Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.
So, it’s that time again where I pick out some particular things I’d like to achieve in my family history research during the next 12 months.
This is the 6th year that I have written Genealogy New Year’s Resolutions, so fingers crossed I will get to do some of them. Last year’s resolutions were not very successful, with life getting in the way of my research (how dare it!).
Still, without further a-do, here’s my resolutions for 2019:
1. Scan all my BMD certificates
This one is a carry-over from last year. I have a large collection of certificates, and there are many that are scanned, but not all of them. Last year’s effort was prompted by scanning them all and adding them as attached media in my MacFamilyTree software (putting the document right there amongst the data).
I realised that spotting the unscanned ones was hard, so I finally bought myself a pack of little green dots, and can now go through and dot them in the corner if/when they’re done – as each one is stored in a plastic A4 wallet. This will make this process much easier.
2. Get Talking
I do a lot of tech talks in my other life of working with search engines, but I don’t get to do talks about genealogy. I really want to change that – after all, I’ve been working in genealogy for about 23 years, and only about 7 years in my chosen tech niche.
I was recently voted by a lovely audience in Norwich as being able to clearly explain a really technical subject. I’ve had my eyes on the three big forthcoming genealogy conferences in the UK, and whilst two of them have already chosen not to have me on stage, I’m going to try pitching to the more techie one.
If this fails, then I’ll be looking to do some genealogy talks at smaller events in the area (let me know if you want to book me!). Fingers crossed!
3. Put the Littleport Society catalogue online
This one relates to my membership on the committee of The Littleport Society – a heritage society for the large fenland village of Littleport just north of the city of Ely. I’ve been on their committee since summer of 2015 (after 10 years doing their website), but now I’m working on digitising and cataloguing their collection.
I aim to get a searchable catalogue online in 2019 using Collective Access, in a bid to showcase the Society’s vast collection, celebrate the community’s history, and increase awareness of this history-rich area to a huge online audience.
4. Still start writing that book
Okay, ‘that book’ has been trundling along in my head for a long long time now, and I know that most people claim that they have at least one book in them. The stories I want to tell have begun to gain structure and so I need to put finger to keyboard and start writing them.
My mother, and first cousin twice removed (my late-grandfather’s cousin), have both already asked me to write things up for them about specific family groups, so it’s about time that I started doing this, and use those to evolve into a book.
5. Collect more photographs
This is one of my favourite resolutions, and it looks right back to what started my interest in researching – the faces to the names. From the loaned Victorian photos from my Great-Great Aunt that were on the dining table at my parent’s house in 1995, to the photographs emailed to me just weeks ago by my third cousin twice removed, it is wonderful to picture your relatives however distant. I want to print more of the photos as well as collect them, allowing me to build up a physical collection too.
Have you set yourself any genealogy research resolutions for 2019? Did you have any last year? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll stick with me in 2019. Happy New Year!
AncestryDNA have updated their data sets, resulting in changes to many DNA test ethnicity results. I tentatively log in to find out just how much duller i’ve become…
I remember unceremoniously dribbling into my little tube thing back in 2015, and encouraging my mother to do the same. We were both amused by the idea of being DNA tested, and finding out whether we might be Scandinavian.
When the results came back about 6 weeks later, we were pleased, and I took great delight in mocking my mother – a Daily Mail reader – that she was part Eastern European, and therefore every time she bought a copy of that rag, she was in fact hurting herself!
Over the next year, I also coaxed my father in 2016, my mother’s sister, my father’s sister in 2017 whilst she was visiting from the USA, and eventually cornered my sister and via team pressure from my parents, she did the dribble for our sakes in May 2018.
This gave me 6 sets of DNA results, but between the 5th and the 6th set, Ancestry updated it’s result data. This meant that for 5 of us, the DNA ‘Ethnicity’ of us all was about to get far “less interesting”.
Obviously, refining techniques in the galloping field of science is ultimately a wonderful thing. It’s the right thing to review how the tests are carried out and seek improvements to scientific accuracy.
It’s also ethical to update the test results when the accuracy is improved, but in doing so, for my family, it’s made us far less geo-genetically diverse.
Now, as I type, AncestryDNA have updated their data again. In doing so, it squeezes further on the final percentages of interesting little origins hiding in the DNA of my father and my paternal aunt, and removes some of the impossible results that my sister had been assigned – Caucasus and Native American – that none of us (who are definitely all related to her) showed!
I’ve gone from being 61% “Great Britain” in 2015, to being 100% “England, Wales & Northern Europe” in 2018. I’ve very sadly lost my Scandinavian and Irish genes, although my father and his sister have kept theirs respectively.
In what AncestryDNA give as ‘Migrations’, most of my family are listed as ‘East Anglia & Essex’. My mother and sister include ‘East Midlands’. Aside from Essex (tsk!), the rest fits perfectly with the paper trail.
Meanwhile, my results over at LivingDNA, where I uploaded my AncestryDNA test data to back in January 2017, give me a repeat of some of the regions. Their estimate is that I am 95.7% Great Britain and Ireland, and 4.3% showing up as Scandinavia on a map. This GB part sees East Anglia (where about 90% of my paper-trailed entire family history is from) leading the origins way at 53.9%, and South Central England (which covers Somerset and Devon) showing up as 15.4%.
Interestingly, the Somerset and Devon area, is where my Burnell, Babbage, and Evans families are based, and the Burnell and Babbage families repeatedly provide me with AncestryDNA matches. Interestingly, LivingDNA show me Ireland and in the wider view, Norway are covered – matching what I used to see from AncestryDNA, but what I still see in my father and his sister’s results today.
Dr Karl Kennedy and DNA Tests
The genetic data pool is getting bigger as AncestryDNA and LivingDNA break into new audiences.
AncestryDNA have regularly boasted about the X millionth ancestry tester, and in the last fortnight, they’ve had heavy product placement in the Australian soap Neighbours, and are currently running a long-lost half-sister plot line between veteran character Dr Karl Kennedy, and Magda Szubanski’s guest character Jemima. Magda of course, was subject to a brilliant episode of the Australian version of Who Do You Think You Are? (recommend you watch it!).
The different companies are still battling out the price war – with kits appearing in more UK High Street shops, and of course now Amazon.
Data scientists, like the scientists back in the DNA testing lab, are constantly evolving their methods, ethics, and techniques, to bring a clearer and truer picture to what we are.
I have one kit left, and I have some ideas who I could ask, but top of the list is my grandfather’s cousin, who is genetically closer to my Giddings and Tingey families than any of those tested so far. She’d also be the first person I’ve tested to have a different parent line, so I’d need to watch out for false leads.
Whilst I’m sad to have lost my fantasy ancestral tour list, and my parents have lost their over-dinner conversation opportunities, we should celebrate the science that strives to bring us truth.
I think I’ll cope with being less Scandinavian, and less Irish.
After all, I’m still exactly who I was before I dribbled in 2015.
A chance find of a 1914 postcard of mystery elderly newly-weds leads me to unravel their happy day, and a likely link back to me.
Whilst helping my father to clear out my uncle’s house in Little Downham last year, i found absolutely tons of photos, but amongst them were many that had belonged to their neighbour (and my grandmother’s best friend) Mrs Vera Buttress, who wrote her name on the reverse of each one – including this one.
I love this photo – an elderly couple getting married in 1914 – and so I kept hold of it.
Today I finally decided that I would spend a few minutes to see if I could identify ‘Mr and Mrs Symons’ in records. No. No such marriage.
This frustrated me somewhat, as having a photograph, turning it into a postcard, and printing these would not have been ever-so cheap in 1914. So it felt unlikely to have been staged for the April Fool Day date written on the front.
The photographer clue
The photo is a postcard by Starr and Rignall – well known photographers of Ely, so i checked for a marriage on 1st April 1914 in Cambridgeshire, with a load of variants.
It was FindMyPast that turned up the answer, and unsurprisingly I found them in Little Downham, hence why Mrs Buttress had it. I turned to my transcription of the parish records.
The bridegroom is given as Robert Symonds, 75yrs, widower, otp, son of Robert Symonds, lab. The bride is named as Mary Howlett, 84yrs, widower, daughter of George Bonnett, labourer. The witnesses were George Lythell and Eliza Ann Lythell.
Now, this became much more interesting – the Lythell surname is a local surname (and I have many in my family tree), but more tantalising is that I have two Howlett to Bonnett marriages in my tree already.
I then tried to find Mary on the 1911 census from 3yrs earlier. There was nothing that stood out as even mildly correct.
I decided to turn to the other end of their lives and see when the couple died – and so I checked Downham’s cemetery records. This gave me Robert as being buried in grave L20 on 6th April 1918, aged 80, just days after their 4th Wedding Anniversary.
I couldn’t find a Mary (apart from one in 1908, presumably Robert’s previous wife). Instead, there’s an Elizabeth Symonds buried there on 10th Dec 1920 in grave L77.
This was both puzzling and exciting – in that whilst it’s not the Mary I was expecting, if this means she was really Elizabeth, then that would very likely place her in my tree as the Elizabeth Bonnett, daughter of George Bonnett (and also matching the wedding register) who married my relative James Howlett at Mildenhall, Suffolk in 1859.
Scene at Little Downham
With this being a wedding of a couple of older people, I wondered whether the newspapers might have picked up on it, and sure enough they had:
The article confirms the Lythells, the studio photograph, but once again refers to the bride as ‘Mary’.
Amusingly it also refers to their first ride in a motorcar.
Out of curiosity, I wondered whether this grand occasion might have appeared in any of the Cambridgeshire photographic books I’ve bought over the years. A quick flick-through the first one I grabbed from my collection, led me to this:
This shows the couple again – clearly matched by their faces, and in a car as corroborated by the newspaper article, but here in The Archive Photographs Series: Ely (Chalford, 1997) they’re erroneously captioned with “A Little Downham couple outside the Minster Restaurant and Cafe on 1 April 1914. This photograph was taken after their wedding, a second one in each case; Mr Lythell was eighty-four and his wife seventy-eight“.
The ages and surname are incorrect (with Lythell interestingly being borrowed from the witnesses and best-man), but the rest of the detail matches, and even the style of ‘On the honeymoon’ writing matches that of the other photograph from my collection. I don’t have the original photograph of this, but I bet it too is a Starr & Rignall postcard.
So, the final piece of this jigsaw will be finding ‘Elizabeth’/’Mary’ in her first marriage to my relative James Howlett, and seeing whether between 1859 and his death (a date I don’t yet know), she uses one or either names, and that he has died by 1914.
Even if she proves to be someone different all together, I’ve enjoyed unravelling the clues, and sharing the happy couple’s day, more than 104yrs later.
My grandmother is highly unlikely to have borrowed this from her friend Vera because she knew that it was a relative – the ‘Mary’ shown in the photo would have been her great grandfather’s sister-in-law. I think it’s purely coincidence.
The reason I got this photograph out today was to collect up all these old photos that once belonged to Vera Buttress, and to organise a ‘handing over’ of them to their village history society… but it pays to just have a thorough look through such things because you don’t know what you might unravel with a little bit of research.
Today, it’s well known for its Christmas trees, Centre Parcs, and finally getting its sweeping A11 bypass on the way to Norwich, but back then, it was my world. We lived in a red brick former gatehouse on the East side of the village, and my playground was acres of swaying cornfields and pine forests. We’d take long bike rides to see our neighbours, and what seems unbelievable today, we’d run across the A11 to go to primary school each day.
A few years ago, I discovered that my paternal Brightwell family had also been resident at Elveden almost 200 years earlier, when my 4x Great Grandfather John Brightwell was born and baptised there with his siblings during the 1780s. A fantastic coincidence!
Another coincidence happened earlier today when I received an email telling me about a new BBC Four documentary, and it’s piqued my interest because it’s all about one of Elveden’s most famous residents.
Born in Lahore in the Sikh Empire (now Punjab, Pakistan) in 1838, Prince Duleep Singh became Maharajah at the tender age of just 5 years old after the death of his father. He would turn out to be the last Maharajah of the Punjab, who was taken into the care of an official of the British Empire. He even had Queen Victoria as his godmother.
He surrendered his Sikh religion and signed away his ancient kingdom to the British – a decision he would come to regret. Instead, he would become a wealthy English country gentleman and part of the social elite, with his own country estate at Elveden.
His estate drew large shooting parties, where the social elite including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), Duke of Leicester, Duke of Athol, and numerous others during the 1870s. He really was in with the heights of British society.
However, eventually his relationship with Britain turned sour, and he would eventually leave for Paris.
I haven’t seen the documentary yet myself, but I look forward to it. The promo blurb I’ve been sent reads:
This is a documentary about the last Maharajah of the Punjab, Duleep Singh, who was wrenched from his mother’s arms as a child in the 1840s and put into the care of an official of the British Empire. Growing up in a colonial enclave in India, the boy king abandoned his Sikh religion and signed away his ancient kingdom to the British – decisions he would come to bitterly regret. He moved as a teenager to Britain, where Queen Victoria became his godmother. Duleep Singh lived most of his adult life here as a supremely wealthy English country gentleman, part of the British social elite. But, in time, his relationship with Britain turned sour. This documentary retraces the journeys of Duleep Singh and his family: from the royal palaces of the Punjab, to royal palaces in Britain, to his own English country estate, Elveden in Suffolk, to bohemian Paris. The programme uses recently re-discovered letters by Singh, letters and diaries written by those whose knew him, extraordinary photographs and surviving artefacts. We interview historians to get at the motives and inner life of Duleep Singh as he set out to recover his Sikh heritage and turn his back on his colonial past. This is a story from the age of Empire about someone whose life was defined by those historic forces.
The Maharajah’s legacy in Elveden
Whilst my lifetime did not overlap with the Maharajah (he died in 1893, in Paris, and I arrived 80 years later), the impact of his time in Elveden surely did. When he arrived, the Georgian house was vastly upgraded to become a huge hall dressed in Italian styled exterior and complete with some intricately marbled Indian-styled rooms. Staff were installed and with them came their families all needing to be housed in houses like my childhood one.
I was really fortunate to tour the inside of Elveden Hall just days prior to the Christie’s Auction of the house contents in 1984, along with my fellow primary schoolmates. I remember it being huge, and beautiful, even though he had not lived there for decades.
I also remember being dared to ring the doorbell by my sister once on a walk past the front door (it was a daily route to school, right by the front door). I pressed it, heard it ring inside, and then some clunking sounds. I ran for cover behind my mother, and a bewildered caretaker and his daughter emerged.
The Maharajah also helped to upgrade the parish church in 1869 to cater for all the extra residents and staff in the village (it was further extended in 1904). The church sits just across from the hall, and it’s here where he is buried with some of his family.
I returned there in 2012 for my second cousin’s christening.
Whilst I can’t see any of my Brightwell ancestors still resident in Elveden around the time that the Mahrajah was resident, it’s clear that this Sikh Prince went on to have a huge impact on the place they once knew; the place I knew and loved; the British Empire; and the Sikh community.
Building your tree online is easy with just a few clicks… and therein lies the problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Ancestry, and have been a happy member for many years now, but as a seasoned user, I do know that there’s danger at every turn.
A good family historian will consider every scrap of evidence, not just in its own right, or its contributing source, but also in the wider context of the family.
I’m very lucky that I have paternal and maternal families where 90% have lived within the county of Cambridgeshire, England for almost 430 years. The luckiness comes in the ease at which I can research these two (and occasionally intertwined) trees simultaneously, often with both sides appearing alongside each other in census returns and parish register entries.
This means I understand probability, the likeliness of the location of a marriage, baptism or burial for example. I have of course made mistakes, but those have made my detective skills better.
For those few branches that have crossed the border into foreign lands (ie: Suffolk and whatever lies beyond), I join the ranks of millions of other family historians – using online tools because it’s more convenient than chasing archives, and having to be a little more open to extra checking of records and taking unexpected turns.
However, I’ve spotted a few things that confuse, and that might be a ‘risk’ to your family tree if you don’t just stop for a second and consider what you’re seeing.
Those Member Family Trees
Okay, no-one knows your 4th Cousin 2x Removed like your 4th Cousin 3x Removed does, but if you’ve ever clicked on that ‘Member’s Tree’ hint you’ll know what I mean – instant ‘tree’.
Let’s take a look at my 6x Great Grandmother, Mary Cropley in Ancestry.co.uk:
Wow! 10 Member Trees – this sounds great!
As the hint suggests, “This hint compiles information from 10 other Public Ancestry Trees”. Great – look at that, all of those details in the summary match mine, this must be right! Building this tree is going to be nice and easy…
Now, it’s dead easy to just click a few times on those tick boxes and magic happens, and you’ve got your tree updated nicely.
But…Err… where did those matches go? Suddenly, Mary Cropley is Mary Collis, and she’s married someone else, had different children, and has moved to the wilds of Oxfordshire.
Am i wrong?
No, because I’ve seen the Ely Parish Registers, and know that the details I have are correct. From that “hint [that] compiles information from 10 other Public Ancestry Trees”, not one of them was correct.
The information you see in the summary is actually the information that you have entered/added, not a summary of the matches from the members trees that you’re about to see – so it’s kind of leading you towards a false hope of success.
Of course you want to find matches, but what I’m actually finding is none when I read through the summary. This is kind of a poor user experience.
The other record that really frustrates me is the Select and Christening indexes. It takes too many clicks to actually discover that you’ve almost added a load of incorrect data to your tree.
Here’s my 6x Great Grandfather (and Mary’s husband) William Beasley…
In his hints are these two matches, and it’s exciting to see William Beasley named here…
..hmm, this seems okay, but now there’s some more info, which actually seems to match anyway, so let’s click ‘Yes’ to the ‘Does the William Beasley in this record match the person in your tree?’ question….
Except that as the eye glances down, it starts to go wrong…
This is a Mary Ann Beasley match, not William (he’s the father), so the date is wrong, and in fact, the person, place, and county is wrong too.
I could easily have tapped on the Save button, and added this wrong information to my tree, rather than scrolling down to the bottom to find the wrong information.
What Ancestry need to do here, is give some more information in that summary box – state that the match is because William is noted as a ‘Father’, and perhaps give the child name and date, or at least the location name, therefore saving me 2 more clicks before I find the mismatch information.
The correct information for Mary Beasley, is that she remained in Ely, Cambridgeshire, for her entire life – baptism, marriage, and burial.
I’m wondering how many other users bother to check this over before just accepting it?
Where the Hell is that?
Whilst I don’t have an example to illustrate it here, if you’re an Ancestry user, i’m sure that you’ll be familiar with numerical place names (e.g. “110910345, East Sussex, England” or completely nonsensical place names that Ancestry appears to have merrily absorbed (like “Haddenham, Cambridgeshire, Utah, Russian Federation, USA”).
After about half an hour of posting this particular blog post, I found another glowing example: those pesky time-traveller ancestors.
In this example, my 5x Great Aunt Ann Pavett (née Yarrow) appears to have some extraordinary genes that I’m not sure I’ve been handed.
She travels through time.
Here’s some more delightful Member’s Trees matches, and this time, the fault has spread (I’ve obfuscated the tree owners simply to stop Matthew Hopkins II from being unleashed).
But what’s this… I’ve discovered a child I didn’t know that she and her husband had…. 60 years before she was born.
And so the rot spreads. I look forward to meeting Ursula Pavett’s mother to check my family tree notes against.
Some simple date checking here would help to stop nonsense like this from appearing, and more importantly from spreading.
Keep Ancestry Tidy
User added and imported data is going to be hard to clean, fix, or even verify as it goes in – because yes, that 4th Cousin 2x Removed’s child, will know more about them than me.
You’ve got so many files, softwares, record sources with varying levels of granularity and data fields, and users with independent approaches, that the whole thing must be an ugly tangled bowl of spaghetti behind the scenes at Ancestry.
I’m sure their UX team and data teams are peddling as fast as they can , but as fiction easily slides seamlessly in to eat up the facts without remorse, I’d love to see some kind of partnership to do data verification for places, or even just a few more interface improvements.
Outside of family history (yes, there is such a place!), in the land called ‘work’, I spend a bit of my time tidying up Google Maps – demolishing spammy and incorrect locations, and getting fake and paid reviews removed. It’s slow, but it’s damn cathartic. An affectionate term of ‘Stop Crap On The Map’ has emerged for this, so I feel we need one for Ancestry’s rubbish info.
How about ‘Stop Debris On The Tree’?
I’d love to hear your stories of crappy data, accidental boughs, and alternative slogans in the comments!
As ever, thanks for reading, and happy tree surgery,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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 😉
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!
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.
He had arrived onboard a steamship named SS Spain…. and with him was Ann, George, and their oldest children.
They’d emigrated together.
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!).
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!
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 information for Elizabeth reads:
“Also Eliz his wife who died Nov 25th 1839, aged 58 years”
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.
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:
Married to William Yarrow at time of death.
Buried with him at Stretham, Cambridgeshire.
Died some time between late-1837 and late-1839.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.