My 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2016

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

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

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

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

1. Kill Simpson Bishop

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

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

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

I feel a whiteboard evidence timeline moment coming on.

2. Read other written family histories

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

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

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

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

3. Finish a site re-launch

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

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

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

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

4. Run another AncestryDNA test

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

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

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

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

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

5. Meet more relatives

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

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

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

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

 

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

Summary of my third and final day at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015 show at Birmingham NEC, including my favourite stand, and ticket dates for the 2016 show.

Well, that’s it! The 2015 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show is over.

If you went along, what did you think? Did you enjoy it? Was Birmingham NEC up to the job? Are you going next year? Did you think it was busy?

Once again, I really enjoyed the show – it was lovely to see familiar faces and brands, and also meet new ones too, and learn lots of new ‘old’ things. (Check out my Day One and Day Two posts!)

Having checked out of my hotel in Coventry, and stepped off the train at Birmingham, I noticed that there was a ‘Tweet up’ (essentially, a group of twitter users, who arrange a time/place to meet up via twitter, and so extending the invite to a wide audience) about to happen, so a quick diversion via the courtyard, gave us a wonderfully sunny set of Tweet Up photos.

Here’s mine:

After this, I made my way back into the show and noticed that the workshop ticket queue had reduced down nicely, so joined it behind a senior couple. Sadly, the woman in the couple was taking issue with the queuing system ‘this is the third day, and they haven’t managed to sort it out! The third day!’ she repeated to her silent male companion, and promptly decided to snap at the helpful ticket lady, who kept her cool perfectly.

I hope you’re reading this – you should have seen the queue earlier. The ticket team seemed to be doing a great job.

Turning around, I could see that the AncestryDNA stand was already doing booming business, again echoing just how much ‘DNA’ is this year’s buzz-word. I wonder just how many kits they sold over the three days? (and whether the testing period might become elongated?). I can only assume that the more kits that are sold in the UK, means that the data gets bigger, and the potential for more DNA matches increases.

AncestryDNA stand with visitors
Busy AncestryDNA stand.

Moving on a little, I stumbled across Linda Kerr (from The International Society of Genetic Genealogy – or ISOGG) giving a talk on DNA for Absolute Beginners – her talk seemed very clear and straightforward, and whilst the buzz about DNA was resonating through a lot of companies this year, it was great to see that the basics were being covered too. I loved how my photo captured ‘Does not replace traditional research’. A very good point!

Linda Kerr of ISOGG talking DNA for Absolute Beginners
Linda Kerr of ISOGG talking DNA for Absolute Beginners

I then headed over to the very well stocked stand at My History and picked up a load of archive safe photo pockets.

I have a large collection of small 1930-1950s photographs in my grandmother’s photo albums, but when you pick them up, the photos all fall out because the sticky pages have dried up.

Hopefully this should help sort, store, and put them safely back in order.

I think that out of all of the stands, my favourite design was The National Archives – i found it visually striking, wonderfully themed and lit. Of course, the 1939 Tea Rooms from FindMyPast, were wonderful too.. but it’s hard to compare them as their purpose was so different.

National Archives stand at WDYTYA Live 2015
National Archives stand at WDYTYA Live 2015 was my favourite stand (not including the 1939 tea room)

My 2015 Who Do You Think You Are? Live take-aways

  • Death Duty Records are a big, exciting, mess, and a trove of information (Day Two via Dave Annal)
  • I quite enjoy corned beef hash cakes (Day One via FindMyPast)
  • Letters from paupers and pew rents can sometimes be found in Parish Chest records (Day One – Alec Tritton)
  • Wills aren’t subject to copyright (Day Two via Intellectual Property Office)
  • I’m enjoying reading Angela Buckley’s ‘The Real Sherlock Holmes – The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada‘ (Day Two via Pen & Sword Books)
  • ‘The spoon’ isn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped (Day Two via Eric Knowles)
  • It’s dribbling, not swabbing time, in the Martin households (Day One via AncestryDNA)
  • I walked 29,454 steps over these three days – the equivalent to 12.81 miles. Most of this would be inside the venue.

Cabin fever?

One thing I noticed this year, was that my enthusiasm for a third day was waining by midday. In London, if I dipped out early, I knew enough of London and had enough friends there, that I could pop out for a bit and do something else and head back, or head out early, but here at the NEC, it didn’t feel like that. Maybe next year, I might cut down to 2 days unless there’s some specific lure to keep me there/busy.

Don’t get me wrong, the show is really worthwhile, but as a family historian, whose ancestors have struggled to move more than 10 miles within Cambridgeshire over the last 420+ years, it’s really only the ‘generic’ talks and stands that give me the extra value. Learning about Irish roots, or researching Scottish records, or visiting a specific locale society stand, will be hard to apply to my somewhat almost ‘insular’ research territory.

Having said that, I’ve not done my DNA test yet… so that could all change. I’m still guessing Scandinavian is going to be in there.

I’m yet to hear of the official figures for this newly re-homed show, but I did hear that day two (Friday) was busier than the first day.

My brain struggled to imagine whether the show itself was bigger – as Olympia was always spread across a main hall and a mezzanine, with a few of the talks held off in rooms to the site, and the aisles between stands were about 1/3rd narrower than those in the NEC. It’s difficult to compare.

Where Do You Think You Are Going? Live
Where Do You Think You Are Going? Live

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016 dates

That said, as revealed in the Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine 14th April email campaign, the show remains at the Birmingham NEC for 2016 and for 3 days – running 28-30th April 2016.

See you there!

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,

Andrew

My Top 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2015

Here’s my 2015 genealogy resolutions to take me through my family history research over the next 12 months. What will yours be?

For a couple of years now, I’ve been setting myself some ‘Genealogy Resolutions’ – some to-dos, tasks, brick walls – all challenges for me to try to solve in the following 12 months.

Whilst i’ve already summarised my progress of 2014’s resolutions, here’s my 2015 ones…

1. Source and scan even more photographs

iPhoto showing Faces of ancestors I've scanned
My iPhoto is already home to 258 relative faces.

I just about managed to get a few more photographs in 2014, but not the specific ones I wanted – namely of my great grandmother’s Gilbert family, and in particular of her wedding in 1909. I didn’t even get round to writing to that part of the family to ask them if they had copies of the images.

So, in 2015, this will be my first mission. Also, my father’s oldest brother has contact with his aunt still, and this connection had previously given me access to a wide range of beautiful Victorian and Edwardian Martin family photographs.

Back in 1995 when I first saw these images, I had to pick and choose which photographs to borrow, have sent away to have negatives made for, and then printed. Scanners were not cheap or readily available for home use. But now… there should be no stopping me making high resolution scans of all of the images I can lay my hands on.

2. ‘Kill off’ Mary Clarke

For those who have been reading a while, you might have seen me refer to an ‘evil’ gtxX grandmother Mary Bailey (née Clarke) who just seems to have dodged dying for a long time. After her stints in prison for child abuse, neglect, and cruelty of her step-children, and a few stints in the workhouse too, I have failed to find her death.

One clue has arisen – leading me several miles off piste in Suffolk, that might pitch her as dying near Lowestoft in Oulton Union Workhouse. If that is the case, then she may now be buried beneath or amongst a housing estate.

I’ll order the certificate, and if that fails, I may well be calling upon the paid services of a researcher to hunt this ancestor down. I’m determined to kill off Mary.

3. Delve into new record sets

A few days ago I wrote about feeling overwhelmed by the vast avalanche of records that are being made available – millions of new bits of data are out there, and it’s made me feel like I need to climb back down my family tree, and then learn to climb it again – looking for every new detail.

Mrs Alma Marchant with children from Wilburton Primary School, c.1904.
Mrs Alma Marchant with children from Wilburton Primary School, c.1904. My Great Grandmother Maude Yarrow is 5th from left, on the second row from the back.

I aim to go back and explore School Records and Wills more in 2015 for relatives much closer, as well as continue my research in newspapers – which has given me some real delights through 2014.

What would also be great, would be to find some records for Market Traders in Cambridge, Brewery Records for a pub that my ancestor ran in Ely in the 1890s,  and Great Eastern Railways records detailing the tragic accident that killed my Martin ancestor in 1868.

4. Write more

It’s been on my mind for ages now. Whilst some not-even-half-baked scrappy attempts at starting off some writing sits in various text editor programmes and apps, I’m not much further forward on the whole approach.

Juan de la Cosa's World Chart - from Dorling Kindersley's GREAT MAPS book
Dorling Kindersley’s ‘Great Maps’ book takes their highly visual approach – something that appeals to me… but does it work for genealogy?

Part of me wants it to be something very visual almost like a coffee table styled Dorling Kindersley visual encyclopaedia (as it was an old draw-out tree and a set of Victorian photographs that lured me into genealogy back in 1995), but part of me wants it to be more novelised so that I can flesh out context and livelihoods, whilst another part of me wants to write it as a more factual biography.

I want my effort to be read, but also to be interesting to those who have a casual interest in genealogy and perhaps not in the specific families I’ve researched. Deciding the angle to the writing is more of a challenge than deciding what goes in it.

5. Complete Simpson Bishop’s timeline

2014 led me to discover that a branch of the family that I had believed had remained in the village of Wicken, Cambridgeshire throughout their life, had actually shifted up to Lancashire to work in the cotton mills. This then led to the revelation that there were also two more wives, and two more children (at least) that I’d never known about.

Simpson Bishop‘s story expanded considerably, and it’s not finished yet. Why was he living near, but separately, from his third wife Sarah Washington (née Brown) in 1871 and 1881? What became of him and his wife after 1881? Did they divorce? Did Simpson die up in Lancashire or did he return back to Wicken (or somewhere else) to end his days?

A few more certificates and rummages should hopefully bring a conclusion to this surprise 2014 revelation.

What are your Genealogy Resolutions for 2015?

This is my third year of setting Genealogy Resolutions, and I find it quite fun to see whether I manage to solve these or even just progress them a little further each year.

How about setting yourself some too?

Leave your resolutions or links to your blogged/Google+’d resolutions in the comments below and let’s check back in 2016 to see how we got on.

Happy New Year!

Andrew

Book: ‘Soham & Wicken Through Time’

Book Review: “Soham & Wicken Through Time” by Michael Rouse and Anthony Day (ISBN:978-1-84868-667-0), published by Amberley Publishing Plc.

‘Soham and Wicken Through Time’ by Michael Rouse and Anthony Day is a collection of images from the history of Soham town and the neighbouring village of Wicken in Cambridgeshire.

"Soham & Wicken Through Time" by Michael Rouse & Anthony Day
"Soham & Wicken Through Time" by Michael Rouse & Anthony Day

This book contains a real range of photographs, chronicling the changes that both places have undergone from the late 19th century right through to the modern day. Care has been taken to try to take modern photographs of street scenes from the same position as the older image. This is achieved in most cases and really gives the reader a greater means of comparison.

The book is split into two parts – Soham (by Michael Rouse) leads the first part half of the book, with (the more familiar to me) Wicken (by Anthony Day) taking the second half.

Each page comes with two photographs and a well-researched caption, often including specific names of the people appearing in them – giving this book an extra significance in that it documents not just the places, but also the inhabitants. Unlike several of the ‘then and now’ books, it includes the village postman, the paper delivery boy, and the amateur dramatics group from both the late 19th century/early 20th century and also from when the book was compiled.

The book is both fascinating as a measure of social history, as it is for a genealogist with interests in these two Cambridgeshire places.

My only note, and maybe this is just me, is that the book would have benefited from including a basic map of each location, so that the reader could get a better sense of the location of the street scenes.

Buy it today:

“Soham & Wicken Through Time” by Michael Rouse and Anthony Day is published by Amberley Publishing Plc, ISBN: 978-1-84868-667-0.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk – supporting this blog.

I got my copy (signed by Michael Rouse) from Topping and Company Booksellers of Ely – they may have some signed copies left!