Add colour to family history facts to make ancestors lives interesting

 

Census 1861

I was at a function recently and on my table was an enthusiastic family historian who had been tracing his family tree for many years. Next to him was the inevitable sceptic who tried to put us both in our place by saying just how boring she thought “gathering a load of names and dates was”. I didn’t enquire what her hobby was, or even if she had one at all.

I did surprised her, however, by agreeing and saying that one of my mantras that I repeat often in my contributions to the Family History Researcher Academy course is to find out about the lives, work, environment and social conditions that existed at the time that your forebears were alive.

If you have discovered, from a search of the census, that your Great Aunt Jane was in service in a large house then I would make an effort to go and visit the below stairs of a similar property. There are quite a few National Trust houses that meet the bill. On a visit to Erdigg in North Wales, this was exactly what I did. There the upstairs and downstairs were beautifully presented to give a feel for what life was like for our ancestors living in both levels of society.

Erdigg

As a worked example of what I teach, let’s consider my ancestor Henry Thomas Thorne. From the census of 1861, accessed on TheGenealogist  I am able to discover him working in the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth where he is employed as a rope-maker at H.M.Dockyard.

1861 Portsmouth census

 

This weekend I had the chance to visit Portsmouth and not only go to the church where he married, but also to tour the Historic Dockyard and see an exhibit explaining how men like my 2x great-grandfather and his colleagues created the cordage that the Royal Navy of the time required for its ships.

I had previously obtained a copy of my ancestors’ wedding certificate from the GRO, having found their details in the Births, Marriages and Death Indexes that are available on various websites.

St Mary's Portsea

On this visit to Portsmouth I could now walk in the footsteps of my forebears on their wedding day the 5th February 1859 at St Mary’s, Portsea Island.HMS Warrior 1860

I could go on board H.M.S. Warrior, an actual warship from the time period (1860) and see how the cordage that he made was used on this ironclad steam and sail man-of-war.

Coiled rope

And I could see the tools that Henry would have used everyday, in the exhibition piece there.

Ropemaking

This story of my weekend excursion illustrates how I use the information that I discover in the records as a springboard to go on and find social history museums, or even the actual places that my ancestors would have gone to, and so build my family’s story.

If you haven’t moved past the gathering of names and dates stage in your family tree research, then I urge you to start doing so now.

 

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

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Who Do You Think You Are? Paul Hollywood

Paul_Hollywood

Paul_Hollywood

Did you watch the Paul Hollywood programme in the 12th series of Who Do You Think You Are?

I thought it was a great show to start the new series off. Paul came across as a genuine normal guy who like many of us wished he had taken the time to speak more to his relatives about the past before they sadly died.

Even though one of the main lessons in my Family History course is to talk to your relatives and jot down what they tell you, as a basis for then trying to substantiate their stories with research in actual records, I too am guilty of not having done this before it was too late with some of my own family.

 

In this week’s TV show Paul Hollywood, from The Great British Bake Off, was taken back to his grandfather’s WWII experience in North Africa. It was here that his grandfather Norman Harman (1913 – 2003) had been sent as soon as he had completed his training. At Medjez el Bab in Tunisia, Norman’s Light Anti-Aircraft division were protecting the infantry from enemy air attacks at the time of the major Allied offensive to take Tunis from the German forces. With the enemy throwing bombs and missiles at them it was hard on these men.

From there Paul travelled to Italy, where he learnt about how his grandfather was part of the landing force that became trapped on the beaches at Anzio for four months, surrounded by Germans and all the while under constant aerial bombardment. Paul gets to see the landing area where his grandfather and the other men would have felt like sitting ducks, with death and devastation all around them. Norman and his comrades finally managed to land and their gun was then transported five miles inland. Unfortunately for them the regiment was soon surrounded by the enemy in a dangerously exposed area. Huge numbers of men had no choice but to dig themselves into 7ft long fox holes and spend months trapped, coming under repeated German shell attacks.

In May 1944 and thanks to Norman’s regiment’s extraordinary efforts, the stalemate at Anzio was broken. The next month the Allied armies went on to liberate Rome, but not without the loss of 14,000 lives. Paul’s grandfather brought back from this conflict a visible memento of his terrifying time. He had developed a facial tic that stayed with him until he died.

Researching his line even further back, Paul Hollywood was seen in the Who Do You Think You Are? programme to use TheGenealogist’s ‘family forename search’ to find Alexander McKenzie, a Wood Turner who had come down to Liverpool from his native Glasgow. I was very glad to see that this company’s excellent resource was used by Paul, in place of one of the other two subscription sites who normally always get a look in.

Following his Scottish family line up to Glasgow Paul then found that the next generation in the McKenzie family was a Glasgow Policeman, down from the Highlands, who had a certain amount of trouble avoiding alcohol and was eventually dismissed from the Police force, moved to Liverpool before returning to Glasgow and death in the Poorhouse.

Paul then discovered in the programme that his great, great, great, great grandfather Donald McKenzie, was a Highland postman with quite extraordinary stamina. As a crofter with little land he had to make ends meet with other employment. Donald’s was a post runner. Not having a horse, with which to cover his rounds delivering the mail to 30,000 people, Donald simply ran the 120 miles with the mail every week from one side of Scotland to the other.

 

 

With thanks to TheGenealogist for permission to use part of their article as a basis for this post. You can read the full piece, that reveals even more about Paul Hollywood’s family history, by clicking this link:

http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/affiliate/?affid=ptergx&page=808

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

 Compensated affiliate links used in the post above http://paidforadvertising.co.uk/

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Choosing the Right Family Tree Template for a School Project

This week a guest post from Suzie Kolber of obituarieshelp.org

Whether you are a teacher designing a project for your students or a parent helping your child with a class project, tracing family history can be a challenge. It is an educational project that can provide a student with a lot of fun and information, but it can be difficult to find and organize everything. A family tree template can be an invaluable resource if you choose the right one.

Consider the Age
Young children are visual learners, so a template that is colorful and simple is best. Using an actual tree with branches and including only the names and dates of birth may be the ideal choice. Allow space for photos to make it easier to keep track of everyone.

Older kids can handle more information at one time, so you may leave out the photos and include more dates and data. It should still be visually pleasing for easy reference. Consider using colored boxes or a colored background if allowed to make it more interesting. Framed charts add style without interfering with the information. A bonus is the fact that it would look nice enough to be hung up once the project is finished.

Consider Family Situations
Teachers will want to consider the fact that not every family is alike if they choose the template to be used for the family tree. Some kids only know the background and family on one side. Select a family tree template that allows more freedom for various situations.

An example is a pedigree or landscape family chart that only includes the information for one side of the family. The child can choose which parent to focus on and others with only one parent in their lives will not feel different from the others in the class.

A child can also trace the history of a grandparent if he or she lives with them. By using a four or five generation chart, the child will have to do some research but will not have to struggle to find the information as much as with larger templates.

Consider How It Will Be Displayed
When selecting a family tree template for a class project, consider giving kids more than one choice. If these templates will be displayed together in a group, they will be more visually appealing if they do not look the same.
Because they are all different, no single template will stand out. It also allows the child to select the template for the individual family situation. If less information is known about one side or if the child is adopted, the template can be chosen to convey the appropriate information without leaving a lot of blank spaces.

When selecting a template for a class project on family trees, be sensitive to the feelings of the child. This is a very personal project that tells his or her story. Just as the stories will be different, the family trees will not look alike.

Suzie Kolber

Suzie Kolber created

http://obituarieshelp.org/free_printable_blank_family_tree.html to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree templates online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

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Sinking of the Lusitania

RMS LusitaniaI don’t know if you caught the Channel 5 programme on the sinking of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania? If not it is available online until May 2016 here:

http://www.channel5.com/shows/lusitania-18-minutes-that-changed-ww1/episodes/lusitania-18-minutes-that-changed-ww1

The loss of 1119 lives occurred on 7 May 1915 during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Recently I was approached by a client, whose family oral stories included one that claimed that several of his great-uncles had gone down in the ship. Understanding that family tales can get elaborated upon, he asked me to do some research to see if I could confirm or disprove the reports.

Luckily, for all family historians who think that they may have ancestors who sailed on the Lusitania, there is a great website which carries the passenger and crew lists for the fatal voyage on 7th May 1915 and it can be found here:

http://www.rmslusitania.info/

rmslusitania.info

 

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