Those top 5 genealogy resolutions of 2013

Catching a time-travelling grandmother? Killing off a child-abusing step-mother in 1841? Writing a book? …..Take a look back at how I’ve fared with my 2013 Genealogy Resolutions.

Last year, I made a list.

I’m not normally a resolutions type of guy, but I thought that it would be fun to do to try to help me focus on my research. It worked a little, but not as much as I would have liked, as I find it easy to go scrambling off on a tangent and chasing branches through different records. Before long, you find yourself about 7 surnames away from where you started.

However, it was overly productive, so I plan to have another 5 resolutions for 2014.

Before I reveal what I plan to do, I’ll just recap on the 5 resolutions from 2013

1. The Missing Bowers

I planned to crack my mystery Bowers connection. With my Gt Gt Gt Gt Grandfather Henry Bowers seemingly appearing out of nowhere, as a teenage groom at Wicken, I wanted to find his family. His subsequent Bowers family clearly have a Burwell connection, but whilst there are plenty of Bowers in both villages, and they seem to mingle, I’ve yet to find a mention of Henry.

In a bid to get further with this, I’ve looked at the parish records for Wicken and Burwell, alongside the census records, to try to see if there are any cross overs that would suggest that the Wicken Bowers family were living with Burwell Bowers on census nights, or appearing as witnesses etc at church events. This is a long, slow, arduous task, but one that I’m determined to complete. – INCOMPLETE

2. My time-travelling Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

Elizabeth’s headstone in Stretham churchyard, suggests that she was buried alive when compared to dates in burial registers.

My Great x5 Grandmother, Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) seems to defy time by dying and being buried on a range of dates within a couple of years – thanks to a lack of death certificate (it was 1837, the year the certification was compulsory, but she seems to be missing), a headstone, and two differing parish burial registers. Her demise remains a mystery, with the only lead for her London death, turning out to be a small child of the same name. – INCOMPLETE

3. Writing that book

Writing a book when you’ve been researching an entire family tree for so long, can be hard. Sure, there’s plenty of material – heartbreaking stories, funny instances, and wonderful photographs and sources, but where do you stop and focus?

That conundrum aside, I’ve continued to collect material for this and hope to use 2014 to flesh out the ideas and the stories. – IN PROGRESS

4. Visiting places familiar to my ancestors.

With the benefit of living amongst the villages that my family have lived and worked in over at least the last 430 years, it means that I’m always visiting places that they would have known, and seeing the landscapes they would have worked.

I managed to make several trips to places they would have known, including one to try to find the location of my Great Grandmother’s (Daisy Burnell) birth in The Stables, Abercorn Lodge, Abercorn Place, London. No obvious sign of the Lodge itself, or the stables (even though they might have been absorbed by something else), so I assume that they have since been redeveloped into something else, but I enjoyed a sunny afternoon visiting the area, and imagining what it might have been like back in the 1880s when she was born. – ACHIEVED

Abercorn Place sign

5. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

My step-child-abusing wicked Great x4 Grandmother, Mary Bailey (née Clarke) went to prison for her crimes in 1841. After serving her time and living a short family life, she ended up back in the workhouse twice, which is where I last saw her, as a widow. She continues to roam, and I won’t rest until i’ve bumped her off. – INCOMPLETE

As you’ll see from above, there’s quite a few incomplete ones there… so to help sort that out, I’ve just borrowed a friend’s research tool to help speed things up…

Andrew Martin makes genealogy easier by flying the TARDIS into research brick walls.
I’ve found that genealogy is easier when you fly a TARDIS into research brick walls, although I my Great x11 Grandmother loves my iPad Air.

2014’s resolutions…

Tune in tomorrow for my top 5 genealogy resolutions for 2014.

If you like this idea, then leave me a comment and/or link below to your resolutions blog post.

Have a wonderful end to 2013. And I wish you a prosperous, family filled, 2014!

Andrew

Why getting your family tree wrong is the best thing you could do

Why making a mistake in your family tree research is one of the most important things you can do.

Getting something wrong is not something that we like to admit, but it’s probably one of the best things that you could do when researching your family tree.

My sister, who is an avid horse-rider, taught me at a young age the saying ‘You can’t ride a horse until you’ve fallen off’. This easily applies to researching – you can’t research, until you’ve got it wrong.

But… there’s always lots of moaning about the quality of data when you discover online that your family tree has been ripped to bits by another less-careful researcher, thrown back together with some random names from say – Ohio, leaving you obliterated from existence in their tree.

So why is getting a tree wrong actually important?

Scaring away the cuckoo

PatPatPatPatPatMat Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Avis
Avis Wisbey (formerly Martin, née Tall) or ‘Mary Waters’

Discovering an error in your family tree is something that every genealogist should do at least once during their research. If you’ve never done this, then maybe you’re staring at a ‘cuckoo’ – a person who is using your tree to borrow the love and care that you have for your ancestor, when actually they are from a completely unrelated line.

Saying goodbye to that surrogate family is hard. If you’ve invested your time and effort, and perhaps some affection, then it can be a sad moment when you have to lose them.

Admitting your error

Okay, so here we go…

For years, I stared at the photograph above, of my Great x 4 Grandmother – thinking ‘what a great photo’ and ‘how lovely Mary Waters must have been’, when actually, she was Avis Tall.

I’d allowed a simple mistake creep into my research and onto my website – where I’d simply scrimped on spending time checking sources that I had in my files before adding data to my database and to my website.

A Mary Waters did indeed marry a James Martin, and together they had a son also called James Martin, but it wasn’t until revisiting a marriage certificate in my files for James Martin Jnr, that i realised that the father was actually a Robert Martin a couple of villages away, which then led me to finding his marriage to Avis Tall, and then finding references to them having the son called James Martin.

Marriage certificate
Revisiting the marriage certificate gave me a terrible realisation.

This changed my tree significantly, as I’d put a lot of effort into tracing back the Mary Waters and James Martin families, and had even found modern-day relatives who descended from them.

Updating… everything

Once you’ve found that mistake, your attention and eye for detail is swiftly improved. After finding that Mary Waters was completely wrong, I was straight back to my core tree and re-checking my trees using various sources.

Avis Tall as Mary Waters on Ancestry.co.ukI updated my website, I updated my database, and then I updated my distant relatives who had also run with the information i’d fed them.

Whilst my site is updated, even now, years on, the effect of the cuckoo lives on – with my ancestor enjoying an existence as ‘Mary Waters’ in new trees within sites such as Ancestry.co.uk.

Getting it wrong makes your research better

By getting your research wrong, realising it, and correcting it, you end up being a far more diligent researcher. Having got it wrong once, you know the pain and embarrassment of sawing off large boughs of your family tree, and then staring at the weedy twig that’s left behind.

So, before you commit that ancestor to your tree – check. Check again. Then cross-check, or the cuckoos will get you.

My Top 5 Genealogy ‘to-dos’ for 2013

My top 5 genealogy things I hope to achieve in 2013 – a mixture of visits, writing and demolishing those research brick walls.

I don’t really go for New Year’s Resolutions, as I like to challenge myself on a daily basis, but I thought that I would put down 5 areas of my family tree research where I hope to make progress in 2013.

1. The Missing Bowers

If you use RootsChat.com, you may have spotted me trying to unravel the Bowers family of Burwell, Cambridgeshire. There’s quite a lot of them there during the 19th century, and amongst them i am sure, *should be* my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Henry Bowers – yet there’s no sign of him in an appropriate part of the baptism registers, and unhelpfully he was born in about 1812 (so, well before that helpful 1st July 1837 date) and there’s no parents noted on his 1832 marriage entry in nearby Wicken. Henry’s children’s Burwell connections are frequent, yet he himself has yet to appear.

I feel that I’m beginning to make progress though, by researching all the Bowers in Burwell by cross-referencing the registers to census returns. Annoyingly, my favourite census – the 1851 for Burwell – is missing, and so this leaves a hole in the data.

I am determined to crack this one. Somehow.

2. My Time-traveling Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

Elizabeth Yarrow‘s birth, death and burial dates and place of death is open to discussion as none of the key sources corroborate. A death in London, a burial in Stretham, a date of burial in Stretham differing from the date of burial (randomly) noted in the register for neighbouring hamlet Little Thetford, date of death and age different between burial registers and gravestone.

It’s all a mess… and with her 1837 death year, there’s also no suitable certificate to help iron it all out (the one i did excitedly find was for a small child). My 5x Great Grandmother’s life and death might be impossible to unravel unless I get my hands on some newspapers and some railway records.

3. Writing that book

So, for quite a while now I’ve been toying with writing up research into a book, but then the genealogist’s work is never ever finished – so at what point do I start and end the book? What do i include and omit? Having several friends who are published authors themselves helps, but I hope to be able to work out how, and start, to turn my years of research into something that can be shared in print and in eBook.

If you’re a published genealogy author – drop me a message – i’d love to hear about your experiences.

4. Visiting places familiar to my ancestors

I’m quite good at this, mainly because few strayed from Cambridgeshire. Top of my list is to find the building (or site) of my Great Grandmother’s birthplace – The Stables, Abercorn Place, Kilburn. I’ve meandered the streets via Google Streetview, and I’ve been in the neighbouring streets (including the famous Abbey Road) where the family lived and worked… but this place remains unvisited.

5. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

My Great x4 Grandmother, 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 during the mid-1800s. She’d already bore my Great x3 Grandmother and a brother outside of marriage and before becoming the wife of William Bailey of Botesdale, Suffolk. This was to be to their advantage, as they went on to escape the miserable family life that followed. No wonder my Great x3 Grandmother Caroline Clarke changed her name and hid her parentage. Meanwhile, after a couple of stints in the workhouse, and one in prison, Mary vanishes after 1881… but I’ve yet to kill her off.

Mary, i’m coming to get you!

What genealogy brick walls are you hoping to demolish in 2013? Is there something special you hope to achieve in the coming year?  Let me know in the comments below.

Alternatively, join in the conversation over on LinkedIn.

How a Care Giver can play a key role in your genealogy research

How a carer could add extra information to your genealogy research.

I had a lovely email the other day from a lady who had found information about one of my late distant Yarrow cousins via Google. She used to be her care giver.

Having realised that she was looking at my Yarrow tree, she decided to drop me an email to tell me about her work caring for one of my relatives in her later years.

A carer with an elderly woman
Carers may hold the key to some of your un-answered genealogy questions.

This took me by surprise, as I’ve not received this kind of correspondence before, but as she mentioned a few specific details about the relative that she would not have found elsewhere, it got me thinking as to just how much information might your relatives be telling, or have told, their carers?

Think about how many nameless faces turn up in antiques and house-clearance stores – those long-lost loved ones who will rarely find their way back into the families they belong to. Yet, a carer may well have heard many stories about the people in these photos, and be able to give you some small clues as to the identities. Alternatively, they may have remembered being told about the childhood lives of your relatives.

Tracking down a carer for your elderly relative may be very difficult, but if they worked as part of a carer company, then you may be able to ask the company to pass on your contact details in a hope that they might respond. With any luck, they may be able to give you some time for a phone interview.

Act fast…

The advice here, would be to act quickly for two reasons:

  1. Stories can fade or become muddled as time goes on, even those stories that have been told every time the busy carer visited.
  2. The caring profession is generally poorly paid (in the UK at least, with some people receiving no pay at all) and therefore carers move around quickly – and internationally – so if you leave it too long, then you may never be able to trace your relative’s carer.

A word of caution though, carers have no obligation to contact you, and they work extremely hard with a lot of clients – and therefore they genuinely may not have any useful information for you. Some carers work in very difficult circumstances, so recalling details may be impossible or painful for them, or simply outside of their confidentiality comfort zone.

Why I love the 1851 UK Census

Why I Love The 1851 Census: Despite having used 8 different censuses, the 6th census (1851) is my firm favourite – and here’s why…..

Whilst the 1940 US Census continues to cause a storm with genealogists across the Atlantic, I’ve fondly turned to my favourite UK census of them all – the good ol’ 1851.

A page from the 1851 Census.
The 1851 census builds bridges between data.

I’ve used 8 UK censuses in my research – 1841-1911 – and each one is different – adding or omitting different questions, but it’s the UK Census that took place on the night of the 30th March 1851 that’s my favourite. Here’s why…

Building data bridges

I use the 1851 census to verify information that I’ve picked up from the scant data of the 1841 census. This enables me to build bridges with data – following families from the 1841 census, through to the 1861 census.

The 1851 census also gives the opportunity to verify those people who were alive before 1837 when certification was introduced for births, deaths and marriages. Whilst the 1841 census captures a more of those people, it’s not much more than a head-count with poor spelling and some seriously unreliable ages.

More household detail

The 1851 census was the first to ask and record answers about relationships between household members. This piece is very useful – again helping me decipher the 1841 and pre-certification records.

The 1841 did ask whether people were born in the same county as that which they were being recorded in – so gave a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in the county box, but the 1851 census goes further by also recording the parish AND county of birth. It also records whether the person had a disability – namely blind or ‘deaf-and-dumb’.

The State Opening of The Great Exhibition in 1851
The Great Exhibition took place in 1851.

The 1851 census also asks for more detail about occupations – and it’s here that you can find some interesting insights into what your family members did, and it can give you an insight into where in the social classes they would have sat.

The 1851 census has been publicly available since 1912 as it was not covered by the 100 year retainer rule. I have no idea what the demand was like back in 1912 when it became available, but I doubt that it matched the US 1940 Census demand – which saw 37 million website hits overload the website within 8 hours.

Were people queuing up in the streets in 1912 to read the 1851 census? I’m guessing they probably weren’t.

Why not love the 1911 UK census?

Just for the record, the 1911 census is a close second – for the sentimental moment you see your ancestor’s handwriting, and the very useful ‘years married’, ‘number of children born’ and ‘number of children living’ data.

The reason that the 1911 census is not my first love is partly down to being of an age where I personally knew many people who were alive during this period, and still know relatives whose siblings were born before it took place. Also, being part of a relatively close family, I’ve found the 1911 census not as revelational as it’s 1851 counterpart.

Which is your favourite census and why?

Tweet your love for the 1851 Census RIGHT NOW!

WANTED: Dead Or Alive

Killing off your relatives is a crucial part of your work…. as a genealogist, not as a marauding tyrant.

I’m hoping that aside from in genealogy, that there’s nowhere else where the mark of a successful day is one where you’ve killed off a load of your relatives.

Anyone tracing their family tree is sure to stumbled across at least one elusive relative at some point in their research. That relative will cause them to spend many hours following potential leads and plenty of head scratching and brow creasing before either solving or putting it off until a rainier day.

This is a routine I know well.

Help! My Grandmother was a zombie

William Yarrow and his wife Elizabeth
Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) seems to have died and been buried more than once.

I’ve recently struggled to kill off a maternal 4x Great Grandmother called Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright), who appears to have died twice (about 2yrs apart) and been buried – in neighbouring parishes (!). Her death(s) fall right at the start of Death Certification in England and Wales. One of them is even noted as being in London and that her body was carried back on the train.

However, there’s seemingly no death certificate for her (the only one that matched in name turned out to be a baby), and parish records and the gravestone all contradict eachother.

The hidden Grandparents and Uncle

I’m currently struggling to find a my paternal Gtx4 Grandparents John Levitt with Elizabeth (née Skeel), and one of their sons Richard Skeel Levitt, during the 1871 census. I can find the rest of their children, but for some reason in 1871 they vanish.

I have them living in the same parish in all the censuses before and after this particular one. So, did they elude the enumerator? Were they away somewhere? – and if so, why don’t they appear somewhere else?

The surname has many variants but having done some pretty vague searches and very specific ones too, they remain elusive. Richard never married and seems to stick with his parents until their death, after which he goes to live with his other unmarried brother. It’s odd that all three seem to be missing.

The Serial Bride

Mary Watlington (formerly Martin, formerly Crisp, née Tingey)
Mary Watlington (formerly Martin, formerly Crisp, née Tingey)

Okay, to be fair, three marriages is probably nothing compared to some, but Mary Tingey surprised me. Born in 1820, she married to John Crisp in 1846. He died soon after their son was born. Within 4 years she had remarried to widower James Martin (my Gtx3 Grandfather) in 1850 and the following year they started their own family. After 5 children – with seemingly just one surviving (my ancestor) tuberculosis and scarlet fever, and then the tragic train accident that claimed her husband, Mary lived alone as a widow.  I’d hunted for her death for some time, but the searches were unsuccessful.

I hadn’t considered that instead of being buried somewhere out of step with the rest of her family or that she had been recorded for some reason under an earlier name, that she had remarried. One evening I stumbled across the marriage in 1877 with 57yr old widow Mary Martin, formerly Crisp (née Tingey) becoming the second Mrs Matthew Watlington. To add to the confusion, the new surname occasionally appears as Watling.

Check, check, check and then cross-check…. again…

These are just three of several situations where I’ve struggled to solve a puzzle. Whilst I know that checking and cross-checking is absolutely crucial to accurately recording your genealogy, it can be all too easy to accept even documentation and gravestones of the time as being accurate.

I’d like to say that I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way… but I say that every time it happens.

POLL: At what age were you when you started your family tree/genealogy research?

POLL: At what age were you when you started your family tree/genealogy research?

I fall outside of the reader demographic for most genealogy magazines, as well as the demographic of genealogy websites. So, I was wondering at what age you first started your family tree/genealogical research?