Saturday, December 28, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020

Over the past few years I have participated in a few 52 Ancestors challenges, so this year I have decided to set my own weekly topics and write about them.  Some will be repeat topics from earlier challenges, and some will be my own creations, but I am hoping to keep up with my weekly topics throughout the year.

I have greatly enjoyed the challenges I have done in past years.  The various topics have made me think, prompted me to revisit different areas of my research and dig through old documents and photographs in search of a particular detail to include in a post.

So as 2019 draws to a close I have made up a list of 52 topics to post about each week in 2020.  If anyone out there would like to take part and send their own posts on my topics,  please feel free.  Your own interpretation of each topic is entirely up to you.

For January, the topic prompts will be :

  • Week 1 (Jan 1-7): Beginning
  • Week 2 (Jan 8-14): First and Last
  • Week 3 (Jan 15-21): Unusual Name
  • Week 4 (Jan 22-28): In the Paper
  • Week 5 (Jan 29-Feb 4): DNA

Friday, December 20, 2019

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is almost upon us once more (where HAS the year gone??).  The tree is up, the cat has been extracted from the tree (several times), gifts have been wrapped, cards written and sent, decorations placed around the house and a CD of carols plays in the background.  Toys have been donated to the local toy drive and I have had a marvellous afternoon being a helper at a Sensitive Santa for special needs children.  The festive season is upon me.

So now it is time for a rummage in the DVD cupboard for one of my family's favorite Christmas traditions - on Christmas Eve we will watch 'The Muppet's Christmas Carol'.

It is a tradition that we have had since I was a child and we watched it one Christmas on TV.  Much searching from my mother produced a video of the Carol and a tradition was born.  My sister and I soon knew the entire movie off by heart, but even as teenagers the tradition of watching "The Muppet's Christmas Carol' on Christmas Eve prevailed.  It continued as we became adults and spent Christmas with our parents, was tolerated by baffled partners and friends, and after our parents passed was continued by my sister and I.

When the original video wore out and DVDs became the norm, another search was undertaken and a copy located on DVD.  Two years ago I came across it again on disc while on holiday and promptly purchased it as a backup, much to the amusement of several fellow travellers who were promptly filled in on the importance of this simple movie.  That night, even though it was April, seven adults sat around a hotel TV and watched 'The Muppet's Christmas Carol'.

Every family has their own way of celebrating special occasions, and this one is ours.  So as many other families settle down to watch Christmas Carols on TV on Christmas Eve, my sister and I will be happily ensconced in my living room, with drinks and mince pies on hand, once again watching "The Muppet's Christmas Carol'.  We will both enjoy it to the hilt.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Hidden treasures at the PROV

It is remarkable what you can find when you look around and don't follow your normal lines of research, as I discovered this week.

While looking for something completely different I discovered that the Public Records Office of Victoria, a website I visit regularly, contained a hidden treasure.  Normally when I go to the PROV website, I proceed straight to their Online Collections page to explore records which have been digitised.  It is only when I am planning a visit to the PROV Reading Rooms (for me a 200+ km trip each way, so I don't get there very often) that I go further afield to order records to have available to view when I visit.

It was while exploring these undigitised records that I discovered that the PROV has been quietly working on digitising their collection of Coroner's Inquests into Deaths.  While the entire collection is not yet available online, considerable progress has been made and more years are added to the online database as the work is done.  As the project is not yet complete there is nothing listed on the PROV's Online Collections page yet.

An inquest is a legal inquiry held to establish the exact medical cause of death of an individual in certain circumstances. Where the inquest found a death was the result of a crime, it could also commit an accused for trial.  The inquest records relate to deaths that occurred when a person died suddenly, was killed, died whilst in prison, drowned, died whilst a patient in an asylum, or was an infant ward of the state and died under suspicious circumstances, among other circumstances.  The PROV holds inquest records up until 2003 with records up until 1985 on open access. From 1986 onwards the records are closed to the public and to access these records you will need to make a request to the Coroners Court.

Currently the years between 1840 and 1961, and between 1972 and 1985 are available online, with work still progressing on the 1962 to 1971 records.  So I spent an exciting hour or so putting in names to see what came out.  I am now wading through the results of no less that 8 Coroner's Inquests into the deaths of various family members, from Edward Beseler who died in the Ararat Lunatic Asylum  in 1918 of senility and heart failure to Mary Gray Pummeroy who died at the Alfred Hospital in 1886 as a child from burns accidentally received.

When next I have a spare hour or so I will have a good rummage around on the PROV website to see what other treasures I have been missing because I don't explore the website thoroughly - and I'll be having a closer look at other websites where I normally proceed straight to a certain point and don't pay enough attention to new additions and developments.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

GEDmatch in the News Again

For those of you who have been following the ongoing issues of Genealogical DNA testing, access and law enforcement, there is a new development you should be aware of.  On December 9 it was announced that GEDmatch had been acquired by San Diego based forensics genomics company Verogen.

I have been following this issue for some months now, through the media and the posts of Judy Russell, who blogs as the Legal Genealogist.  To read Judy's latest post on the acquisition of GEDmatch, click here.

While the original founders of GEDmatch and the new owners Verogen have both stressed that it will be business as usual for the GEDmatch database, as well as highlighting the advantages of the buyout for users, the fact remains that Verogen's core business is serving law enforcement.  As a for-profit company, there is no point in purchasing a (formerly not-for-profit) company unless that purchase serves their needs.

As Judy points out, we will now have to wait and see just how much GEDmatch continues to serve its original genealogical purpose, or whether it becomes more of an entry point for law enforcement to access user data for criminal investigations.  There will be a number of people, however, who choose to withdraw their data from the GEDmatch database now it is owned by Verogen.

In addition to the buyout itself, GEDmatch users had no advance notice that an acquisition was in the winds, and were not notified about it by email. The buy-out came to light only when users trying to log in to the site were presented with a new set of terms and conditions, and given the option of either accepting those new T&Cs or deleting their GEDmatch registration and removing all data from the GEDmatch servers.

There is also the wider fallout to consider, as the negative publicity generated by GEDmatch flows on to the whole concept of genealogical DNA testing.  Will people hear about these issues and be put off doing ANY testing, even with completely separate companies like Ancestry or 23 and Me?  I will certainly be keeping a close eye on any changes to the terms and conditions of any DNA testing company that holds my data.  Not to mention keeping a close eye on the news.

Monday, December 9, 2019

New English and Welsh Death Records Online

The General Register Office (GRO) has updated its online index to cover all deaths registered in England and Wales from 1984 to 2019.
The minimum information required for searching the index is the deceased’s surname, gender and year of death within two years. The free indexed entries give their full name, year of birth, registration district and GRO reference number. You can then order a full certificate online at a standard cost of £11.

Previously the GRO’s death index only covered the years 1837 to 1957. The new addition will still leave a gap of 27 years in the index, although deaths up to 2007 can be searched on other family history websites.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

WDYTYA Magazine

The latest issue of Who Do You Think You Are magazine is now available free online for Campaspe Library members via our subscription to RB Digital eMagazines.

Inside this month's issue

  • Save family memories
    Give the gift of memories this Christmas with our easy guide to interviewing and recording your relatives
  • Copy rights and wrongs
    How family historians can make sure they're on the right side of intellectual property law
  • Tracing Irish ancestors
    Expert tips on solving the problems of Irish family history research
  • Reader story
    Daniel Smith-Ramos' emotional quest to find his GI grandfather
  • Deck the halls
    How our ancestors started the Christmas decoration craze
  • Plus...
    The best websites for tracing Royal Navy ancestors; the history of the British in India; the lives of grocers, and much more...

Around Britain

  • South Wales
    The top free resources for Welsh family history research

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Ancestry Updates DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Recently the people at Ancestry have again updated their ethnicity estimates for those who have done a DNA test with the company.  As more people test the Ancestry, they have a larger database to draw their ethnicity estimates from and can give (hopefully) more accurate numbers.

The current estimate shows me as being 78% England, Wales and Northwestern Europe, 10% Ireland and Scotland, 5% Sweden, 3% Germanic Europe, 2% Norway, 1% Mali and 1% Ghana.  This is a change from my previous estimate, which showed me as being 65% England, Wales and Northwestern Europe, 22% Ireland and Scotland, 8% Germanic Europe, 2% Ghana, 2% Sweden and 1% Norway.

While the numbers are not hugely different, I seem to be becoming more English with every update, while everything else drops.  As my father's family is 100% English for several generations and primarily from the Essex/Suffolk area and my mother's family is at least half English with some Irish and German mixed in, the estimates pretty much confirm what is currently in my tree, although I am a little surprised by how much the German has dropped. 

This current estimate was calculated in August 2019 and has 40,000+ reference samples and 1,000+ possible regions.  So if you have gone a DNA test with Ancestry and haven't looked at your results for a while, it might be worth revisiting to see your latest updates.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

DNA Testing in the News Again

I have posted a few times about the debate occurring, largely in the United States, about the use of Genealogical DNA databases by law enforcement.  Allowing police access, with or without search warrants, to the genealogical DNA databases held by the likes of Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch is creating a great deal of uncertainty.  I have been following several posts by The Legal Genealogist Judy Russell about this issue and the legal mess it is creating.  To read Judy's latest post, click here.

The latest issue rises from the disclosure by the New York Times on Tuesday that a Florida judge had issued a search warrant for the GEDmatch DNA database.  Originally GEDmatch had allowed law enforcement open access to upload DNA from crimes.  In April 2018, GEDmatch's privacy statement said it "exists to provide DNA and genealogy tools for comparison and research purposes." The statement said that this, "by its very nature, requires the sharing of information. Because of that, users participating in this site should expect that their information will be shared with other users."  In May 2019, GEDmatch began requiring people who had uploaded their DNA to its site to opt in to allow law enforcement agencies to access their information.  That warrant issued in Florida overrode the privacy settings of GEDmatch users and opened information to police scrutiny even if the users had chosen not to allow police access to the data.

Currently GEDmatch is one of the smaller fish in the Genealogical DNA ocean, with a database of approximately 1 million users.  DNA policy experts have said the development was likely to encourage other agencies to request similar search warrants from the big fish like 23andMe, which has 10 million users, and, which has 15 million.

It is important to remember that not all Genealogical DNA sites are alike. GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA make it possible for anyone to upload his or her DNA information and start looking for relatives. Law enforcement agents began conducting genetic genealogy investigations on these sites not because they were the biggest but because they were the most open.  By contrast, and 23andMe are more closed systems. Rather than upload an existing genetic profile, users generally send saliva to the companies’ labs, and then receive information about their ancestry. For years, fearful of turning off customers, and 23andMe have been adamant that they would resist giving law enforcement access to their databases.

Now that a legal precedent has been set allowing the GEDmatch privacy settings to be overridden, will it be easier for law enforcement to gain access to any of the Genealogical DNA databases?  And given the success of accessing GEDmatch to help solve crime in America, how long will it be before law enforcement in other countries try testing the water to see what they can access to assist in their own crimes?  Suddenly the glow of finding my family's ethnicity and distant cousins using DNA is fading as wider implications become obvious, and no solutions to the issues seem to be in sight.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Criminal Characters

Criminal Characters is a research project investigating the criminal careers and life histories of Australian offenders from the end of the convict period through to the Second World War, specifically from the 1850s through to 1940.

This site offers a number of resources for learning about the history of crime in Australia. You can also get hands-on experience of Australia’s criminal past by transcribing historical crime records, thereby helping to create a permanent and invaluable resource for future generations.

The project aims to bridge gaps between historical knowledge of crime and contemporary criminological research by providing insights into the contexts and patterns of offending across a period that saw significant legal and social developments, including mass migrations, changing technologies, war, economic depressions, the emergence of the narcotics traffic, and the evolution of new forms of punishment. 

If you are interested in the criminal history of Australia, in who committed crimes and why, and you have some time available to assist in transcribing records then this is a project that may interest you.

This project has been supported by a grant from the University of Technology Sydney through its Chancellors Postdoctoral Research Fellowship scheme and is being hosted by the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS.  The images for transcription have kindly been supplied by the Public Records Office Victoria.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Power of Petitioning

In seventeenth-century England, petitioning was ubiquitous. It was one of the only acceptable ways to address the authorities when seeking redress, mercy or advancement. As a result, it was a crucial mode of communication between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’. People at all levels of society – from noblemen to paupers – used petitions to make their voices heard.

Some were mere begging letters scrawled on scraps of paper; others were carefully crafted radical demands signed by thousands and sent to the highest powers in the land. Whatever form they took, they provide a vital source for illuminating the concerns of supposedly ‘powerless’ people and offer a unique means to map the structures of authority that framed early modern society.

The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth Century England is a small but growing site that plans to transcribe and publish the texts of more than 2,000 seventeenth-century petitions as well as a series of guides and other resources.  The site also has a blog on which they report progress, share links to online resources and share details of the lives of people in the seventeenth century.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Voices of Liberation

Voices of Liberation is a new online sound archive sharing reflections of the Second World War and Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) sites of remembrance.

The CWGC is seeking more stories from Second World War veterans as well as people who have a relationship with a former soldier or have visited a CWGC Second World War cemetery or memorial.

Andrew Fetherston, the CWGC’s chief archivist, said: “We believe that by capturing these stories from the public we are creating an archive of international importance and a lasting legacy for those who died for our today.  We want people to share their connections to the war and our cemeteries to ensure that as Commonwealth nations we have not forgotten their sacrifice.”

Voices of Liberation was launched to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, which began on 6 June 1944 and led to the liberation of Europe.  It will continue in the run-up to the 75th anniversary of the end of the war next year. 

To take part, simply record yourself talking about your memories using prompt questions from the CWGC and upload the audio, along with a photograph.  To record your contribution to the sound archive, all you need is a smartphone and a quiet space for the recording.  The photograph you contribute could be a photo of you recording for the archive, a photo of a relative who served in the Second World War, or perhaps it could be a photo of a CWGC site or memorial you have visited.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Who Do You Think You Are Magazine

The latest issue of Who Do You Think You Are magazine is now available free online for Campaspe Library members via our subscription to RB Digital eMagazines.

Inside this month's issue
  • Hidden ancestors
    Stuck on a family history brick wall? Simon Fowler reveals how you can reboot your research with a fresh approach
  • From father to son
    Genetic genealogist Debbie Kennett explains how you can uncover your paternal line with Y-DNA testing
  • Shell shocked
    Jacqueline Wadsworth on the lasting trauma for First World War veterans and their families
  • Reader story
    Stephen Moore's new book uncovers Polly Button's horrific murder and remarkable legacy
  • Marriage masterclass
    Rebecca Probert on the tips and tricks for uncovering and understanding your ancestors' wedding records
  • Plus...
    The best websites for tracing domestic servants; uncovering military ancestors on Absent Voters lists; the pioneering women who worked as telegraph operators, and much more...
Around Britain
  • London
    Almost all of us have ancestors who went to the capital to seek their fortune. We've picked the best resources to help you find them

Monday, October 21, 2019

UK Find a Will gets Bogged

Back in late July I posted about the new cut price of ordering post-1857 wills through the UK Government's Find a Will service.  I excitedly announced that the price of a will had been cut to just £1.50, instead of the old £10 charge.  Maybe I should have kept quiet for a bit.

I ordered several wills on 11 August, and was given an estimated online delivery date of 26 August.  We are now well into October and I am still waiting.  They are now almost 2 months overdue.

I am trying to be patient.  Really I am.  I know why the service is taking so long.  It is because of all those people (like me) who saw the price cut, cried "Oh Goody!" and inundated the site with orders.  Eager genealogists worldwide have swamped the poor people at Find A Will and buried them with their enthusiasm.

A slightly plaintive inqiry in late September - "Where are my wills??  They are a month overdue!" - elicited the response that the site had been overwhelmed by the volume of orders and mine would be dealt with as soon as possible.  Since then I have haunted my inbox, hoping for notification that my wills had been processed would soon arrive.  I have also logged onto the website (no more than once a day) to check for progress.  And I am still waiting.

It takes me back to the old days of sending off my request for records or information by 'snail mail' and waiting 6 to 8 weeks for a response through the post.  How spoilt are we today with email and downloading and instant access to online records from the comfort of our own living rooms.  Now, suddenly, I have to learn to be patient again.  It is a difficult lesson.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Basics of Fact Checking

I am constantly amazed by some of the errors and misinformation I find in online trees.  So many people make assumptions, ignore the basics of biology and put their (clearly incorrect) family trees online for others to copy - and the copiers accept their incorrect data without questioning errors which should be clear.

So without mentioning names or pointing fingers, here are some of the more eye-popping errors I have come across that really should leap out at researchers.
  • Children cannot be born before their parents.  Really.  It just isn't possible.
  • Children also cannot be born to a mother who is 6 years old.  Or 94 years old.  Again, just not possible.
  • Children are highly unlikely to be born to a father who is 89 years old.  While this MAY be biologically possible, it is unlikely and deserves a bit of fact checking.
  • A child cannot be christened 4 months before they are born.
  • A woman cannot marry 3 years after she has died.
  • A man cannot enlist in the army 5 years after he has died.
  • No one can die in the decade before they are born.
  • Full siblings cannot be born 4 months apart.  While medical technology may be making this possible today, it really wasn't possible in the 1840s.
  • Travel takes time, especially before the age of the airplane.  In 1883 a child could not be born in England and christened in Australia 5 days later.  Something in this timeline is wrong.
  • Yes, people do move around.  But they will not usually have three children born on three different continents in three years.
I can hear people laughing out there at some of these errors, but I've seen each of them included in online trees.  And believe me, getting these errors corrected can be next to impossible.

So the next time you are looking at an online tree that intersects with your family, remember to treat it with a degree of skepticism.  Always be aware of the limitations of basic chronology and biology.  Families, for the most part, follow common sense arcs and exceptions are not that common.  Look for corroborating evidence - and this does not mean another online tree that has probably copied the same errors.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Irish Lives Remembered

The Autumn 2019 issue of Irish Lives Remembered magazine is now available free to download.


  • Steve Coogan’s Maternal Great-Great-Grandparents: Their Fight for Tenant Rights in Nineteenth Century Mayo by Fiona Fitzsimons;
  • The Solar Boat at Knowth (County Meath) by Eamonn 'Ned' Kelly;
  • Finding Your Birth Family through DNA can be an Emotional Rollercoaster by Maurice Gleeson;
  • The Barry Surname by Paul MacCotter;
  • Ricardo Wall y Devereux: The Power behind the Throne by Nathan Mannion;
  • Money, Mountain Dew, and Murder: Illicit Poitín Distillation in Ireland During the 1920s. PART 3. “The Gharda would be unworthy of any confidence if they failed to make use of every method to rid Ireland of this curse” by Stephen Peirce;
  • When does a Genealogist become a ‘Professional’ Genealogist? by Penny Walters; 
  • England’s ‘Cheddar Man’ Revealed by DNA. Relevant to the Ancient Irish? by Hannah O'Sullivan.
  • Defending Trinity College Dublin, 1916, Anzacs and the Rising - Excerpt and Synopsis of Rory Sweetman's new book - Published by Four Courts Press.
Regular columns: 
  • Dear Genie (Our Genealogists help you with your research block)
  • Photodetective (Jayne Shrimpton analyses one of your family photos)
  • Patrick's Page (Patrick Roycroft deals with a client at the Irish Family History Centre)
  • FMP Roundup (Niall Cullen lets us know of the new Irish genealogy records that have been added to Findmypast)