Thursday, February 27, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 8 - At the Cemetery

Headstones and cemetery records can be incredibly useful records to find.  The information found on headstones can be remarkably varied in content, with anything from a simple name to the details of parents, spouse, children and dates and places of birth and death.  Sometimes finding one relative in a cemetery leads to the discovery of several more, with whole generations of family all buried in the same location.  Over the years I have had some great finds in cemeteries that have helped me overcome brick walls and the loss of other records.

As digitization of cemetery records and photographing of headstones becomes increasingly common, we are able to access from home even more records.  While nothing can replace actually visiting an ancestor’s grave in person, finding records I cannot visit myself available online is a definite bonus.  I have found online the cemetery records of a number of relatives who lived overseas, whose graves I am unlikely to be able to visit for some time, if ever.  Like so many other researchers, I owe a debt to those who have given their time to photograph headstones and transcribe cemetery records.

I have been lucky enough to acquire photographs of the headstones of many family members, some during personal visits and others sent by relatives or located online through sites like Find-A-Grave or BillionGraves.  The quality and amount of information on them varies a lot, as does the legibility and the state of preservation of the headstone.  It is worth noting that not all tombstones actually date from the time the gravesite was actually used - the stones themselves could be installed at a much later date by relatives, or be replacements for older stones which have been damaged or destroyed.

One particular headstone I have photographed was in extremely good condition, and commemorated several family members from a couple of generations.  The stone probably dates from the time of death of the last person included - was there an older tombstone in place at some time that has now been replaced, or is this a more 'general' tombstone that commemorates several family members buried in the area over time??  Who erected this stone, and where did they obtain the information they have included on it?  I need to delve into the cemetery records for this particular tombstone to find out more, and confirm the accuracy of the records, especially the older names and dates.

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.