Step-mothers and half-sisters…

Ancestral Trails-The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family HistoryI really recommend that you read Mark Herber’s book Ancestral Trails, if you haven’t already. I was looking again at the first chapter in what is one of the best books on United Kingdom Ancestry and Genealogy there is.

This really is a wonderful book with much help for genealogical researchers and includes a brilliant section on understanding family relationships.

What? Is Nick telling us about some sort of self-help publication aimed at men and women going through a bad patch in their relationships? No, this tome has some useful things to say about the different phrases such as: stepfather/mother; half-brother/sister and so on.  Herber tells us, in simple terms, that the term “step” denotes that there is simply no blood connection connecting the parties and so the only sort of connection is going to be through marriage. “Half” is actually something different again. This is where the actual people share but one mother or father in common.

Now, because I have a stepmother, a half-sister and I also once had a step-grandfather, until he passed away, on my mother’s side, I am acutely aware of these terms. So, while all these relationships are inescapable fact, I shudder to myself as soon as I see these somewhat cold terms used to identify people whom I love dearly. It seems to me that, in using these prefixes, that I may be accused of trying to distance myself from these members of my family for some reason. Well I’d like to say here and now that this is far from the truth when it comes to my close family step, half or what ever they may be. When we are noting down our Family history, however, we sometimes have to be very precise in explaining a relationship to someone and so detail exactly how and where a person fits into our family tree. None more difficult than when we are confronted with illegitimacy in our lines.

Maybe in the twentieth century, to be born to parents who are unmarried carries little stigma, in the past it was a very different story; thus it ought to be handled sensitively whenever addressing loved ones of a different generation.

Returning to this chapter, provided by Mark Herber’s handbook, I was amused to realise that I had forgotten about defining cousins relationships. Whilst attending a family marriage, a few years back, I was introduced by Jenny, my first-cousin-once-removed to one of her friends of her own age group. Jenny said that I was her “Mum’s cousin” and in this she turned out to be wholly correct in this explanation of how we were related. As Herber pronounces: “Relationships involving cousins are more complex. Cousins are usually people who share an actual common ancestor… The offspring of a pair of siblings happen to be “first” cousins of each other. All the offspring of two first cousins are “second” cousins of each other and so on.”

Okay so far, but then we move on to deal with completely different generations. The word we utilise to be able to denote this is “removed” hence my first cousin’s daughter is my cousin once removed. As soon as she had a child it became my first cousin twice removed. We need to determine the number of intervening generations between ourselves and the particular common ancestor and utilize that number prior to the word “removed”. Now at this point comes the bit that I had forgotten!

“The concept “removed” is generally only used to express relationships down a family tree.” Therefore this had been precisely why Jenny, my first cousin once removed, as a child of my first cousin Julie is accurate as soon as she referred to me as her “mum’s cousin”

At this point closes the pedant’s lesson for today! 🙂

Mark Herber’s book Ancestral Trails obtainable from most good bookstores.

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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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Nonconformist buried in my family tree.

As you may know, if you have been following me for any length of time, that Devon is one of the areas of the U.K. that I research my ancestors in. Some of my Devonian forebears turned away from the established Church of England and became dissenters. There seems to be a rather limited number of nonconformist chapel burial records actually surviving within the county of Devon and so this can be a bit of a brick wall for us. Many family historians may well have found that in their own family trees, ancestors left the Church of England to practice their faith in other Christian churches.

By the law of the land, people of each and every denomination could be laid to rest inside their parish churchyard. Although this was the case, however, the relatives of people who were nonconformists were not allowed to have a Church of England burial service at the graveside. This would be fine if all the deceased’s family were no longer C of E, but I would guess it could be upsetting for family members who had not joined their relation in nonconformity and so would have wanted a service conducted by the local vicar!

I was intrigued to find out that people who held offices within the “establishment” were affected by another piece of legislation. I am talking here about Councillors as well as some other municipal officials. These worthy people were not allowed to put on their robes of office to attend the funeral of a non conformist councillor and this would have included the wearing of a mayoral chain etc. Should they rashly have broken this rule then they were liable to a fine of £100 and in addition they would likely end up being barred from civic office throughout the rest of their lives!

Many nonconformists, however, did not wish to be interred within land held by the Church of England. Quakers, most especially, established their own unique burial grounds. In these, the family historian will discover, plots defined by somewhat plain, uncomplicated stones that usually feature only the initials belonging to the departed.

A number of chapels established their own burial grounds, this included the Independents, Methodists as well as the Baptists. Furthermore, if you go researching your nonconformist ancestors in several country places in England, you will find that burial grounds were opened for all those involved with the various nonconformist denominations and would not specifically be confined to only one or other of the particular religious faith traditions. Around 1880 a welcome change, in the laws of England & Wales, granted the possibility for the family of a person, being laid to rest within a Church of England parish graveyard, to opt for a minister from their own religious beliefs to be able to preside over the burial service. This began the downfall in making use of separate nonconformist burial grounds as they were often less popular because of the fact that, in some cases, they were several miles from the particular village or district from where the deceased’s family resided. In 1853 and following on from the considerable overcrowding of church graveyards and burial grounds, due in some measure to the number of cholera fatalities and so forth, Parliament handed down a further law closing a large number of these areas to fresh internments. The result of the law saw many towns as well as bigger parishes setting up cemeteries, to look after the continued burial of the deceased.

To find earlier burial grounds nowadays isn’t always that simple a task. In an ideal world you would be able to find someone who possesses the required local knowledge of their location and is also willing to assist you in your research. I’ve had the happy experience of this while I was researching my family in Cheltenham, England. The local history society, as well as an amateur historian from one of the bigger churches, were luckily able to help lead me in the right direction to find my ancestor, for which I was very grateful. The basic scarcity of registers, nevertheless, will most likely make it tough if you want to research for names.

A further point, that you may need to take into consideration when researching your forebears, is that if the deceased was very poor and given a “paupers” grave, then the name of the unfortunate will not have been marked down in the burial records except for a numbered peg entered to locate the grave.

Lastly, I’d like to pass on this story that I have found reported in various places about a Church of England husband and a nonconformist wife wishing to be buried together. It is mentioned, for example, on the Bristol Times website thisisbristol.co.uk that in Arnos Vale Cemetery there is an elaborate monument raised for merchant Thomas Gadd Matthews (C of E) and his wife Mary (Congregationalist), which famously straddles both Anglican and nonconformist sections. The story seems to be that Matthews purchased a large grave plot strategically placed so that the two, while wishing to be true to their respective faiths, could be buried in a family plot that sits on the boundary line between the C of E and nonconformist parts of the cemetery. A rather lovely tale!

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Your Family Tree Magazine is a favourite of mine

Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.
Your Family Tree is considered, by many family historians, to be one of the most respected genealogy magazines around. I love the way that they not only feature articles on the various traditional means of researching our family trees but also give advice on using personal computers or Apple Macs to do ancestor research. Their aim is “to make tracing family history accessible and rewarding for everyone” according to their website. Your Family Tree offers practical advice, written by experts, on all areas of family history research and is known as Your Family History outside of the UK. The content, however, is the same in both magazines so don’t feel you will lose out if you are based abroad. The Editor, Russell James, is quoted as saying this: “Each issue covers an array of old documents, answers readers questions, and puts family historians in touch with one another. You’ll also receive a covermounted CD-ROM for Mac and PC containing an array of genealogy resources, as well as a pull-out region research card (contacts, map, plus key local resources and historical facts) and four collectable surname index cards every issue.” I personally can’t wait each month for my copy to arrive. I used to buy it from the newsstand until I realised the convienince and the special price that is offered when taking out a subscription. Take a look at whats on offer by clicking one of the banners on this page and you will be able to try before you buy by looking inside a magazine. Recently I’ve enjoyed reading articles such as these below. Want to join me? 100 vital websites – Bumper online special How To guides including: Research Scottish clans, find old maps online, date wedding photos and organise your records Pass down your family’s story – Make sure your findings are never forgotten Migration records – Discover the best websites to help you trace your ancestors’ movement Royal Mail workers – The stories of your postal ancestors Now I know this looks like I am simply acting as a salesman for them; but I really do read this magazine and I have personally got a lot out of my subscription and so I do not apologise for recommending them! A good genealogist never stops learning. We are all somewhere between Beginner and Advanced Beginner! Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.

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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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Use more than one ancestor look up site!

I really need to remember my own advice to use more than one ancestor look up site!Ancestors in Thorne Family tree
On the occasions when I find myself talking to someone new to this family history pastime, about doing ancestor research, I often find myself going back to the advice that I have been given by a professional genealogists. Now I do not consider myself to be anything like a Genealogical Guru, I am simply someone who has gained a little experience over the years and now am happy to pass on two of my tips here. Both are about stepping back from the research results and introducing some careful thought into the proceedings.
  • Think logically about a person’s time-line.
  • Listen to family stories, but then step back and try to corroborate them with hard evidence to confirm what you have been told.

A person’s date of birth is obviously going to dictate an approximate time for when they could have got married and when you should reasonably expect them to have died. A little thought will tell you that rarely will a person be getting married in their hundredth year! Likewise, they are not going to be getting wed aged 6 or 7 either. Beware of entries in databases that just happen to have the same name as your ancestor, but are just plain and simply the wrong people. But even then we can go wrong if  we are not careful.

One weekend, when doing some family tree research,  I got myself stuck in a hole and wasted oh so much time digging it deeper and deeper! What was it I was doing wrong and how did I finally get out of it? Well I was trying to find the details of an ancestor’s death so that I could purchase a death certificate from the GRO site.

I am fairly wedded to www.ancestry.co.uk for most of my research. I like what they have on offer and I have become use to the way the site works. I also have a subscription to other sites such as www.thegenealogist.co.uk which I find good for many searches and then there is another favourite of mine:  www.findmypast.com.  (Disclosure re these links: Compensated Affiliate.)

The research I was doing had been initiated by reading some “thoughts” put down on paper by a relative before he died. I had been shown this family history because, as a cousin, I had an ancestor in common with them and I wanted to enter this forbear into my family tree as well. The handwritten notes indicated that our ancestor had died aged 66 and from this I was able to work out that as they were born in 1865. From this I then worked out that they probably died in 1930.

I went on to ancestry.co.uk and searched by name for the ancestor in all four quarters of 1930 but to no avail. I then broadened my research for ten years either side and spent hours looking for them without any luck. I then thought I’d try misspellings of the ancestor’s name as this, I thought, is surely why they are missing. Result: A big fat nothing!

Eventually, after much wasted time, I thought about using one of the other websites that offers Birth marriage and death details, something I should have done early on. And what did I find? There he was, on the other BMD site spelt correctly and dying in the district where I expected him too, but aged 70 not 66 and in the year 1935 not 1930!
The lessons for me to relearn and hopefully for you to benefit from are as follows:
  1. Remember that all websites are fallible and omissions happen.
  2. Family stories can sometimes be wrong as humans are not blessed with 100 percent recall and we can get things wrong, as it would seem this relative did in his writings for his children!

I have made myself a note to remember my own advice in future: Use more than one ancestor look up site and remember that stories can be wrong!

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Family Search and the Family Historian

I have been on my own family search quest for several years now. Some of the foremost websites that I have used in this time include the world famous familysearch.org, run by the Latter Day Saints and often referred to as LDS; Ancestry, operated by the Generations Network;  The Genealogist.co.uk;  Genes Reunited and   Findmypast.com. (Disclosure re these links: Compensated Affiliate.)

FamilySesarch, however, is one of the biggest genealogy organizations in the world and as such is an important on-line tool for any family historian. Countless millions of us will search the records, resources, and services of this website to learn more about our family history each year. For more than a century the people behind it have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide. Today, the users of the site are able to freely access the database, including the International Genealogical Index as well as church member contributed material, on-line at FamilySearch.org, or through over 4,500 family history centres in 70 countries.

The Internet resource is provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whom you may be more familiar with as the Mormon Church. Their commitment to helping people make a connection with their ancestors comes from their belief that families are meant to be central to our lives and that family relationships are intended to continue into the after life. From this they therefore believe that all family members including those living, past, and those from the future, share an enduring bond which stretches across the generations.

Their website does not require you to share their beliefs at all, but is open to all of us to use what ever our creed, or culture is. It is a very useful resource for anyone engaged in the detective work involved in tracing one’s family tree.

The International Genealogical Index and Hugh Wallis.

Once you have keyed in your ancestor’s name into the search box you will be accessing a compilation of entries from baptism and marriage registers drawn from parishes and their equivalent from all over the world. Although it is a site run from the USA, for those of us with UK roots it still very relevant as it represents us well with index records. Some English counties in particular having excellent coverage.

The site, however, has certain issues in the way that you can search it. One of which is it is not always simple to find your ancestors even when they are there to be found in the IGI – which, of course, is not always the case. The reason why you may not find them is because to search by last name only is not permitted by the site’s search engine, unless you search within a single batch of records at a time or, across the entire country! You will probably understand that a search for a last name across the whole of England is a very tall order indeed. Remember it is not even a search of a single county, let alone a town that we are talking about here. If you have a rare name then perhaps it might be OK to do, but if you are looking for a Smith or a Jones then you are asking the impossible.

I have learnt that there is a way around this problem. It is to use a really handy website set up by an enthusiast to aid the family history researcher find their way around the FamilySearch site. What is more, it helps us know what registers are available on the IGI. The secret weapon to crack open the Family Search site is the website maintained by Hugh Wallis: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~hughwallis/IGIBatchNumbers.htm

The possible ranges he allows you to access are the Births/Christenings and Marriages for the British Isles, Canada and the USA. I really cannot recommend this tool highly enough to you. With it you may select a geographic location, see the churches and chapels for that area and then, by typing in the last name of your ancestor, it will use the search engine on FamilySearch to allow you to easily examine all the batches for that surname in the town or area that you are concentrating on.

Some Issues With the IGI.

Please remember, when doing your research, that the International Genealogical Index:

is incomplete – and this applies not only on a parish by parish basis, but to within parishes as well where gaps may also be found to confound you

– is compiled from several different types of record including information submitted by members of the LDS church supplying information that can sometimes be plain inaccurate and not having come from the original parish register

– has countless mistakes caused by problems associated with interpreting handwriting and also the previously noted member submitted entries

– does not, except for a few cases, cover burials;

– is only an index and so you really should not ever considered it to be a substitute for looking at the original record.

A short while ago, as I tried to get back a generation from where the census records on line had stopped in 1841, I found I was having to turn to the Parish Records. For my Scottish line I was able to use the easily accessed old parish records (OPR) on Scotlandspeople.gov.uk website, but for my English line the lack of scanned records meant the challenge of learning how to break into this area of family history research was a fascinating test for me.

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