Those 2016 New Year Genealogy Resolutions

How did I do at keeping my 2016 New Year Genealogy Resolutions?

It’s time to take a look back at my 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions, and to see how I fared at keeping/completing them.

1. Kill Simpson Bishop

If anything, 2016 has a reputation as being a year full of death – the news is rarely empty of celebrity deaths, terror deaths, and as some readers may know, the last year has been one which has seen me attend 4 family funerals, out of 6 family deaths.

Despite this, Simpson Bishop has continued ‘to live’ on. The challenge for me is to identify where he may have gone to in order to find the death. Having established that he left the area after his oldest children (including my 3x Great Grandfather) had grown up and married, he heads north to Lancashire and re-marries in 1868. He’s alive at least until the early part of 1873, as his last known child John James Bishop is born in the December quarter of 1873. Simpson gets mentions in later records, but he doesn’t get hinted as being dead until his final wife says she’s a widow in 1901, although he’s not been living with her since at least 1881. His name also has numerous variations, including being preceded by the name James (mirroring his son, my ancestor, James Simpson Bishop).

There’s a Bishop emigration after the 1871 census to New York, with a feasible estimated birth date, although he’s noted as a Clergyman on the ship.. which I find a little unlikely, despite some of his children also heading overseas too.

Sadly, I failed this resolution in 2016. Nil points!

2. Read other written family histories

I’m a fair-weather reader – in that I can go the best part of a year without picking up a book, and sometimes I just can’t put one down.

'The Valley' by Richard Benson, and 'Family Secrets' by Deborah Cohen.
‘The Valley’ by Richard Benson, and ‘Family Secrets’ by Deborah Cohen.

I began reading Deborah Cohen’s Family Secrets (2013) book, but ended up being side-tracked by research, work, and other family issues. I hope to return to it soon, having realised it was one of my resolutions (oops).

I waded in to this resolution, and although life swept me away from these books, I think I can take a half point for this resolution.

3. Finish the website site-relaunch

I greatly underestimated the size of my familytreeuk.co.uk website when I wrote my resolution – estimating that there were about 130 hand-crafted profiles to reconfigure to a new design that was mobile-friendly (and therefore more favourable to users and search engines).

In reality, there are actually 82 surname ‘hubs’ and 378 individual profile pages to re-engineer.

I’ve plodded my way through these steadily, and have been able to re-launch 214 (57%) profiles, with only 168 to go. Whilst re-writing these profiles, I’ve often been re-scanning images, adding in extra information and references to other records that help to add flesh to the lives of these people. Obviously, that has flung me down research ‘rabbit holes’, and seen me add a few more profiles or go off on tangents.

I’m happy with this progress, so i’d like to think that I’ve half completed this resolution – so another half point.

4. Run another AncestryDNA test

I’m pleased to say that it took little effort to persuade my father to take an autosomal test, so I picked up a third test at 2016’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live show, and we ran the test in the May.

By July, we’d got the results – revealing that he isn’t very Great Briton after all and that he’s almost a quarter Irish, and a lot of Scandinavian. This amused and pleased him a lot – as he really is fascinated with the Vikings and their impact on the UK and Europe.

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

Resolution completed, so there’s a full-earned point!

5. Meet more relatives

Events as described in Resolution 1, meant that this turned out to be somewhat easy, despite the sad occasions that led to it happening.

I was so pleased to see some relatives again – like my father’s cousins, and also to meet (and in part, reunite) some of them too. I’m now in regular contact with some of them, which is a great feeling, and a nice ending to a sad year.

I was also really pleased to get to properly talk to my 1st Cousin, Twice Removed – the daughter of my Great Grandfather’s youngest sister. Despite this making her my Grandfather’s cousin, due to the large family above, she’s actually a year younger than my now-late uncle.

She was fascinated in family history, and talked to some length about a branch of our family tree. I know that her mother was a great source of photographs in the early years of my research (via my uncle), so I hope that I can talk to her more, and share the stories about our Martin and Giddings families in the new year.

I can safely say I completed this resolution, and earn another point.

The over-all score

So, all in all, I managed to score 3/5 for my 2016 Genealogy Resolutions.

To be honest, I forgot what some of these resolutions were, because I got carried away with research or website re-launching, or just life events that needed my attention. I like having these resolutions though, as it reminds me of challenges to do, and also gives me something to look back on – helping me to notice my own achievements.

Other things I managed to achieve in 2016 include:

  1. Re-joining The Newman Name Society
  2. Helping The Littleport Society by digitally cataloging hundreds of items in their archive…and digitise their audio interview archive that was stored on deteriorating cassette tape.
  3. Helping them to run two 200th Anniversary Riots events
  4. Rescued hundreds and scanned many family photographs – I now have 341 different relatives in my photo archive, across 565 photos, with a few hundred photos boxed up yet to scan, and many yet to identify people in.
  5. Used the General Register Office new searchable indexes to discover a terrible family tragedy that saw the infant deaths of 11 of the 12 children, and the first wife, of my 3x Great Grandfather, James Martin.

Did you have any genealogy resolutions for 2016? If so, how did you do? Let me know in the comments below.

Once again, thank you for reading,

Andrew

In Pictures: Father’s Day

Celebrating Father’s Day 2013 this weekend – check out my photo gallery of 14 of my ancestral fathers.

It’s Father’s Day here in the UK this Sunday, so in the same way that I marked Mother’s Day with a photo gallery, I thought that I would do the same for my paternal and maternal fathers.

Interestingly, there are fewer photographs of my male ancestors. This will of course be down to one or two instances where illegitimacy leaves them absent, but maybe the luxury of late-19th and early-20th century meant photography was only afforded for their wives?

Paternal Fathers

Maternal Fathers

Happy Father’s Day!

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

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

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

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

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

So why is getting a tree wrong actually important?

Scaring away the cuckoo

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

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

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

Admitting your error

Okay, so here we go…

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

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

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

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

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

Updating… everything

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

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

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

Getting it wrong makes your research better

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

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

WANTED: Dead Or Alive

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

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

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

This is a routine I know well.

Help! My Grandmother was a zombie

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

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

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

The hidden Grandparents and Uncle

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

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

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

The Serial Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surname Saturday: GIDDINGS

Surname Saturday – it’s the turn of the Giddings family from Fleet, Lincolnshire and later from March, Cambridgeshire.

My Giddings ancestry from Lincolnshire and later from Cambridgeshire provides me with one of my favourite photographs in my collection.

Elizabeth Giddings (1831-19??)

At some point between October 1791 and December 1793 my 5x Great Grandparents Thomas Giddings and his wife Rebecca (née Watson) left the village of Fleet on the border of Lincolnshire and brought their family of at most 3 children to March, Cambridgeshire.

By 1798 the couple had grown the family to 5 children with the youngest, Daniel Watson Giddings (my Gt x4 grandfather) having been born that year.

The Giddings family appear to have been Baptists, attending The Providence Baptist Church in March – this is certainly the place of many of their appearances in parish records.

Illegitimacy

In 1852, my Gt x3 Grandmother Elizabeth Giddings (pictured) gave birth to my Gt x2 Grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Giddings. This must have been a real test for both Elizabeth and Sarah as illegitimacy was heavily frowned upon during this period and both mother and child would have bore the weight of the ‘disgust’ of the community they lived in. Elizabeth would have been encouraged to marry. Despite this, Elizabeth remained unmarried for another 10 years, finally marrying a Charles Lincoln from Potton, Bedfordshire in 1862. Together they had a daughter, Jane.

Tragedy

Sarah Elizabeth married my Gt x2 Grandfather James Martin from Little Downham, Cambridgeshire and the couple settled down to rear a family of 13 children. Sarah must have been as tough as her mother, as she saw six of her children plus a son-in-law and daughter-in-law all go to the grave in her lifetime. One son died as an infant, another was killed when he fell from a horse as a working child. She then lost a daughter and son-in law, and two sons as a result of the First World War. I’m unsure of the cause of death for one of her daughters and her daughter-in-law. All in all, Sarah and her family suffered terrible losses.

Sarah died just five years after her mother in 1925, aged 72 years at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

The Mystery and The Monkey

James Martin (1851-1934), originally uploaded by familytreeuk.


The December issue of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine features my photograph in their ‘Over To You’ section (page 36).

I’m pleased to see it in print – it’s such an interesting/amusing photograph – showing a real mixture of characters. There appears to be four railwaymen (like my Great Great Grandfather, James Martin who appears at the top of the photo with the monkey on his shoulders), but also some sailors too (their hats read ‘Albert’).

I think that the photo was taken in 1887. My reasons for this are that this was the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (hence ‘Albert’ on the hats) and the jumpers of the ‘sailors’ appear to have “RTYC” (Royal Thames Yacht Club?) embroidered on them and they raced in 1887…..

“Ocean races officially organised by clubs were unknown until 1887. That was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and a race ‘the like of which had never been known in the annals of yacht racing’ was announced by the Royal Thames Yacht Club over a course of 1,520 nautical miles round the British Isles. Later meetings at the Albemarle Street Club House refferred to this event as the Jubilee Yacht Race.” – Royal Thames Yacht Club history

I also think that my Gt Gt Grandfather looks like he’s in his thirties.

I’m amused by the ‘dwarves/smurfs’ at the front of the photo and also of the very scary looking ‘black beard’ pirate character lurking towards the back.

Who were they? What was going on? When was this? Where was it taken?

Hopefully the magazine will throw up some answers in the show’s web forums.