Thanks for dropping by :-) This blog contains an assortment of tips, advice, resources and other useful bits and pieces for anyone researching their family history in the UK and Ireland. If you want to keep up with the posts, don't forget to subscribe using the links to the right.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

5 Reasons why a family historian needs a blog or website

There are numerous websites which offer members the facility to upload a gedcom file and create an online family tree, so some might ask whether there is any point to creating and maintaining a stand alone blog or website. I say yes, and this is why:

1) Visibility: It's more likely to be found. I've noticed some of the places I have stored copies of my tree do not turn up on the results page of search engines. Your own site or blog probably will, which means long lost cousins are more likely to find you - and maybe share some valuable info!

2) Customisation: It's an obvious point, but an important one for some people. You can make your own site fit your taste and preferences more easily, and also decide what kind of material or content you wish to display.

3) Community: You can build up a community consisting of family members, friends and others who are interested in your research. And if many hands make light work, many historians make lighter research. Well, that's the theory anyway LOL

4) Sharing: You can share all the advice, tips and resources you have gathered on your journey. I often find the most useful information on a personal blog rather than a mainstream site.

5) Background: This fits into a couple of other categories, but it's important, so I'll mention it separately. Having your own site or blog means you can add information which would not fit into a standard online tree. Subjects such as; folklore, history and culture provide fascinating background information which will help you create a more vivid and colourful picture of the kind of lives your ancestors lived.

So, over to you. Do you have a blog or website? What kind of information do you publish? Do you have any tips for anyone who is about to start their own?

Don't laugh, someone lives there

The Genealogue published an interesting post yesterday about the origin of the name of the Christmas Mountains in the US. The ironic thing about the theories is that one sounds quite reasonable, the other like the opening scenes of a horror film, but the latter is most likely to be true!

Here in the UK, we too have unusually named places. I grew up not far from the Worcestershire village of Wyre Piddle, which sounds awfully painful. However, the name actually comes from the nearby stream. Over in Gloucestershire, you can find the villages of Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter. As you can see from the photos on the page I linked to, they are chocolate box pretty, and don't look as though they could be the scene of a massacre. They weren't. The name probably comes from an Old English word, slohtre which means inferior - possibly a reference to boggy land.

I now live in Yorkshire, and the Tykes are not immune to funny names either. They have a Blubberhouses - there are several suggestions for the origins of that name. I thought it may be connected with whaling because of it's proximity to Whitby, but apparently not. There is also a Spacey Houses - I can't find anything about how the village got it's name. Perhaps it was founded by Kevin. If you know, do leave a comment.

If you are wondering about the name of an English town or village, try this site.

So what about your part of the world? Why not share your strange, interesting, funny or downright odd place names.

Money, then and now

I've just added a really useful link to the sidebar, Current Value of Old Money contains a wealth (sorry, bad pun) of useful information and resources for calculating the value of old money in modern terms. The resources provided include such things as average wages for specific jobs, prices of food and other essential items and one site I found particularly useful, Measuring Worth, which features a calculator you can use to automatically translate an old value into a modern one, or vice versa.

In 1638, my 10 x great grandmother, Sabina Worsley (mother of Anna Wigmore) was left a legacy of £1300 in her step father's will. She received this money when she married in 1640. Even today, £1300 would be a worthwhile amount, but back then it would have been equivalent to receiving £175, 768 in modern values. A very generous gift which must have given the newly married couple a great start to their marriage. But what about people who weren't so fortunate?

Most of my ancestors would have been lucky to see that kind of money in a lifetime, but how much, or little, would they have earned? In an article at the website of The International Institute of Social History, Jan Luiten van Zanden estimates labourers earned about 10 pence a day in the period between 1580 and 1626. In today's world, 10 pence a day would be worth about £5.57. Not a great amount, especially when you consider that the minimum hourly wage is currently £5.52. Of course, prices have also gone up, but just how far would that 10 pence go?

In an account taken at Southampton in 1625, we can see that 1lb of cheese cost 2 1/2 pence, and two lean chickens were 6 pence. Ale is also mentioned with the good stuff selling for 3 shillings for 18 gallons. The amounts shown on the page are often for large orders and the total costs reflect this. To get an idea of how much an individual, or family would spend you will need to convert the archaic measures into the standard ones used to day. And if you aren't sure how much a bushel is, or how many gallons are in a hogshead try this page.

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Message Boards and Mailing Lists

Message boards and mailing lists are brilliant places to find information, discover long lost cousins and get to know other family historians. If you haven't already done so, why not find a few which match your research interests and subscribe. Rootsweb and Yahoo are good places to look, or take a look at the links in the right sidebar for some of my favourites.

Once you have signed up, you may not have much information to share if you are just starting out, but you will find the posts helpful and often highly informative even if they aren't necessarily about your family. Most of the lists you join will have their own guidelines about the kind of posts which can be made to the list and the sort of behaviour which is expected of members. However, the following tips are usually applicable to all lists and should help you to get the most out of your membership.

1) Write surnames in capital letters. For example BLOGS, not Blogs. It is not always obvious that a surname is just that, some are also first names, or place names, or occupations. So Fred George, could be a full name, or it could be two forenames. Fred Carpenter might mean Fred who was a carpenter.

2) Write descriptive titles. Try to explain what your message is about in a short, succinct title. For example 'Fred BLOGS, date of birth?' lets other members know you are asking about the date of birth of someone called Fred Blogs.

3) Post to the correct list or board. If a mailing list or message board has been dedicated to a particular place, name or other topic, try to avoid posting unrelated queries there. People who are searching for their ancestors in Aberdeen are unlikely to know about yours from Southampton.

4) Use a signature message. But, only if it is allowed! Ask the moderator or list owner if you are unsure. If it is OK, append a short message - no more than 2 or 3 lines, including the surnames of a few of the families you are looking for, or a link to your online family tree. This can be a great way to find other people who have information about your ancestors.

5) Try to give back. If you are a newcomer, you may not have much advice or information to offer. However, you can help in other ways. Maybe you know about a particular occupation. Or maybe you have a lot of knowledge of a particular location - for example, your home town. Read the other messages on the list, and if you see one you can help with, send off an answer.

Those are my tips, if you have any why not share them in the comments :-)

18 resources for family history beginners

The following post is taken from an email I put together a while ago for a friend who asked about the best places online to start his research without spending too much cash. I know many of the sites listed will be obvious to someone who has been involved in family history research for a while, but if you are just getting started have a browse, I hope you find something useful.

I should say, my family are from the UK and Ireland, and the sites do reflect that, but some will be of use if you are looking in other parts of the world. I've included a number of free to use sites, because they can be useful places to start to look especially if you only want to find the details you need to send off for certificates.

  • GENUKI is a UK and Ireland family history site full of useful links, mostly organised into counties, then sub-divided. It is a huge site, but worth looking around because it is packed with really helpful stuff. Read their beginners guide before you start, it is long but worthwhile because it is full of advice and tips about things you need to know.
  • Cyndi's List is similar to GENUKI but has an international theme. There is still a lot of British and Irish stuff there, plus a range of other bits and pieces that you may find helpful for example: occupational information.
  • UK National Archives is the main repository for records, censuses, military information and pretty much everything else that is, or has been recorded in the UK. You can search for free, but there is a small charge to view most records. The exception is anything held on A2A (linked below).
  • Ancestry have some free searches, most you have to pay for, but you can find a lot using the former. At the moment the 1881 census for England and Wales is free, so are all the birth, death and marriage records from 1837 provided by the Free BMD. To search these go here. Remember, the dates given there are only the date of registration, and are divided into quarters. (You can also search this database at the link below, but sometimes it can become very slow due to the amount of traffic it receives.) You will be able to search the actual registrars transcripts, some later ones include such things as the mothers maiden name, or the name of a spouse, but not all. You need to be a subscriber to use these though. Ancestry also have wills, directories indexes from places such as universities and military records. Actually, they seem to add new stuff all the time so it's probably not possible to include everything here.
  • Free BMD is a voluntary project to upload all birth, marriage and death records from 1837. It's not complete, but more and more data is being added every day. If you find a marriage record using the search on ancestry, Free BMD can be useful for finding the spouse. They list all marriages in a district in that date period, so if you know that Fred Blogs married a Freda you can usually match them up. Even if you don't know the name of the other person, you can at least narrow it down to a few potential candidates then use other records to find the right one. Once you have located the record you want you can use the link provided to send off for a full copy which will contain a lot more information for example: names of parents on a birth certificate, the name and occupation of fathers on marriage certificates.
  • Freecen is a sister project of the Free BMD working to compile a database of census returns from 1841 - 1891. Once again, it's not complete, but I have found plenty of useful stuff there, and you get to see more info than you would on the Ancestry site which is really useful if you find you have several possibilities but need to see other information to be sure of a match.
  • Freereg is a similar project but listing parish returns (baptisms, marriages and burials. Some records are brief with little more than a name and date, others are more detailed and include similar information to civil records.
  • UKBMD has lists of local sites some of which have searchable databases. Plus you will find other useful info, some may not seem that important at first but as you progress it is helpful (and interesting) to know about such things as local industries, the location of churches and so on.
  • Family Search has a range of records, the 1881 census and a lot of parish records. Just be careful. They also allow their members to edit the database, so check the source. If it is from a parish register or some other official document it should be accurate. However, if it was supplied by a member be wary. Some of this info is wrong. It is free to use, and can be helpful, just make sure you check the source and then double check the data.
  • A2A is a database of directories, family documents, maps and other interesting stuff. It doesn't have any BMDs or census returns, but it is handy. For example you might find a relative who worked in particular trade and want to know more, this would be a good place to look.
  • Historical Directories is similar but with an emphasis on trade directories
  • There is also BOPCRIS - that has mainly government archives.
  • And British History Online is another similar idea, but that allows you to bookmark texts for future reference. This is a great place to look for detailed county histories.
  • OldMaps is a good place to get a look at the layout of an area in the past. If you find a street or area that isn't mention on a modern map, try having a look there.
  • Rootsweb has loads of mailing lists and message boards covering areas, surnames, occupations and more. It is worth subscribing to any relevant ones because the members are usually very helpful.
  • Rootschat is a family history forum with threads covering England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and their counties, plus occupations, surnames and other topics. Once again the members are friendly and will try to help you with any questions - in fact Rootschat offers a free look up service. (Both Rootsweb mailing lists and Rootschat are good places to go to learn more about your Irish relatives. I have found the online material to be less than helpful, and it's been more useful to join a list and find people researching the same names or areas.)
  • The 1901 Census Decoder is a free programme which lets you search the 1901 England and Wales census - the idea is you can find all the member of a household before you send of for the record, sometimes people can end up on different pages, so you may not be sure you have found the family you are looking for.
  • The Parish Locator programme is also free and you can use it to find all parishes within an area. It also details parishes of different denominations.
That's all! But if you have any tips or suggestions why not leave them in a comment :-)
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Spotlight on: Clergy of the Church of England Database

If you discover you are descended from an Anglican clergyman, there is an excellent database online which you can use to find out more about your ancestor. The Clergy of the Church of England database is free to search and in many cases the information provided is very detailed.

The link above will take you to the home page, from there click the link marked 'Database Home' in the left sidebar and then 'Search' on the subsequent page. Type your search into the box provided and if there is a match you will see the results in a list in the left sidebar. You simply click on a name to open up the full results.

I just tried a sample search using the surname 'Wigmore'. There are four results - all related to me, although, I'm not sure how one chap fits in - opening up the file for my great x 10 grandfather, Gilbert Wigmore, gives me some really useful information about him. For example, it tells me when he graduated from university and which college, when he was ordained, which ranks he held and in which parishes. This is all really useful stuff to know, and a great starting point for further research.

Looking at the dates pertaining to Gilbert, it is quite apparent that he would have served as a rector during the years of the English Civil War - and that opens up a whole new area of research. Which side was he on? Or did he do what many country vicars did, and try to stay out of it? I'm not sure if I will ever be able to answer those questions, but knowing what kind of environment he lived and worked in is very useful and does help to add some background and colour to the simple dates and statistics I already have.
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Scam Warning and Some Tips to Help You Stay Safe

I spotted this post over at UK Chat Genealogy warning of bogus sites mimicking genuine ones with addresses that are so close to the real thing only the most observant would notice the difference. Pop over and have a read, and take note of the urls used - whatever the reason for the fakes, it is unlikely to be to your benefit so you really wouldn't want to stumble into the wrong place.

This isn't the first scam to affect the genealogy community, and I'm sure it won't be the last. As with all things online and offline, there are unscrupulous people willing to exploit any situation. However, don't panic and don't let that thought put you off your research. Scams are quite rare, and keeping your eyes open for discrepancies can often be enough to protect you from them.

One more thing. Since I have been writing a family history blog, I have received a number of spam emails from people claiming to be professional genealogists, or offering membership of genealogy sites I have never heard off. If you receive similar emails from strangers, send them straight to the trash folder. They are often scams - it's known as 'phishing' - and by clicking any links contained in the message you are letting the scammers know that your address is live. Even worse, if you visit the site and input any data, that will then be in the hands of unscrupulous people. Not good! If you are unsure about the validity of a site or service mentioned in such an email, search Google (or another search engine) for information about it.

If you are using the Firefox browser, you can install the Google toolbar which now comes with a function called Google Safe Browsing which can alert you if you attempt to visit a bogus site.

A couple of useful freebies

When people begin to trace their family history, often the first purchase or download they make is a software package to record and track their finds. However, there is one other piece of essential software you will need, a .pdf reader. PDF stand for 'portable document format', and it can be used on a range of platforms without the overall appearance of the document changing. What is more, it is also widely used to display information on genealogy sites, so it is essential that you have a copy on your computer. Don't worry, this is not something you need to part with any cash for, you can obtain a copy for free by simply going to this page.

Once you have installed that, head over to Google Books, where you will find copies of many useful reference works, biographies, topographies and other useful material. This is a good place to go to find works that may contain background information about the places your ancestors lived, or the jobs they did, or even them themselves. Some of the books are only available in extract form, others are full books which can be saved or download for free.

Family History Link Shrinker

There are a number of sites which offer a link shrinking service - software which take a long url and turns it into a shorter, more manageable version, ideal for posting on message boards without stretching the thread and making it unreadable. However, now there is one especially for family historians! Head over to Rootschat, add your looong url, click the 'Shrink Link' button and hey presto, a nice short link. There is also a bookmark you can drag to your browser toolbar so you can access the service whenever you need it.

Searching a long list of names . . .

. . . is a lot easier if you use the built in search tool on your computer. To access it simply press CTRL and F at the same time and a search bar will open in Firefox or a search box in Internet Explorer. This makes it really easy to find the name you want in a long list, and to jump from one entry to the next.

My apologies to Mac users, I'm not sure how you can access the same feature, but if you happen to know, please leave a comment below.