IWM’s Lives Of The First World War website enters final year for submissions

The countdown begins for the closure of submissions to the IWM and FindMyPast’s digital WW1 memorial project.

Back in 2014, at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show, I was excited to hear about a new project from the Imperial War Museum and FindMyPast.

The project, to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War, would breathe life back into all those brave men and women who served in the First World War by allowing the public to add details to their records.

Lives of WW1 talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014
Lives of WW1 talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014, at Olympia, London.

This enabled those long lists of rank, surnames, and service number to start seeing information about their births, their photographs, and their life stories being added.

I have added photographs and information to several of my relatives, and one relative (a distant cousin) Frederick Vernon Cross even made it as one of the people on the home page.

Frederick Vernon Cross on home page of livesofthefirstworldwar website
Frederick Vernon Cross (left) features on the home page. He survived, and went on to found what eventually became Ely Museum.

This week, an email came through to announce that the project is entering the final year of the first phase, and that there is just one year left to add more valuable accompanying information, with submissions ending on 18th March 2019.

After this date, the site will become a permanent digital memorial to those brave people who served in a terrible war, for us to remember and research for the future.

Lives of the First World War screenshot
I’ve added my great grandfather to Lives Of The First World War.

I still have a few relatives to find on the site, but this reminder will set me on the path to correct that. I suggest you do the same.

Happy Researching,

Andrew

 

 

My 2018 New Year Genealogy Resolutions

With 2017 safely filed away, it’s time to set myself some Genealogy Resolutions for 2018. I might even still remember what they are by June.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’ve been giving myself Genealogy Resolutions for some years now.

Having scored a reasonable 3/5 score for 2017, it’s time to declare my 2018 ones… so here goes:

1. Scan BMD Certificates

With the recent digitisation pilots from the General Register Office, in theory, the number of digital certificates that I hold will not increase rapidy, unless I order more marriage certs as these are not included so far in their pilot.

I’d like to get that 50% of my certificates scanned.

This has been more prevalent in the last few weeks, as I’m busily tidying up data and citations, having migrated from Reunion11 to Mac Family Tree.

2. Find Simpson Bishop’s death

Having discovered a few months back, that Simpson Bishop, my 4x Great Grandfather became an American citizen in 1886, having emigrated at the end of the 1870s, and seemingly ‘abandoning’ his 3rd wife and their children back in Lancashire, UK.

James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA.
James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA. I’ve read the associated paperwork, but it doesn’t give much away.

I’d like to find his death in the USA.

He died between 1886, and presumably before the 1901 census, when his abandoned wife finally states she’s a widow. The whole emigration and naturalisation came as a surprise – as I had assumed for a long time that he’d died like generations before and after him, just a few miles from where he was born in Cambridgeshire, England. How wrong I was.

3. Source more family photographs

2017 saw me acquire and source a vast number of ‘new’ photographs. Many of these were because of the death of my uncle at the end of 2016, and the subsequent mammoth task for my parents and I to clear his house.

However, January 2017 also brought me in contact with a distant cousin, who actually lives within 3 miles of my house, and right next to my gym. She very kindly sent me copies of a couple of ‘new’ photos of my 2x Great Grandparents, which are very much appreciated.

October and November also saw me visit my late-Grandfather’s cousin, whose mother had amassed a lot of Victorian and Edwardian photographs. I’d had a few copies in the late 1990s when I was starting my research, but at this time, it was costly and risky (a home scanner wasn’t an option, and you had to send them away via a photo lab to get them done). Now though, I was able to visit and scan each with my iPad.

I’d like to make contact with my Moden and Gilbert families again, to make scans of new photos, including getting a scan of the 1909 wedding photograph of my paternal Great Grandparents wedding, which I only currently only have as a bad photocopy of a bad photocopy!

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.

4. Run 2 more AncestryDNA tests

I’ve got 2 AncestryDNA test kits sitting on a shelf in my office. They’re right in front of me right now. But that’s no good…

I’d like to ask my sister, and my paternal grandfather’s cousin to take the AncestryDNA test too.

My sister won’t really be interested in the results much, and certainly not the genealogy, but my grandfather’s cousin (see 3) is very interested in family history. I just want to pick my timing/method of asking her and explaining what it is.

Running these 2 tests will take my test tally up to 7, and so far there’s been some amusing results.

If one of them says ‘no’, that’d be a shame, but it’s something I have to respect. If I do get a ‘no’, then my next option may be my maternal grandfather’s cousin. However, I don’t really know her, but the fascinating thing with her, is that whilst her mother is a blood-relative to me, her father carries a surname that sits in my father’s tree – Tingey. It’s not that common, and considering he was from the same area, I’d be curious of whether I have a paternal AND maternal match!

In addition, I’d also be curious of using AncestryDNA testing to help prove parentage by testing the descendants of my Great Grandfather’s step-father’s siblings.

My Great Grandfather in this branch was illegitimate, but my 2x Gt Grandmother swiftly married and had further children. My grandmother, in the last few years of her life, kept telling me that this step-father, Flanders Hopkin was really the father (he was a lot older, and I don’t think her parents approved).

Therefore, I’d like to test the step-father’s sibling descendants to see if there’s a match. It’d be reasonably easy to have a match elsewhere in their tree, and it should be relatively easy to find a modern-day descendant, but the gamble is picking a person who has inherited enough of that family’s DNA to match.

5. Start that book!

Yes, i know, i know, I KNOW. For years now, I’ve been talking about writing, and briefly I did start, but the format of it has really eluded me – fact, fiction, pictorial reference? I’m still not 100% sure which method I’d go for, so I’ve decided that just starting will help me decide.

I won’t have a book finished, but I want to be knee deep in writing by December 31st 2018.

Anything else?

Well, I’m finishing off migrating my Family Tree UK website over to a new responsive device friendly design – I’m 83% of the way through it, which gives me a chance to re-write, re-check research, and add bits to each person profile. This will also be it’s 20th year online (b. 28/11/1998), so I’m going to make a massive cake… and .. er.. eat that all myself. 😀

I also want to print a lot of family photos and frame a load on a wall in my office. I need to fill and paint that wall at the moment, but it’ll be inspiring once i’ve finished.

I also want to sort my files out – do some deep cleaning of my research notes. There’s lots of newspaper cuttings, letters, really old printed emails etc.. and I think they deserve going through, scanning etc, and referencing details in my Mac Family Tree database.

Obviously, writing up interesting research twists and turns here for you too!

Anyway, let me know in the comments below if you have any New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2018 (feel free to throw in a link to them!), and how you did in 2017.

Thanks for reading, have a healthy and happy New Year, and another 12 months of productive family tree surgery!

Andrew

How did my 2017 Genealogy Resolutions go?

You might remember, that each year since 2013 I’ve set myself some Genealogy New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t bother setting myself any other kind (seems fair enough, right?), but how did I fare with them in 2017?

Here’s how my 5 Genealogy Resolutions went:

1. Kill Mary Clarke

This is the Nth year that I’ve tried to kill off my child-abusing gaol-bird of a 4x Great Grandmother, but sadly, she survives for another year. Instead, I finally unpicked the puzzle that led me to kill off my time-travelling  5x Great Grandmother (different branch of tree), Mrs. Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright), after finding her disguised as ‘Elizabeth Yerroll’.

FAIL 😦

2. Scan my BMD certificates

I have made some progress in this in the last few months. Partly because of the wonderful ‘trials’ that the General Register Office have been doing to explore digital delivery of birth and death certificates, but also as am adding them in as digitised image sources to my hop from Reunion11 to Mac Family Tree 8. It’s being a great opportunity to read them again for those minute details – love examining those marriage witnesses for cousins. I am nowhere near 50% though, which was my target… probably 10%.

PARTIAL PASS 😐

3. Finish reading published family histories

The books I gave in my example didn’t get anywhere near my eyes this year, but I did find a page-turned queue jumper in the guise of Stephen McGann’s book Flesh and Blood – no, not just another sleb-turned-genealogy-expert, but a famous family of which he has been the quiet observant researcher for years. It’s an enjoyable read, and I am within the final third of the book. I’m a slow reader. and quite frankly, I’ve got this history hobby that keeps distracting me 😉

PARTIAL PASS 😐

4. Find my uncle’s grave

In October 2016, at an uncle’s funeral, I learned that I was missing an uncle completely – right there, right under my nose! I was sad that I’d missed him, and sad that no-one had talked about him until after my other uncle’s death. Suddenly my Uncle Malcolm existed in my world, and I felt that I needed to bring a little life back to his name once more. With the help of the parish church, and an afternoon searching a cemetery with the burial notebook to hand, I found the spot.

PASS 🙂

5. Run a 4th AncestryDNA test

I had no trouble achieving this one – partly aided by a price war at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 show, and the visit of my paternal aunt. In fact, I was able to take my DNA test tally up to 5… with both a paternal and maternal aunt both giving me some spit in exchange for info, cousins, and silent tree-less non-responding genetic tourists ;). You can read about my family’s first three DNA tests here.

PASS 🙂

Conclusion:

So, I think I’ve scored 3/5 in 2017 – a good year for progress.

There’s been plenty of other things going on too – I completed and moved into a new (well, 1955) house which involved creating gardens and decorating etc, I adopted a cat, and I changed my job.

In genealogy, I also got to know my late-Grandfather’s (79yr old) cousin and her husband much better – and made a few visits to see her late-mother’s Victorian photograph collection where I made copies, and shared trees with her. I hope to return to coax a little spit for a test soon 😉

I also made progress on my wandering Simpson Bishop puzzle – he too needs killing off, but it seems that he became an American citizen in his 60s in the 1880s, and never returned home to his 3rd wife and his older children.

As I type this, I’m tidying up data in Mac Family Tree – i’ve been doing it since 26th December…. and I’m enjoying it, will no doubt be doing it tomorrow, and it will no doubt keep me busy!

I’ll be compiling my 5 Genealogy Resolutions for 2018 shortly, but let me know in the comments below if you have any, or how your 2017 ones fared.

As ever, happy tree surgery, thanks for reading, and have a very happy and healthy 2018.

Happy New Year.

Andrew

From Fens to Mills to Illinois

The hunt for my 4x Great Grandfather, Simpson Bishop, takes a tiny step forward but also thousands of miles forward, back through time via ‘Spain’ to the USA.

I’ve had a partial breakthrough this week on my Bishop family history, specifically around the mystery of the whereabouts of my Great x4 Grandfather Simpson Bishop (b.c. 1819).

For many years, I’d assumed that like the many generations before and since, my 4x Great Grandfather Simpson Bishop had been born and died in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire – that’s certainly the case for the majority of both my maternal and paternal family during the 18-20th Century.

A few years back, I discovered that he’d married twice, and then thrice, and headed up to Lancashire in the latter half of the 1800s to a place named Higher Booths, where the cotton mills were a powerhouse of manufacturing and employment.

Along with wife number three, I found all his extra children – growing my Bishop family tree significantly, but this is where it got complicated.

He married his third wife, widow Sarah Washington (née Brown) in 1868, and in 1871 the couple are living in separate households in the same parish – each as the ‘head’ on the census, and each with their respective children.

Then Simpson goes missing.

I’m used to him going missing by now, and looked for him under his usual other names – Sampson Bishop, James Bishop, James Simpson Bishop, Simson Bishop.. but no.

Whilst wandering through digitized records on Ancestry almost a year ago, I spotted a photograph of his second eldest daughter, Ann Elizabeth Bishop, who’d married a George Eve. I messaged the source of the photo, who was able to tell me that it was their ancestor, and that they’d moved to the USA, but had little other information as they were new to researching their family.

This week I resumed my research on this part of the tree, and found myself on FindMyPast looking at the record hints for Ann Elizabeth – this led me to the US Censuses – a set I rarely have to consult.

Down the cousin research rabbit-hole

Following Ann’s family with George Eve is beginning to stray somewhat away from my own tree, but when it comes to first cousins to an ancestor, I like to find them despite their different surname, as they usually turn up in marriage witness records, death certificates, census visitors/neighbours, obituary mourners, and sometimes photos.

I looked at their family on 1900, then 1910, and then I looked at 1880. In all three instances they were living in Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois, USA, and the censuses explained they’d been there since 1879.

Right there, on the US 1880 census scan was Simpson Bishop!

Simpson Bishop on the US 1880 Census with his married daughter Ann Elizabeth Eve, at Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois.
Simpson Bishop on the US 1880 Census with his married daughter Ann Elizabeth Eve, at Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois.

The transcription unhelpfully reads as ‘Simpson Biskof’ – and looks obviously like ‘Bishop’.

For a tiny moment I had read it as Ann having called a child after her father, but then realised he should be Simpson Eve, not Bishop, and that he also shouldn’t be ’56’. It was my 4x Great Grandfather after all!

Tracking back a year, I was able to find Simpson Bishop entering the USA via Castle Garden Immigration Centre on 8th July 1879, having departed the UK from Liverpool.

Castle Garden Immigration Centre in New York, circa 1880.
Castle Garden Immigration Centre in New York, circa 1880.

He had arrived onboard a steamship named SS Spain…. and with him was Ann, George, and their oldest children.

They’d emigrated together.

The steamship SS Spain - regularly sailed from Liverpool to New York until it was scrapped in 1896.
The steamship SS Spain – regularly sailed from Liverpool to New York until it was scrapped in 1896.

Those left behind

I’d previously found it frustratingly odd that back home in Lancashire, Simpson’s third wife Sarah was alive and well, and continued to note herself on censuses as ‘married’, not switching to ‘widow’ until 1901. This gave me a gap of up to 30 years to look for him in census records and for a death – and of course – I haven’t found him.

My last evidence of him in the UK had been the birth of John James Bishop in 1873, and with the death of three of his children – some in infancy, and some older ones due to illness (perhaps brought on by their mill work), I wondered whether he’d died too, or he’d ended up in an asylum, or prison, or was just obscured by yet more pseudonyms/misspellings.

It might appear that he deserted his third wife, but I’m unlikely to ever know this for sure, unless I find some modern day Bishop descendants from his younger children who might have kept any evidence of letters etc.

What happened next?

The remainder of Simpson’s life is still a mystery. This appearance on the 1880 US census gives me his whereabouts in June 1880, and that’s the last confirmed record I have for him.

There is one possible other record for him, turning up in the County Court of Woodford County, Illinois (the area which contains Minonk) in 1886 – a naturalization record index card for ‘James S. Bishop’ (remember, he’s used that name before!).

James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA.
James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA. I really want to read the associated paperwork to see if it’s him!

I’ll see what more I can find out about this person. At this period, you had to be resident in the US for 5 years, and 1 year in the state to apply for naturalization – all of which Simpson could have easily ticked if that was him, due to his 1879 arrival.

So, any Woodford County or Naturalization experts reading this – I’d love to hear from you, but otherwise, I feel i’ve done some more satisfying detective work this week.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, happy ancestor hunting. It’s time for a cuppa!

Andrew

Killing Off Elizabeth

Since collating a set of contradictory evidence, I finally believe I’ve killed off my 5x Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Wright.

Since at least 2011, I’ve been trying on and off to confirm the death of my 5x Great Grandmother Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright).

Elizabeth Wright was born in about 1779, and was baptised at Mepal, a riverside fenland village in Cambridgeshire.

She went on to marry farmer William Yarrow in 1800 at his native hamlet Little Thetford – just a few miles south of Ely, again in Cambridgeshire. The couple became parents at least 11 times, with 2 children dying in infancy, and their final child, Susan, in 1821 being noted throughout her life as ‘handicapped’ and ‘suffering from fits’ (which I assume may have been epilepsy, or maybe even asthma).

The Yarrow family life would have been hard on the flat bleak unforgiving fenland, but their family grew as their children married, brought grandchildren into the family, and some moved away.

My puzzle began with William and Elizabeth’s headstone, which still stands in Stretham churchyard today.

The headstone of William and Elizabeth Yarrow at Stretham.
The headstone of William and Elizabeth Yarrow at Stretham. Photo: Andrew Martin, 2010.

The headstone information for Elizabeth reads:

“Also Eliz his wife who died Nov 25th 1839, aged 58 years” 

Close-up of Elizabeth Yarrow's headstone inscription.
Close-up of Elizabeth Yarrow’s headstone inscription – that ‘1839’ looks a bit like ‘1859’ but on close inspection, it is definitely a 3.

I checked the burial register for around that date. Nothing. No Yarrow burials at Stretham in 1839.

The family lived in the nearby hamlet Little Thetford, classed as a ‘parish of’ Stretham, so I checked there too, despite the headstone being in Stretham.

Again, no Yarrow burials listed in their home parish register. However, head backwards in time through the burials transcript and you find that on 23rd November 1837, there is this entry:

“Nov 23 1837 – Yarrow Elizabeth otp 50 wife of William farmer died in London was carried home and buried at Stretham”

So, this solves the lack of note in Stretham’s own register – it was recorded at Little Thetford instead.

But….

How can someone be buried 2 days and 2 years before they died?

And how did she decrease in age by 8 years?

Okay, I can understand that an age might be wrong in a parish register – I’ve seen it so many times in marriage registers, but 2 years out on burial? As a family historian, I can’t resist a puzzle, and so I soon decided to make killing Elizabeth off as one of my New Year Genealogy Resolutions. Little did I realise that she’d take me several years before solving it.

Looking at the facts, I was left with this:

  1. Married to William Yarrow at time of death.
  2. Buried with him at Stretham, Cambridgeshire.
  3. Died some time between late-1837 and late-1839.
  4. Aged in her 50s.

Spotting the late-1837, I took to FreeBMD, and at this time in 2011, this was THE index I could consult easily. The final quarter of 1837 is the first period in which certification was compulsory, but there was nothing.

Maybe it just hadn’t been so widely adopted, or faced opposition?

I searched wider, just in case it had been slow to register. There was a result. It was in London too.

Elizabeth Yarrow, died in St. Pancras, registered in June Quarter of 1838.
Elizabeth Yarrow, died in St. Pancras, registered in June Quarter of 1838.

I paid my £9.25 and waited a few days, and opened the envelope. It wasn’t her.

This Elizabeth Yarrow was just 11 months old, and was the daughter of Charles and Charlotte Elizabeth Yarrow of Tottenham.

I then turned to the archive of newspapers that are included in on my FindMyPast membership, but sadly there was nothing there – not for London, nor for Cambridgeshire. It was a long-shot, but I reasoned that maybe her body being brought home by carriage might have got some column inches – a few words to mark her passing – but no. Nothing.

I put her to the back of my mind for a while, casually searching the growing newspaper archives now and then, but still seeing nothing of interest.

Then…

The General Register Office put their birth and death indexes online, and made them wonderfully searchable. Again, I saw the little 11mth old Elizabeth, and that was about it.

Earlier this week I decided to do a broader search. I picked 1838, put in her first name, the letter ‘y’ for her surname, chose ‘female’ and allowed a 2 year search range, covering that headstone date. Clicked search and saw a ton of surnames.

There were plenty of Yeo deaths and other surnames, and so I began a quick scan down the list.

Then I saw an unusual name.

Elizabeth Yerroll's death listed in the GRO index.
‘Elizabeth Yerroll’ died in London in the right year, at the right age.
  • Elizabeth (tick!)
  • 58yrs (tick – matching the headstone),
  • December Qtr (tick – matching the Stretham headstone, and the Little Thetford burial entry!)
  • London (tick! – matching the note in Little Thetford register)

But ‘Yerroll’? I’d never heard of that surname before. But then i figured, that if Elizabeth was away from home, then was she alone? Obviously, if my Elizabeth had died, then she could hardly correct someone’s spelling, so anyone who acted as the informant might have been a stranger… or might have reported the death to someone who wasn’t familiar with the Yarrow surname, or wouldn’t have understood the surname being spoken with a potentially fenland accent from her travelling companion.

I decided that Yarrow could be Yerroll if you squinted and had waxy ears! Either way, £9.25 made its way to the GRO again, along with an order for another gamble certificate (a blog post for another time), and I waited.

4 days later – today – I received the certificate.

I am 99% sure it’s her.

23 Nov, Allhallows Barking, Elizabeth Yerroll, female, 58yrs
23 Nov, Allhallows Barking, Elizabeth Yerroll, female, 58yrs

Married Woman, Diseased kidneys and bladder, Ann [illegible] 23 Beer Lane, Nurse, Present at death, 28th Nov.
Married Woman, Diseased kidneys and bladder, Ann [illegible] 23 Beer Lane, Nurse, Present at death, 28th Nov.
I stared at the certificate. Was Elizabeth all alone? Why would she do that? What was she doing in London? It took me a while to see that it read ‘Nurse’ in the informant’s details column, but I don’t recognise the name. It seems that she was taken ill away from home.

I wondered where Allhallows Barking was in London, so I looked it up on the map.

She died somewhere within earshot of the Tower Of London, right near the River Thames.

The Thames.

And there I hit upon the answer after just two or three clicks into my research database.

William and Elizabeth Yarrow’s second oldest child was Mary Yarrow. In 1841, Mary was married to an Owen Owen, and they were running an ‘Eating House’. The family held it for many years and it was on Lower Thames Street.

The same Lower Thames Street that was now staring back at me while I became misty-eyed about the Tower of London next to it.

Elizabeth must have been visiting her daughter at Lower Thames Street, become ill (even though she clearly was quite unwell, perhaps obliviously), and died in the company of a nurse – who didn’t know how to spell her name.

Her body would have then been returned home to her family, and buried in Stretham, but recorded in her home hamlet of Little Thetford.

This collection of coincidences had grown, and must surely suggest that I’m correct in my assumption.

I’m satisfied that I’ve finally killed off my 5x Great Grandmother, and that it’s a Genealogy Resolution that’s now kept, albeit 6 years late.

Have you unravelled any puzzles like this? Let me know how you tackled them in the comments below.

As ever, thanks for reading, I’m off for a celebratory cuppa.

Andrew

What Do You Think We’ll Do Now? Live 2018

With the 2018 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show dead and buried, have we hit a brickwall with large UK genealogy events?

Shortly after the 2017 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show ended at the Birmingham NEC, and the last genealogist was gently nudged out of the venue, the doors locked. Forever. Then the news began to trickle through saying that the much-loved live show would not be returning.

For me, this was sad news, having easily recovered from the shift from London’s Olympia just a few years before, I was sad to not be going to the next one. I’d attended several in it’s ten year history of shows.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2018

I’m trying to think what a WDYTYA? Live 2018 show would look like in all but name.

Day One of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014
The two-floor Who Do You Think You Are? Live at London Olympia in 2014.

What makes me attend the show? What brings the thousands of attendees from across the country and the globe (yes, globe!) to tread the NEC’s bright blue carpets?

News of the cancellation has been missing from the Who Do You Think You Are? Live team themselves, almost as if one day they were working and suddenly all locked out.

Even the show’s official website still talks about how they’ll be returning for their 11th show, and that they “invite you to explore highlights from previous shows, browse our extensive photo galleries and get an idea of what is in store for 2018”.

You have to turn to the affiliated magazine to find out why the show has been cancelled – owners Immediate Media (who took over in 2011), have found the show has been making a loss.

What could replace WDYTYA? Live?

If there’s to be a replacement in 2018, then organisers are surely to already be working hard to plan it – and maybe they are. A huge show like Who Do You Think You Are? Live takes many months to organise – and even something half the size would be no mean feat.

Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.
Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.

In the Autumn edition of the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Journal, a tantalising note can be read: “We understand that there are proposals are being made for a new event format at a new location. … no firm details as yet we’ll keep you posted..“. Given that this Society also knew about the Birmingham switch ahead of the curve, maybe their inside information is something to get excited about?

So what would get me out of my house, travelling many miles, staying in a hotel, and spending 3 days walking around talking, thinking, watching, listening, and eating genealogy?

For me, the essential stuff (in no particular order) is:

  1. Venue – an easily accessible venue, with good facilities. I remember there being great concern from stand-holders and attendees alike when I seemingly broke the news online in April 2014.
  2. Brands – 2017 saw those DNA tests at their most competitively priced, and there was a fair range of brands – small and large. A few charities, and age-group-targeted-clothing had crept in (hopefully you know what I mean!), but if they’re in the minority and willing to pay for a stand, then okay.
  3. Experts – I’m not particularly worried about celebrity talks. I’d rather hear talks by reputable family history/genealogy/DNA/Archives experts, who have put the hours in, felt the pain, and achieved their own results.
  4. Social spaces – One of the biggest things that kept me coming back to the show was how it would draw a large number of people, and that included those I’d grown to know – initially via twitter or this blog – but then being able to call the friends too – even a slightly-convoluted relative was met there (hey, Amelia!). The Tweet-ups were also good fun.
  5. Societies – The Society of Genealogists helped ensure that the local history societies had a presence and a voice at the show. It was always a fantastic opportunity to get to talk from the experts on their stands – they could tell me about record sets, and all the kinds of things that only local historians know about the area they live and research.
  6. Wifi – As a family historian, and an event attendee, I need wifi. That might be to look things up, tweet a friend, or upload an image. Sometimes the availability has been scarce, leaving suspicious groups of family historians to gather in the corner of the hall. If you want to amplify an event to a wider audience who might then come along, or feel envious and come next time, then allow attendees to do it from within the event, rather than pushing them outside or to a cafe to do it – that gives them a reason not to return.

Without the 2018 show in my calendar, there’s a big gap that I feel I need to fill with something similar. I’ve no intention to head over to RootsTech in the US – as someone with paternal and maternal ancestors who rarely strayed from the same 30 mile radius for the best part of 450 years, heading over to the US to hear about American records, feels like it’s not a valid reason. I know a few people who have been, but I don’t think that it would be worth it for me.

One of my favourite bits from RootsTech though is definitely the video interview booth – and wished this had been mirrored at WDYTYA? Live, again helping the show to reach further. Or that someone like StoryCorps had made it into the show (or at least the UK).

Regardless of what we do or don’t get in 2018, I am going to miss not attending the show – the whole experience: from my hotel in Coventry and leisurely train ride to the NEC each day, through to the experts on the society stands, and the meeting of old friends.

My local county family history society, who normally run a genealogy event in September each year, are seemingly not doing so this year, and there’s no sign yet of next April’s ‘Big Family History Fair’ held by my district family history society.

One of the halls at The Big Family History Fair 2012, St Ives.
Even my local family history societies seem a bit quiet on the big event-front.

One of the most intriguing sounding events appearing in 2018 seems to be Secret Lives – a collaboration between Society of Genealogists, AGRA, GOONS, and The Halstead Trust.

The FindMyPast 1939 Tea Room
The FindMyPast 1939 Tea Room at Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

What do you think a Who Do You Think You Are? Live-like event should be like, or do you think they’ve run their last? What will you miss about the show? Are you going to any alternative genealogy events instead? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, thanks for reading, and happy tree surgery!

Andrew

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

What have the first 2/3rds of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 been like? Here’s my findings..

This year I decided that I would visit the annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live show for just two days, rather than three. For the last few years I’ve done the full show, but with lots of other things competing for my time at the moment – packing up my house, and moving in 2 weeks time, and a load of pots and trays of seedlings in need of my attention (see my gardening blog), I’m pre-occupied.

It was great to get to meet up with some familiar faces – friends who i’ve made from my previous visits, or who I’ve got to know via Twitter conversations and the likes of  #AncestryHour. It’s also great to meet with some new faces too, and that includes companies.

As soon as you step into WDYTYA? Live, you can see exactly who the big sponsor is – Ancestry. Their stand seems to get larger each year, in floorspace and height. Still, it’s packed with information-hungry researchers all looking to smash through a brick wall with the help of their research team.

Ancestry show stand at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017
Ancestry with their three-pitch stand. Just how much bigger can they get?

Ancestry’s big sell here is obviously their AncestryDNA kit, and even if you somehow missed this whopping great big stand, you’d soon be looking for them as their tests are a hot topic of the many talks in the orbiting theatres.

Once again they had their own mini theatre to help curious family historians to learn more about autowotzits and mitre comicals or something like that.  If only more test-takers would add family trees to Ancestry!!

AncestryDNA talk at WDYTYALive 2017
AncestryDNA’s stand includes a mini theatre where you can learn how the test works, and how to crunch the data.

I swung by the FamilySearch stand, which like previous years seemed very busy, and also like last year, was running series of small demos and tutorials. I managed to join the back of a group of people watching a demo of researching my beloved 1851 census.

FamilySearch research tutorials.
FamilySearch’s tutorials are free and on their stands.

My favourite talk by far on the 2 days was Debbie Kennett‘s talk ‘Autosomal DNA demystified‘. I’ve keenly followed Debbie’s articles and advice on DNA over the year, and so I knew that I’d be a fool to miss this. Her talk clearly lead us into the topic of DNA, the types of tests that are out there – including their benefits and shortfalls – and then led us through how to analyse the data.

Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.
Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.

She also reminded us that whilst DNA is the ‘in’ thing right now (and her stage was surrounded by DNA testing companies), that you should go into it and prepare for the unexpected.

I always find Debbie’s advice to be very clear, even when it’s technical, and her approach to advice always feels impartial. There’s so many companies out there vying for your DNA test money, but it’s hard to pick out what each one can give and how they compare. Debbie seems to be the voice who talks about this.

DNA test price war?

Stand of the show clearly goes to LivingDNA – which really stood out with a big screen and swish stand.

Living DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017
Living DNA had a huge screen stand, and they really stood out as the fresh, new, sparkly attraction.

Living DNA are currently running a test for me, so I hope to report back on this in the near future.

There was definitely what seemed like a price war on this year, with AncestryDNA having slashed their usual price of £79 (excluding that annoying £20 P&P) to £49 (i bought 3 more), and with FamilyTreeDNA pitching at £40, and with newbies LivingDNA pitching at £99. Other tests were also available, but I didn’t spot the prices.

I wondered whether the DNA Test ‘price war’ simply indicates that the main players have finally recouped their product development and marketing budgets, meaning they can now discount their tests, mixed with the surge of competitors making the price more volatile. It feels a bit like it’s a race to the bottom (so to speak), but I think there’s also a need to be clearer about the differences between the tests.

I was really pleased to see that Dr Turi King was back at the show, talking about the Richard III case. I first saw her (as a VIP!!) back in 2013 when it had only recently been revealed who the mystery skeleton was. It was great to hear some of that story again, and also pick up the factoid that poor Richard is missing his feet still. Maybe he had good boots on that day, and someone took an easy way of getting them!

I mentioned this revelation on Twitter, which annoyed Richard III, who despite being somewhat lifeless of late, seemed to get a bit annoyed at Dr King for revealing it. I guess we should all tread caref…. Oh.

Where Do You Think They Were? Live

I was really pleased to bump into Paul Carter and Pam Smith – two more of my regular show chums – and I was really interested to hear about their new Name&Place project which I’m really looking forward to seeing at next year’s show (no pressure!!).

Speaking of ‘where’, I think that this year was the first year ever that Genes Reunited’s stand has been absent. Obviously, as a company, they have been passed from pillar to post, but seeing as they’re now part of the same product family as FindMyPast, then I guess they’re slowly being absorbed out of existence.

Twile and FindMyPast at their WDYTYALive stand in the middle of the show.
Twile and FindMyPast at their WDYTYALive stand in the middle of the show.

It was great to see Twile on the FindMyPast stand, and their infographic idea really strikes a chord. I think infographics are great at giving bitesized pieces of information in a memorable and eye-catching way. Family history needs this, because I’m all to familiar with just how exciting it can be… but not to the person I’m telling it to. Their eyes glaze over as they get confused by the distant cousins and multiple greats.

Once again, I caved in at the Pen & Sword stand following what is probably now my annual papping of it. I love books, and I’ve got loads of them. I tried to resist, remembering that I’ve got to pack all of mine up into boxes and move them in a couple of weeks… but I was finally lured back to the stand and bought just one more – the final copy of Stuart A Raymond’s ‘Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors‘.

I also popped along to see the team from MacFamilyTree, not because I’m really thinking about replacing my Reunion software, but I wanted to see what theirs was like, and whether I could finally hunt down a family history software that doesn’t have printable charts that look like they were last designed in 1997. I find that a lot of these modern on-device software releases (as opposed to online subscription websites) are great, but the printable chart options really let them down. I’m not 100% sure I’ve found what I’m looking for still. Maybe I just need to begin a start-up company.

Anyway, that’s it for my two days at the 2017 WDYTYALive show. What did you make of it?

I think this year I went with little expectation or preparation, aiming only to get 2 more DNA kits, to sit in on some more DNA talks, and to catch up with those familiar faces. I did all that, and enjoyed the show.

As I look at my show purchases, I’m trying not to think about how much money I spent – more of how much money I saved on waiting for the show to get the show discounts, and how many more relatives this will enable me to connect with.

Swag from WDYTYALive 2017
Some of my WDYTYA? Live 2017 show swag.

I don’t think my feet or my bank could handle a third day, so I’m glad to be at home with my feet up and a cuppa in my hand.

Enjoy Day 3 of the show, and as ever, happy history hunting!

Andrew

Finding Uncle Malcolm

A newly-discovered uncle reveals a sad premature infant death, and a quest to locate his unmarked burial plot.

Six months ago, as I walked with my mother from the freshly dug grave of my paternal uncle, and the funeral party began to disperse, my mother told me that this was not the first uncle buried in that particular cemetery.

I was confused.

Lawn Lane Cemetery, Little Downham
Little Downham Cemetery has seen burials since the 1870s, and lots of my family are here.

She went on to tell me that my aunt (her sister-in-law) had been on the phone from the US, and had talked about how there was another sibling, a little boy called Malcolm, who died when he was young, and she was just a teenager.

This was the first time I’d ever heard of such a person, and I’d researched for years to find generations of relatives, and didn’t really know how to feel about having one so close, yet so ‘lost’.

The following day I checked for baby Malcolm in the GRO indexes, which handily now include the mother’s maiden name. Sure enough, there he was – Malcolm Paul Martin, born 5th April 1958. I realised that without this maiden name, I’d never have spotted him.

Unlike the rest of the siblings, I’d never have independently spotted him without that maiden name, which in turn led me to see that Malcolm was born in a different district – rather than in Ely, he was born in Newmarket. An odd choice for a family living within 5 miles of Ely.

Whilst there’s little else of interest on the birth certificate, the death certificate reveals much more.

Again, I would never have spotted him, as this time he’s registered as having died in Cambridge… and not just that.. Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.

The death certificate goes on to say that he died aged 2 weeks, and gives the cause of death as “1(a) Pneumonia, 11. Prematurity congenital abnormalities Hair Lip.”

Cause of death of premature baby in 1958
Malcolm’s death certificate reveals he stood little chance at life.

This was my grandparents’ final child. They were now in her early 40s, and their oldest child had been born almost 21 years previously. With his prematurity, his cleft lip (as it’s now called), and the striking blow of pneumonia, it meant that poor little Malcolm stood no chance. Being born prematurely in 1950s would have been hard enough, but not being able to take in those vital early nutrients due to problems with his cleft lip would have made him weaker, and he’d be weakened enough to stand no chance against pneumonia.

Premature baby care has advanced dramatically since, as has cleft lip surgery, and I know that the NHS deal with cases like Malcolm’s over and over again, and I’m sure that the outcome is more favourable these days. Malcolm never came home, and so my father’s memory of him is missing. I find that very saddening.

My aunt’s phone call, which is ahead of her visit in June, prompted me to try to locate his burial. She thought she remembered that he was buried in Little Downham cemetery, and so I decided to find out.

I made contact with the team at St. Leonard’s Church (the cemetery is attached to the church), and they were able to put me in contact with the Clerk of the cemetery records. I’ve been in this cemetery a lot. There’s loads of my relatives there, many with headstones, and many without. I knew I’d not seen a headstone for a Malcolm Martin, as I’d have noted it down – and at that time, the attitude to infant deaths was different even then, and the cost to erect a headstone would have been a chunk of the family’s much-needed income.

On Saturday I met with the Clerk and he, with the burial book in hand, led me to where he thought the grave site was. Whilst the cemetery had originally started recording burials in the 1870s with a nice plot map and clear notes (like Ely cemetery a few miles away), apparently they soon gave up, and reverted to a list. This means some detective work was needed in order to work out the most likely location.

After looking at the burials listed before and after Malcolm’s, we felt that we’d found the plot, particularly as the burial immediately before his had a headstone still standing.

Child gravestones at Little Downham
The most likely location of Malcolm’s grave – to the right of the low-lying middle grave by the path.

So, as today would have been the 59th birthday of my Uncle Malcolm (still feels weird saying that), I feel that I can put him in my thoughts and welcome him into my family where he belongs, and kind of wish him a Happy Birthday too.

My Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 tickets arrive

The postman brings a reminder that some serious genealogy indulgence is right around the corner. Well, 83 miles West.

I’ve been so busy lately – for the last five months I’ve been helping my parents to clear my late uncle’s house, whilst also going through a house sale myself, and preparing to move in about 5 weeks time… but amidst all that chaos comes a treat, and I was reminded of this this morning when my postman made my letterbox rattle.

My Who Do You Think You Are? Live tickets have arrived.

One of my two Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 tickets.
One of my two Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 tickets.

This year I’ve opted to just attend 2 days – Thursday 6th and Friday 7th April. For the last few years I’ve done all 3 days, but as I need to be packing up, and paying solicitor bills(!!), I’ve opted for just 2.

The show is once again at NEC Birmingham, which I’ve found has continued to be just as enjoyable as when the show used to be in London.

Maurice Gleeson explains how to identify which bits of your tree give you your X and Y matches.
Maurice Gleeson explains how to identify which bits of your tree give you your X and Y matches at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016.

I’m not sure which talks I want to attend yet, but I’ll be browsing the timetable real soon – suspecting that I’ll be magnetised for my usual nerdfest over the latest DNA innovations in genealogy, and insights into newspaper archives.

I’ll be keeping an eye on twitter for more of the now traditional ‘tweetup’ flash events (that’s a meet up arranged via Twitter, usually involving a photo of the attendees – like the one below, which I’m probably going to get in trouble for digging up once again! 😀 ).

Are you going to WDYTYA? Live this year? What are you looking forward to seeing?

Andrew

A page-turning genealogy crime mystery

Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s ‘The America Ground’ is a satisfying genealogical puzzle, that I enjoyed untangling as I turned each page.

I’m a fair-weather reader. Slow, and driven by the habit of only reading in bed just before I doze off. Some years I will read as little as 1 or 2 books, others will see that closer to 6 a year. Still not a great number, but the time that I’d spend reading, I could spend researching my family tree.

So when author Nathan Dylan Goodwin asked me if he could send me a copy of his book ‘The America Ground‘ – a book about a genealogy puzzle – I agreed, warning him of my tardiness.

The book is the third adventure for Nathan’s ‘Forensic Genealogist’ character, Morton Farrier. I’ve not read the others, but I didn’t feel like this book relied on prior knowledge of him, or his earlier adventures.

Morton’s character is a professional family history researcher, and we find him enjoying the chance to research his own unclear ancestry, with him trying to locate his biological parents’ movements in 1970’s Sussex, England. This is soon interrupted by a painting and a mystery related to the Lovekin family that takes him back to the early 19th century and land disputes over a strip of land known as ‘The America Ground’.

This piece of land, which really does exist, anchors the historical characters, and Nathan writes a truly grimy and poverty-stricken existence for them as they cling to their livelihoods. The menace of the sea is as much of a menace as the authorities are in this story, and I could almost hear the unforgiving waves crashing as I read this at night.

I found the chapters alternating between modern and historical, not a new invention, but a welcome one that really helped to lure me through this story, as I too became tangled in the mysterious branches of the Lovekin tree, and Morton’s own mystery.

There’s plenty of familiar nods here for family historians – alongside the social history depictions there’s plenty of revelation BMD certificates, legal inheritance hurdles, puzzling parish register appearances, and an abrasive archives keeper in the form of Miss. Deidre Latimer (we’ve all known one).

angrylibrarian

There’s also plenty here for crime fans too, although as the historical and modern mystery boundaries began to blur towards the finale, I found the series of events that occur to Morton became a little bit too dramatic. The clever drawing together between the modern and historical characters to form the resolve really tied those time-scattered stories together perfectly.

The last few lines of the book deliver a completely unexpected cliff-hanger, which must surely be the opening point for the next book in the Morton Farrier series, and the next era for his own puzzling ancestry.