Day Two: Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016

As the sun sets on Day Two of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016, I take a look at some of my favourite bits.

Having walked more than 10,000 steps around Day Two of Who Do You Think You Are? Live, I’m now sat in my hotel with my feet up as we head towards the finale of this, the show’s 10th Anniversary year.

As with Day One, I threw myself into the DNA themed talks again, and enjoyed some great sessions from Maurice Gleeson who gave a fascinating guide at how to identify which bits of your family are giving you which bits of DNA, and in turn help you work out where your DNA matches match up with you.

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.

Later on, I returned to listen to John Reid talk about the case of Richard III and how research led to a 99.9994% certainty that the skeleton was the former king.

John Reid examines the evidence in the Richard III case.
John Reid examines the evidence in the Richard III case.

Each step in his talk presented the varying pieces of evidence, at which point he’d ask if we believed it was the dead king without doubt. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t until mt-DNA that the audience felt reassured that the body wasn’t just someone random. John made the great point that ‘DNA is not a trump card’, and emphasised that it’s just another source to examine and consider.

As a tech nerd, who builds websites and loves using tech to tell stories, a talk titled Technologies For Timelines led me to stand for a few minutes in the morning for my £3 workshop ticket.

Ron Arons talked impartially about a wide range of online tools and desktop software that can be used to turn family history data into interesting interactive content – maps, timelines, and map timelines hybrids.  He also covered a few of the pros and cons too.

Speaking of timelines, I bumped into Steve Bardouille  from the team at Famberry, who showed me their latest demo.

Famberry logo

The site’s interface has changed somewhat since I last saw it, with a load of customisation features for users, and a really slick timeline and tree building feature.

I was also really excited to see what looks like a new idea to reach the geneasphere – pulling in the data from unclaimed estates, and looking for matches.

FamilySearch giving talks on search at their stand.
FamilySearch giving talks on search at their stand.

I returned to the Society of Genealogists section, to find the Lincolnshire Family History Society, and with my iPad to hand carrying my synced Reunion11 tree, the team on the stand were exceptionally helpful and kindly spent time with me to see if I could extend my Watson family tree knowledge. I came away with an index CD for records covering the parish of Fleet and its neighbours, and a handful of leaflets.

Once again, the show allowed me to meet and catch up with geneafriends old and new (or perhaps longstanding and recent is better), and I look forward to tomorrow’s final part of the WDYTYA? Live 2016 trilogy.

Tips for tomorrow:

  1. There were plenty of train delays for arrivals coming in from Birmingham New Street, and a few from Coventry. If you’re coming by train, give yourself plenty of time if you’ve paid for your workshop tickets already. In theory, delays tomorrow could be horrific given the potential visitor levels for a weekend day.
  2. The Breakfast Sandwich (bacon and fried egg – yum!) from the café is a great set-up for a busy morning, but have a wander around the NEC complex as there’s plenty of less busy and competitive food outlets…including a quiet Starbucks down some stairs.
  3. The wifi is unreliable, but I was able to find the battery-eating 4G. If you’re hungry for wifi, simply step out of Hall 2 (re-entry is permitted with a hand-stamp).. there’s loads of stable, powerful, free wifi there.
  4. Look out for deals – Pen & Sword Books had some great deals on today.
  5. If you’re a Twitter user (follow me on @familytreeuk) then look out for tweets with #wdytyalive and #tweetup – giving you opportunities to meet fellow genea-nerds just like you, over a coffee in real life.

Until tomorrow, happy tree surgery!

Andrew

Day One: Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016

Day One of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016 is over…. So what is this year’s show like?

The first of the three days of the 2016 Who Do You Think You Are? Live (or WDYTYALive to cut it short) show in Birmingham has passed, and day 2 is galloping towards us…

Ask the Experts - kind of like speed dating for genealogy answers.
Ask the Experts – kind of like speed dating for genealogy answers.

Now into its second year at the NEC, the show has certainly made its home here, and the days of the two floor Olympia are now heading further into my foggy reminiscence.

This is also the 10th Anniversary show, not that you can tell yet, but whilst it took me a few years to start attending, the years have seemingly flown by.

As I wandered around today, I got the feeling that maybe the stands were a little more spread out, or maybe simply less imposing. It felt like there was plenty of space to move around, and it was pretty easy to get up close to talk to people or browse products.

MyHeritage stand at WDYTYALive 2016
MyHeritage stand at WDYTYALive 2016

Gone is the exciting 1939 themed café that marked Find My Past’s launch of the 1939 Register, and the number of WWI themed stands seemed to have reduced a little. However, the formation of the Education Zone (including a lecture theatre, and close-up WWI artefacts) feels like a great addition to the show.

WW1 in the education zone
WW1 in the education zone

Ancestry, the show’s sponsor, dominates the entrance again with what feels like a stand that’s twice the size of last year. This year they are still showcasing their DNA autosomal test (yeah, I bought another one), and this time they’re offering it at £59 – that’s abt 40% off and cheaper than last year (£70 I think).

DNA is still a hugely hot topic, and there’s plenty of other stands offering kits and advice on this subject. There’s also a specific DNA lecture theatre, covering a range of topics and a range of levels.

 

Prof. Mark Jobling of University of Leicester talks demographic history.
Prof. Mark Jobling of University of Leicester talks demographic history.

Having discovered what appears to be my surprise Jewish ancestor, I had plans to seek advice today – and the team at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain stand, who were able to give me a few pointers as to where I could seek more records to help unravel the mystery.

It was also great to see what the Societies were offering, and I made sure that I visited my home teams of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire to see what they had to offer.

Myko Clelland (FindMyPast), presenting in the Education Zone.
Myko Clelland (FindMyPast), presenting in the Education Zone.

There’s always so much to take in with the societies, because they produce such a wide range of materials or publish some fantastically niche record sets of which some are so specific and small scale that the larger companies would never find them financially viable. You also get to speak with people with that specific local knowledge – go see them!

Couple of down sides this year:

  1. The wifi was very unstable and mostly useless. In previous years it’s worked a treat.
  2. There was a theft of a purse and a camera, so it’s a reminder to keep your valuables close to you at all times

On the up side this year:

  1. The show is in exactly the same place as last year.
  2. There’s some great offers on this year, so have a good browse before you commit.
  3. There’s a beautiful Spitfire parked up at the back of the hall. I heard Else Churchill (Society of Genealogists) landed it there herself.

The lost and unloved Rowe family bible

An old Rowe family bible sits lost and forgotten in an antiques store… will it find it’s rightful home once more?

I always find wandering around antiques stores and ‘antiques’ stores fascinating. Maybe whether it’s because I like to see whether things from my own childhood are classed as ‘antique’ yet, or whether I quite enjoy seeing the kinds of things that I remember my Great Grandparents having in their homes.

One thing I’ve never seen in my family is one of those big hefty family bibles. The kind that’s leatherbound, complete with gold gilt edges and a lock, and big enough to be classed as an intimidating weapon against intruders…

So, whenever I see one in an antiques/’antiques’ store, I always just have a peep at it, because these books can be of interest to the genealogist.

Many people would write in their family events – births, deaths, marriages, into the front section, and so stumbling across this information can be wonderful.

I recently did this for a Nokes family bible, and ended up with descendants finding this blog post, and contacting the store.

So, whilst aimlessly browsing Risby Barn antiques, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk over the Easter weekend, I stumbled across another big bible filled with family history data.

I didn’t buy it (it’s not my family), so if you’re looking for this, it would be worthwhile giving them a call. I didn’t check the price-tag, but it’s a heavy but delicate book, that needs some love once more.

It seems that this family bible was once owned by the Rowe family:

National Family Bible
Front of the Rowe family’s National Family Bible.
rowe-family-bible-register
The bible’s ‘Family Register’ has been filled out with the names of Dennis and Florence Ada Rowe, married 1st November 1899.

The bible seems to have been given to Dennis Rowe (b.1872) and his wife Florence Ada (b.1877), who were married on 1st November 1899. There’s no locations mentioned here, but a quick check on FreeBMD puts this as Dennis Walter D Rowe and Flora Ada Waldon of the Downham district of Cambridgeshire/Norfolk. Surprisingly, this book hasn’t strayed too far from home, and puts the couple living in amongst my own ancestors (no connection – I checked).

Moving on a few more pages, there’s more information…

Rowe family births.
One Rowe family birth for Cyril in 1906.

Only one child made it to the births page. Maybe there were more, but weren’t added in for some reason…

And then on the the deaths page:

Rowe family deaths
Rowe family deaths

Sadly, it seems that their son, poor little Cyril Robert Rowe, died after only a few weeks of life.

Florence’s own death in 1938 is noted here, but no sign of Dennis.

On the pages that followed, there were a number of photograph sections, but there were no photos added. It seems that the manufacturer of this bible had realised that families would want to write their family events inside the bible, and decided to make some quite impressively ornate sections for them to do it – how innovative. Sadly, this family’s false start perhaps led to it’s eventual existence languishing in antiques store.

Maybe, as I’d like to think happened with the Nokes family bible, this old family bible will eventually be reunited with its family once more.

Happy Tree Surgery,

Andrew

Get ready for Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016

The 10th annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live UK show is almost here, but what will this year’s show bring?

When I booked my tickets to the 2016 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show, it felt like such an unbearable time to have to wait for, but as my tickets plopped onto my doormat this week, I realise it’s almost time to go, and I feel ill-prepared for it!

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016 logoIn just a few days time (7-9th April), the Birmingham NEC will be host to a veritable banquet of genealogical talks, services, suppliers and societies, and thousands of genealogists and family historians.

Last year I was apprehensive of the shift from London’s Olympia to Birmingham, but as with that old saying of ‘you don’t know until you try‘, I tried and found that actually it was quite a nice simple alteration to my annual pilgrimage.

WDYTYA? Live 2016 ‘hot topic’?

I’ll be there for the best part of all three days again, and I’m hoping to attend plenty of keynote and workshop talks, catch-up with a number of genealogy chums, and enjoy immersing myself into the show’s 10th year.

Last year’s show was full of stands and talks all about the First World War centenary, and DNA testing (I bought two kits from AncestryDNA), and I don’t doubt that this year will see any decline in conversations about those two subjects.

National Archives stand at WDYTYA Live 2015
National Archives stand at WDYTYA Live 2015

WDYTYA Live is also a great place to get to see brand new or forthcoming new record sets and online tools. Last year was the 1939 Register that was proudly unveiled by FindMyPast and The National Archives (the video below includes some of the launch entertainment). The year before, it was the Lives Of The First World War project from The Imperial War Museum and FindMyPast.

I’m wondering what this year’s ‘topic’ or theme is going to be?

Finding new ideas and tools

Personally, I’m looking for storage solutions – both physical and digital. Yes, there is Dropbox and Google Drive, and those acid-free wallets and photo pouches etc, but I need something along the lines of ResourceSpace (Open Source and free) with Dropbox attached to it, at a family historian price-tag level, not a Reuters photo catalogue price-tag. I’ll also be looking out for ideas with my Assistant Archivist hat on for The Littleport Society, as we have a ton of artefacts to store.

I’m also keen to find out about Jewish records, after an unexpected twist in my Tabraham tree seems to have suggested that I have a Jewish part of my family. A group of Tabraham surname-holders turn up in a parish church baptism record – each have their parents un-named, and each comes with the note ‘a Jew’. I’d like to find out whether this was a common practice, and why, and whether there are any Jewish records that compliment these Anglican church baptisms that might have a bit more information.

I’m also interested in finding out more about accessing divorce records or simply just seeing if a divorce is recorded as having happened (yes, I’m trying to determine whether I’ve found a bigamist with two concurrent growing families in my tree), and I’m hoping that the GRO will be back again to talk about it’s aims of turning their postal certificate service into an order/download service similar to the Find A Will service.

I’m also looking forward to seeing all the Society of Genealogists stands – I find these stands fascinating as there’s usually so much knowledge at a local level, and you don’t get that with the larger silent pay>click here>download genealogy big brand services.

Tweet Ups

As ever, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for some of the many #tweetups that take place over the three days where Twitter users meet each other IRL (that’s ‘In Real Life’ in web-speak) for a ‘hello’, group photo, and extra tweeting camaraderie over a coffee.

These are usually tweeted out a while in advance, so keep your eyes peeled for them. Here’s a little one I went to last year:

So, let me know if you’re going too, and feel free to say a ‘hello’ IRL (or via Twitter if it’s less awkward for you) if you see me wandering around.

Happy Ancestor Hunting!

Andrew

Happy Easter, vintage style

I’ve found a vintage happy Easter postcard (unused!) in my grandmother’s papers, and thought it was a nice little piece to share. Happy Easter!

Amongst the various papers and ephemera that I’ve acquired from my late-grandmother and great-grandmother, was this wonderful little Easter postcard.

vintage easter card

I like its simplicity and lack of the garish colours and cartoon chicks and lambs that litter modern mass-produced cards. The Easter message is embossed, making it not so great to scan, but I thought i’d share it with you.

I’m now in full Who Do You Think You Are? Live prep mode (my tickets arrived earlier this week), so for now, Have a happy Easter weekend.

boy eating easter eggs 1980s

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew

Surname Saturday: The Howlett family

Today’s ‘Surname Saturday’ post takes us back in time to meet the Howlett family.

The Howlett family are part of my paternal family tree, and give me one of very few tickets back through time beyond the fenland of Cambridgeshire.

Okay, admittedly it’s only to the adjoining county of Suffolk, but compared to most of the rest my ancestry – that’s the equivalent of the moon!

My most recent Howlett ancestor was Elizabeth Howlett. She was born to Thomas Howlett and his wife Caroline (née Clark) on 3rd March 1856, in the small parish of Kenny Hill – not far from Mildenhall, Suffolk, England.

Elizabeth Howlett with her husband James Gilbert, Burnt Fen, Cambridgeshire.
Elizabeth Howlett with her husband James Gilbert, Burnt Fen, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Andrew Martin

Thomas was the 6th of the 7 children of John Howlett and his second wife Elizabeth (formerly Goodings, née Poll), and the 8th child for Elizabeth after her first marriage to Michael Goodings ended with his premature death at just 27yrs.

John Howlett – my Great x 4 Grandfather, born in about 1786 in Ashfield, Norfolk is currently the extremity of my research. Likely suspects for his parents remain elusive.

At the ripe old age of 38, John married widow Eizabeth Goodings (née Poll) on 17th May 1824 at Wymondham, Norfolk, England, and around 3 months later she gave birth to the first of their eventual 7 children:

  • James Howlett b.1824
  • Hannah Howlett b.1827
  • Robert Howlett b.1828
  • Ellen Howlett b.1832
  • Honour Howlett b.1832
  • Thomas Howlett b.1835
  • Elizabeth Howlett b.1838

For John, this was his second marriage, and as I look back through my file, I see that I don’t yet know who my earlier Step-4x Great Grandmother was… or whether there was an earlier flock of Howlett children. I suspect there may have been – 38yrs in the 1820s, was probably leaving things a bit late!

Weaving in Wymondham

John is noted as a Weaver in 1824, and again in 1828 – just like his new-found father-in-law, Ishmael Poll (who is specifically noted as being a silk weaver). Wymondham had a booming weaving industry, and therefore once mastering weaving, there would have been plenty of looms around. Trade via Norwich, and Norfolk’s plentiful coast, no doubt aided this.  By 1841 though, he’s left weaving, and Norfolk, and appears on the 1841 census for Lakenheath, Suffolk, and has become a ‘labourer’ – undoubtedly on the fertile land surrounding his new home. He’d stay in the Mildenhall area of Suffolk until his death in February 1861.

Meanwhile, by the mid-1800’s John and Elizabeth’s children are marrying and bringing new branches to their family tree. All seven marry – some twice, and most have children.

Thomas’ little sister Elizabeth Howlett (1838) married George Gipp in 1854, and together they had 11 children – including the wonderfully named Rainauld Ishmael Gipp – presumably a nod to the child’s maternal silk weaving great grandfather.

Thomas Howlett

Thomas meanwhile, is working as an agricultural labourer. He married my 3x Great Grandmother, Caroline Clark in Mildenhall on 25th May 1855.

Thomas Howlett and Caroline Clark marriage register signatures
Thomas and Caroline were illiterate, both signing the marriage register with an ‘x’.

Ten months later, their daughter (and my 2x Great Grandmother) Elizabeth Howlett arrives. Life would have been hard for this young little family in the fenland, but it was about to get harder.

Caroline Coe (formerly Howlett, née Clark) - my Great x3 Grandmother c.1911.
Caroline Coe (formerly Howlett, née Clark) – my Great x3 Grandmother c.1911. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Thomas died aged 23 on 28th May 1858. Just days after his 3rd wedding anniversary, and just weeks after his daughter’s 2nd birthday.

He died at Whelpmoor, after suffering from Phthisis (essentially, Tuberculosis) for 9 months.

He must have been in severe pain, whilst desperately trying to provide for his family. Caroline was by his side as he died.

In later life, Caroline would go on to re-marry, to Robert ‘Dadda Bob’ Coe, and this new couple would spend their later years living next-door to her daughter Elizabeth as she married and raised her own family – this time with the Gilbert name.

 

 

Breathing new life into an old photograph

I thought i’d try out a photo restoration service to see if it could breathe new life into an old WWI photograph of my Gt Grandfather – here’s the results!

You might remember that during my 2015 Genealogy Resolutions, I aimed to grow my collection of family photographs.

The up-shot of that is that I have about a dozen old original photos that are creased, flaking, distorted, torn – I’m sure I’m not alone in having these. I also have a few that are modern prints of damaged photographs – where I’ve been able to temporarily borrow a photo to copy it.

Each one of these is just that little bit imperfect that it doesn’t quite make the grade when it comes to enlarging, printing or framing.

As the new year chimed in, I received an email out of the blue from Pick Nick Photo Restoration Services, in Kent, here in the UK.

Pick Nick Photo Restoration Services logo

I’d not really prioritised my photo restoration, as I can meander my way around the likes of Photoshop okay-ish and have made some improvements to the lesser-damaged images in the past, but nothing too adventurous. I think I’d mentally filed the more damaged images in my ‘to-do’ file… you know, the one that must be huge and probably has a 10yr waiting list. That one.

Trying out a photo restoration service

So, on the offer of a freebie, I thought that I’d give it a go. Why not? I get a photo repaired and Pick Nick gets a photo to show off in their portfolio. Everyone’s happy.

So, let’s take a look at the original – this is a photograph of my Great Grandfather, Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey. He served as a Private in the First World War, with The Suffolk Regiment, The Royal Munster Regiment, and The Royal Irish Fusiliers, and saw action in Gallipoli.

Pte Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey on horse (before)
BEFORE: My Great Grandfather Pte Ernest Dewey on a horse during the First World War. Photo: Andrew Martin.

…and within a few days, I received an email back from Pick Nick with the photo restoration job done.

Pte Ernest Dewey on horse - after photo restoration by Pick Nick
ABOVE: My Great Grandfather’s WWI photo looks as good as new after Pick Nick’s restoration (the watermark is purely to protect this image online – i have one without).

I’m really impressed at the result. The photo is much crisper and the sepia level is less aggressive, but those creases have been removed, and the missing bits of the photo that have long since flaked away, have been replaced – seamlessly returned to their rightful place about 100 years since the photograph was first taken.

To feed my curiosity (I’m never one to shy away from such nerdery), Pick Nick sent me a video link that shows the photo restoration done in 3 minutes. From my own dabbling experience, I know it would have taken hours rather than the 3 minutes to do – it’s a very tricky art to master!

So, bringing new life to an old photo has inspired me to rummage and find some more photos that could do with a new lease of life in 2016.

For now though, I definitely know who to recommend if I’m looking for someone to restore my old photos in future.

Happiness, Sadness, and Pride: writing the eulogy

With the death of my grandmother, I was asked to write her eulogy. The happiest, saddest, and proudest piece of writing i’ve ever done.

My grandmother passed away on New Year’s Eve, after several months of hospital care from the ever-brilliant NHS. She was 83, and the last of my grandparents.

My grandmother with her very first Great Grandchild, c.2005. Photo: Andrew Martin.
My grandmother with her third Great Grandchild, c.2008. Photo: Andrew Martin.

As we wait, for what here in the UK feels like a huge drawn-out time for churchyard burial to take place, I found myself being asked to write her eulogy by my mother and her siblings.

I won’t be reading it out. Nor will I post it here. But taking the phone call from my mother where she asked me to write it, I soon found myself feeling a huge wave of happiness, sadness, and pride all rushing at me all at once.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother during school holidays – playing games, helping her and my grandfather in their allotment, helping what felt like an ever-lasting task of weeding the rockery and not trying to fall in their pond, singing and dancing to records, walking to her local village shops and on to her parents and in-laws to whom she provided daily care, and many bus trips in to Ely.

I remember my mother catching me packing my suitcase for my first solo stay – i was putting loose eggs in my suitcase. I didn’t know how these things worked, and I wanted to be sure I’d get fed. Of course I was.

grandparents marriage 1953
My grandparents’ marriage in 1953. Photo: Andrew Martin

In later life, after the death of my grandfather and her reliance on a wheelchair, as both of us lived alone, we were also kindred spirits. She’d revel in telling me funny risqué stories of her teenage years of dating, or the trouble she caused her parents, and of adventures of dances and trips away with her local friends – and her ‘how i met your grandfather’ stories that she’d certainly never tell my mother, aunt, or uncle!

She was my rebel grandmother. Game for a laugh, a joke, and a singsong. A gadget girl – she was the first person i knew to get a thing called a ‘microwave’ – a huge white thing which she kept in the cupboard, and it weighed a ton. She also had DVDs and CDs long before I or my parents did.

She also had a lazy susan in a kitchen cupboard that spun merrily around to reveal ‘the tin’ – which was where the chocolates lived (albeit briefly) and were magically replenished by kind unseen hands.

She had a green and yellow budgie named Joey (probably more than one to be honest) – who eventually learnt to say his name back to her after years of her saying ‘Joe-Joe Dewey’ at it. My cousins would secretly do impressions of her saying that – which I’ve got here on cassette somewhere.

My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic.
My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic, and 70’s wallpaper upstages us all. Photo: Andrew Martin.

She was also an absolute raffle fiend, and would win at least 2 prizes for every raffle she took part in – even if it was to win a wholly unsuitable prize – that prize was hers, and like some strange economy, she’d often put those prizes back in to the next raffle. I swear that tin of Heinz Ravioli did the local raffle/bingo circuit for a good few years.

She also delighted my 7yr old ears one school holiday breakfast time, when she went to pick up a bottle of milk she’d had delivered by the milkman. She dropped it. It broke. Then, in a flash of a second which instantly boosted my adoration of her, she ran a 5 word string of mild expletives without pause or breath. I think she realised that I had heard her from the kitchen as it was only herself and I in the house, but my little ears were utterly impressed, and I can hear her say it right now as I type – these 30 years later.

I’ve never written a eulogy before. I heard my cousin (on my other side of the family) read one for  his mother a few years back. I don’t quite remember what was in it, more the way he delivered it, but in a way, I just knew how to write my grandmother’s one. I knew I had to make it funny (to match her sheer sense of mischief), respectful (to match the occasion), and touching, with lots of memories for those cousins, neighbours, friends etc listening.

Pamela Maud Barber c1938
My grandmother in an almost timeless photo, circa 1938. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Keeping roughly to chronology, I found it easy to write, and not as daunting as I first thought, but I had to partly put my family historian aside, and let it just come from the heart too.

I emailed it to my mother. Her only words were ‘perfect. thank you‘, and thankfully my aunt, and my uncle agreed. I don’t know why they thought I should write it, but I’m very grateful they did.

It is a bit rollercoaster, but in a verse I found in my grandmother’s Ely Senior Girls school exercise book from June 1945, I found some inspiration that got me writing, and wondered whether this inspired her in life too as she wrote it down (it seems to be a copy of something, but I don’t know what):

When oft-times plans don’t work out right,
And you are feeling blue.
There is one way to make you bright,
I recommend to you…
– keep smiling.

And that kind of sums her up really. Laughter, happiness, joy, mischief, and a never-ending stream of positivity, and without a doubt, huge waves of love for us all.

My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i'm the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin
My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i’m the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin

My 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2016

As Old Father Time heads off into the sunset, and a new year arrives, what Genealogy Resolutions shall I challenge myself with in 2016?

This is my 4th year of setting myself some New Year Genealogy Resolutions (you can read last year’s here).

I think it’s fair to say that if you’re a hobbying family historian like me, that when you set yourself a target to achieve in your family history research, it’s likely you’re about to get absolutely side-tracked up/down/sideways along your trees. I mean, why would you want to halt research that’s going so well in order to go back to that brick wall yet again?

So, here’s my ‘research plan’ for 2016:

1. Kill Simpson Bishop

Carried over from 2015, the mystery of Simpson Bishop has continued. After his surprise appearance in Lancashire – he abandoned the agricultural fenland of Cambridgeshire and entered the cotton mill industry. He gets married twice more – the latter in 1868, has further children (and grandchildren) but mysteriously lives apart from his wife from 1871 onwards. His wife finally calls herself a ‘widow’ in 1901, even though I haven’t seen him in records since 1874 when two of his daughters died.

What happened to him after 1874? He’s appearing sometimes as James Simpson Bishop (his son’s name), J S Bishop, Simpson Bishop, Sampson Bishop… his variants and the spread of his children makes him fair game to turn up anywhere in the UK and beyond.

I’d like to kill him off, or at the very least find a next piece in his puzzle (emigration? prison? another marriage? a next census return?).

I feel a whiteboard evidence timeline moment coming on.

2. Read other written family histories

Sitting on my bookshelf are The Valley (2014) by Richard Benson, and Family Secrets (2013) by Deborah Cohen.

'The Valley' by Richard Benson, and 'Family Secrets' by Deborah Cohen.
‘The Valley’ by Richard Benson, and ‘Family Secrets’ by Deborah Cohen. I’ll bump these two to the top of my reading list in 2016.

I’ve had them both from new and have (shamefully) yet to get them to the top of my reading pile. I feel that by reading these two books, it will teach me plenty about writing better family stories, and help me to find a way to address earlier resolutions about writing.

If you’d like to recommend some other written family histories/stories, then feel free to do so in the comments below (although my reading pile is already about 150 books tall).

3. Finish a site re-launch

Back in April, Google announced that mobile-friendly sites would get priority in search results. Understandable really, considering that research has shown that most searches are now done on mobile devices rather than desktop.

Therefore, it’s made sense to me to rebuild my FamilyTreeUK website so that it uses a responsive web design. I’m fluent in HTML and CSS, so it’s been no big deal to do build the old sites, and not so hard to do this from-scratch re-build so that it works on a range of devices. I’ve been adding in search boxes, and lots of goodies specifically for search engines to read, so hopefully once done it is going to fare well.

What will now take time though is deploying it across all the lovingly handcrafted profile pages (there’s probably 130ish at least). I’ll be doing this over Christmas 2015, and probably whilst this post goes live.

Hang in there, it’ll look a bit weirdly disjoined for a bit, but once it’s complete it should hopefully future proof it for a good many years to come and make it more discoverable and user friendly.

4. Run another AncestryDNA test

So, back in May, my mother and I took our AncestryDNA tests, which gave us both some interesting and unexpected ethnicity estimates. There were some indicators that my father’s DNA should answer some of the ‘where the hell did that come from?’ questions, and also show me what the 50% i didn’t inherit from him might have been (and consequently might be lurking in my sister’s DNA).

So, I hope to encourage my father to take his test. He did show some initial interest in taking it but with the test price increasing a little, and the postage cost being a bit of a mood killer (£20?!? – why is this so much? Why not get Amazon to carry it in stock for you too and reach more potential users, and via cheaper P&P?) he’s held back.

AncestryDNA postage costs
AncestryDNA postage costs are a bit of a mystery.

I managed to get my first two for £79 each at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, (cheaper and minus the P&P), so i’m hoping they repeat the deal when I’m back there in April 2016.

Of course, there is the question after taking these tests as to what you do with that info… it does feel good to see it, but the chance of linking it back to a close common ancestor of another Ancestry user seems to be slim so far.

5. Meet more relatives

One thing that has happened over the last few years is that people stumble across this blog and my website and send me a message – and every now and then they’re someone who is related to me.

Therefore, in 2016, I hope to get to meet (within reasonable geography) some of these more distant relatives to find out about their branches and our common ancestors.

I wrote about how a cousin’s family is like a world looking in on your family and that therefore they’re a great source of photos of your closer family.

Plus, as an adult and family historian, I always believe that you should talk to strangers… it helps make the world get a little bit smaller, and a little bit friendlier.

 

Those 2015 New Year Genealogy Resolutions

Remember those Genealogy Resolutions from 2015? Well, let’s see how I’ve done so far…

Right at the tail end of 2014, I set myself some more New Year Genealogy Resolutions, in a bid to get myself to focus on solving some more problems (if only in a rush in December 2015). So, how did I get on?

1. Source and Scan even more photographs

I can confidently say that I have achieved this.

In my resolution, I included a screenshot of my current archived collection of photos, and it stated that I had 258 faces across 273 photographs. As of right now, I have tagged 283 different relatives faces across 321 photographs.

iPhoto showing a selection of Faces.
iPhoto showing a selection of Faces in my family tree photo collection.

Okay, that’s an increase, but I didn’t even start talking to my more distant Gilbert relatives, or my elderly uncle, so I think I could easily improve on that if I tried harder.

2. Kill off Mary Clarke

Honestly, this woman just won’t die. Mary Bailey (née Clarke) was my 4x Great Grandmother, and she has survived conviction and hard labour for abusing, neglecting, and cruelty towards her step-children, and a few periods in the workhouse, and yet she continues to dodge death.

In my resolution, I hinted towards a possible lead that might place her burial place under what is now a housing estate. However, the death certificate proved incorrect, and so she remains – out there.

Somewhere. Almost teasing me.

I’ll get you Mary!

3. Delve into new record sets

It’s easy to stick to censuses and parish records, but there’s so much more out there.

In 2015 I achieved this – I explored the newly launched online Wills service – which allowed me to download copies of relatives Wills from the comfort of my desk.

I’ve continued to explore newspapers, and these have often thrown me some new slivers of information – or leads to go on at least.

As I write this post, I’ve just had an email from Alex Cox at the FindMyPast team telling me about yet another batch of records they’ve added to their site. Honestly, you guys ruin my weekends!!

New India records available on findmypast
Alex Cox’s email telling me of new India records available on findmypast

So, just a couple of minutes ago, I took advantage of some newly available British India Ecclesiastical Returns and downloaded a copy of the marriage entry for a Sgt Thomas Yarrow and his wife Catherine O’Keefe (née Cambert) in 1863 at Faizabad. I already have a great deal of information on these two (including a family photo), but the marriage entry finally gives me the exact date of this event.

4. Write more

I kind of wrote more…. but unlike my resolution, it didn’t involve a book.

Instead, after Google announced it’s ‘mobilegeddon‘ update back in April 2015 (where Search Results will be biased towards mobile-friendly sites), I’ve been busy designing a fully responsive website template with which to upgrade The Family Tree UK website. I’ve done this from scratch, and now I’m slowly migrating the content across.

So yes, I did write more, but it was in HTML5, CSS3 and all in the name of future proofing my site. I also took the opportunity to tidy up some data and links too – so essentially all behind the scenes stuff.

5. Complete Simpson Bishop’s timeline

This one has puzzled me for a while ever since I stumbled across an unexpected departure from rural fenland up to the cotton mills, and an extra two marriages.

I lose Simpson Bishop after the deaths and burials of two of his young daughters in 1874. At the time of the 1871 census, he is not living with his third wife. Instead, he is living a short distance away with some of his older children.

He goes AWOL 1881-1891, whilst his third wife Sarah is easy to find – yet she states that she is ‘married’. She finally states she is a widow on the 1901 census.

Did he abandon her? Were they simply living apart on the census because they had a big family that wouldn’t fit in one small house for cotton mill workers like them? Did he emigrate? Did he die just after the 1871 census?

These questions puzzle me, and I feel that I need to give more attention to the Lancashire records and maps so that I can make judgements as to where he might have gone and why.

So, like Mary Clarke, he’s still out there… and I will find him.

Did you have any Genealogy Resolutions from 2015?

Last year a few of you suggested that you might participate with your own resolutions, so I’m wondering how yours fared – better or worse than mine?

It’s so easy to get sidetracked in family history if its your hobby as your attention competes with everything else that’s going on in your life. I’d like to think that professional genealogists, being more focussed and deadline conscious, would be better at Genealogy Resolutions. What do you think?

Anyway, have a think about what you might aim to do in 2016, as my 2016 Genealogy Resolutions are almost ready!

In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Andrew:)