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.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

7 Social Networks for Family Historians

Family historians tend to make good social networkers - in other words, they are skilled at building connections with other people through social interactions. Bearing this in mind, it isn't surprising that as a group they have embraced the rise of Web 2.0, or in plain English, genealogists quickly discovered ways to utilise new websites and technologies which allow users to build communities of like-minded folk.

Over the last couple of years, a number of social networks have sprung up, some designed specifically for use by genealogists, others which are more general, but still extremely useful to anyone who wants to connect with other researchers, or find people who are researching the same lines. Today, I'd like to take a look at a handful you might find useful.

Facebook - Facebook is one of the most popular networks, and although not intended as a genealogy tool, it does have a thriving community of family historians who socialise, share advice and take part in writing challenges and carnivals. The site can also be a useful tool for finding long lost relatives. Since I have been a member I have been contacted by 3 previously unknown cousins who found me by simply using the name search tool. However, this might not work as well if you have a popular surname. There are also a small number of applications which members can add to their pages to display a family tree and/or find others who are researching the same lines, and a Blog Network application (you can see my network widget in the far right sidebar) which you can use to find interesting genealogy blogs.

Genmates - This is a new, but growing, purpose made network. Features include forums where members can post their research interests or ask for advice, blogs, events, photo albums and an events listing board. The site is very easy to use and you have the option of email notifications to keep you up to date with new messages and posts. Because of the ease of use, I would suggest this as good site for anyone who is new to social networking.

My Heritage - Another purpose made site, but this one is more sophisticated. Members can build a family tree, either manually or by uploading a gedcom, add photos, post to the message boards, contact other members, and download the accompanying family tree software package to coordinate their online and offline research. There is also a powerful search tool, but I've found it seems to concentrate mainly on US relevant resources - the site is still new so that may change.

Ancestry UK and Ancestry.com - Although, Ancestry is really designed for research, there are a number of community features which give the site a social feel. You can upload and share your family tree, leave message in the forums, or search for other people who share your research interests.

Geneanet - Particularly useful for anyone searching on the European mainland, you can upload your gedcom, use the forums, contact other members, and contribute to the wiki. The site is available in both English and French.

My Family - Made by the people behind Ancestry, features include photo albums, online family tree, discussion boards and video uploading. You have the option of keeping your tree private, only sharing it with those you invite.

Amiglia - I haven't used this site, but it seems to be similar to My Family. Features include family tree, photo albums, calendars and maps. There is also a tool called Family Facebook which displays all your friends on one page along with contact options.

Any suggestions of your own? Why not share them in the comments =>

Monday, 15 December 2008

Who's your 1000th?

I just posted my response to the 'Who's your 1000th' game over at my personal genealogy blog. Why not pop over, have a read and then tell us about your 1000th.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

How to get the most from Google searches

I've been planning to write a post about how to make the most of Google searches, but discovered Robert Ragan has already made a video tutorial which demonstrates some really useful techniques - you can see that above.

I hadn't thought of using the misspelling 'geneology' in my searches - I'm a word nerd, I like to make sure I use correct spellings - but it is a good idea, because not everyone will spell the word correctly, and it would be a shame to miss useful information simply for the sake of one letter. On the other hand, I'd make an addition to combined searches in the shape of the term "family history" which has turned up some interesting results when combined with a surname.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A Twitter of Genealogists

Do you tweet? Or maybe twitter? In plain English, are you using Twitter? If you are, have you connected with other family historians?

What is Twitter? Twitter is a popular micro-blogging platform, which is quite hard to describe to anyone who hasn't used it, but I'll try. Think of it as a kind of global tea party where members communicate using public messages which are limited to 140 characters. People find all sorts of uses for the service, some chat to friends, some share useful links, others post research questions. It isn't designed specifically for genealogy - most users seem to be techy types - but there are number of family historians using the site.

How do I find these people? Very easily! If you go along to Twitter Search, and type 'genealogy' into the search box, you will come to a page listing all the people who have been talking, or tweeting, about genealogy. If you click on a user name - it's the link at the start of each message - you can go to their profile page and find out more about them. Don't go mad and befriend them all, take a look at their profiles to see what else they tweet about, click through to any blogs or websites they list, and if you think they seem interesting, then click the follow button.

You could also try searching for more specific subjects. I have had limited success doing this, but if your research interests are quite popular you may have more luck.

Now what do I do? I can think of two main uses for twitter for genealogists. First, you could simply use it to socialise with people who share your love of family history. If you are anything like me that is an end in itself because, despite it's growing popularity, it is still something of a minority interest. However, you could also make use of the collective wisdom of both your new Twitter friends and also their networks by asking research questions. And of course, you can share any useful resources you have found. If you include the hashtag '#genealogy' in your message it will be found by others who may decide to follow you too.

I don't understand all this terminology! No problem, here's a quick guide:

Tweet - a message limited to 140 characters.
Retweet - quite simply, the act of reposting a tweet.
Hashtag - an identifier such as #genealogy used to make it easier to search for specific subjects or words.
Follow - the act of connecting with, or befriending another twitter member.

Anything else I should know? Usually, at this point I would explain a little about networking and about the Twitter community being a two-way street. In other words, don't hesitate to ask for advice, but do try to offer help too, make your tweets a conversation, not a monologue. However, most family historians are very skilled networkers, so this advice is probably redundant. 

What about bells and whistles? Twitter doesn't have any. I think the simplicity of the service is one of it's most attractive features, members don't have to cope with a steep learning curve because it is pretty much a case of what you see is what you get. There are numerous complementary services and tools though, for example: Twitpic, which lets you share images, or Tweetburner, which shortens long urls (useful given the character limit) and also tracks their use. You will find many more applications, tools and useful information at the Twitter Fan Wiki.

I hope you found this quick guide useful, if you have any questions don't hesitate to leave a comment.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

8 Things About Me

Debra, The Ancestry Detective, kindly tagged me for the 8 Things . . . meme, here is my genealogy themed list:

1) Like most families, mine contains some with odd, or even rude sounding names. The most unusual would have to be Bransom Haggis (there are several of those), I've tried to find the origins of their forename - to answer the question, what were the parents thinking? - and discovered they/we are related to a family called Bronson, which might explain it. I also have branches called Dick and Bozom who sound like they walked off the set of a Carry On film.

2) I seem to have solved a family mystery. The story goes that my great, great grandmother, Catherine McShane had a huge argument with her brother Frank, which was so serious that they never spoke to each other again. In fact, Frank made sure they couldn't speak, by emigrating to America where he is rumoured to have died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. During my research I discovered my great, great grandfather/Catherine's husband, John Rylands came from a Protestant family - the McShanes were Catholic - and his family were members of an Orange Lodge. I suspect the religious differences could have been enough to cause a serious family feud, which seems very sad.

3) Following on from that, it was surprising to learn just how important religion was to my ancestors. Not just in the sense that they had great spiritual beliefs, although many did, but in the effect it had on their lives, even to the extent that they became caught up in wars. I learnt about the influence religion had on the history of this country at school, but it was hard to really relate to the participants. Discovering their names and learning about their lives makes it so much easier to relate to those events.

4) Although, I've managed to discover a great deal about the English and Scots branches of my family, I know much less about the Irish and Welsh branches which is a disappointment. It's hard to research in Ireland because so many records are missing, and my Welsh relatives have really popular names - you try finding one William Evans in Denby LOL

5) When I was a child I had some odd ideas about the past. For example, I thought that during the Dark Ages it actually was dark, and that the first half of the 20th century was black and white.

6) I have inherited a love of tomato soup from my grandfather, along with hair that has it's own ideas about how it should be styled.

7) When I was growing up, my family visited our neighbour, Mrs Holtom, for a glass of eggnog every Christmas Eve. Those occasions are the only times I have ever drunk eggnog, and I'm still not entirely sure I know what it is. Maybe, I should ask Google . . .

8) I often wonder what our ancestors would think of the internet. Looking at my own, there are a few I can imagine would have taken up blogging, because they did seem to be the sort of people who made a habit of recording their thoughts. From a modern perspective, it is a remarkable thing. Not only does it give us a wonderful range of research opportunities, it also gives us the chance to leave a record behind that could be found by our descendants - if any of mine come across my scribblings they might wonder what kind of person they are descended from LOL

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Resources for tracing your Huguenot ancestors

Some time ago I promised to write about tracing ancestors who were immigrants to Britain and Ireland - finally, here is the first post in that series. I'm going to begin with a look at the Huguenots because, although a sizeable number of people in this part of the world are descended from them we rarely hear much about them.

Who were they ? The Huguenots were French Protestants (Calvinists) who fled their home country to escape persecution following the Wars of Religion. Approximately, 60,000 made their way to Britain and Ireland where they were broadly made welcome. In Britain, the largest Huguenot communities could be found in London, East Anglia and Warwickshire - they are credited with the development of the weaving industry in the latter.

I have a French surname, am I of Huguenot descent? Not necessarily. Prior to the arrival of the Huguenots, there were a significant number of people in Britain and Ireland who had French surnames. These were people who were either of Norman descent, or who were closely connected to the Normans in some other way, for example: servants, tenants or soldiers. If your surname can be traced back beyond the 17th century, it is more likely to be Norman. Having said that, many people in Britain and Ireland are of Huguenot descent, especially in the areas where they mainly settled - it is estimated that 25% of Londoners have a Huguenot ancestor.

How do I find out more? You can make a start by visiting the website of The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland which contains lots of useful information for anyone starting to research in this area. The Family History page includes a number of really helpful files you can download.

Further Reading:


Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Online Family History events

Just some news of a couple of online genealogy events you might enjoy.

  • Looking 4 Ancestors is holding a blog carnival with a Canadian theme, to submit a post go here before 7th December.
  • Another carnival at Smile for the Camera, this time (not surprisingly) with a photographic theme. "Choose a photograph of an ancestor, relative, yourself, or an orphan photograph that is your Stocking Stuffer and bring it to the carnival." Submit your post here before 10th December.
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Why one should never wee in the dining room

If you enjoyed my recent post about the Middles Ages, you might like to read about the work of Daniel of Beccles. In about* the 13th century, Daniel wrote Book of the Civilised Man, the first English book of social etiquette. Within it's pages he went into great detail about the standard of behaviour expected of a chap who hope to make his way in society - I say chap because Daniel's advice does not seem to be aimed at women. In fact, I suspect he wasn't keen on anyone who didn't wee standing up**, but, I digress.

While some of the advice on offer seems quite obvious: don't pee in the dining room; some of it is in use today, for example: not talking with your mouth full. The original work was written in Latin, but there is an online translation along with an interesting accompanying essay on the website of The Foxearth and District Local History Society***.

* Contemporary accounts which coincide with references in the book suggest that it was written in the 13th century.

** Just realised, that should be people who wee standing up outside the dining room ;-)

*** The site also contains church records from Pentlow.

How Google Maps can help eliminate false leads

Route from Rempstone to Normanton
Click image to see larger map

I have noticed that, on the whole, my ancestors did not move around a great deal and tended to marry people who lived within a 10 mile radius of their home. While this isn't always the case, this knowledge can be useful when it comes to finding alternative locations to search for information. The problem is, sometimes my family lived in places I'm not familiar with, so even if I know they lived in Village A, but I find a record of their marriage in Village B, it isn't immediately obvious that I have found the correct people. This is when Google Maps can be very useful. Not only is it a great way to find and explore the home towns of our ancestors, it also features a route finding tool which shows you the exact distance between two or more locations.

The map above shows the results of a search I made for the distance between Rempstone and Normanton on Soar which are in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Several branches of my family came from these villages, but because they are in different counties, I was initially unsure that the families were connected. However, as you can see, the two places are less than five miles apart.

Using distance as a way of eliminating incorrect results isn't foolproof. Sometimes people did travel very long distances but in my experience these tended to be people who had a good reason to do so, for example: soldiers, sailors and journeymen. Farmers, on the other hand, tended to stay close to home. Therefore, distance can be helpful but only when combined with other known facts.

Presentment Bills of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham

I have posted about the Presentment Bills of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham before, but only in passing. They are such a fascinating resource that I thought they really deserved a post of their own.

What are they: The presentment bills are a collection of documents created by church wardens in the 16th and 17th centuries detailing the names (and often other information) of people who had broken church law. Typical 'offences' would be such things as failing to attend church, failing to have a new baby baptised or indulging in immoral behaviour. As far as I know, all parishes maintained such records, but only Nottingham has created an online catalogue.

Which areas do they cover: The bills cover the Bingham, Retford, Newark and Nottingham deaneries. To find out which area your ancestors lived in try the table on this page.

How can they help: If you happen to have ancestors from Nottinghamshire, there is a good chance you will find some reference to them in these bills. Or, if not your direct ancestors, then members of their extended family. Some entries are quite detailed and will provide more than just a name. I have found spouses and occupations in entries pertaining to my relatives.

Furthermore, they can tell you a little about the kind of people your ancestors were. I discovered one branch of my family were regularly penalised for not attending church. This makes sense. The family were Anabaptist therefore they did not recognise the authority of the Anglican church and were classed as non-Conformists. Another branch received similar penalties, they were recusant Catholics. Of course, if your ancestors were penalised for non-attendance, that does not mean they followed a non-conformist religion. It could simply mean they were not particularly religious at all. Then as now, many people only really felt the need to attend church for 'hatches, matches and dispatches' and would have resisted attempts to force them to attend every Sunday.

You can find a longer and more detailed description of the bills here.

Examples: The easiest way to search, is to open the page you want to view and use your computers built in search tool. I clicked on the link for the Bingham Deanery for Easter 1608 and didn't find any of my relatives listed - they must have been behaving themselves LOL However, there a few interesting entries.
AN/PB 293/2/47 24.9.1603 Wilford
Summer and winter 1603/4
Churchwardens present the following: Joan Stafford, widow, a railer, a scold and an uncharitable liver.
Bound together with other documents from the same series, AN/PB 293/2.
Thankfully I'm not related to Joan - although I do wonder if she really was as unpleasant as that description suggests.
AN/PB 293/2/49 24.9.1603 Shelford
Summer and winter 1603/4
One churchwarden presents the following: Wm Smyth for detaining the surplice from the parish, and for using very uncomely words as 'turd in the churchwardens teeth', which was spoken in the church porch.
Bound together with other documents from the same series, AN/PB 293/2.
Not much to add there except to say Mr Smith sounds like a very rude man.
AN/PB 293/2/56 1603 (c) Barnby in the Willows
Summer and winter 1603/4?
Churchwardens present the following: John Burt and Alse Nealer for a common fame that John Burt said that he lay on the bed with the said Alse in the night time; Robert England for a slandering of his neighbour Edmund Ward, saying that he lived upon 'sheefts' and made a benefit of cavilling with other men, and the said Robert said with slanderous speeches on 10 July last that Edmund Ward had practised this two years to take his house on his head; the said Robert was slandered by Roger Richardson's wife that he came to her bed and would have lain with her, and that he brought her some plums in his hat.
No place name given; identified as Barnby in the Willows from names of churchwardens.
No date given; found in series of presentment bills from 1603 and 1604.
Bound together with other documents from the same series, AN/PB 293/2.
Trying to seduce a woman with a hat full of plums - it sounds like a scene from a Carry On film LOL I suppose this was the pre-chocolate era so the poor chap would have had to make do with whatever was at hand.

And finally, my favourite entry . . .
AN/PB 294/2/66 7.5.1607 East Markham
Easter 1607
Churchwardens present the following: Elizabeth Cowper for fornication with Thomas Browne, as she says; Nicholas Storke for being absent from church on the Sabbath day and being at bowls; we asked him a reason for his absence and he answered 'he can reade as much at hoam & that he knoweth our reder for no lawfull minister', but we know our reader has a licence by one Mr Dodsworth of York for Mr Field's absence.
Written in another hand above each of the names: 'emt'.
Written in another hand at side of page: 'R'.
If I were in Mr Storke's shoes I think I would have gone bowling rather than spend my Sundays with a bunch of people who felt the need to police my morals LOL

The Middle Ages - not as smelly as you might think

Leonardo da Vinci self portrait
Leonardo da Vinci - Self Portrait

If you have been using the internet for any length of time, the chances are you have come across the email forward listing all sorts of horrible indignities our ancestors lived with and (in some versions) suggesting that these are the origins of modern sayings. To give you an example of what I mean here is one version of the essay:
The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500's:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water..
Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof When i t rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying .. It's raining cats and dogs.
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.
The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, Dirt poor.
The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying a thresh hold.
In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old..
Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat..
Those with money had plates! made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.
England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer..
And that's the truth...Now, whoever said History was boring ! ! !
It's an interesting read. However, it is completely untrue. While some of it does sound plausible, there are a few clues that give it away, for example the inclusion of American sayings which are either not used in England, or which only became commonplace here in the 19th and 20th centuries. Furthermore, the period the essay is said to cover varies from sender to sender. Sometimes, specific centuries are mentioned, in other versions the essay is alleged to be a description of the whole medieval period.

The Middle Ages lasted from the 5th century to the early 16th. During that period society was not static and life in the 5th century was dramatically different to that in the 16th. Enormous advances were made in the fields of science and technology, which may seem quite basic to our modern eyes, but which did provide great improvements to the lives of those who were around at the time. It's easy to look back and assume people were smelly, primitive barbarians, but really they weren't. Remember Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century, not long after this, Copernicus developed a formula to prove that the earth was not the centre of the universe, and glasses (spectacles) and water mills had been invented. It was also a period of great literary and artistic works, both Leonardo da Vinci and Chaucer were Medieval folk.

If you want to know more about medieval life, try the following links:

Resources for finding your witches

In my post yesterday, I included a reference to a trial for witchcraft. Of course, the people who were executed on that occasion were not the only ones who were accused of such a crime and many people living today are descended from those who came to the attention of witch hunters. I have an alleged witch in my tree - a very long way back, you'll find her in one of the sources linked below - if you think you also have a witchy ancestor here are a few resources you might find useful.

It is important to remember that those who were accused of witchcraft were unlikely to actually be witches and would not have described themselves as such. The reasons for the witch hunting phenomena are varied, but those accused tended to be people who for some reason were outside mainstream society, those who followed non-conformist religions or those who were perceived to be getting above their allotted station in life or who fell out with the wrong people.

That Was A Year That Was

The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, receives a lot of criticism for inaccuracy. To an extent this criticism is warranted, there are some bogus entries. However, Wikipedia is a good starting point for further research. It is particularly useful for adding background to your research because of it's pages devoted to the events of specific years, or even specific days.

I'm one of those people who like to add background to the lists of dates and names I compile. I don't think I'm unusual in this, most family historians do like to study local and national history, culture, etc. in an attempt to bring some colour to the basic details which are all many of us have about our ancestors. Even if we know more, it is useful to know what was going on in the society our ancestors lived in, often this information can help to explain why they did certain things, for example: moving to a new town. This is where a comprehensive encyclopaedia is extremely handy.

So, if you are curious about the world your ancestors were born into, pop over to Wikipedia, type a date into the search box, and browse the resulting page. To give you an example of what you might find, I did a search for 1682, the year my 8 x great grandmother, Elizabeth Holmes was born in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire. The page for that year includes a few interesting entries.
  • March 11 - Chelsea hospital for soldiers is founded in England.
  • September 14 - Bishop Gore School in Swansea, Wales is founded.
  • October 27 - The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is founded by William Penn.
  • October 31 - The city of Bideford, England two men and one woman were some of the last to be executed for witchcraft in England. They were accused of speaking in unknown languages as well as practicing knowledge beyond their natural abilities, and acting in peculiar manners. The woman, Guenevere Damascus, as well as her lover (name unknown) and their spiritual mentor were burned at the stake.
The latter entry tells me it was still quite a brutal and superstitious society, but the first two hint that it was becoming more enlightened. The third entry is interesting because it shows that even at that early date, the New World was growing and thriving.

While none of these incidents directly affected my grandmother they were, in a small way, indicative of the way her society functioned and what it was becoming.