more interesting records into their data-sets.

Also, with the launch of sites like Lives Of The First World War from the Imperial War Museum, the information is not only going to come from record organisations, but also via personal histories through the wisdom of crowds.

A snapshot of Lives Of The First World War stats
A snapshot of today’s Lives Of The First World War stats

Of course I should expect to see ‘new’ information turn up – and I’ve enjoyed this immensely spending more time exploring the Ancestry ‘Hints’, and only recently found some photos of my Great Grandfather – Alfred Newman, aged about 28 (youngest I’d ever seen him previously to that, was in his 40s). I never met him.

Ancestry Hits
All these Hints will keep me busy on Ancestry in the Christmas period.

I’ve yet to delve into School Records, but really hoping to find lots of notes on my Great Grandmother as being a mischievous little devil (I always felt she had a rebellious streak in her).

I’m also yet to explore the new online ‘Find A Will’ service from The Probate Service. I’ve always enjoyed reading Wills, but have very few of them. I have some great transcripts of 16th-19th century ones, and they’ve been perfect for unravelling relationships between generations.

With so much to even start to explore, this is why I almost feel like I did when I first walked into a Records Office (the Bury St Edmunds one).

It is exciting, revealing, overwhelming…. and oh…. wonderfully addictive.

My Top 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2014

My Top 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2014 – 365 days of intentions for family and social history research.

Following on from last year’s list of ‘genealogy resolutions’ here’s my list for 2014. If you missed my post from the other day, you can check to see how I got on with 2013‘s.

1. Find More Photos

I’m going to renew my search for family photographs of the siblings of many of my Great Grandparents, and their nieces and nephews. This will see me contact a number of distant cousins.

Here’s a few photos that I’ve got a tantalisingly poor photocopy of a photocopy of a…. etc, and really want to capture a hi-res scan of the photos included in what was a self-published 90’s family history book. The original author (a very distant cousin), is unwilling to go back through his notes, so I shall try the closer cousins instead.

The main photo i’m after, is a wedding photo of my Great Grandparents Alfred Newman and Clara Gilbert in 1909, which you can see in the photo below:

1909 Newman Gilbert wedding group
My Great Grandparents’ wedding on 2nd June 1909 – the only photo I have or have seen (of at least a 2nd generation photocopy) is on the wish list.

As you can see, it’s in a bad way, and as I also have another (high quality) group Newman-only photograph, I should be able to identify quite a number of the Newmans in this photo if it was also of a higher quality.

Fingers crossed!

2. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

Yes, she’s back.. or rather, she’s still out there somewhere. As per 2013’s resolution, Mary Clarke ended up in court and eventually prison for neglecting, abusing, and playing the role of wicked step-mother to her husband’s children (he was also found to have caused neglect) during the 1840s. Whilst my Great x3 Grandmother Caroline Clarke (featured in the wedding photo above) escaped this, by being the much older first-born who went into service, the rest of the family ended up in poverty – including stints at the workhouse, where I think some of the children were also born.

Mary vanishes after 1881, by then a widow… but I will find her.

In a way, I will be relieved to find how she met her end, and feel like I personally, also get to put an end to it, as the court session report in a newspaper, which includes direct quotes from her and the abused children, is quite harrowing.

3. Spending 3 Days at Who Do You Think You Are? Live

I’ve booked my ticket for the entire 3 day show at this year’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live show in London’s Olympia in February (not long to go!).

Stands at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013
View across Olympia lower court at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013.

This will be my first time that I’ll have stayed for longer than a day, and so I hope to be able to meet lots of people who i’ve come to know through my research, through the contacts that i’ve made at the wonderful genealogy magazines and companies, as well as taking part in the #TweetUp, and attending lots of the workshops and panel sessions.

Right, i better book my hotel!

4. Sorting out the babies

There are two concentrations of births and deaths of infants in amongst the available certificates, and I want to work out which child belonged to which family. Parish records for Stretham and its neighbouring hamlet of Little Thetford aren’t necessarily revealing which Yarrow child belongs to which couple.

Similarly, in Little Downham, there’s a confusing number of Martin infants getting birth and death certificates, but without names and dates that completely tally-up.

Some of the children might never have reached the parish church for baptism, hence a lack of church records.

I already have a few of the certificates, which reveal scarlet fever, tuberculosis and other causes.

The only way to sort this out is to go on a spending spree over at the General Register Office (GRO) website to see what can be found.

5. Write that book (or at least start!)

So I have been collecting more and more stories, and have even drafted a few thousand words for a book, but my ideas and thoughts of this book has since become hazy.

What goes in it? Who does and doesn’t get their stories in it? What level of reader?

I’m currently sitting in the frame of mind that I’d like to write a book that contains a lot of visual content – which might be expensive in both rights, and in print, but I want to do a good job, and inspire people like me – who are motivated by shape, space, imagery (my interest in genealogy was very much sparked by finding a handwritten tree, and a load of glorious Victorian photos of mystery relatives). I want something that’s going to be picked up many times, that has big images running alongside text.

Keeping up with the Joneses - Valerie Lumbers
Reading how others have written up their research, has been fun and thought-provoking.

I don’t imagine that this will be easy, but working for a publisher, and having been a designer, and being friends with a number of people who have been published and have self-published, I hope to find a route through it. I’ve also tried to read family history books, including this one ‘Keeping Up With The Joneses’ by my friend’s aunt, Valerie Lumbers.

Firstly though, I need to focus on what the book is. And re-visit that couple of drafts i’ve written to see what can be pulled out and polished to help the book begin.

I’ve also been reading a number of eBooks on writing up family history, including: How To Write Your Family’s History‘ by Bartha Hill, and ‘Your Life Story: How To Turn Life Into Literature‘ by Kay Rennie.

What are your Genealogy Resolutions?

Last year, after posting my resolutions list, it seemed to spark interest amongst others including Valmay Young (hey Valmay, how did you get on?). Let me know if you’re taking part this year by leaving me a comment below, and perhaps a link to your list.

Have a very happy new year, and I wish you every success in your research this year.

Andrew 

In Pictures: Father’s Day

Celebrating Father’s Day 2013 this weekend – check out my photo gallery of 14 of my ancestral fathers.

It’s Father’s Day here in the UK this Sunday, so in the same way that I marked Mother’s Day with a photo gallery, I thought that I would do the same for my paternal and maternal fathers.

Interestingly, there are fewer photographs of my male ancestors. This will of course be down to one or two instances where illegitimacy leaves them absent, but maybe the luxury of late-19th and early-20th century meant photography was only afforded for their wives?

Paternal Fathers

Maternal Fathers

Happy Father’s Day!