Monday, 27 July 2015

DNA--An Integral Part of My Genealogical Research

It’s been almost two years since I tested my dna on Since then, I have done four more tests for cousins there, and I have administered two tests on Family Tree DNA. I have downloaded raw data, and uploaded it to GEDMATCH and other sites. I am far from an expert in dna, in fact, I am quite the amateur, but I have been intrigued by what I have learned of it; it has affected the way I do my research; and it has introduced me to several hundred new cousins!  I thought the Worldwide Genealogical Collaboration  participants and readers might be interested in this journey.

For this blog post, I am going to concentrate on the autosomal dna that I did through ancestry. Since I keep my family tree there, it is a great enrichment to my research and findings. I have about 4000 matches to my dna on ancestry! The matches are arranged by closeness of kinship, with parents, brothers  and sisters and 1st cousins listed before  2nd , 3rd, and 4th and more distant cousins/relatives. Most of those matches are attached to a family tree I can consult. You are also given dna circles, I have eleven of those which have shown me incredible things which I will explain below. You can also search your matches by surnames or by location, or by both. It is amazing to me!
Ancestor confirmed by autoaomal dna, Linda Geddes,

Ancestor confirmed by autosomal dna, by Linda Geddes on

First, let me tell you about the dna circles. I have eleven of these as I said,  I am including a detailed description of what ancestry’s dna circles are and how they are created from at the end of this post, hope it is helpful. But one of the most exciting things about these charts of your dna matches, is that it can give you new relatives, as it did me!  Ancestry explains it like this, “Descendants of an ancestor often inherit pieces of DNA from that ancestor, and they may share those pieces with other descendants. If these descendants are in a DNA Circle for their ancestor, you can get a New Ancestor Discovery to a DNA Circle, even if you don’t have this ancestor in your tree.”

I was amazed by my circles. Let me give you just one example. I looked at my 11 circles on ancestry, and one was  titled the “Cuthbert Cheely DNA Circle”. That surprised me because I had no Cheelys in my tree at the time, and had never heard of this man, whom ancestry said was my 4th great grandfather! There are five “members” in this dna “circle”, I have some with ten members. When I looked at one of the matches, this is the chart I saw: My maiden name is Helen Spear Youngblood by the way, that’s me on the bottom left in this chart.

I was shocked, because my family did not know who the father of my great- grandfather was! My Great-Grandfather, Walter Thomas Houchins was born in 1854  of a single mother which we knew,and could clearly be seen in the censuses. William W. Stoops lived on the farm next door to my 2nd great-grandmother Nancy Houchins, and was actually her boss at work it appeared. On one census, when Walter Thomas was 16, he can be seen on the census living with his neighbor, we now know as his father! It looked like he was just working there. In 1880, after all of her seven children were born and mostly adults, Nancy and William W. Stoops married. Why then I wonder?  Elizabeth Cheely was William’s mother, and Cuthbert was her father--a family mystery solved, and new 3rd and 4th grandparents identified, all from a dna test! Previously, I had consulted a professional genealogist, a genealogical society in Walter Thomas Houchins area of birth, collected marriage, death, military and census records, none of which helped me identify his father! Now with no research on my part, my dna circle identifies him, wow!

I have discovered many new relatives through my dna!  One thing ancestry does is  list all of your dna matches with “shared ancestry hints” separately from all of your matches, even if they are not in a circle. I have 63 of them. When I look at this list exclusively, the first one was also my first match when exploring my Scottish Hogue family! Turns out she is my 3rd cousin, lives in Pennsylvania compared to my North Carolina, and we’ve become good friends on facebook. She is also experienced in  genealogy, so we have enjoyed searching for our Hogue family origins in Scotland together!  Actually, I formed a Hogue research group on facebook , almost totally made up of Hogue cousins I met through my dna on ancestry. There are two from California, two from Connecticut, one from New Jersey, Colorado, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, and my North Carolina of course! We even have a member from England and one from Scotland! We are stretched across the USA and the world, truly a genealogical collaboration! We were all already interested in genealogy and dna, now we are letting it guide us through our history.

There are so many stories I could tell, and so many experiences I’d like  to share, but it is not possible in this one blog post. However, I feel I’d be remiss not to tell you how incredibly the dna dovetails with my normal research. I was helping my cousin’s fiance research his family tree as a gift for them, when several things happened. One, I got to a brick wall in one of his lines. I had learned to check my dna matches for everything, so in this case, I did exactly that, and bingo, discovered I was related to this young man via this line, and that my dna took the line further by connecting me to a researcher with thousands of people in his tree and this line! I even saw that his line connected to some Mayflower relatives that I already had in my tree, and was easily able to share this exciting news with him.

Here is another example of using my dna for research-- say I am looking for information about my great-great grandfather James Steptoe Langhorne. I could search all the family trees on ancestry for clues, or I can search my dna for the surname Langhorne, and search my matching dna trees/people for information. If I am searching a family tree that I know already matches my dna, well then, anything I learn will surely match me, and that is a step forward in my research!

What can I say--dna has changed and enriched my life and my research! It has added hundreds of friendly new cousins, many of them now facebook and ancestry friends! We have learned to research together, and my research alone is more efficient.  It is so exciting and interesting to me..  If you have questions, I will try to answer them, or find someone who can. Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts with me. Helen
Ancestry explains dna circles this way: (
A DNA Circle is a group of individuals who all have the same ancestor in their family trees and where each member shares DNA with at least one other individual in the circle. These circles are created directly from your DNA and your family tree in a five-step process.

1. Find DNA matches

We compare your DNA to the DNA of every AncestryDNA member. When we find enough shared DNA to suggest that you and another member have inherited that DNA from the same recent ancestor, we consider you a "DNA match." Based on the amount of DNA you share, we then estimate your relationship (for example you may be 5th or 6th cousins).

2. Search trees for shared ancestors

Once we've found a DNA match, we carefully search both of your family trees looking for ancestors who appear to be the same person. We consider facts like name, birthdate, birthplace, parents, and spouse (going back nine generations).

3. Calculate a shared ancestor hint confidence score

We consider a variety of factors to determine how likely it is that you and your match share DNA from this same ancestor (as opposed to sharing DNA common to a region, or sharing DNA from a different ancestral line).

4. Add more people to the DNA Circle

Now, we repeat the process and look for other pairs of individuals who have the same shared ancestor in their trees and who share DNA with one or more of existing circle members (each circle has at least three members). Some of these new members may not share DNA with you, but each member of the circle has DNA evidence supporting their relationship to the share ancestor, and therefore to you.
5. Calculate connection levels
Last, we figure out a connection level for every member of the circle based on the number of people they match in the circle and the strength of their connections. It's a simple way to show how likely it is that each member is a descendant of the shared ancestor. Levels go from Strong to Good, Weak, or Emerging.
DNA Circles will change over time
You'll notice that DNA Circles are constantly evolving. A circle could grow, shrink, or even disappear. And new circles will be created too. This all happens for a couple reasons. First, AncestryDNA members are constantly growing and improving their family trees. Second, as new people take tests and join AncestryDNA, we have even more information to analyze and use to improve our circles and help you fill in even more pieces of your family history puzzle.
Note: What if you aren't a member of a DNA Circle for one of your ancestors? One possibility is that you descended from the ancestor, but you didn't inherit DNA from them. Another explanation is that more descendants need to take the AncestryDNA test before there's enough evidence to create a circle.”

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Working with Land Patents and Plat Maps

I wrote this post as part of Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge, but I thought some of you, who do not spend a lot of time researching ancestors in the U.S., might find it useful.

My great grand aunt, Jane (Muir) Beck, was the youngest child of James and Margaret (Semple) Muir. My grandmother always called her Aunt Janie. Janie's grandfather, father, and most of her brothers were coal miners but Janie married a farmer, Herbert Bartist Beck on 20 June 1912 at Lebanon, Illinois. Herbert had been living and working on his brother, John's, farm. They had two children in Illinois, Thelma Christena and John Wesley Beck.

Herbert's brother had been out west with his uncle. He and his wife decided to move to Montana and homestead land in 1918. Herbert and Janie followed them a few years later. They took a train from Illinois and arrived in Roy, Montana, on 7 April 1923.

Roy, Montana, circa 1916; photograph courtesy of the Bureau of Land

In two separate transactions with the General Land Office, Herbert Beck acquired nearly 425 acres of land in two counties.
  • 17 October 1928: 
    • Southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of section 27 in Township 20 north, Range 24 east
  • 26 September 1928: 
    • South half of the northeast quarter of section 34 in Township 20 north, Range 24 east
    • Southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of section 31 in Township 20 north, Range 25 east
    • West half of the southeast quarter of section 32 in Township 20 north, Range 25 east
    • East half of the southwest quarter of section 32 in Township 20 north, Range 25 east
    • Southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of section 32 in Township 20 north, Range 25 east
    • Lot 4 of section 5 in Township 19 north, Range 25 east
    • Lot 1 of section 6 in Township 19 north, Range 25 east
These are the legal descriptions found on a land patent of parcels of land identified using the cadastral survey system, which was used by the United States federal government when Montana was surveyed and is still in use today. A township was 6 square miles and contained 36 one-square mile sections, or 640 acres. A quarter of a quarter section was 40 acres.

Map of lands surveyed by the government using the cadastral system;
courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

Townships were arranged north and south along the principal meridian and ranges, east and west along the baseline. Once you know the section, township, and range numbers, there are several apps that enable you to view the land as it is today to gain a better understanding of where your ancestors lived. Plat maps have become favorites of mine and I collect them for the places my ancestors lived.

Township/Range map of Fergus County, Montana, c1916.
Township 20N/Range 24E is the square with Crooked and Antelope creeks
on the upper left. Township 20N/Range 25E is to the right. Below them are
Township 19N/Range 25E is on the lower right. Map courtesy of the Montana
Memory Project.

Township/Range maps can be found on the Bureau of Land Management's General Land Records website. Click the Survey Plats and Field Notes link and enter the legal description of the land. From the search results page, I click the Plat image icon and scroll down to the bottom of the page and generate a PDF document.

Original survey of Township 20N/Range 24E, dated 1914. Herbert Beck
owned the south half of the northeast quarter of Section 34. Image courtesy
of the Bureau of Land Management

I've drawn the south half of Section 34 on the image so you can better understand how the subdividing of sections work.

The northeast quarter of Section 34 divided into quarters and a south half

Here is what the south half of the northeast quarter of Section 34 in Township 20N/Range 24E looks like today from a satellite:

Satellite view from Google Earth

A first-hand account of what life was like on a homestead in Montana may be found here. It was written my Herbert and Jane (Muir) Beck's daughter.

This post was originally published on Tangled Roots and Trees as a 52 Ancestors post.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Online Family Trees and Hints with Ancestry

The subject of online family trees elicits a range of responses, from warnings about their accuracy and tirades about poor researchers to glowing endorsements and tales of success.    Reasons for having an online family tree including cousin bait, collaboration, data backup, and tree building tools were noted by Hilary Gadsby in Online Trees. Why have one? My Experience.  Fran Ellsworth warned about relying solely on an online tree for backup in I Can Testify.

I target particular research problems by uploading limited family trees on Ancestry.  My Adams family tree is an example, consisting of just the direct ancestors of my paternal grandfather, Thomas Adams.  The difficulties of tracing a common surname in a big city are explained in Common Surname Trouble – Adams in Birmingham.  I was hoping another researcher may have helpful documents.  Sadly, no-one has made contact through Ancestry.

The tree includes Thomas' marriage to my gran, Mabel Coulson, and details of her birth, death, some residences and photographs.  While cataloguing her photograph collection, I wondered if matching pictures had been uploaded on Ancestry.

Adams family, an online tree on Ancestry

Mabel's ancestry hints include matches to 5 ancestry member trees, 1 census record, an index entry for birth and death, the church register for her marriage, and a completely spurious match to the 1908 city directory for Quincy, Illinois, USA. 

The five public trees were produced by three members, Martin Adams, susandyson90 and Wilbur Moistner.  The only way of contacting these people is through Ancestry, as they had not included any links or other contact details in their member profiles.  The entries for Mabel were minimal with only the 1911 census as a 'proper' source. 

Looking at the tree as a whole rather than just one person, I found a wedding photograph for Mabel's sister, Hilda May Coulson, in two of the Ancestry trees.

However, neither of the authors of these trees were the original contributor of the photo.  Ancestry provides the username of the original contributor, which I really do like very much. 

Wedding photograph of Harold Henry Adams & Hilda May Coulson on Ancestry
Wedding photograph of Harold Henry Adams & Hilda May Coulson on Ancestry
In Mabel's photo collection there is a group photo of this wedding, which includes my grandparents.

Group wedding photograph of Harold Adams & Hilda Coulson
Wedding of Harold Henry Adams & Hilda May Coulson on 23 March 1935 at St James, Ashted, Birmingham.
L to R: Hilda Adams (sister of groom), William Spiers (future husband of Hilda Adams), ?, Harold Henry Adams (groom), Hilda May Coulson (bride), Thomas Adams (future husband of Mabel, not related to groom), Mabel Coulson (sister of bride)

The original contributor of the photo does not now have it on his Ancestry tree.   His Ancestry profile provides a link to a private Tribal Pages tree, which contains the wedding photo and many others.  After I made contact he gave me access, and we both gained new information.  Thank you, Bob!

Why didn't Bob's tree match?  Well, the matching is still not very sophisticated, as illustrated by the Illinois record, and a different date of death for Mabel probably did not help.

Why didn't anyone make contact?  Those with matching trees don't seem to have copied from mine, so perhaps they did not find it.  Anyone who did find it could have simply taken the information, and weren't encouraged to make contact by my blank member profile.  I have followed Bob's example and added information to my profile. 

Member trees offer documents, like the photograph, from the private collections of descendants and relatives.  Apart from the information in the document, information on where it came holds important clues about who may have more treasures.  For me, this is the most valuable part of the much maligned Ancestry member family trees.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Write Your Own Stories

I have been pondering how to write this blog post for several weeks. It is with great hope that the spirit of the post will speak to you.
I have blogged in the past about writing our ancestors stories to make them people and not just names. This time I want to focus on writing our personal stories, some think in terms of personal history, or journals.  I am simply going to put it in terms that most of us cringe... write about yourself. You can tell why you did something or why you felt some way better than another will be able to interpret your motives, etc after you are gone.
So, today I am going to write a little about myself and some of the events and people that had a great influence on me; helping to make me who I am.
I had many events in my younger years that, when I reflected as an older person, I can see why I act the way I do.
When I was 3, my father lost his leg above the knee in a logging accident. I won't go into the story, but you can read it here on my blog. His attitude of not giving in to the circumstances and striving to be better, shaped my way of handling crisis situations and challenges in life.
A picture of my mom and dad and I that was used in a State wide promotion of  handicap people overcoming. 
When I reached 5, my mother and dad decided for my mother to go back to college.  She had been waiting tables to assist with the cost of living because my dad was still recovering. She went away for a week at a time, working for an elderly lady to pay for her schooling and to cover her room and board. From this I took away doing what it cost to take care of your family.  This helped me many years later when my husband had to work far from home for an extended length of time.

My father's mother came to live with us off and on while I was growing up.
Lenorah Gildon Langley
Every day she read the bible and devotionals that someone gave her.  She attended church when she could, because my mom was Methodist and she was Church of Christ, so my dad would just lay low for no conflict.  I learned from her the value of having a spiritual side to your life for balance.

My mom's mom did not live with us, but she did visit.  She had had arthritis all her life. She had 13 children, and raised 6 of them and 2 grandchildren alone after her husband died of cancer. She earned a living, sewed, and was a supporter of her church circles.
Matilda Roberts Whitson and Cecil Whitson grandson
 She had a sense of humor too. She became an ideal person to me of how to face life, if you're given lemons.

Both of my grandfathers had died before I was born.  My grandmothers never remarried.  They helped their children when and how they could.  My life has been similar. My husband died at 62.  I am content as a widow, neither of my grandmothers had complained, why should I. My time is spent serving my six children, 25 grandchildren, and the genealogy community at large.

Love of genealogy was not something that came from any influence of my family. However, the desire for stories and encouraging others to grab family stories came from dealing with my dad's family who was closed mouthed, and never spoke of family or their ancestors.
These are examples of  a few of the people and moments that have influenced my life, and now you know more about me probably than my children.

I am writing my stories on FamilySearch Memories. After I am gone, they will be able to see my stories that I have written for them and my grandchildren (on FamilySearch only that attached to the deceased is visible.)

See you next month... 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

7 Back to Basics, the Willy Nilly "S" Theme

It's summertime here in the USA.  Which translates to busy, fun, vacations, friends visiting, grandkids and camp, mucho yard work (it has been quite wet here in SE Michigan, the weeds are growing, like, well, weeds.).

All in all, time has been flying by.  But, I still try to sneak in a wee bit of research, scanning and input every evening, or at least on as many evenings as I can keep my ole tired eyes open.

So, I thought this month, I would do a quick review of seven of what I consider to be some of the basics of research and recording/input. (Of course, there could be many more basics, but for lack of space and time, sticking to seven.)

This approach assumes you are actually using a computer data base, but, if you are not, you can think out of the box and still use many of these seven.

1.)  Spelling don't count (and grammar not much either).   Names just do not get recorded every single time in the same way.  They are not always transcribed or extracted the same way either.  Lashbrook, the surname I have researched the most since 1991 has been found recorded just a few other ways (wink wink, note a bit of sarcasm? yes, you do).  Lashbrook, of course.  Lashbrooke is also prevalent.  I have found Ashbrook, and others, but, I do believe my all time favorite might be Sashfrsch.

2.)  Source everything.  Add a birthdate, or birthplace to the data base.  Source it and source it NOW.  If you cannot source it perfectly, by the book, do it a bit imperfectly, but, SOURCE IT NOW.  You can fix it, tweak it, or change it later.  But, if there is nothing there, kinda hard to fix.  Source everything.

3.)  So that's logical?  Really?  Before you willy nilly add a name or a date or children or parents, stop a moment, and determine, is it logical?  Did the father die 7 years before the child was born?? Is the mother 9 years old at the time she gave birth to child # 3??  Is it logical??

4.)  Sensus, ok, play on the "S" theme here, since spelling don't count.  (Sorry, early morning caffeine starved humor here.)  Census.  Have you found your ancestor and family on all available census enumerations?? Skipped 1910 (US)?  Why??  Go back and review all your notes, sources, documents.  Missing census, our sensus, err senses, (double sad humor/play on the theme and words here) tells us to fill in the blanks.

5.)  Share.  Yes, share.  Share with any family that will listen or engage.  Share with other researchers.  Share online.  You get to choose how to share online.  My current choice is via my blog. Some choose to use one of several different ways to post their tree online.  Study the ways, use what is within your current comfort zone.  Be open to review your choices, maybe change them. (OH, and remember, what I practice, only put online what you are happy to have "borrowed".  Once posted, it will be read, reviewed, borrowed and reused.  Sometimes without your even being aware.  If you don't want to find it on another web site in the future, if you don't want that specific photo or information shared willy nilly, simply do not post it online.)

6.)  Skipping generations.  DON'T DO IT!  Never ever skip generations, especially going "back" in time.  As reported previously on my personal blog, Reflections From the Fence:

Many many years ago a news article was written about an English gentleman, we shall call George. George researched for something like 20 years, personally interviewed over 2000 of his closest kin. Finally got around to interviewing his aunt (no times removed, just his aunt) and, the very first thing out of her mouth was,

"But George, you were adopted!"

As far as I know this is a true story, but, even if it is not, I think you get the lesson.

7.)  Selebrate (oh, there I go again, with that "S" theme)  OK, CELEBRATE.  Now and then, sit back, and Selebrate your skills, Survey the progress, acknowledge the "Sad" that you sometimes learn about those ancestors and their Suffering,  and please do Snicker and giggle a bit.

There you go, seven of my basics.

Enjoy the summer weather here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Before we know it, the leaves will be changing and it will be time to stay inside and devote more hours to our favorite addiction - - family research.

*Graphic courtesy of


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Reading Irish parish registers

Have you got Irish people in your family tree?

If you have, and they were Catholics, you may have been spending the last few days the same way as I have, scrolling through the newly-released images of parish registers from the National Library of Ireland.

And going cross-eyed deciphering the handwriting, the abbreviated first names and the just plain odd-looking ones.

National Library of Ireland, CC by YvonneM
These records are pure gold dust for those of us with Irish ancestors. And they’re free to view, print and download. I’m very grateful to the NLI for putting them online for those of us who can’t visit their (wonderful) building in Dublin to look through the microfiches there. It would be petty to grumble about the fact that they’re not indexed. But just to make the job of scrolling through all those pages easier, I thought I’d pass on some tips I’ve found useful during my search for my ancestors, the Delanys or Delaneys in the parish of Tomacork (also called Carnew), on the border of counties Wicklow and Wexford.

I’m going to use these Tomacork documents to illustrate my points, because I’ve become familiar with many of their quirks. I hope this will be a helpful starting point for your reading of similar resources.

The first tip is – keep going. I found that, as my eyes got used to the handwriting of the various priests and the names which came up again and again, reading the records grew easier. So don’t give up. Like so many worthwhile things, reading these records can get easier when you practise.

Patt (Patrick) Rossiter, with a long s
If you’re new to reading old documents, you might be confused by the unusual shapes of many letters. The records I’ve been looking at date from 1785 onwards, so they’re not from too long ago, but they’re still old enough to take some deciphering if you don’t know how to mentally transcribe them. Long or ‘leading’ s, for example – the one that looks like an f without a cross-bar.

Or the very curly capital letters that don’t look at all like print ones. Here are a few:
Two examples of Anne (top L, bottom R)
A curly H in Hugh
Two examples of capital K in Kelly
A capital B that looks like an M in Brislawn
The capital A in Anne, with no cross-bar, takes a bit of getting used to, and capital H and K look similar. In fact the second Kelly takes some deciphering.

There are a few websites with old handwriting alphabets which can help with reading records. This one is a good place to start, and I've listed more at the end of this post.

Luckily, when we read old records we’re not just reading a sequence of letters. Though that is often the best way of deciphering words. It takes me back to school... C, A, T, cat...

You may need to just write down the letters you’re sure of and go back later once you’re more used to the writer’s hand or have identified the letter somewhere else in the document. That's how I was sure of the examples above.

Repeated words or phrases can be helpful here, because we know what the letters are and can work out quirky variations from them. And you can often work out what a letter is by its context.

What's Judy's surname here? Byron? I happen to know, and reading these parish registers confirms, that Byrne was a very widespread name in Tomacork. In fact it's in the old clan territory of the O'Byrnes. So I can work out that she's most likely a Byrne by comparing this word with many others on the same pages, written by the same person.

But beware of doing what we all do – reading what we think, or hope,
we see, and not what’s actually there. It’s important to check against other examples of the (supposed) letter written by the same person.
Is this crossed out sponsor a new relative, James Delany? I'd love to think so. But there's a Darcy on the same page.
And the descender from Lucy on the line above in the first image may or may not have merged with the l of Delany. In addition, the registers are full of people called Demsey (a variation on Dempsey), another local name. Though this priest usually writes it Dempsey.

 I can't just assume the name here is what I'd like it to be.

What do you think? Delany, Darcy, Demsey or... impossible to decide?

And then there’s image quality.The NLI registers are images from microfiche, so some pen strokes are hard to read or invisible. These entries look like a bad photocopy.

You can find some good tips on reading photocopied records here.

Sometimes you’ll have all the letters worked out, but they don’t look like any name you’ve heard of. There are two possible solutions: the name could be an abbreviation, or it could be written as it sounded to the scribe.

Abbreviations first. In these Catholic parish registers they’re only used for first names and a few stock phrases. There are lists of name abbreviations on the web and I’ve put links at the bottom, but here are a few of the most common found in genealogy records. A good rule of thumb is that the last letter of the abbreviation is the last letter of the name. Except for Jno.

Edwd = Edward
Elizth = Elizabeth
Jno = John (not Jonathan)
Margt = Margaret 
Thos - Thomas
Wm = William

And some from the Tomacork records which may be helpful to Irish research:

Anty = Anthony
Batt = Bartholomew
Catt = Catherine
Lau - Laurence
Mattw = Matthew
Michl = Michael
Patt - Patrick

I've used a smaller font to show letters which are usually written superscript (above the base line).

There are some other abbreviations in these registers, like SS for Sponsors (godparents), and Latin ones like Ills or Illa for Illegitimus/a (illegitimate), usually followed by (ut dixit), or 'it is said', referring to the father.

Plenty of names in these registers are written as they sounded to the priest. That can be confusing. Some are easier to read, like Onor for Hono[u]r, Annistice for Anastasia, Kavinaugh for Kavanagh.

Then there are ones which ask more from us. One of my Delanys, Daniel, was married to Mary Costolough.
That’s a fun one, with a long s and no cross to the t. I only found two other Costoloughs after a lot of genea-searching, and it seemed to be a variant of Costello. Then the light bulb came on. Reading it out loud, remembering that Irish names tend to be stressed on the first syllable, and knowing that the priest used a silent gh in several names, it became clear that, yes, /’kɒstələʊ/ (using the IPA transcription) worked for Costolough and Costello.

I'll be posting about my Delaney/Delany finds over on A Rebel Hand soon. In the meantime, good luck with your old records! And finally – the genealogist’s mantra – don’t assume. But you know that already...

Further online resources

Useful sites for reading old handwriting:


Reading bad scans/photocopies:

Name abbreviations:

Irish surnames:

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Stepping into their shoes

We live in a different world today.
How many of us try to picture what life would have been like for our ancestors. But will any of us get even close to understanding their lives.

Earlier this week just as I was retiring to bed and cleaning my teeth (with an electric toothbrush) we had a power cut. The bathroom had no windows and I found myself plunged into darkness.
I was away from home but knew where the fuse box was and a torch and as it was not totally pitch black went to investigate whether a fuse had blown. No we had lost all power.

At the time I thought how long can we manage without electricity, with food in the refrigerator and freezer and mobile phones needing charging. It was restored after a while and had I been asleep I would have been none the wiser. I note that others I know have had much longer power outages of several hours.

Now I go to write my post this month I reflect on how different our lives are today to those of our ancestors. Our priorities have changed so much. 

All of my grandparents were born at the end of the Victorian era and during their lifetimes much had changed. Time lines such as this one from the British Library or this one from the BBC, show us the major world events and politics but little about the lives of the everyday working person .
Museums such as this one in York try to recreate scenes to help us picture what it may have been like using original or copied items of that era. The Museum of English Rural Life is currently being redeveloped and is using social media to keep potential visitors on board with the messages they want to portray. But can any of the scenes we set of how life was really give us a true understanding of their lives.

So much of what we do has to fit with the social norms of society. We may live in a more liberal society today where there are many single parents bringing up children alone. We talk to the older generation about how things were when they were children and my own childhood is history to my son and nieces and nephews. I can try to convey to them how it was before everyone had colour televisions, automatic washing machines, computers and mobile telephones. But how the innovations have impacted can at first be quite subtle, so much so, that one can barely remember a time without them around. If we have problems recalling the changes that have happened in our own lifetime then we really do need to consider what may have changed in our ancestors lives that could be lost to us. Many could not read or write, photography was expensive so much was passed on as oral history and we all know how unreliable that can be with facts being distorted.  

We cannot think about the past without relating it to our own experience and knowledge. If you have no knowledge of how an implement was used or what it was used for then you can only guess and such guesswork is based on what you know. We have to believe what we are told until we learn otherwise or understand how to distinguish what is possible. 
The same thing is true when we find documents or other items that may relate to our family. A new researcher may not be aware how unreliable a record group may be or of reasons why.
As genealogists we must all realise that no matter how many documents, pictures, stories, etcetera we find we will never be able to step into the shoes of our ancestors.

Our Knowledge does not equate with their Knowledge

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction - Part J

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction
Part J
"Dr. Bill" Smith

 Do you read short fiction, or just fiction in books?

When most of us think about reading fiction, we normally think about reading books, right? Romance novels, mystery novels, suspense and thrillers - all come mostly in ‘full’ novel length. How about family sagas? Assuming a few of us are still actually reading family saga stories, of course. Dune, The Godfather, The Thorn Birds, … each bring to mind the novel length… sometimes very long novels.

I’ve mentioned before that although I started out writing novels in my “The Homeplace Saga” series of family saga, historical fiction stories, I’ve gone exclusively to writing shorter ‘episodes.’  And now, in recent weeks, I’ve begun to compile those episodes, about 20 at a time, into very readable ‘eBooks’ that I hope will meet the needs of many readers. Your feedback would be valuable to me on this, if you can.

The latest release is actually from the “Weston Wagons West” suite of stories, that actually also tell the story of my mother’s Kinnick surname ancestors. You may recall, in the Weston Wagons West stories, I use the fictional Weston family descendants who ‘live near and interact with’ my ancestors, used fictitiously. It is a fun approach to writing. The original stories were written as the ‘Jx’ episodes at HubPages, online, at:

Now, I have created an eBook of those 20 episodes:

The eBook is available at:

Would you rather have all the 20 episodes together, to read straight through, on your reader of choice? Or, is reading them one by one, online more useful? I like having both options. I hope it is helpful, and not confusing to my readers. Again, your feedback is valuable. I hope it also makes you think about how you might like to tell your stories.

Certainly, I do believe that writing the small, shorter episodes/chapters (about 1,250 words each) is easier than having to put together a 20, 30, or 40,000-word work before you see a ‘final product.’ Maybe my attention span has just gotten shorter. Is it just me, or do you feel somewhat similar?

I hope a few of you will get the eBook, read it, and let me know how you feel about it. That would be very interesting! Thanks, in advance.

From the family saga story-telling point of view, especially for the very early years (1600 through 1800, for example), each episode can focus on ‘one family’ - defined as a married couple and their children, perhaps. Of course, there will be overlap, from episode to episode, as there always is in family stories. Whether or not you include the death of the grandparents in an episode, for instance, can make quite a difference in how you tell your story, and, what you include in each episode. Does that make sense? I think it does. The number of children, and how far they are spread apart, is also an important consideration. Do older children get married before the younger children are born? [My mother once told me she might have had another child (a sixth), until I went and got married - she didn’t want to be a grandmother having a baby. Not a big deal, but an interesting thought, and story.]

If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m trying to get you to thinking about stories you know in your own families, from your research, that you might write as a short story - 1,250 words or so. Are you ready to give it a try? Perhaps you have, already. Did you post it on your blog, or keep it on your computer to ‘think about’ for a while? I think we are making progress here. Be sure to let me know, in the comments.

See you next month! I love to read comments, so please leave one or more, including questions. 

Dr. Bill ;-)


"Dr. Bill" (Wm. L.) Smith can be found regularly at his genealogy blog, "Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories" <> or his family saga blog, "The Homeplace Saga," <>. He is an original contributor, as The Heritage Tourist, to the "In-Depth Genealogy" blog with a monthly column in the "Going In-Depth" digi-mag. He also writes a monthly post for the Worldwide Genealogy Blog.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Setting up a Community Heritage Group

AULD EARLSTON is a small community heritage group in the rural Berwickshire village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders.  Set up in 2012 by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, it aims to preserve the history of our village (population 1700) for future generations,    by collecting  documents and sharing memories and photographs.

Two local residents were initially asked to give a talk to primary school pupils on what life was like growing up in the  village in the 1950's.  Their talk seemed to be a success and they were asked to speak to other local organizations.  Many memories were rekindled and it proved there was a great interest in preserving the heritage of the village. 

The project was broadened, local historians consulted  and the group was formed. It was fortunate to  be donated  the rich historical and pictorial information gathered by local historians John and Mary Weatherly,  who had a wealth of documents,  photographs, press cuttings and memorabilia about Earlston. 

An early appeal to the local community resulted in the Group being inundated with  postcards, photographs and other information which has been  collated, scanned and indexed, with currently over 1400 items in this collection alone. 

Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection). 
All Rights Reserved
This postcard view of the Market Square can be dated prior to 1920, as it depicts  a horse and cart at the village pump on the right.  The well, with a trough for horses and cattle to drink from,  was demolished to became the site of the village's War Memorial, unveiled in 1921. 

The Group is always  open to accepting other material,  with photographs scanned, and where requested,   returned to their owner. 

Support has also come from The Scottish Borders Archive, Local History and Family History Service at the Heritage Hub, Hawick with advice eg.on the  Sharing Memories project  and  the provision of archive boxes and envelopes, whilst the local primary  school has given space for the secure storage of our material.

Current activities include:
  • An annual slide show and exhibition  which attracts capacity audiences. 
  • Displays on particular themes at local events e.g. Earlston Civic Week and Earlston Community Day.
  • A Sharing Memories project, talking to older residents and recording  their experiences on growing  up in the village.
  • An ongoing project to collect  press cuttings on Earlston from local newspapers.
  • An associated Facebook page Lost Earlston, featuring old photographs and allowing its followers to share, discuss and learn from Earlston's past. 

    Two recent projects are:
  • Working with the local primary school at a Learning Partnership Open Day where we presented a display of schooldays past which attracted a lot of interest. Our next joint project is hoped to focus on the history  of the Earlston Railway (1863-1965). 

  • In March this year, we launched  a blog with short articles and photographs on the Group's activities and on aspects of Earlston's past. 
The long-term vision of Auld Earlston is to open a Heritage Room in the village where visitors can come to view the material held. 

For more information go to the Auld Earlston Blog HERE 

Valuing the History of our Village for Future Generations