Those Top 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2014

How did i get on with completing my 2014 Genealogy Resolutions? Did I kill off my evil Gtx4 Grandmother? Did I write that book?…

Old Father Time meets the New Year
As Old Father Time breathes his last, 2015 and a whole new year of genealogy awaits!

You might remember that I continued my tradition of setting myself some genealogy themed New Year Resolutions (or ‘Genealogy Resolutions’ as I’m calling them). These were 5 aims for my research during 2014.

Here’s the original Genealogy Resolutions for 2014, but how did I get on?

Well, in true genealogy style (and as I’m sure many of you will be able to associate with), I got sidetracked.

Anyway, here’s the results:

 1. Find More Photos

I managed to find some ‘new’ photos of my ancestors thanks to the kindness of people emailing me, or through the hints on Ancestry, and through exploring the brilliant Cambridgeshire Community Archives Network (CCAN) – a big, online, free-to-use archive of Cambridgeshire images. I’m sure there’s similar ones of these for other areas as the concept is hardly new, but this archive contains quite a few of my ancestors.

However, I didn’t write to the more distant relatives that I had planned to, so I need to pick that up.

My scanned and tagged photo collection in iPhoto, now contains 258 recognised faces. I think that’s quite a nice achievement.

2. Killing off my wicked Great x4 Grandmother

For the second year running, I’ve yet to kill off Mary Clarke (1812-?) – my Gtx4 Grandmother who went to jail for abusing and neglecting her step-children in favour of her own, and served several stints in the workhouse in later life. She vanishes after 1881.

I took a gamble earlier in the year and ordered a certificate, but failed to get the right person.

A lead from the ever helpful Arthur Bird of the Suffolk Family History Society, has pointed me in the direction of Oulton, and a death there, and subsequent burial at a workhouse. If this is her, then I may find that her body has recently been exhumed, or is in fact now beneath, or at least amongst, a modern housing estate.

My next Death Certificate purchase will be the one to confirm/disprove this.

3. Spending 3 Days at Who Do You Think You Are? Live

Whilst I’ve been attending the WDYTYA? Live show for a few years now, 2014 was the first year that I spent all three days there at the London show. I really enjoyed myself, and I’m pleased to say that I felt like I got more out of it, and was really pleased to be able to meet up with familiar faces that I’ve only otherwise ‘spoken to’ via social media.

I look forward to the show in Birmingham, in 2015.

4. Sorting out the babies

I admit that I haven’t done this one at all.

The mass of Yarrow infant births and deaths in Stretham and Little Thetford, and the Martin ones in Little Downham, leave me with a set of certificates to purchase.

This one will have to wait a bit longer.

5. Write that book (or at least start!)

Whilst ‘the book’ remains nothing more than an idea, I have at least been exploring this further even if I haven’t really put too many words down. I do have a few thousand words tucked away in Evernote, but it’s more notation than book.

I’m still stuck as to whether I’d pitch for a novel based on one or a few stories, or stick to a hard fact book, but, as someone who became terminally thrilled by genealogy when I discovered an old tree and some Victorian photos, I’m wondering whether I should aim for something far more visual.

I was pleased to sit in on talks from Kathy Chater, Ellee Seymour, and Richard Benson this year – all being authors and/or journalists who have researched and written family history titles.


How did I do?

So, I completed one, three are in progress, and one I did’t do.

As with resolutions, it’s easy to sit there and come up with them, but the delivery can be difficult – particularly when you find yourself chasing a new and interesting story 5 ancestors away from where you meant to be.

I’ll reveal my New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2015 shortly, but in the meantime…

Have a very Happy New Year!


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 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

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.