Taking an autosomal DNA test with AncestryDNA (Part Three)

About 18 months ago, I undertook the Ancestry autosomal DNA test. I’d been completely sceptical of what use it would give me, but after seeing lots of talks from Ancestry, other DNA test providers, and genealogists at Who Do You Think You Are? Live in 2015, I decided to pick up a test for me and for my mother.

We both took the test and after about 6 weeks received our results.

At the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016 show, I picked up a third test – again avoiding the expensive P&P cost, and this time for my father. He’d been interested when my mother and I received our results, and had enjoyed reading the historical analysis of how our DNA had gotten into such a mixture through invasion, war, and trade routes.

After dribbling into the AncestryDNA tube just before lunch (in a bid to avoid me seem to descend from a ham and mustard sandwich!), I posted it off.

My parents are Daily Mail newspaper readers. This irritates me a lot, as it is somewhat of a toxic, bigoted, racist, baby-boomer brain-washer (and i’m being polite here), so their news always comes with poorly written and sensational stories that show people of other countries, but mostly Eastern Europe, in a truly horrific way. The only justice in their newspaper habit is that the paper either gets used to light fires, or to line their cat litter tray.

My mother’s DNA result gave her a 1% Eastern European, and 2% Finn and Russian DNA ethnicity, which amused me endlessly, given her newspaper reading habits.

Mother's AncestryDNA Ethnicity Result in Lego
My Mother’s AncestryDNA Ethnicity Result.

I didn’t inherit the Eastern European DNA, but I did benefit from the Finn and Russian.

My AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate in Lego
My AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate

But what might my father have?

I received the results.

My father’s AncestryDNA result

I picked up the phone, taught my mother how to go hands-free, and then said (in Daily Mail language) ‘Mother, you’ve only gone and married a bloody foreigner’ – we all laughed.

My father, who has an affinity with Scotland (but no known ancestral connection), actually turned out to be just 46% Great Briton, and yet 24% Irish. Compared to my 61% GB and my mother’s 68% GB, that’s quite a difference.

My Father's AncestryDNA Ethnicity result in Lego
My Father’s AncestryDNA Ethnicity result.

My father was somewhat pleased to see that Ireland (24%) and Scandinavia (19%) made up for where his GB DNA had decreased. He feels even more Celt/Viking than ever, even if I’ve yet to find any ancestor with a hint of Irish ancestry in them. My only suspicions might be our Newman (which seems more German to me), Tingey (which seems more French to me), or Clarke ancestors.

My Mother’s DNA remains the most varied, with 7 ethnicities estimated (and they are estimates, remember).

What you can see above, courtesy of my Lego depictions of the three of us, is that I dodged Iberian Peninsula DNA despite it being present in my mother (5%) and my father (3%).

My sister – who has not been tested – has a darker complexion to me, so maybe Iberia plays more of a role in her DNA, or maybe the Italian/Greek? Obviously, she could easily have none of those ethnicities at all – as it’s completely a 50/50 gamble as to what DNA you inherit, and which ones fall by the way-side.

My (decreasing) blond hair, and my gingery beard suggests that I’m a carrier of the red hair gene, and science has found that it has a high frequency in Ireland and Scotland. Maybe this suggests that I have inherited that from my father’s DNA. It’s also clear that I inherited my 4% Italian/Greek ethnicity from my father (his was 3%).

My mother’s high Western European DNA ethnicity (13%), and my father’s lower 5%, played little role in my DNA, which came as a surprise to me, as I’d have guessed that I had some Germanic DNA via my Moden or Gothard ancestors.

What next?

I could try to test some other relatives – they’re certainly curious, but the more distant I get in a bid to see results, the more ‘other’ DNA is being introduced via non-biological Uncles and Aunts.

I was pleased to see Ancestry match me up with a paternal second cousin, once removed, who I already knew their position of in my tree, but had never had contact with before. There’s also a few more distant cousins emerging, which is allowing me to fill in some contemporary generations from distant relatives.

The whole DNA testing exercise has been interesting for us as a family, and it’s a great conversation piece. I’m guessing my parents are having a great time telling their friends about what they’ve discovered. It’s certainly nice to find people who have a link to you, although there’s so many test results that match, and yet the users don’t have trees, or they never reply.

I guess to some degree, it’s a bit of a genetic tourism. Pay > Wait > Oh wow, i’m XYZ > Done.

I think I’ll keep my mind open, and see who else I can cajole into being tested (hopefully either my maternal aunt, or my sister).

Thanks for reading,


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.
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,


The Littleport Society Open Day 2015

The Littleport Society Open Day takes place at The Barn, Littleport, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday 19th September 2015, 10am – 4pm, with FREE ENTRY.

The Littleport Society crestThe Littleport Society are opening their doors on Saturday 19th September 2015 – with free entry to a range of specially built displays.

I’ve known the Society for many years, having helped them with their first web presence back in 1998.

Earlier this year I was co-opted onto their Committee, and this is allowing me to help them with digitally cataloguing their huge archive of items which ranges from dinosaur fossils, right through to Manorial Records, wartime documents, and the latest community leaflets and photos from 2015!

The Open Day will give you the chance to learn more about your Littleport ancestors, find out what your ancestors may have done, and how The Great War affected the lives of those in Littleport.

Entry and parking is FREE, and the doors open at The Barn (off Main Street) from 10am until 4pm.

For the latest information, check out The Littleport Society website.

Smoke and Censuses – a lucky escape for Matilda Johnson

In 1837, a tragedy strikes, leaving infant Matilda Johnson in the care of her elderly grandmother, Avis Wisby.

Since learning the hard way, I’ve always been an advocate of exploring your relative’s neighbours and house guests in census returns. In one such case, I unraveled a mystery that led me to a tragic yet peaceful accident.

When their youngest child was no more than 2 years old, my Gtx4 Grandmother Avis Martin (née Tall) lost her husband Robert Martin at the age of 41 in the March of 1826. With his death prior to certification, any efforts to find the cause would likely be zero. The burial register of the fenland village of Little Downham, Cambridgeshire, England, gives no clue.

The couple had become parents six times since their marriage in 1812, but life had dealt them a cruel hand in these bleak fens – their first (William), fourth (Elizabeth) and fifth child (Robert), all failing to thrive. Elizabeth made it to 2, Robert less, and William died just 4 months after their father in July 1826. He was 13.

Avis was now a widow at 38 years in a remote fenland village with three remaining children (James, Sarah, and a second Robert). By August 1827, she re-married, this time to James Wisbey, and by 1830 the couple had their first son. For once, life was a bit ‘on the up’.

By 1834, her daughter Sarah Martin had married James Johnson at Little Downham, and their daughter Matilda Johnson entered the church for her baptism on 3rd January 1836.

Matilda and Avis

PatPatPatPatPatMat Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Avis
Photo believed to be of Gt x4 Grandmother Avis.

In my beloved 1851 census, I found Avis Wisbey as an ‘out door labourer‘ in what was to be her final census. I’d already killed her off in August 1858, but I noticed that she wasn’t alone. I didn’t know Matilda at this point, so was curious as to who this 17 year old Matilda Johnson was. My only clue was that she was noted as ‘granddaughter’.

I back tracked to the less reliable 1841 census – and there she was again – this time aged ‘5’ years, and again living with her grandmother.

Heading backwards through the records, I found her baptism in January 1836, and then found the Johnson/Martin marriage that belonged to her parents in 1834 – and proving her connection to Sarah Martin and Avis.

But where had her parents gone?

It didn’t take me long to find a burial register entry that hinted at a bigger story. On 5th February 1837, James (23yrs) and Sarah (20yrs) Johnson are buried with the register giving a clue of ‘husband and wife by suffocation‘.

Matilda in the headlines

That’s the first time that I’ve seen ‘suffocation’ given as a cause of death, and with both husband and wife dying together by the same cause, I sensed that there must be more information. Was it foul play? Or was there some terrible accident?

A search of newspapers provided me with the answer, and they made several different ones:

The Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette of the 18th February states:

“DEATH FROM SUFFOCATION – Inquests were held on Friday se’nnight in the parish of Downham, on the bodies of James Johnson and Sarah, his wife, who died from the effects of charcoal burning in the bed-room. Verdict accordingly”

The story unfolds a little further courtesy of a number of newspapers that including The Cambridge Chronicle, and The Morning Post, and this cutting from Jackson’s Oxford Journal also of 18th February 1837, which carries a long and detailed report on the whole incident.

Here it states that due to a pan of ashes being in the bedroom, the wife suffocated. The husband died of apoplexy having seemingly woken but dying shortly afterwards, and that the daughter (Matilda) survived only because she was tucked further down in the the bed and saved by the sheets. It notes that Matilda entered the care of her grandmother.

Death from Suffocation - 1837 deaths of James and Sarah Johnson
The story made front page news of Jackson’s Oxford Journal in February 1837.

It seems that an innocent accident brought tragedy for the family. And that only by luck, through the action of neighbours, and the positioning of some bed sheets, that Matilda survived in bed – not even 2yrs old, laying amongst the bodies of her dead parents.

What became of Matilda?

In Avis’ care, orphaned Matilda Johnson grew up. Eight months after the 1851 UK census, Matilda married John Artingstall of Lancashire, in the Little Downham church where her parents had just 17 years earlier.

After a sad start to their own parenthood (their first child, Elizabeth Artingstall died as an infant), they went on to become parents a further nine times in Gorton, Lancashire. The family appear at Far Lane (briefly at No. 10) and 56 Far Lane, Gorton.

John died in 1897 aged 69, and Matilda reached the ripe old age of 81, dying in 1917.

She survived tragedy by a stroke of luck, and lived a full life, becoming a grandmother herself, via her own daughter, who took here late mother’s name – Sarah.

Taking an autosomal DNA test with AncestryDNA (Part Two)

The Ancestry DNA results are in for my mother and I… but what do you get, and how can they be interpreted?

It’s been a few patient weeks since I did my AncestryDNA test but the email has come through. The results of the AncestryDNA tests for my mother and I have arrived.

Excitedly I clicked on my name first to see what it would reveal.

When you get your results you’re presented with a kind of ‘dashboard’. This includes your name and a brief summary of your Ethnicity Estimate and your DNA Matches.

Able to see the top three results in this dashboard view, I clicked through to view the complete geographic/ethnicity estimate map and results.

AncestryDNA 'Ethnicity Estimate' results  and map.
My AncestryDNA ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ results and map.

With little surprise, Great Britain appeared at the top. Although DNA runs through us all from our very evolution, my family history research (which is a nanosecond snapshot by comparison) has given me a set of documented ancestors who have never strayed outside of England.

Of course, documents lie but DNA doesn’t, but in both cases – it’s all in the interpretation.

After Great Britain, coming in second and as a complete surprise was my 18% Irish genes. So far, I’ve found no Irish ancestors, and only 1-2 Irish relatives. I can’t even put my finger on a few possible Irish surnames… but, they appear to be in the mix somewhere.

In third place, with a nice 11% is my highly anticipated (and hoped for) Scandinavian DNA.   Having been surprised by the Irish DNA, I’d have expected this or Europe West to have turned up as second.

These three are then followed by what Ancestry calls ‘Trace Regions’. They explain that these are small traces of ethnicity, but that they may be unreliable. They’ve included them just in case.

For me, I’m amused by being 4% Italian/Greek, 3% Finn and Northwest Russian, but surprisingly a lowly 3% Western European.

Setting contexts

What is useful, and acts almost as a caveat to the percentage and map, is the potted history of the region when you click on its name. When reading this, you realise that for someone with 61% Great Britain score (the average Great Briton has 60%, so i only just scraped in), seeing Scandinavian in my DNA is absolutely no surprise. Also, seeing Irish and Scandinavian together is no surprise either, and that’s down to the trade and settlement of the Vikings who held around 1/3rd of England by the late 800s. Vikings of course made their way to Ireland too, so it would be unsurprising for both Scandinavian and Irish DNA to turn up.

Reassuringly, Ancestry’s test had spotted that there was a parent/child relationship between myself and my mother’s DNA.

Comparing DNA with my mother

When you look at my mother’s DNA results in comparison, you get a hint of the 50% of the DNA that I didn’t inherit, and a hint at what DNA may well be lurking in my father.

My mother's AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate
My mother’s AncestryDNA results reveal she’s more European than me.

For my mother, her ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ pitches her as 8% more than the average Great Briton, at 68%.

Then, what is my lowest estimated score (of 1%), my mother has as second – she’s 13% Western European. That’s roughly the percentage that I’d have expected to have seen in my result, given ancestral surnames of the likes of the German sounding Moden and Swiss sounding Gothard surnames in her tree.

With delight, I revealed her Scandinavian roots too (she’s a big Vikings fan, and we share a Viking-sounding Yarrow ancestral surname). Her percent is less than mine, so maybe this hints at some Scandinavian DNA in my father too?

It’s not until you reach her ‘Trace Regions’ that Irish DNA turns up – and for her it’s just 3%, whereas mine was 18%. Maybe this also suggests that there’s Irish DNA in my father.

Also amongst my mother’s Trace Regions is 5% Iberian Peninsula, and our shared Finland/Northwest Russa DNA (at 2%).

I’d guess that when looking at geography – for someone with an estimate so high of Western Europe, then seeing the Iberian Peninsula is no surprise. The Fin and Russian ethnicity traces may well be echoes through our Scandinavian DNA too.

Finally, my mother’s Trace Regions end with what has made me chuckle. She’s 1% Eastern European.  She’s a Daily Mail reader, and I continually mock-plead with her to stop reading that ‘newspaper’… which is packed with shock stories and hatred for people from Ukraine, Poland and other Eastern European countries. Hopefully that 1% will serve as another reason she should stop buying it!!

So, what can I do with this new-found knowledge?

This was my questioning right from the out-set. You get a set of data that spans right back through human life – far too far back into history for you to research. At it’s top level, and for those who aren’t really interested in family history, this is a kind of ‘genetic tourism’ or ‘family tree tourism’. Dr Adam Rutherford‘s recent radio feature on The Business of Genetic Ancestry kind of puts it nicely.

AncestryDNA sold this autosomal DNA testing concept to me when they showed what they’d do next with the data – and that’s to use it alongside all the other users who get their test results, and use it to suggest DNA matches to you. It was this point at Who Do You Think You Are? Live that I decided to pay up.

That AncestryDNA dashboard shows you some of those matches, each with a rating of how confident they are at the matches.. and then it’s over to you to reach out to them and explore that connection through Ancestry.

AncestryDNA matches
AncestryDNA shows you who has varying degree of DNA matches with your results.

I’ve already begun reaching out to a few – and it was reassuring to see matches with people I’ve already linked to through good old fashioned family history research, and also a number of people who are strangers but carry some of my obscurer family surnames too.

Ancestry, I’m impressed. All I need to do now, is think of who best to test next. My father? My sister? The oldest blood relative I can find?

DAY TWO: Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015

Day Two of the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015 show at Birmingham NEC is over, and the final day is coming!

If you’re yet to tread the halls of this year’s show, then here’s what you missed in Day Two.

AncestryDNA talks
AncestryDNA has been a heavily promoted product this year.

Right near the front of the entrance is the show’s main sponsor, in prime space – Ancestry. I’ve had my account with these guys (and FindMyPast) for some time, and this year the team are going all guns to promote their AncestryDNA product.

Essentially this consists of a kit, that you can buy and register on their site, and then use to take a swab sample of DNA. Post them off, and then your results are returned to you online about 6-8 weeks later, via your Ancestry account.

The results will then give you an ethnicity estimate (I’m hoping for Vikings and old Saxons), and then it will give you leads to other people who have taken the test on AncestryDNA, where they have found matching DNA.

Two AncestryDNA testing kits
Two AncestryDNA testing kits

I’ve picked up two kits, as I was curious, and my mother has been far more excitedly curious about her DNA for some years. I guess that with all the other kits around, and with the recent discovery, questioning and burial of Richard III, the DNA market is booming.

I’ll write more about the tests another time – so keep posted!

Day Two was definitely busier, and even though the aisles are wider between stands (most noticeably amongst the Society of Genealogists Family History stands) they were still thick with busy, eager, genealogists looking for the next clue.

The Home Team – the Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry was naturally a busy spot to be. I have only a couple of distant relative marriages in Birmingham, so I didn’t need to stop.. but the team certainly looked busy!

Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry stand
Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry stand

As with yesterday, where I was able to catch Alec Tritton talk about the many wonders of The Parish Chest, and caught some of Jayne Shrimpton talking about the dating of 80s and 90s photographs (1880s/1890s, okay!), today I was able to catch some more.

The first was from Dave Annal who gave a fascinating talk on the FindMyPast stand, on Death Duty Registers. I could tell that it was something to do with death and taxes, but beyond that I had no idea what they would contain. As a source, they look like the fantastically messiest, chaotic and cryptic set of possible information ever (beyond Doctor’s notes!).

Understanding the Death Duty Registers sign
Understanding the Death Duty Registers sign

Later, I briefly caught the team at FamilySearch, who gave me a lovely warm reminder about the years of research I’ve put in working my way through microfilm. They themselves are in the midst of a big project to digitise microfilm, and are looking for volunteers to process batches of transcripts so that everything can become much easier to search. I don’t think that this was new news, but it was good to hear what they are up to.

Margaret Haig talks copyright and family history
Margaret Haig (IPO) talks copyright and family history

Finally, I sat in on Copyright and Family History – a talk by Margaret Haig from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). She gave a fascinating talk on the law and the minefield of copyright when it comes to family history. There were loads of questions after, but I poppe along to their stand to ask them my one: Who owns the copyright of a Will? The answer I was given was that they are not under copyright because they are not a creative piece, they’re a commissioned piece of work that follows a formulaic formal process. This wasn’t really the answer I was expecting.

I managed to meet Eric Knowles, and he was able to shed light on  my mystery spoon… But I’ll write more about that soon too!

I ended my day by treating myself to two books from the team at Pen and Sword Books – one The Real Sherlock Holmes – The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley, and the other one by Stephen Wade, titled Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors.

Some criminal reading to add to my reading pile.
Some criminal reading to add to my reading pile.

I was flicking through the latter when the stall-holder asked me if I had criminal ancestors. I said ‘yes’, but reassured them it wasn’t for fraud as I handed my card over.

Anyway, more on DNA, the spoon and the criminals another day. Day Three is calling…

So you want to be a professional genealogist?

Ever thought about turning your family history addiction into a money-making bill paying job? I ask two professional genealogists to shed light on the how and why they did it.

Archives - Photo: Marino González via Creative Commons
Archives – Photo: Marino González via Creative Commons

I’m not a professional genealogist.

My interest in researching was fuelled by my love of Victorian photography and a hand-drawn tree that both showed my father and I people we’d never heard of, and so my interest for family history was ignited.

But whilst there are many large online family history websites like Ancestry, FindMyPast etc, there are also thousands of individual professional genealogists who work with people to uncover their family stories.

So far, I’ve not wanted to be one of those. Mainly because I just enjoy researching my own tree, and I wanted to do it however and whenever it interested me, and without a deadline. I’ve turned what have been hobbies into jobs before, and eventually for me, it has taken the fun out of it.

So, I’m curious as to why and how other people became professionals genealogists.

What better way to find out, than to ask two tame experts: Pam Smith, and Mark Daly.

Q1: How did you first get interested in genealogy?

Pam Smith - Family HistorianPam: I’ve always taken a curious interest in family matters. Who? Why? What? Where? and When? whether  the living wanted to tell me or not!

Roger Stonebanks, a journalist and author came searching for the family of Albert (Ginger) Goodwin, Miner 1887-1918 who’s death/murder (which ever way you want to look at it) started Canada’s first general strike.

The family history evidence in Roger’s book Fighting for Dignity –  The Ginger Goodwin Story was the catalyst which ignited my interest.

Mark Daly - Time SleuthsMark: Procrastination and avoidance. It was 1993, I was 22 and only a few weeks away from my final Law exams. My addled brain needed distraction and it seemed the obvious moment to start investigating my roots!

Often when I visited my Yorkshire and Staffordshire grandparents and great aunties as a child, they would give me something related to the family’s history such as a set of medals, an army cap badge, some old documents or an entire Royal commemorative china set, normally with the aside “Eee, I’m not long for this life, you ought to have this” and a conspiratorial wink. I was made the adolescent custodian of these objects of fascination and working out who they belonged to, as a young adult, seemed the next sensible step.

Genealogy was largely still the preserve of the retired, researching notable ancestors, and the Internet as a research tool did not yet exist. Despite this, and the laborious process of manually searching thorough heavy registers of BMDs and unindexed censuses on microfilm in the dark basements of government buildings, I became hooked. My legal training suited the research process and I suddenly had a vehicle to explore periods in history, through the stories of real people.

The initial research into my roots proved unexceptional but after years of sticking with it, the past began to yield its secrets and its characters.

Q2: What made you decide to research other people’s families and turn it into a professional career?

Pam Smith - Family HistorianPam: I began a course of education, firstly with WEA and the IHGS which made the archives my second home. Speaking about genealogy to local groups became second nature and word of mouth spread fast.

Queries started coming in and I realised there was potential to make an income from what came naturally to me i.e. an inquisitive mind and a passion for historical documentary evidence.

There is fulfilment and reward in taking a client step by step through their family history. The joy of discovery experienced by them, makes it all worthwhile.

Mark Daly - Time SleuthsMark: I started doing research for friends, in order to learn more, to make people aware of what could be discovered, to feed my genealogy addiction and to satisfy my ‘family tree envy’. I was still wading through my own coal miners and ag labs at that stage and so others’ roots seemed far more romantic or exotic. I particularly enjoyed researching stories of foreign roots, migration, diasporas, adventurers, people displaced by war and famine, anything with a cultural shift. Foreign languages felt like a challenge rather than a barrier and these stories with a foreign element remain one of my specialisms as a professional genealogist.

I continued like that for the next 20 years, as a sort of paying hobby, learning as I went along, fitting it around the day job as a lawyer. I then set up my own business as a legal translator and this gave me the flexibility to go professional with the genealogy.

Q3: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of becoming a professional genealogist?

Pam Smith - Family HistorianPam: Initially, undertake at least three courses:

  1. An academic course on the types of records available and how to use them.
  2. How to become a Professional Genealogist.
  3. Genealogical Report Writing.

Join a Professional Body, advertise and network with colleagues. Genealogy can be a solitary pursuit and it is essential to build relationships and leave your computer every now and then to maintain a sense of reality with the outside world.

Make Continued Professional Development (CPD) a life choice. Be an eternal student.

Mark Daly - Time SleuthsMark: For those with an existing job, start gradually. Do research for friends as a freebie but treat them as you would third-party clients: at the outset, give them a written description of what you will be doing and what they can expect; for the research, produce a well-drafted, fully-evidenced report; and finish off the job with an invoice (albeit for £0). As you get more confident and your name is passed around, you can follow this same procedure but finish with invoices that begin to reflect your worth.

Whether you are considering genealogy as a first career or a gradual switch from an existing one, academic study is invaluable. There are an increasing number of providers of courses. The Society of Genealogists  runs some excellent short courses and the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, Strathclyde University and Dundee University provide longer courses.

Joining a body such as the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives as an associate is also a great way to meet fellow professionals once you have reached an assessable level of expertise and have decided to go professional.

Q4: What has been the most memorable life story that you’ve helped to uncover for a client?

Pam Smith - Family HistorianPam: Settling an argument between two elderly and warring cousins over the accuracy of their claims and links to an ancestor who was a famous author.

Although the outcome was not palatable to one, my client was justified in his account of events backed up by the evidence I provided.

Mark Daly - Time SleuthsMark: I have done lots of research for television companies in the UK and the States and it is always satisfying to see your name in lights, not least to add some respectability to the profession that is genealogy. That said, it is still the private client work that is the most satisfying, especially when it relates to a person’s very identity (adoption, separation, etc.).

One case earlier this year was particularly rewarding: a lady, Ruth, in her 90s had been searching for over 70 years to establish who she was. She had grown up in an East End orphanage and was never informed of the name she was given when she was born or the identity of her parents. Other than her children, she had no family and no roots and had spent decades contacting different bodies and trying different researchers, in an attempt to work out who she was. The local authority had provided scant information and had told her that nothing more could be found or done. Assuming this to be a workhouse story, I trawled the categories of records that could relate to her time in care, such as workhouse registers and minute books, infirmary records, local schools and the orphanage itself. The exercise was complicated by the ever-changing London boroughs that had responsibility for different bodies at different times.

Most of these records were closed, so I used a Freedom of Information Act request. Within a few days, and after some thorough checks by the London Metropolitan Archives, I received 50 pages of documents relating to Miriam’s time in the orphanage. One of those 50 pages contained a single, vital piece of information, that the Ruth’s birth mother had been divorced by her husband four years before. Despite some confusion over the name of the mother, this led me to the mother’s divorce records at the National Archives which gave me her maiden name. With this, I was able to find Ruth’s own birth certificate, registered under a different first name and with her birth mother’s maiden name.

Although Miriam is now very frail, the break-through was delivered to her by her daughter over the summer, along with the news that I had found two nephews who were still alive. Researching aristocratic families in the English Civil War and Polish families captured by Soviet Russia is fascinating stuff but it doesn’t get much better than being able to tell Ruth who she is after 70 years of searching.

Still want to be a professional genealogist?

Becoming a professional sounds like a lot of fun, rewarding, and interesting hard work to me, but I’m happy to keep it as my go-to hobby.

How about you? Are you inspired after reading Pam and Mark’s answers? Or are you like me and enjoy keeping the casual nature of it?

Huge thanks to both Mark and Pam for taking time out (ages ago!) to answer my questions. If you’re interested in contacting either, you can of course find them online at:

Pam: pamsmithfamilyhistorian.co.uk / @genejean

Mark: timesleuths.com / @theTimeSleuths


Reluctant Roots: Those who just don’t want to know

BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed show with Laurie Tayor, discusses people and their reasons why they DON’T want to research their family tree (imagine it!)

I was driving home on Wednesday with the radio on, when I heard the familiar Who Do You Think You Are? theme. This of course, prompted me to turn the radio up instantly.

Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor at BBC Radio 4

I was listening to BBC Radio 4‘s Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor, a show that I often listen to on a Wednesday afternoon.

He was talking to Professor Janice McLaughlin about paediatric genetics and her research study published recently as ‘Family Ties in Genes and Stories: The importance of value and recognition in the narratives people tell of family‘.

I was amused at Laurie’s comment about the popularity of the many people who research their family tree ‘even if they do so at the cost of ignoring their living relatives’ (I’m conscious of this situation)!

The segment only lasts 11 minutes, but I thought it was fascinating enough to share here – to hear about those people who DON’T want to discover their family’s past, and their reasons why.

Sometimes those reasons were because they didn’t want to ‘reconnect’ with disreputable family members in the past, as they’d put in a lot of effort to distance and better themselves and their own family.

Here’s a link to the episode (there might be geo-specific restrictions)

Have you ever reached out to a relative who specifically tells you that they don’t want to know about their family’s past?

Relationship Calculator

Getting lost in the branches? Here’s a handy relationship calculator from the team at Crestleaf to help you work out your family tree.

I often get emails in response to my website or this blog, or through sites like Ancestry, from distant relatives. Naturally I am fascinated to work out the relationship between us, but it can be really tricky to do so.

Probably like a few of you this long Easter weekend, you’ll be spending time with family, and inevitably talking about ‘the tree’. My mother often asks if i’ve discovered anything new, but I often watch her eyes glaze over as she gets lost after about the third step when I’m trying to describe how one of those distant relatives is related.

A couple of days ago, Mark Subel from the team over at Crestleaf, sent me a handy chart that helps make it clearer, so I thought I’d share this with you here to help you overcome those glazed eye responses too…

Crest leaf Family Relationship Chart

Print it out, pin it, stick it your fridge, or save it to your iPad (i’ll be doing that for Who Do You Think You Are? Live in a couple of weeks).

You can right click the image above, or download it (588Kb) here.

A world looking in: how a cousin’s photograph collection can boost your research

A world looking in – how near and distant cousins may hold the key to photographs of your family branch.

With today’s culture somewhat obsessed with taking ‘selfies’ or photographs of their dinner, or their cat (i admit i’m guilty of all three), it makes me wonder how this might affect photography’s role in genealogy research in the future.

Might we find in the future that there’s billions of collections of 10,000 photographs of the same one person, and no-one else?

This week, I experienced the delightful feeling of opening up an envelope and finding 16 photographs tumble out onto my desk. Not only was this somewhat un-expected, but not one of those photographs was familiar, and there are at least 9 people who I’ve never seen in a photograph before.

Collection of photographs on a desk
Some of the 16 photographs that were kindly sent to me.

This example reminded me of the importance of looking for photographs whilst researching.

And, it reminded me that while our own ancestors or relatives were often busy holding the camera and taking photographs of things that were new, or of special occasions, they were generally not taking selfies.

This seems to be reflected in the photo albums I have. Why would they fill a photo album of photographs of themselves? They would rather have photographs of people they knew, including neighbours, friends… and those all important relatives.

Having seen this in the albums in my custody, i realised that the photo albums of cousins may well be the same, but featuring photographs that their ancestors had taken at special occasions. So, like my branch looked into their world through a lens, their world was busy looking in on my branch, and often at the same occasion – giving you a potentially fuller photographic record.

So, to discover more photos of your family branch, reach out to those cousins near and distant, and see what snaps they have. This is one of my 2015 Genealogy Resolutions (and was also one in 2014).

It was a handwritten tree and a single photograph of two adults with a horse and cart, that sparked my interest in genealogy. Since then, I’ve been lucky to have found a vast wealth of family images reaching back to the late 19th century.

This isn’t the first time that a cousin’s photographs have helped to expand my research.

A couple of years back, one of my Cooper family cousins solved a puzzle of a crudely cropped photograph, and in doing so, changed the identity of the man in the piece of photo I had.

Originally, the man below was ‘Charles Newman‘, my Great Great Great Grandfather, but tantalisingly there’s someone else in the image who has been cropped out.

John Cooper cropped image
‘Charles Newman’ in the cropped photograph…

Two years later, cousin Evol Laing, who discovered me online, revealed the rest of the image, changing his identity completely to John Cooper, and showing his sons Alfred, John and Harry. She also had other photographs to back this claim up, and a wealth of photos from the Cooper family.  The connection between Newman and Cooper? Well, the ‘Charles Newman’ had a daughter-in-law named Harriet Cooper. John was her brother.

John Cooper with his sons
John Cooper (seated) with sons (L-R) Harry, Alfred, and John.

My scanner hasn’t been this busy since my first year of genealogy research, where I scanned dozens and dozens of images from my Martin and Dewey families.

I’m now back on the photograph trail, and hopefully will be able to tick off that Genealogy Resolution for 2015.

Happy tree climbing,