I Love It When Long Lost Distant Family Are Found

Nick ThorneI have had a very productive weekend, from a family history point of view.

I’ve found out about a mysterious Uncle, by marriage, who had been almost airbrushed out of a family’s story. I made contact with a relative of his, who was unknown to the first family, and so discovered part of the hidden story.

I still love it when something like this happens, but a word of warning, others may not be so happy with you.

When, by shear persistence you manage to force open that dusty old metaphorical cupboard into which they, or previous generations, have bundled the skeleton you may not be appreciated for doing so.

When ever I take on a commission, to look into someone’s family tree, I try to warn them that they need to be prepared for the possibility of something hidden and the upset it may cause by crashing out into the open.

In this case it is not a great scandal, as far as I can see. But in a past occasion I have had one skeleton cause elderly relatives, of the principal subject, wish that I had never gone poking into the recess and bringing out into the daylight the things that they believed should have stayed in the dark. I got the blame fair and square for discovering the truth that time!

Sometimes a family story may have been spun to hide the inconvenient truth. By following the traces that our ancestors leave behind in the myriad of records, all of which are there waiting for us to go and research within, the true facts can emerge.

Perhaps it is a lesson that the best thing is to tell the truth in the first place and just accept that human beings mess up and they live complicated lives!

 

If you want to find more ancestors then you need to know about the many different record sets that they may be lurking within. You need to know how best to use the documents and where to find them.

If you are serious about discovering your family history then why not spend the winter nights looking for them? But first you need to know where to look.

I am making available again, on a special offer of a FREE month’s trial, my extremely well received course on English/Welsh Family History.

The offer is live now on www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com/winter-offer

So don’t delay take a free trial of a month’s worth of information packed lessons now!

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Beware Of Family Memories, But Listen All The Same!

 

Manuscript

I’ve spent a few days visiting family and as always keeping my ear open for any tales of ancestors past. It has been very interesting discovering new stories that I had not heard before and even some tales told from a different perspective in the family.

I urge you to look on these opportunities that may come your own way as useful background to your family history, but do always treat them with some healthy scepticism! If possible do try to check the facts in some other way and if possible with some primary records such as official data sets.

I was listening to a rendering of a story when I suddenly realised that I recognised that I had actually been there myself and that I remembered it differently to the teller! The narrator had not even included me in the tale and the subject was treated in a different way than I recalled it.

So having dealt with faulty long term memory then there is the problem of my own poor short term memory. At one of my other visits to see family I found myself thinking that I would remember that useful piece of information as to the change of a person’s surname, to use in my further research into the tree. The trouble is today I just can’t remember what that surname is and as we were eating a meal at the time I couldn’t  just reach for my notepad and jot it down!

Above I have alluded to checking your facts with the primary sources. GRO vital records are a fine example of these and yet these let me down this weekend as well. So before I go I’d just like to issue you with one more warning of something to beware of in this family history pastime.

I was looking for the birth details of one of my cousins to show them how easy it was to use the births marriages and deaths data. They were nowhere to be found in the correct year for their birth and the reason for this? They had been registered with an incorrect spelling of their name! One extra letter had been inserted and on all the genealogy look up sites they appeared spelt in a different way form how they have been known since they and I were children.

I will be teaching more tips and tricks to break down your family history brick walls in my ongoing course for English or Welsh family history:

Family History Researcher Academy

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My Dad is in The National Archives!

The National Archives

I was doing a search on the National Archives new Discovery search engine to see what I could find on my dad’s time in the Merchant Navy during World War II.

One hit was for his seaman’s pouch, R271022 THORNE J B 20/05/1925 PAIGNTON DEVON and it indicated that I could see the document for free at The National Archives. Now it did say that I would need a Reader’s Ticket to do this and as it has been quite some years, since I last went to Kew, my old one had expired.

So I figured that I would take a trip to Kew in Richmond, get registered for a new Reader’s Ticket and see what the document revealed.

The process of registering for a reader’s ticket requires you to bring two forms of ID one to prove your address and another to prove your name. You also have to do a short tutorial on the computer that educates you about the correct handling of their documents and a multiple choice questionnaire. It certainly isn’t something to worry about and if you get the answers wrong the computer shows you the correct answer before you move on.

Once I was registered, had my photo taken and issued with my shiny new card I went to order the documents and some others that may refer to his service record.

While the TNA website says that with a reader’s ticket you can order the record to be available for when you arrive or you can just order the record when you arrive there is a slight problem.

With these sort of records if it is not your own then it has to be looked at by a member of staff and national insurance numbers and other “data” have to be redacted in a copy that would be made of the document and this process would take some time as there were not enough staff to do it immediately.

As it turned out by the time I had to leave Kew the copies had not been brought up and so I left The National Archives without seeing them and providing my postal address for the staff to post it on to me.

So just a warning that this is the policy of TNA and I may post again when I get the photocopies in the post should there be anything of interest to family historians in them.

 

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Family Tree Research tips for the New Year

Happy New Year everybody!

I am just back from a trip away to visit the family for the Christmas break and inevitably got to meet some people who are interested in their family history and knowing my interest in the subject had various questions for me. Some wanted to be given quite specific advice on how to find an ancestor, while others just wanted to know how to make a start in this hobby.

For the beginners I trotted out the well worn mantra that you should write down everything that you know about your family as far back as you can go. I advised them to concentrate on the information that they knew on their parents, grandparents and, if possible, their great-grandparents while noting down the names, dates of birth, marriages and deaths together with the places that these events had happened in.

I told my friends that they should record where in the world that their ancestors lived and in what part of the country this was, as that would have a bearing on where to look for the records. Then they could make a start with the census collections and gradually work back making sure to always look at the original image to check for spelling and only use transcripts as a useful guide to the former warning them that the transcript could have been copied down incorrectly.

For the slightly more advanced, I explained about locating difficult to find relatives by using a variant of the surname. Expanding that, as spelling in the records was not consistent and relied on the way it may have sounded to the vicar who was entering it in the parish register, their ancestor’s name may be spelt differently from the way that they wrote it today. I advised about visiting the County Record offices to search for information and how the Archon search on the National Archives website could be used to find repositories.

Other new friends asked me about searching for wills, Apprentice indentures and marriage licences. Then there was the conversations that I had about taxation records and also the manorial records.

I was so pleased to find that more and more people seem to be interested in the subject and I do hope that they discover what a fascinating pass-time that this is and begin to enjoy the detective work as I do!

 

 

Help Me Get Back Before 1837 in England & WalesGetting Back Before 1837 in England & Wales.

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More Devon Parish Registers On-line!

As many of you know I am particularly interested in the county of Devon, as so many of my paternal line comes from that county of England.

One of the biggest problems for me is that the number of Parish Registers on-line does not seem to be as great as for many other English counties. So here is some good news that I recently found on a trawl of the news sites..

Over 360,000 Devon baptism records have been published on the FindMyPast web site in the past month.

You are able to now search for your Devon ancestors in 363,015 new parish baptism records on findmypast.co.uk and these baptism records cover the period between 1813 and 1839.

It would seem that the Devon Family History Society has supplied findmypast.co.uk with these records, for which we should all be grateful. I know that I am!

Here is a link to the site, but first a warning to all those of you that don’t like the idea of  promotion for compensation. This is an affiliate link for which I will be compensated if you decide to join!

findmypast.co.uk




Disclosure: I am a Compensated Affiliate of findmypast.co.uk.

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I Couldn’t Find My Ancestor On One Site..

Family Tree on a computer

Using Different ancestor look-up sites give you more but beware of taking everything at face value!

I’ve touched on this subject in a previous post, but I thought I’d tell you about another time I found why it is so important to make use of more than one website when doing family tree research.

I couldn’t find a death record for one of my forebears on the freeBMD.org site or on Ancestry.co.uk and so I opened up findmypast.co.uk and typed in my man’s name into the search box.

I got a hit for him in the National Burial Index database that findmypast hosts on-line. Now this is not the recently launched 3rd revised edition that can be bought on CD from S & N Genealogical supplies, but is a previous edition that has not got as many names. I was lucky, however, that the ancestor I was tracing was there for the finding.

On the subject of revisiting past topics in my writings, there was the problem of transcribers getting an ancestor’s name wrong because they couldn’t read the handwriting. In this case my individual had an easy first name as well as a last, but his middle names were Scottish surnames used as middle names “Wemyss” and “Frewen”. On the findmypast website his first and surname were listed correctly, but one of his middle names had been mangled by the transcribers to Wernys. What I am advocating is to remember to include variants if at first your search provides nothing of value.

On the subject of using different websites I have also had some new leads come my way this week through my habit of publishing my family tree onto various platforms including Ancestry.co.uk and GenesReunited not to mention my own private family history website. Every now and again I will find a shared ancestor appears in someone else’s tree. This week I found a great-grandmother of mine appear as a sibling of another person’s direct ancestor. Now this maternal line I have yet to work on properly my self and so it was with some excitement that I found the research seemed to have been done for me.

But here is another warning revisited! When I looked at the contributors tree for the parents of my great-grandmother, my potential 2 x great-grandparents, I found that the owner of the family tree had include no less than three sets of mothers and fathers for the children, all of which had the same common first name for the father, but with different mother’s names! I imagine that it is a work in progress and they are yet to eliminate the incorrect couples, but if I had simply merged them into my own family tree then I would have imported these errors. What I intend to do, and urge you to follow as good practice, is to use these leads.

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Distant Cousins Help to Populate My Family Tree

As my family tree research has moved along, I have been very lucky in receiving a helping hand by several distant “cousins” who have been nice enough to share with me information on mutual ancestors. Like me, they were independently researching the same, or sometimes collateral lines of  our shared family. The input these kind folk have given me has often boosted my research and propelled me so much further forward in the quest to build my tree. There is some pleasure to open my email program and find the subject line includes a last name, from one of the various family branches I’m researching. You may be wondering how you could start to get your own fellow researchers to contact you?

1.Enter your ancestors into a family tree on-line. I have used the facility at websites such as GenesReunited and Ancestry (Disclosure: these links are compensated affiliate links) to upload some of my ancestors into the family tree facilities provided by these sites. A benefit here is that you don’t have to give out your email if you don’t want to, as you get messages via the website that allows you to decide to contact the person or not.

Ancestry

2. Set up a simple website. This has been my most effective way of receiving contacts. Initially I signed up for a free website hosting and simply purchased the domain name for a few pounds/dollars a year. I then got a free website builder that didn’t need me to know any HTML code as it worked in a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get manner. I posted a page with a few facts and some photographs on each branch and added a picture of my very minimal, at least that time, tree. As I grew more proficient I split the lines into several pages, one for each branch. When I went visiting the areas, where my ancestors had lived, I took photographs of houses that they had lived in, work places, schools that they had attended and so on. Next I published some pages in a short narrative about the trip. I then posted links to my site on a few websites that allowed me to do this, for example some forums will if it is not a commercial post.Eventually the Google search engine found my website and so now it has become easier for surfers to find it when looking for Thorne, or Stephens or Hay families. So what about the threat of spam to any email address that is published on the Internet? In order to prevent my main email becoming bogged down with spam I set up a separate email on my website domain, e.g name @ mydomain. com and then added a new identity in outlook express. I now have two email addresses so keeping my private one away from the spammers.
3. Get blogging. I chose to set up a WordPress blog on my existing website as an add on, but Blogger is an alternative that I have seen used. You may decide that, instead of adding a blog to a website that you go down the route of a blog on its own. To many this is the simplest way to get a web presence. You are able to host it on the blog provider’s platform. Better still, as you retain the copyright for anything you publish, register a domain name of your choice and get some web-hosting. Now all you need to do is set up the blog on your own hosted website. You don’t need to have other pages on the site if you don’t want to.
4. Join social networking sites like Arcalife, or We’re Related, or Ancestral Maps.
Arcalife combines the ability to share family trees with connectivity. It is heralded as a facebook for family historians. It is still under development but looks like it is going in the right direction.
We’re Related is an application that is not meant to be a full featured family tree software package, though it has got several features of that kind included. The idea behind it is for you to be able to share basic family information with anybody you choose.This should allow you to find your relatives on Facebook, keep up with your family, build your family tree and share news and photos with your family. They hope that in the future the application will allow us to share memories about ancestors with our family, compare our family tree with our friends on Facebook and so to see if we are related.
Ancestral Maps is an exciting new website that allows family historians to plot events and locations relating to your ancestors’ lives on maps. The idea is to then share these with others who are members of the website. It sounds like it could grow into a most useful site as it attracts new users.
So if you want to speed up your research and make contacts with distant cousins then I can’t recommend enough these strategies. The bottom line is that the world wide web has made it much easier for us to make connections with fellow researchers but to do this you need to set up a means for them to find and contact you.
A word of warning: Never take what is shared and publish it without asking. If someone has put in 20 years research on their family and shares with you the benefit of their work, for you to go and add it to your website without their permission is a recipe for ill-feeling and perhaps legal proceedings.
So a distant cousin’s research may well propel you along to find ancestors more quickly than if you were plodding along yourself, but remember that a good family researcher will check the primary source of any information given and will not take it as gospel until they have tracked down the births, marriages and death or census records themselves and then cited them properly in their tree.
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Am I really sure about that ancestor?

Family Tree on a computer

In my ancestor research I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of narrow thinking sometimes. Have you?

What I’m talking about here is the occasions when I’ve focused too strictly on what I am sure are the correct facts about a forebear.  I may have been sure that I knew that his or her name had been spelt in a particular way, or that they came from a particular place. Now here is the warning I am guilty of ignoring: Am I really so sure I know the facts?

When we, as family historians, ignore this question then we can so easily cause ourselves unnecessary grief and so much wasted time. Perhaps we were searching in the right place, but were we guilty of searching in the wrong way? What we need to do is to open up our minds to researching in a smarter fashion and often we will be rewarded by finding that record that we were looking for.

Just think how your on-line research could possibly improve if you were always to:

  • keep handy a list of the known surname variants for your ancestor’s name. For example in my family I have names that could be spelt as Thorn, Thorne, Stephens, Stevens and all manner of spelling of Sissill.
  • think about what common first-name nicknames may apply and also any regularly used shortened forms of names. For example Thomas may be written as Thos. Elizabeth as Eliz. or Eliza. and I have found a John as Jono.
  • have written down some of the capital letters that can easily be confused like J and I, for example
  • remember that place names can be confused – in my Devon branch there are two Galmptons very near each other and I jumped to the conclusion that my great grandmother came from the one near to where they lived. Wrong!
  • think about the length of normal life-spans and don’t chase someone with a similar name thinking they are one and the same. What about the date ranges for their marriages, deaths and births of their children?
  • keep notes, or research logs for your family searches so that you keep track of what you have already done.
  • remain aware of the gaps that there are in any particular record collections. If you are searching a particular period and can’t find an ancestor and this time frame also matches a known gap in the data, then this will stop you wasting more time than necessary looking.

So just remember these seven ways to avoid family research pitfalls and don’t make the mistakes that I did in the past!

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Skeletons in the Cupboard.

Have you found any skeletons in the cupboard?

If perhaps, like myself, you’ve been doing your family tree research for any length of time then no doubt you’ll have discovered that a number of your own forefathers weren’t quite as you envisioned. The problem occurs in the event that the skeleton, which our forbears have managed to shut away inside the proverbial cupboard, comes tumbling out due to your time and efforts to research your family history. In my own case an ancestor proved to have had a previous wife and children that not one of my relatives knew about. It might appear that this individual conveniently did not seem to remember about his former family when he married into our line! The result of uncovering these facts were that some of my kin were very annoyed with me. They believed that my submitting to them my findings somehow besmirched the fine name of the subsequent wife and our ancestor, whose religious upbringing and moral teaching rejected the concept of any divorce.

It might appear from fresh academic research, carried out at the University of Warwick, that I am one of many. It was while reading on the Reuters internet site that I found the following: “A recent study revealed that people researching their family history often open a Pandora’s Box of secrets that can unsettle and offend relatives, sometimes permanently damaging relations.”

Sociology Professor Anne-Marie Kramer revealed to the British Sociological Association’s yearly conference in Glasgow that in her study, conducted amongst 224 individuals who gave her details of their family history research, around thirty of these mentioned conflict.

In the report, published on Reuters’ website, Kramer noted that the considerable factors behind conflict had been when unwelcome information was uncovered, requesting information from relatives who would prefer not to give it, relatives supplying inaccurate information, expending more time on researching family history rather than with loved ones, and coming into contact with hostile relations.

The Professor explained how men and women in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States were being able to view numerous examples of historical data today caused by the amazing growth in the family history and heritage community both on-line and off.

“But in investigating their family history, researchers could open up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and skeletons, such as finding there are family issues around paternity, illegitimacy or marriage close to birth of children, criminality, health and mental health and previously unknown humble origins,” Kramer said in a statement on Warwick University’s website.

Perhaps we should all bear in mind the need to exercise just a little awareness and diplomacy whenever we set out to interact with our extended family about our genealogical studies. Family historians, endeavouring to research their particular family tree, ought to bear in mind this word of caution that not each and every one will welcome you finding out the truth. Health Warning: Family history research can damage your relationships with your relatives, if you are not careful!

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