Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Sins of a Genealogist

We are all guilty of the occasional genealogical sin (after all, we are none of us perfect).  Below are a few of the more common and damaging genealogical sins - how many have you been guilty of?

Sin 1: Assuming everything online is correct
The most common mistake around it to take everything published online as being true and correct.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  From transcription errors to uncorroborated trees to typos, there are mistakes aplenty online.
So never just “cut and paste” information into your tree. You need to confirm the information yourself, via various sources, before you include it in your research.  Never assume that everyone else out there has proper research skills and has made the effort to verify their data.  For many, near enough is good enough and if most of the names and dates match they will take the information as correct.  And pass it on to others.

Sin 2: Not noting every search
Keeping some kind of research log is essential.  Know where you have been, where you found each piece of information, and just as importantly, know where you failed to find anything.  Knowing where you searched and what search terms you used can help you avoid reworking your research and help develop your methodology.
If you have good research logs it is much easier when you return to a search several months or even years later as you have a clear understanding of what you have searched for, where you have looked and whether you have any uncorroborated leads to follow up. Without this, you can waste so much valuable time duplicating failed searches.

Sin 3: Not going beyond birth, marriage and death records
Family history isn't restricted only to lists of births, marriages and deaths – it is so much more. Enrich your tree by looking at the various ways in which you can go beyond the bare facts, using information such as newspaper archives, your ancestor’s career, where they lived, local maps etc. Look for the stories, the details, the minutae of the daily lives of ancestors.  Then look wider as well.  What local events in their suburb, town or village might they have attended?  What historical events did they live through?  It all helps built the greater picture of their lives.

Sin 4: Trying to do everything yourself
Don’t try to fly solo – you don’t have to do it all on your own. Do you have relatives out there who are also doing research?  Make contact and share – you may each have parts of the overall puzzle that the other lacks, and pooling your resources makes sense (just remember Sin 1 – trust but verify).  Consider joining a local family history society in the area that your ancestors lived – especially if it is somewhere distant you would have trouble visiting yourself.  Researching an area on the other side of the world can be especially difficult if you cannot travel there – local family history societies can allow you to tap into the local expertise of society members. Most family historians are extremely helpful, especially to a newcomer, and are only too pleased to help. So don’t be shy. If you need some help, ask for it!

Sin 5: Adopting the scattergun approach
Having a goal and sticking to a plan is the key to maintaining focus. Many people, when they first start to trace their family tree, dive in and cast their net far and wide, in the hope of catching as much information and finding as many ancestors as they can as quickly as possible. This might be tempting, but it can lead to you being swamped and overloaded with information, looking at a disorganised pile of papers and notes and wondering how it all fits together.  Being organised right from the start is so much easier and helps you keep order to your research.  The scattergun approach also leads to the cardinal sin number 1, taking things at face value.  Before you know it, you are several generations back on completely the wrong tree and have wasted hours of valuable research time. So have a key set of goals before you fire up the laptop and make sure you make notes on where you searched, what you found – and what you couldn’t find.

Sin 6: Not checking your previous work
As you become a more accomplished genealogist and your family history grows, make sure you go back over your previous work to check for errors and more importantly, to find out whether new information has become available since your original search. More and more documents are becoming available online, so keep going back and reusing those searches, to see if anything new has materialised. We often get caught in the trap of thinking that once we have searched somewhere it is a waste of time to go back – but this can lead to us missing important new information that has just been uncovered, digitised, or in some way made available to researchers.

Sin 7: Thinking you can find everything online
You can’t “do” your family tree solely from the comfort of your home. As wonderful as the internet has become for family historians, we can make the mistake of thinking that everything we need can be accessed from our living room via our laptop. What is available online is still only a drop in the ocean of records and information out there in repositories, archives, libraries and other places.  So get out there and explore!
Plan and organise trip to a local archive office or library. Remember to do your homework before you go, there are lots of great guides available online to help you plan a visit and maximise your research time. 

Sin 8: Inflexibility on names
What’s in a name? I have at least a couple of variations of every surname in my tree (who knew you could spell ‘Clark’ so many ways?) so think outside the box with names and spellings. Make use of the wildcard searches on the various websites and again look for alternatives ways in which you can corroborate what you find. Remember that often it was not our actual ancestors that recorded their name – it was the clerk, secretary, census taker, registrar, etc. and often they simply wrote the name how they heard it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 7 - Military Service

Considering the number of relatives I have who served in the two World Wars, my family was certainly more fortunate than many.  We had few injuries and even fewer deaths during military service, but I do not doubt that all who served - and those who waited at home for them to return - were profoundly and permanently changed by the events they witnessed.

Russell Nicholas Clark
My maternal grandmother, Gladys Daisy Clark, was born 30 June 1906, the 5th child (and 5th daughter) of James Nicholas Clark and Pricilla Veronica (nee Mulholland).  Eventually she would be one of 12 children, plus another 2 half siblings from James' first marriage to Eliza Hawley.  Unusually for the time, all the children survived to adulthood.

Leonard Rupert Clark
Gladys had 5 brothers in total, and 4 of them would see active service in World War 2.  Her 5th brother, Norman William Clark, was tragically killed at the age of 20 in a shark attack.

For a family with 4 brothers serving in the war, they were extremely lucky to see all 4 come home safely.  Mostly they saw active service in the Middle East, with 3 surviving the siege of Tobruk - brothers David, Leonard and Russel.  Gladys' eldest son, my uncle David Pummeroy, also served in World War 2, a pilot in the Air Force.  He would also return home uninjured.

Having heard many family stories over the years about the various war experiences of these men, and the home experiences of the women in the family (none of my female ancestors were nurses, etc), it surprises me how many of them, including my father, saw the war as a chance to travel, see a bit of the world, give the 'enemy' a black eye and all be home by Christmas.  My father was always rather disappointed he never actually made it out of Australia during his time in the Air Force.  His brother Ernest (known as Squib) sent the postcard below to their sister Nancy from Egypt.
Squib's WW2 postcard from Egypt
Through the National Archives of Australia I have downloaded several family WW1 records and ordered those from WW2 -  the NAA has indexed and digitised Boer War and World War 1 dossiers, which you can search and view online for free. World War II dossiers have been indexed but will only be digitised if a family member has requested it.  Other websites include Discovering Anzacs Whichallows you to add your stories and images, and the Australian War Memorial, which has databases like the WW1 Embarkation Rolls and WW1 Red Cross files.  Researching  newspaper reports in Trove has also been a gold mine, with news of enlistments, farewells, news from the front, even a few letters home were published in local papers.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

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
  • The Roaring Twenties
    100 years on, Helen Antrobus explains how you can trace your ancestors in this exciting and turbulent decade
  • Murder, Mystery and My Family
    Stephen Wade goes behind the scenes on the hit TV series that looks at historic murder cases and asks: whodunnit?
  • Child welfare
    How the plight of Victorian children led to the founding of the NSPCC
  • Gypsy ancestors
    Are you descended from the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities? Find out with these websites
  • Reader story
    An Indian journal helped Tim Burrell trace his family back to the Middle Ages
  • Plus...
    Understanding Scottish civil certificates; the hidden history of Georgian gentlemen's magazines; tracing ancestors who worked as jewellers, and much more...
Around Britain
  • Staffordshire
    The best resources for finding family in the Black Country and the Potteries

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Holocaust Stories Online

Do you have Jewish ancestry and want to know more about the Holocaust?  My Story is a new website from the Association of Jewish Refugees, launched to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January. It offers a collection of free downloadable e-books containing the memoirs of Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution and Holocaust survivors. Based on oral history interviews, they allow the interviewees to tell the story of the suffering they experienced, their lives after the war and their journeys to seek refuge in the UK.

My Story first began collecting the stories of Holocaust survivors in 2017and currently over 35 members have either had their book printed or are waiting for their book to be created.  All My Story books can either be read online in pdf format or downloaded as an ePub file.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 6 - Out of Place

When searching for an elusive ancestor, it can be surprising just where people turn up.  When whole generations of a family have lived in the same area, suddenly that elusive missing ancestor turns up somewhere completely out of place.  During my research it has happened again and again - for one reason or another someone departs from the mainstream, heads out on their own, doesn't follow the predicted pattern and ends up somewhere completely unexpected.

From a mystery great great aunt who vanished in Melbourne and suddenly reappeared to marry in New Zealand to a family of forebears who were reported to immigrate to Melbourne from Bristol only to appear in Tasmania for 8 years in between to a great uncle who vanished from his family home in Essex, England only to turn up in Canada - sometimes people just end up out of place.

Tracking down those displaced family members can be tricky, especially when they turn up unannounced in a completely different country than the one you expected them to be in.  When did they move there?  WHY did they move?  Why did no one else in the family seem to know where they had gone?  I cannot say how many times I have heard people suggest looking further afield for a missing family member.  Back in a time when so many people were born, grew up, lived and died in one small area, it is surprising how far afield some people traveled, often in search of a better life.

It may not even be an individual turning up in another state or country.  Sometimes a missing ancestor is to be found in a prison or asylum, something many families tried to keep quiet about.  In times past the 'taint' of having a family member imprisoned or committed to an asylum was a considerable social embarrassment, and many families avoided mention of such a relative for fear of attracting social stigma.

While it is true that many of our ancestors followed fairly predictable patterns, there were still the trailblazers, the brave individuals and families who struck out into the unknown.  Seeking a better future, an escape from poverty or persecution, they uprooted themselves from all they knew and headed out into the unknown.  And turned up out of place.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 5 - DNA

A lot has been said about Genealogy and DNA tests, and while a lot has been positive there has also been a significant amount of negative commentary as well.  The issues that have arisen regarding privacy, informed consent and law enforcement access have caused great concern and discouraged some people from testing.  Over the past few years I have blogged several times about DNA, both my own results and the ongoing law enforcement access issue.

For myself, taking a DNA test has largely just confirmed what I had already discovered in my research over the years, and has produced no major surprises.  For a few others I know, that has not been the case.  For one friend (who has given me permission to speak generally about her discovery) a DNA test had major repercussions when it led to the discovery that she was adopted.  Her adoptive parents had never told her about her birth, and she had no idea she was not biologically related to them until she received her test results.  She found no relative matches to several family members she knew had done DNA tests, and matches to people she didn't know, including 2 sibling matches to complete strangers.  It was a lot to deal with and the entire family have had to come to terms with the discovery.

In the couple of years since I did my own DNA test (taken with there has been a few updates in ethnicity estimates.  As more people test, more ethnicity information becomes available and (presumably) more accurate estimates can be given.  The current ethnicity estimate for customers was calculated in August 2019 and has 40,000+ reference samples and 1,000+ possible regions.  The latest update saw minor changes in my ethnicity, with the English component increasing and the Ireland/Scotland and Germanic Europe components decreasing.

DNA matches have also been interesting.  Last year one of my first cousins finally did the test - until then my matches had been second cousin at best.  Third and fourth cousins were much more numerous, and I have exchanged information, stories and photos with several of them.  Although I come from quite a large family (my father was one of ten siblings) few of my first cousins are interested in genealogy and had not done DNA tests.   This brings home the reality that you can only match to others who have tested - and no matches to a branch of your family doesn't necessarily mean you are not related, it could just mean no one from that branch of your family has done a DNA test yet.  Something to keep in mind.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Trove Upgrade

Many genealogists, especially those in Australia, are familiar with the wonderful website Trove.  Trove, part of the National Library of Australia, contains historic newspapers, Government Gazettes, journals articles and data sets, digitized books, pictures and photos, music and video, maps, diaries and more.  All can be accessed by anyone, completely free.

In mid 2020, the National Library of Australia plans to launch a new, significantly upgraded version of Trove.  And for those of you who would like a sneak peek at the new site, a general public preview will be held from 14-24 February.  Even more, there will be a guided tour of the upgraded website by the Trove team via a free webinar, held this Thursday 6 February from 1-2pm.  You can book in for the webinar here.

As a regular visitor to Trove, I'm looking forward to seeing the new website and have already booked in for the webinar.  I hope to post some feedback on the new website soon, after I have had some time to explore.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Transcription Tuesday

Every year, the people at Who Do You Think You Are Magazine hold Transcription Tuesday, where they ask readers to join in indexing and transcribing thousands of unique records throughout the day, helping to make them more widely accessible to researchers across the globe.  This year Transcription Tuesday falls on 4 February.

Whether you can spare a few minutes or a few hours, it's the perfect opportunity to delve into some fascinating documents and give something back to the family history community.
No matter where in the world you live, all you need is a computer, an internet connection and a passion for genealogy.

This year, WDYTYA is partnering with two of the world’s biggest family history websites – FamilySearch and Ancestry, via their free World Archives Project.  They are also working with two smaller projects opening up records of the First World War – the Internment Research Centre and Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea.

On the magazine’s homepage they have a post with details of Transcription Tuesday and links to the coordinators of all four projects about why they matter and how you can help.

So whether you can spare a few minutes, hours or the whole day, consider taking part in this year’s Transcription Tuesday and help make more records freely available online to researchers everywhere.  You never know what you might find!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 4 - In the news

Newspapers have always been a magnificent resource for filling in the details of our ancestors lives.  Even if you are not fortunate enough to find articles naming your ancestors, newspapers provide the details of life and the events that our ancestors witnessed and perhaps took part in.  Details of city, town and village life are coloured and fleshed out by newspapers.  What shops, services, industry and commerce were located nearby?  What sort of events were held locally that our ancestors may have attended - things like dances and entertainments, church events, hunts, sports and so on.  Newspapers don't just report the huge events that impacted everyone - smaller local newspapers especially gave details of the daily lives and local events our ancestors took part in.

If you are especially lucky, there will be stories and articles that name our ancestors and give details of things that they actually did and events they attended.  Maybe one of our ancestors even wrote to the editor of a paper about a topic or issue they were passionate about.

I have always enjoyed searching through newspapers for articles about my ancestors and over the years an enormous number of old papers have become available online, often for free.

The variety of articles concerning family is amazing.  From trade notices to estate clearances, sporting results to court proceedings, they provide fascinating glimpses into everyday life.  Below are a few examples.

From the Ipswich Journal on Saturday 10 July 1784, my ancestor Christopher Prentice advertised to keep his elected position of Water Bailiff, a post he had held for 6 years.

William Hart, an innkeeper, advertised his new venture in the Ipswich Journal on Saturday 2 January 1796.

Isaac Green served as a judge for the local ploughing matches, reported in the Essex Standard on Friday 13 October 1837.

Estate and probate notices were common, either advertising to resolve claims and demands on the estate or giving details of the sale of assets.  Here Susannah, the widow of Mr John Noble, advertises in the Essex Standard on Friday 4 October 1850 to resolve her husband's estate.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Goodbye to the Rootsweb Mailing Lists

Those of you who have been researching your family history for a while will probably remember the Rootsweb Mailing Lists fondly.  A decade of more ago they were extremely popular - a great place to ask questions, seek help and make contact with others researching your family.  There were thousands of lists - covering countries, states and counties, specific topics and local areas.  Over the years I have used many of them.

More recently the lists have faded somewhat, replaced by Facebook groups, and as a result many of the Rootsweb Mailing Lists have become inactive.  Finally Ancestry, who have owned Rootsweb since June 2000, have made the decision to close the lists down.

The following is an annoucement from RootsWeb 
"Beginning March 2nd, 2020 the Mailing Lists functionality on RootsWeb will be discontinued. Users will no longer be able to send outgoing emails or accept incoming emails.  Additionally, administration tools will no longer be available to list administrators and mailing lists will be put into an archival state.
Administrators may save the email addresses in their list prior to March 2nd. After that, mailing list archives will remain available and searchable on RootsWeb.
As an alternative to RootsWeb Mailing Lists, Ancestry message boards are a great option to network with others in the genealogy community. Message boards are available for free with an Ancestry registered account.
Thank you for being part of the RootsWeb family and contributing to this community.
Sincerely, The RootsWeb team."
The discontinuation of the mailing lists is the end of an era, and highlights how much the way we research changes over time.  As the Ancestry Message Boards and various Facebook Groups and Google Hangouts take over, the old Mailing Lists have dropped in usage and popularity to the point where the owners have decided their day is past.  Over a number of years they have served good purpose, however, and I for one will miss them.  To all those people I have contact on the Lists over the years, to all the administrators who kept the lists running smoothly and for free, thank you for your time, your help and you enthusiasm.

Friday, January 17, 2020

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

  • Transcription Tuesday
    How you can be a family history hero on 4 February
  • Death record success
    Transform your family tree with 10 expert tips from WDYTYA? researcher Laura Berry
  • Mayflower 400th anniversary
    Uncover your links to the pilgrims who settled the USA
  • Reader story
    John Porter discovered a high-society scandal in his family tree
  • Harsh winters
    How our ancestors coped with the cold
  • Plus...
    The best websites for tracing clergyman ancestors; understanding Charles Booth's London poverty maps; the lives of dockers, and much more...
Around Britain
  • Kent
    The best resources for finding family in the south-east of England

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 3 - Unusual Name

In today's climate of unusual names and odd spelling, I sometimes look back through my family records and see an endless stream of the same names - David, Peter, Robert, Arthur, John and William for the men and Susannah, Mary, Isabelle, Anne and Elizabeth for the women.  Even the majority of the surnames in my family are fairly common - Green, Clark, Pike, Argent and so on.

Such 'common' names create their own brand of problems when I am researching.  When there are 3 'David Mulholland's arriving in Australia within a year or so of each other, I have to dig deeper to determine which one is mine.  When two of those David Mulhollands marry women named Eliza, things stay complicated.  When I have 4 generations in a row of direct ancestors named John Argent (all of whom were millers), keeping each one straight can be difficult.

Unusual names can be simpler to trace because it is less likely there will be multiple people with the name to sort through.  My mother's maiden name is Pummeroy.  When her 3xGreat grandfather arrived in Australia in the 1840's he started spelling the name this way (instead of the more usual Pomeroy) the family were the only ones with this particular spelling - so whenever I see that spelling I am pretty confident the person will fit into my tree somewhere.  Beseler is another fairly unusual name in Australia - a German family I am descended from arriving in the country in the mid 1800s.

The problem with such unusual names is that they tend to be more frequently misspelled.  If you want to be creative in how you spell Green, there really isn't too much you can do.  Beseler allows much greater scope.  One 's' or two, one 'l' or two, one or two 'z' instead of the 's', miss the middle 'e' - on my grandfather's death certificate his mother, Eliza Beseler is listed as Eliza Sezler!  While search engines today can be quite flexible with spelling variations these days (I always make sure any option for exact spelling only is not active) there are limits to what they will pick up.  For my more unusual names especially, multiple searches may be necessary to locate what I am looking so.

Sometime I find saying the name out loud helps, especially if I try it with a bit of an accent (be careful where you do this).  Keeping a record of all the spelling variations you have already come across can also be helpful, and may give you hints of how other names in your family may have been incorrectly recorded.

Also keep in mind the possibilities with nicknames, abbreviations and  aliases.  Some people in your family may have changed their names to fit better when they moved to a new country - my German "Lizabetta" became Elizabeth, her sister Susetta became Susan.  Another ancestor Elizabeth May was better known as Betsy, and it is as Betsy Green (after her marriage) that she appears in census records and on her death certificate.  Carl Friedrich Beseler, born in 1810 in Germany, soon becomes Frederick Beseler after he emigrates to Australia - dropping his first name and Anglicizing his middle name.

Finally, it can be the more unusual names that we remember most clearly - the ones who stand out from the 'James Clark's and 'Henry Pike's that turn up, generation after generation, filling the many branches in my family tree.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 2 - First and Last

First and last could be so many things - oldest and youngest child, first and last marriage, first and last day at school or work, first and last holiday, and more.

Taking a somewhat different slant on the topic, I have been reflecting on my first and last (or perhaps most recent) visit to the Public Records Office of Victoria for research.  Those two visits, roughly 30 years apart (suddenly I feel old), could not have been more different.

My first visit to the PROV occurred back in 1989, during my first year at University.  I had been researching my family history on a fairly casual level for a few years already, although while still in high school and living some 200km from the city actual research was less a priority.  I had written and spoken to several relatives about their knowledge of names and dates, and had a notebook full of family stories.  Facts and dates were recorded in another notebook, all jumbled in no particular order, written down as they were related to me by various relatives.  I had yet to discover things like family group sheets and research logs, and had very little methodology to my research. 

I was having a great deal of fun, however, and found the many family stories I was hearing absolutely fascinating.  Often when I heard a story from one member of the family I would immediately go to someone else involved in the same incident and ask for their view - and then I would have to reconcile the two different accounts.  Often there would be discrepancies in accounts - different dates and sequences of events, and I would have to dig deeper to resolve them.

That first visit to the PROV was eye opening in many ways.  A very patient lady introduced me to the basics of proper record keeping and filing, showed me how to use a microfishe reader, and introduced me to a variety of records held by the PROV.  I think my (relatively) young age and enthusiasm for family history influenced her to be far more tolerant of my lack of organisation that she would otherwise have been - and I was hooked.  Over the next few years as I undertook my degree in secondary teaching and librarianship, I haunted the PROV Reading Room and started to compile several folders of records.  Long before many records were available online, living in Melbourne and having access to the PROV, the State Library and other archives made a huge difference to my research.

My last visit to the PROV could not have been more different. It was conducted only a few days ago, from the comfort of my living room, via computer.  Without even having to leave home I accessed wills, inquests into deaths, shipping indexes and more.  I downloaded digitised records and made notes of records to request prior to my next visit to the PROV Reading Rooms.  It truely brought home to me just how much the way we research has changed over the years, and how many records are now available at our fingertips.  Even when the records are not yet available online, the internet has still made visiting the PROV in person so much easier.  There are explanations of records online and the ability to order in the items I want to view, cutting down on waiting time and maximising valuable research hours.

So my first and last visits to the Public Records Office of Victoria were totally different, not just in how I accessed records but also in how I viewed them, how I approached them and how I recorded them.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Irish Lives Remembered

The latest edition of Irish Lives Remembered, a free online magazine about Irish Genealogy, is now available.


  • Dame Barbara Windsor’s Irish Ancestry: The Collins Family from Cork City by Fiona Fitzsimons;
  • The Broderick Surname in Ireland by Paul MacCotter;
  • Who Needs Genetic Cousins Anyway? by Maurice Gleeson;
  • Defenders of the Sun: The “Divine Twins” in Ancient Irish Mythology by Eamonn "Ned" Kelly;
  • Money, Mountain Dew, and Murder: Illicit Poitín Distillation in Ireland During the 1920s. PART 4. "Begad, We Have the Wrong Man Got” by Stephen Peirce;
  • Excerpt of True to Ireland: Éire’s ‘conscientious objectors’ in New Zealand in World War II (2019, The Cuba Press) by Peter Burke. 

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)