Monday, 31 August 2015

Finding Your Ancestor’s Grave (Or Not)

Many of my clients come to Germany to find their ancestor’s graves. Unfortunately, in Germany graves are cleared after a few decades (20 to 30 years) to make room for new graves. Therefore, you will hardly ever find graves of your ancestors, who died some 100 years ago. 

    Berlin-Friedrichshain, Friedhöfe Friedenstraße / Landsberger Allee ©Angela Monika Arnold

Also, sometimes when a grave is cleared, the name is mentioned on a family gravestone, but this does not mean that this person is actually buried there. Actually they might even have been buried in a different town.

If the family had a large monument next to a cemetery wall it is often kept and sometimes even sold to other families who keep it and pay for the maintenance; they either to use it as a place of burial for their own family or just to see to it that it is saved.

Berlin-Friedrichshain, Friedhöfe Friedenstraße / Landsberger Allee ©Angela Monika Arnold


Also often graves of famous people are taken care of by the municipality, this grave, for example, is kept as a grave of honor.

Berlin-Kreuzberg, Friedhöfe vor dem Halleschen Tor ©kvikk

Therefore, before you come to Germany, it may be wise to check with the local church or, if the cemetery belongs to the local community, with the so called Friedhofsamt. You will find the way to contact them through the website of the municipality. Some municipalities (for example Berlin) do charge a fee for this kind of information, others do not. Also be aware that it might take time until they answer, in some parts of Berlin it can take about 6 months as they have to take care of burials as well, which, obviously, has first priority.

Sometimes the cemetery has seized to exist. In the past the cemetery often was close to or even next to the church. The graves were marked with either stones or wooden crosses that simply were destroyed due to the weather and then removed. Later a new cemetery was set up but the graves were not moved so you will be walking over unmarked graves.

The church of Groß Leppin, Brandenburg ©Ursula C. Krause

However, sometimes, if you are lucky, a new cemetery is set up and the old one in not cleared and falls into a deep sleep. Maybe the grass it cut, maybe some stones are removed, but you will still see that there once was a cemetery.
    The old cemetery of Groß Leppin, Brandenburg, situated on the Mühlenberg ©Ursula C. Krause

It is different for Jewish cemeteries. These graves were principally not cleared, however, many Jewish cemeteries were desecrated and destroyed during the Third Reich. Sometimes the cemetery ‘simply’ was destroyed and the tombstones knocked over, sometime the tombstones were taken and used for road construction (which was actually done with Christian German tombstones in Poland after the war). Today, many people are involved in saving the Jewish cemeteries and honoring those who were once buried there and most cemeteries are under preservation.
 Berlin-Weißensee, The Jewish Cemetery ©mazbln

Even if you do not find the graves of your ancestors, do take a look at the local cemetery, often they are a beautiful place to sit down and simply take a break from all the noise and the hurry.

    Südwestkirchhof Stahnsdorf, Brandenburg ©A. Savin

Saturday, 22 August 2015

With a Little Help from Friends and Strangers

Genealogist and family historians are a helpful bunch, but sometimes just asking for help does not have the desired result.  Advice about asking effective questions abounds, with specificity and respect as recurring themes.

In Asking For Help The Right Way Barb Henry recommends avoiding opinion based "Which is best?"questions and notes the short life span of Facebook posts.  Marion Pierre Louis advocates providing an overview of the problem and thanking everyone for their help in Ancestors please! How to ask for help online.  In Writing Directed Queries Helen V Smith masterfully demonstrates how to be succinct while providing enough  relevant information in the order that the recipient needs it.

Respecting the time of those who answer starts with not expecting someone else to do the work for you.  Trying to solve the problem by yourself first, and checking whether the answer has already been given may result in not having to ask the question.  Addressing the question to people who are most likely to know the answer increases the chance of success.

I recently found an excellent tip for downloading search results from FamilySearch to an excel file. First I targeted the Facebook group Excel-ling Genealogists, the I searched the group posts for 'FamilySearch'.  Once logged in to the website, a button appears that allows you to download each page of search results.

Extracts from Excel-ling Facebook group.  Arrows on the right point out the group description and search box. Use the group description to identify specialised groups, and the search box to find posts.  Discussion on the left.

Extract of the question posed on Evernote Genealogists

In another successful interaction on Facebook, I posted a question in the Evernote Genealogists group.  The first response wasn't very encouraging, but after a few more people contributed, I found what I was looking for, and posted a screenshot extract to show the button.

Although people can and do learn by asking questions on social media, the formats of Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and others were not specifically designed for the purpose.  The two examples above were straight forward questions.  Many genealogy questions are more complex, requiring more than Twitter's character limit or Facebook's limited attention window.  Some social media groups and communities are moderated and have rules, but there is no easy means of indicating the quality of answers.  The number of  'like' or '+1' might indicate popularity, but without a 'dislike' or '-1', it is not a balanced measure.

There is an under-used platform for questions and answers that addresses the short-comings of social media.

StackExchange Genealogy & Family History Q&A

Stack Exchange is a network or question and answer websites, which developed from the no-nonsense world of computer programming in response to the need for expert answers.   The StackExchange Genealogy & Family History Q&A was started in 2012.  It is run by the genealogy community with the aim of building a comprehensive library of answers to questions about genealogy and family history. 

Unlike social sites, the focus is on questions and answers rather than discussion or social contact.  Anyone can participate by asking or answering questions.  Moderators actively guide participants and suggest improvements to questions, which keeps them on topic and increases clarity.

Participants earn reputation points based on how others up or down vote their contributions.  Good quality contributions gain more points and are rise to the top of the list.  For more details on the how the system works, take the tour.

StackExchange question page. Arrow on the left points out the user rating.  Arrows at the top right point out the search box and tags, 2 ways of finding content.


Responsible Answers

Remember to be critical of answers you receive.  Evaluate it just like all the other information you use in your research.  If you disagree or find an answer wanting, don't berate the person who tried to help you.  Sometimes, there isn't an answer, or you have not reached the person who does know.

The flip side to asking for help is answering questions.  Helping others is not about your ego, so keep your opinions and speculations to yourself and be honest in admitting (to yourself) that you don't know.  Good answers address the question, and are reasoned and well researched, so typically contain some references.

Helping and being helped are part of collaboration.  Both sides gain from doing their homework, taking time to compose clear, relevant and succinct questions and answers, and appreciating the other's efforts. Such respectful collaboration is a powerful thing.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Cornish Family History: Treasures of Penwith

You can't beat a bit of local information!
I'm not long back from a family holiday in Newlyn, near Lands End in Cornwall, England.

During the holiday I did the holiday stuff like a family barbecue, meeting for meals, enjoying a day out at Land’s End and just spending a lot of time with my mum. However I also visited a cluster of ancestors I've spent the last few months getting to know.

I’d managed to do a lot of work online during the spring thanks largely to the exceptional hard work of the local Online Parish Clerk Diane Donohue who transcribed and made available free online decades-worth of baptisms, marriages and burials, amongst other resources, from OPC Newlyn St Peter and Paul parishes.

I also joined Cornwall Family History Society  whose online records also gave me a lot of information prior to my visit, some of which is on FindMyPast but not all, as far as my search results indicated.

I had also made pages of lists in my book of graves to track down, streets to check out for photos of ancestors’ homes, churches to visit and places to visit, such as the shops my ancestors ran or their schools. The following are a few of the main sources I appreciated.

Morrab Library 
The Morrab Library in Penzance (next to Newlyn) is an amazing private library in what was formerly the home of the local dignitary and MP Charles Campbell Ross. I had planned to go check out their range of resources which I knew from the web they held, specifically old parish records for a couple of nearby parishes St Buryan and Sancreed.

Morrab Library, Penzance
In the event the first time I went along there was staff sickness and the Library had needed to close for the afternoon.  Fortunately this was early in my holiday so I gave them a call the following day to check they were open again. The volunteer who answered the phone who had the dubious honour of fielding my many questions told me that yes they have a photo archive which is open on Wednesday mornings only. Ha! The next day. So one itinerary change later and I was back the following morning.  The team were great, really helpful, and showed me the various hard-copy photo albums they had sitting there, and told me about the catalogue they have. 

There were so many images of Newlyn and Street-An-Nowan (the specific part of Newlyn I'm most interested in) so I spent some time working my way through their catalogue. There were no photos in the archive of my family’s ice-cream shop so maybe we should contribute one!  I had planned to stay all day and check out the OPRs but my eyes get bleary quite quickly when scanning so when the photo archive closed I just went home and joined family for a day out at Lands End [their 4D dinosaur film was brilliant!]  But I did order a digital copy of a couple of photos of a family house and they were emailed to me within days. It was fascinating to see the streets from the war without yellow lines at the side of the road or best of all, without wheelie bins in the photos!

Penlee House 
I went to Penlee House art gallery to see an art exhibition of work by the Newlyn School artists such as Stanhope Forbes, mainly because my mum told me to. However I liked it and I found some of the pieces really engaging, especially those showing local Newlyn girls and women just having a laugh or going about their business like Frank Bramley's Eyes and No Eyes.  Others were really haunting, especially a couple of portraits of women who've just lost their fisherman husbands at sea such as Walter Langley's Among the Missing.

Penzance Library
Penzance Library (left)
After I’d finished at Penlee House I was walking about and by chance walked past Penzance Library so I thought I would just pop in and see what they had.

In addition to microfilm and readers, in their family history section they had whole sets of local books such as Kelly’s directories. Not something to start working through just when you've dropped in on the off-chance with no notes with you. However what they did have that I wouldn't have got anywhere else was a book about Newlyn's history by a local author, published privately and one of only ten in existence.  I took many, many notes from that one!

Newlyn Archive
Newlyn Archive 
is another local organisation which is run by volunteers and it too was only open half-day a week, although that’s just the public face on it and doesn't reflect the hours of work behind the scenes by volunteers. I spent a while chatting with Pam and colleagues and looking through some of their books, mainly those which work by surname. They have so many documents that I’ll need to check their catalogue online and I have contact details for following things up. My mum told me to leave hard copy of some of my Newlyn-related blog posts with them which disconcerted me as I didn’t want to force anything on them, but they seemed interested and quite pleased.  I’d previous bought their books about Newlyn at Play and Newlyn at School and this time I left after buying Newlyn at War.

Before leaving Newlyn I checked out Newlyn Post Office. I’ve found in other towns that often post offices have local books  of the areas and also postcards, and this turned out to be the case here too.  And it had the added bonus of being sited (I believe) in the old Customs Building.  If this is the case it’s where my grandfather James E Glover worked, which made me happy.

Finally Hannah of Cornwall Council was really helpful. I actually rang her up during my visit as I’d run out of time before the holiday. I was very embarrassed that I’d not given her more notice in my request for grave locations, but she was really kind and efficient and she popped the information about 2 graves’ locations in the mail to my mum’s house. 

Susan Richards' grave
So, after spending an hour earlier in the week walking along rows of graves in Paul Cemetery and checking out the Paul QuietGarden graveyard I was able to walk in Paul Cemetery direct to the grave of my great-great-grandparents Benjamin Jaco Rowe and Susan (nee Sullivan) and their daughter Susie Richards. It was lovely to finally get to find them.

Later that day we went on a drive to a couple of local parishes where my ancestors lived in the 18th century: St Buryan and SancreedBy chance St Buryan Church had its Tower Open Day so the church was really busy. So not only did I get information leaflet and postcards (and of course dozens of photos!) but mum and I had a nice cream tea in the church, which was vaguely surreal but very tasty. And no I didn’t climb the tower, but would like to another time to get a view over the whole parish.

Sancreed Church, Cornwall
Sancreed was a beautiful church and not at all what I expected. Pulling up in the parking space across the road from it it gave us a beautiful classic view of a church, with its gate and its beautiful cemetery walls covered in flowers, with the church in the background. What I wasn't expecting – although to be honest I’d not thought about the church more than just that I wanted to visit it – was that the beautiful graveyard was the resting place of Stanhope Forbes and other Newlyn School artists. Their influence also was obvious inside the church, which although very old, included more recent artistic flourishes.

So what next?

The remaining graves will still be there when I go back, but this time I’ll contact the Council a few weeks in advance...

There are lots of family biographies that can now be written and illustrated.

I'm sure I’ll be back in touch with the Newlyn Archive soon.

And there seems to be so many publications and resources at the Morrab Library I will pay that a longer visit when I'm down.

But so much to do first!  The more you learn, the more you realise is still to be discovered!

Lynne Black
Blog: Starryblackness: 

© Lynne Black, 21 August 2015

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Indexing a Great "Give Back"

The fun of being a collaborative blogger, is sometimes you overlap with another blogger. DearMyrt shared about the Worldwide Indexing Event That FamilySearch Indexing had from the 7th to the 14th. 

As you know, I love FamilySearch and I serve as a FamilySearch missionary. For me, Indexing is exciting because the end result is the growth of Historical Records which help many around the world. I thought I would remind everyone did Indexing is a continuing project. There are quiet millions of records to be indexed. Here is a sampling of the new World Wide projects thathave been added: 
New Indexing Projects Added
Norge-Tinglysningskort, 1640-1903
Canada, Manitoba Probate Records, 1871-1930
Germany, Baden, Ettenheim Church book duplicates, 1804-1870
Germany, Baden, Gengenbach Church book duplicates, 1804-1870
Nicaragua Registro Civil, Nacimientos, 1879-2012 [Parte A]
This is a list of projects available listed A - Z:   Find a Project
FamilySearch Indexing published the results of the Worldwide Indexing Event: 
PDF Image link
The results were a little short of the goal, but progress was made.  

If you participated, they have a badge to put on your blog... 
or you could print and put in your office.   I got mine.

Giving Back is a fundamental thing we genealogists like to do. Those in the past helped us so much that it feels good knowing you have helped someone too. As I said,  Indexing is an ongoing project please continue to help if you were part of the #FuelTheFine or join with us if you have not tried. Warning... It is addictive. Here is your starting link. Start Indexing
'Til Next Month... Fran Ellsworth

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Review, Review, Review. Spending My Summer Looking at the Data Base And New Online Images

Fact: I have long been a proponent of reviewing, over and over again.  I have written about it any number of times over on Reflections From the Fence.  Review is a powerful tool in your research. Rarely, do I start a review of one of the ancestors that I don’t find something new and sometimes it is a wake up call.

Fact: I do love internet research. It is a wonderful thing, even with some of the less than stellar indexing found on some of the more popular web sites most of us use.  Don’t get me wrong, I would still love to live closer to a few of my favorite sticks 'n bricks libraries, like the Family History library in Salt Lake City, or the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana, or the Mid-Continent Library near Kansas City, Missouri, or the Library of Virginia in Richmond Virginia.  OK, I would not mind being closer to the Library and Archives of Michigan, which is only about 90 miles, or the Statesboro Georgia  library.  Oh, the list could go on and on.  And, truthfully, my visiting the Mid-Continent, the Library of Virginia and Statesboro Georgia library never would have happened if it were not for my other affliction - - RVing.  But, I digress.  I love the sticks 'n bricks libraries and archives, but, not even as a serious RVer can I access these wonderful depositories enough to satisfy my genie addiction.  So, to the internet I go.  As frequently as I possibly can.  

Fact: There are a few new online collections that I have lost myself in, hours and hours, days, weeks. And, I still have much work to do.  One such collection contains new Virginia data bases over at Ancestry dot com.  Marriages. Deaths. Divorces.  I believe there are births too, nope, have not even looked at those.  Seriously, I cannot imagine how long I will be at the births.  I have been having a great time.

And, those little ”Suggested Records” that hint at other places to look for my ancestors.  They show up on the right side of the screen.  I look, I wander over there and find MORE neat stuff.

SOOO, the other day, or was that weeks ago?  I was wandering around looking for marriage records for Meredith Erskine Watkins.  He was married twice.  I find the marriages and the images.  Happy dancing internet style.  Then, before I have a good chance to study every line on those marriage certificates I glance over at the “Suggested Records” hints. 

I see a link to a data base named, “South Carolina Delayed Births, 1766-1900 and City of Charleston, South Carolina Births, 1877-1901".  Meredith born where?  South Carolina?  My facts on my data base show that he was born in North Carolina.  Well, isn’t this interesting?  Time for a bit of review and a look at this delayed birth registration. (Bless the Social Security Administration requiring birth certifications back in the 1930's and 40's.)

Where did this North Carolina birth place in my data base come from?  There is his obituary, which reads in part:

“Meredith Erskine Watkins , 90, of the 600 block of Dumville Ave., died Sept. 21, 1991, in a hospital.

Mr. Watkins was born in North Carolina. He was a retired lawyer...”

Next I started checking what census enumerations Meredith appeared in. In 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940 he was living with his parents.  He did not marry until 1947.  I rechecked all the census reports, 1910 it is reported he was born in South Carolina. 1920, reported born in Virginia. 1930, reported born in South Carolina.   1940, I discover I do not have in my notes.  It took some serious digging to locate, however, I prevailed and finally found him on the 1940 over at  FamilySearch.  1940 reports he was born in South Carolina.  

OK, I will admit it, in the previous research, I never picked up on the birth in South Carolina information.  See, REVIEW!!!  It works every time. In review I also discover, that yes, both of his marriage records state he was born in South Carolina.  But remember those “Suggested Records” links drug me away from the marriage records.  It was not till I came back to them, that I discovered the actual city of his birth, Alcolu, Clarendon County, South Carolina, had been recorded on both marriage documents.  The current population of Alcolu appears to be less than 500, the town was originally a “company town”.  Yes, I did research the town. Seriously, I looked at that spelling and off I went, research tangent.  I discovered "The name Alcolu is derived from "AL" for Alderman, "CO" for Coldwell (a friend), and "LU" for Lula, the only daughter of the Aldermans at that time."  Nice bit of trivia for the data base.

I also edited Meredith’s Find A Grave memorial, which I maintain.

Yes, the internet research this summer has been wonderful.  I now have at least 150 new documents to review, and to do follow up research with.  

There is another story this summer, how Ida became Irene.  I think I shall save that story for another day.

It’s been a great summer.

* Delayed birth document was digitally enhanced and cropped for this presentation.

** Ancestry dot com is a service for which I pay.  They have not asked me to review or mention them in any blog posts I generate.  FamilySearch is a free service, which I use.  Please review my disclaimer, Disclaim THAT! Beholden to - - , over at my personal blog, Reflections From the Fence.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

My earliest Australian ancestors

We’re halfway through National Family History Month for genealogists researching in Australia and New Zealand. I’m based in the UK, so the only way I can join in is online. But that’s OK – we’re Worldwide Genealogists here!

Tree growing over an old brick wall, Arminghall, © Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.
© Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
So I decided to do something I haven’t yet done. It's about time! 

I’m going to mark NFHM by putting together a list of the first of each branch of my ancestors who arrived in Australia. They all came from the British Isles. Well, as far as I know – there are brick walls in my tree, of course. In fact sometimes I think my family tree grows out of an old brick wall, like the one in this photo.

I’m going to do this by starting with the earliest, first on my grandfather’s side, then on my grandmother’s.

Grandfather’s side:

Nicholas DELANEY (Ahnentafel no 48), arrived 30.10.1802 on Atlas II. Convict and Irish rebel, from Carnew, Co Wicklow in Ireland. Married to:
Elizabeth BAYLY (A49), arrived 3.4.1807 on Brothers. Came free. May have been from Kent. A brick wall. Their son Thomas married Lucy, the daughter of:
John SIMPSON (A50), arrived 10.1.1818 on Ocean II. Convict, born in Yarm, Yorkshire, arrested in Derbyshire. A tailor. Married/lived as married with:
Sarah MARSHALL (A51), arrived 14.1.1818 on Friendship II. Convict, from Salford or Manchester.

(Thomas) Robert Sandon WILSON (A26), called ‘the Man of Mystery’ because we know nothing much about him. English, possibly a bigamist. Certainly a brick wall. Married to:
Sarah Emma HENLEY (or DICKS?) (A27). Arrived before 1854. From Sussex. Their daughter Mary Maude married Lucy and Thomas’s son Tom.

Grandmother’s side:

James Thomas RICHARDS (A30), arrived 12.12.1835 on Royal Sovereign. Convict, from Deptford, Kent. A Thames waterman. Married to:
Rebecca HARRINGTON (A31), arrived between 1857 and 1873. Probably assisted immigrant (meaning that she didn’t pay for her own voyage). May have come with her father, Thomas Harrington (A62), a dock labourer, or he may’ve joined her later with his wife Julia (A63), nee Gamin, or Cannell, or even Gemmell, from somewhere in Ireland. Yes, Julia’s a brick wall. Rebecca and Thomas were from Hackney in East London.
James and Rebecca’s daughter Eleanor Ann Edith (Minnie) married Thomas Henry, the son of:

John WINTER (A28), arrived 9.2.1857 on Parsee. Assisted immigrant from Tebay, Westmorland (Tebay’s now best known as a service station on the M6 motorway). Married to:
Ann GRAHAM (A29), arrived 23.7.1857 on Alfred. Assisted immigrant from Butterknowle, Co Durham. She came with her parents:
Thomas Rume, Rumneys or Ramneys GRAHAM (A58), a quarryman born in Gaitsgill, Cumberland, and his wife:
Elizabeth BELL (A59), from Bishop Middleham, Co Durham.


Looking back over my earliest Australians, I can see three big brick walls. Interestingly, none of them are convicts. OK, so three of my naughty ancestors have so far resisted my attempts to track down their parents, but at least because the legal system kept tracks on them they’re fairly well documented. That’s one reason I like having convict ancestors – they leave traces. And they’re cool.

Two of my branches are from Ireland and the rest are from what’s now London or from the north of England. A nice mixed bag. No Scots yet – but who knows where those Grahams came from before they turned up in Cumberland? All my Welsh ancestors are on the other side of my family.

As far as I know. And that’s one of the reasons I love genealogy. There’s always something new to discover. It’s a bit like being a time-travelling sleuth. I’ve got quite fond of some of them. Others I could spank for being so secretive. But in the end, they give me hours of fun, days of frustration, and a lifetime’s work. 

If you recognise any of the names or other information - places, ships and so on - that I've mentioned, please get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.

NFHM 2015 logo
Thanks to everyone involved in NFHM, get well soon Shauna Hicks, and a big G'day to my Aussie geniemates!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Worldwide Indexing

Are You An Indexer?

This week Family Search is encouraging as many as possible to join their indexers and make it easier for us to find the records we are looking for, you can find out more and become an indexer here.

I joined the indexers at Family Search in June last year to help contribute to the event they held in July 2014. This year they have spread the event to a week and are encouraging as many as possible to index. Currently they are well short of the target and I would encourage every member of the genealogy community, with access to a computer and the internet, to join in with this, to show how important the indexes are in assisting our research.

If you would like to see what is involved with indexing DearMYRTLE has been doing some hangouts this week which are available at her YouTube Channel or to view the comments from viewers and/or make some of your own, as well as watching the recording join her community at Google+.
There will be a mention in the hangout today and there is one final hangout planned for tomorrow, if you need to ask any questions of a friendly bunch of indexers. Here is the timetable of hangouts.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

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

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction
Part K - "Dr. Bill" Smith
Romance in Family Saga Stories

Almost by definition, there are some romance elements in family saga stories. Agreed? Hard to get to the second, third and fourth generation without a little romance. And, admit it, we all enjoy a little romance, now and then.

Do you have a favorite family tradition story about a romantic experience of your ancestors? Most of us do. But, do you want to tell that story for the world to know? Perhaps. Perhaps not. One way, of course, to share a great story is to incorporate it in a fictional family saga tale. I’d like to demonstrate with an example… two actually.

My first novel focused on a short few months in the life of a family in turmoil. Getting through that turmoil filled that novel. I followed up with a novella that was a mystery story set immediately following the first novel, using many of the same characters, and adding a couple of key new ones.

For a change in pace, in the second novel, “The Homeplace Revisited,” I focused on two teenagers from the “Back to the Homeplace” novel. They went off to college, and graduate school, and returned to their hometown as an attorney and a veterinarian. Of course I am talk about half-siblings, Christopher Ogden, the attorney, and Jennifer Bevins, the veterinarian.

Christopher concentrated on his undergraduate degree, then law school, then joined his ‘father’ in the small town law practice. Dating and girl-friends were the farthest thing from his focused mind. Until he met Amy one summer day. Suddenly, he had feelings arise in him that he had not experienced in a very long time, if ever. Then, within a week, he also re-met Nicole. They had been in high school together, a year apart, but had never really been close friends. He again had a similar reaction. His head was spinning, to say the least. He began dating each girl. The path he followed is an interesting one. I hope you’ll read “The Homeplace Revisited,” to learn more. He proposed at the end of this novel. We know he married Nicole, in “Christmas at the Homeplace,” but why and how make worthwhile reading. Does it remind you of anyone you know?

Jennifer’s story fits this blog well, of course. As she set up her large animal veterinary practice in her home town, she also began to spend time with her Aunt Karen doing genealogy research on their family. She visited libraries, set up a new computer program (remember PAF?) she just learned of (this was 1996), and is happy to talk about her findings with anyone interested in listening.

At a family gathering, she met the son of a law partner of Christopher and his father. He is a young attorney, and was just beginning to consider the possibility of joining the small town law firm himself. His mother had recently died of breast cancer, and he wanted to know more about her family. This subject came up in their conversation. They now had a connecting common interest, that became a passion for each of them. They traveled to libraries together doing genealogy research, and more, of course. She helped him. He supported her efforts. Did I mention that a romance developed? She got her ring on Christmas Day of 1996 as the third novel,  “Christmas at the Homeplace” concluded.

So, now you know, “Christmas at the Homeplace” is about creating families and homes as well as people “coming home” which is the general theme of the novel. A soldier coming home from a war zone to his family (wife and two young children) certainly has romantic overtones, as well, sticking with our theme for today. His youngest was born after he shipped out nearly a year before. He had not seen her in person yet. It makes a very happy Homecoming, as “Christmas at the Homeplace” concluded. And other story lines, for another time. You may want to read it, as well, as the holidays approach.

P.S. For an independent reader's opinion, see:

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.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Internet Genealogy - is this progress?

Although I now have to be surgically removed from my laptop, I am someone who started my family history in the years B.C. (before computers). I thought therefore that I would just mention some of the pros and cons of the changes I have seen over 38 years of seriously pursuing my ancestors. By the way I did start very young!
In the old days, finding our family was a much slower process and involved travelling to various record repositories. Those of us in England went to London, ordered a birth certificate, waited for it to arrive and then waited again for your next trip to London in order to search for the marriage certificate of the parents of that individual. This can now all be done from home and the turn around time is much quicker, so a big tick for the internet on this one.

In order to find someone in a census return a visit to London or the relevant county record office was required. Then you peered at reels of microfilm as you spent two hours winding your way through the whole of Hackney in pursuit of your ancestors. Alternatively you could hope that there was a paper index for the area and decade that you were searching. These indexes were carefully and accurately compiled by family historians whose motivation was to assist their fellow researchers, with no hint of financial benefits. Today’s countrywide, online indexes are a huge bonus, especially if searches can be made using fields such as occupation and birthplace, instead of by name, thus opening up these records for use by social and local historians. The quality of these indexes is however mixed. Many of them have been created by those with no interest in the work, by those who have no knowledge of British place or personal names and by those whose prime motivation is financial. In Peter Christians The Genealogists Internet, he looks at transcription errors in the 1891 census indexes that appear on the main subscription websites. In 2009, when the survey was done, 43.5% of the surnames in the Ancestry transcription were incorrect. Hopefully many of these have been corrected in the intervening years but this is a very high error rate. Don’t get me wrong, these indexes are valuable and I know that if their production was left to philanthropic family historians, with the skills and motivation to get it right, we would still be waiting but it is not all good news.

I applaud and welcome the opportunity to download digital images of original documents from my arm chair. Sadly most of these images are accessed via a transcript and many internet genealogists rely on those transcriptions, never progressing to the originals. At a conference in 2013, lecturer and author John Titford coined the phrase ‘genealogy for grown-ups’. By this he meant the sort of genealogy where original sources are consulted and referenced. He was referring to research that encompasses recreating the lives of our ancestors, not just collecting names and dates and the use of more than just the mainstream sources that are available on subscription websites. The internet helps ‘grown-up’ genealogists beyond measure but to come of age in the genealogical world you do still need to leave your keyboard behind on occasions.

Now family trees can be downloaded at the press of a button (the result may not be an accurate family tree but a family tree emerges none the less) there is the opportunity to acquire a pedigree without foundations. More people can open a computer file labelled ‘family tree’ but they lack basic knowledge about the lives of those individuals or the sources that have been used to create that pedigree. Does this actually matter? It is surely a good thing that more people are beginning to engage with their past, particularly as this has resulted in a dramatic lowering of the average age of the family historian. Am I concerned that these people are barely scratching the surface and are not doing things ‘properly’? At the risk if being labelled a genealogy snob, well yes I am. Surely the satisfaction comes from ensuring that your pedigree is as accurate as possible. Trying to recreate the context for our ancestors’ lives is truly paying them the respect they deserve. Yes, everyone should be able to pursue their ancestry in their own way and with a degree of rigor of their choosing but I still lament the trend towards ‘grab it quick’ pedigree hunting. Along with the internet has come instant access genealogy but have we compromised thoroughness in the pursuit of speed?

We are now in thrall to the large subscription websites. Yes, there is a choice but currently it is a frying pan – fire choice. When the big-name genealogical data providers make their periodic  ‘improvements’ these are frequently followed by an avalanche of complaints. Frequently, these changes appear to lack any single benefit for the serious researcher. The impression is that changes have been motivated by profit and carried out by those who have no idea what researchers require. The provision of online resources is only progress if the system allows researchers to find the record that they need in a manner that is neither convoluted nor cumbersome.

The sad loss for the new generation of internet genealogists is the lack of interaction. True there are forums, chat rooms and opportunities for discussions via Hangouts on Air but are these really a substitute for a cosy chat over a genealogical brick wall with a group of fellow enthusiasts? I am not an unalleviated Luddite. I do appreciate that internet genealogy is not only here to stay but has a great deal to offer researchers. I am however aware that we maybe in danger of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water.

Janet Few