From Family Fact to Family Fiction – Barefoot on the Cobbles

Pharos Tutor, Janet Few, is author and tutor on the course ‘Are you Sitting Comfortably: Writing and Telling your Family History’. Here she tells us about some of the research that was necessary to turn a family story into a fictionalised account for a forthcoming novel. Janet lives and works in Devon.

I always knew I would write a novel one day, just not this novel. When FindmyPast released some criminal records, I discovered the story of a local couple who were accused of the manslaughter of their adult daughter. Although this only took place in 1918, no hint of the incident had passed down to the present day and I was intrigued.

One hundred years ago, in the euphoria of the armistice, a young woman lay dying in a North Devon fishing village. Her parents were to stand trial for her manslaughter. Barefoot on the Cobbles uncovers the story of the troubled individuals involved and the traumas in their pasts that led to this tragedy. I have tried to recreate life at the dawning of the twentieth century and to root the narrative in its unique and beautiful geographical setting,

I used very similar research techniques to those that I suggest in my Pharos course. The court records do not survive, but I was able to find very detailed newspaper accounts and they were the key to unlocking the past. They also helped me with dialogue, as I had access to verbatim witness statements. Of course, my previous history and genealogy books hadn’t required me to be able to write speech. The novel is set in a fishing community, where the weather played a huge part in people’s lives and I tried very hard to reflect actual weather events of the time. Fortunately, monthly weather reports for the period I was writing about are available. Where possible, I even tried to write chapters at the right time of year, so that I knew that I was capturing correctly the twists of the seasons and the wildflowers in the hedgerows.

Being an historian, I was obsessed with getting things right. It was very difficult at first to realise that this was not family history, it was fiction and I could fill in the gaps by making things up. Actually, very little was invented in the end. You would not believe the extended debate that ensued over very minor points, such as whether Clovelly donkeys carried luggage down the hill as well as up. Despite photographic evidence, it seems they did not. It turned out that the photograph that suggested to the contrary was posed for a film!

Avoiding anachronisms is not just about making sure your sixteenth century character is not wearing a wristwatch, or your hero does not put his shopping in a plastic carrier bag in the 1930s; I have read both of these clangers. Using appropriate language was another challenge. I had to be careful not to use phrases or vocabulary that was inconsistent with the early twentieth century. Reading novels and diaries that were written in the period, or earlier, was a great help here.

I call it a ‘why done it’, it is very much about people and why they may have behaved as they did. It is essentially a book about people and what makes them behave in a particular way. The characters and their backgrounds allowed me to explore such issues as anorexia, shell-shock, mental health, alcoholism, the menopause and infant mortality. You will find evidence of my interest in the history of medicine and of my love of the Devon landscape, hidden between the covers of this book.

I spent two years immersed in a landscape that was familiar and an era that was not. The characters became as real to me as my own family and somehow I knew how they would react in certain situations. In the end, the facts and the fiction became intertwined and now I have to remind myself which are the parts of the novel that I invented.

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Barefoot on the Cobbles is due out on 17 November, for more information see
http://bit.do/bfotc

Details of Janet’s course Are you Sitting Comfortably: Writing and Telling your Family History here

 

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What is your oldest possession?

This post is by Pharos Tutor, Julie Goucher

Image - Oldest possession

As humans we all have many things in common and yet we are unique individuals. One thing we have in common is that we each have a surname, in fact there is a chance it is our oldest possession. We were probably born with it, but we might have acquired it though marriage or adoption. Regardless of how we acquired it, we share our surnames with others, some of whom we are related to and others we are not. For some genealogists, that concept is fascinating and so a project of proportion is born, a one-name study or research into a surname.

Over the course of the next five weeks, a group of genealogists will be exploring the wider angle of surname research. We will be understanding the concept of one-name studies and surname research, exploring surnames and their history and using distribution maps which often add an interesting dimension to our studies as well as our family history. Also, we will be exploring core records that we need to build our studies and the process of gathering information.  We will then discover data analysis and making sense of it all and look at the practical aspects of operating a one-name study, covering organising it, software, sharing your study using Facebook Groups and using the unique help of the Guild of One-Name Studies Profile feature as well as having your own website. The Guild offers the opportunity to have a website on the Guild servers, at no cost to those with a registered study. The website is indexed by all the search engines such as Google and Bing and provides a platform for you to share your material with others, find lost cousins, and preserve the material at the same time.

Each week there is a lesson with a series of exercises to undertake, with the answers and comments shared in the student forum, lesson material to read and think about, a video or two to watch. At the end of each lesson is a list of references covered during the lesson and perhaps some hints for recommended reading. Also, each week there is a student chat, this enables conversation, debate, the exchange of information, hints, tips and guidance.

Since the 1st February on my own blog I have published each day about some of the fascinations of researching a surname, undertaking the Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies course and getting the best from membership of the Guild of One-Name Studies.

By investing the time to understand the broader concepts of surname research and how that works with, and links to other disciplines, you are laying solid foundations for both your own one-name study and your own family history. At the early stages, it is more than just tree building or name collection, solid foundations involve thinking about what you want your study to achieve over the longer term, thus enabling yourself to build a research plan to meet your study goals and discover the fascinating story of your oldest possession.

The Introduction to One-Name Studies course starts on 13 February 2018 and runs for five weeks.

Read more about Julie

 

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How do you research your family tree?

This is a cross post from the excellent blog by professional genealogist and Pharos Tutor Karen Cummings.  You may have missed the original, so we make no apologies for posting it again.

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How do you research your family tree?

It’s not a trick question, I would like to know. There are so many adverts these days for the big commercial websites: “just type your name in and see what you will discover” and I am concerned we may be losing knowledge of how to conduct proper genealogical research.

It’s not a question of clicking links on Ancestry (other commercial websites are available) and adding people to your tree, or, even worse, basing research on shaking green leaves or hints. Yes, you can easily create a family tree this way but, and I say this with tongue in cheek, you could end up barking up completely the wrong tree!

There is far more to genealogical research: knowledge and methodology.

To conduct genealogical research effectively you need an understanding of sources. What sources should you investigate for a particular research need? When were they created and why? What is the likelihood that your ancestor will be included? There are many courses available to increase your knowledge of different sources, such as those from the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS), Pharos and the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee. There are also lots and lots of books available, e.g. the “My Ancestor was…” series from the Society of Genealogists and the “Tracing Your … Ancestors” series from Pen and Sword and many articles in the family history magazines.

Even with an understanding of sources there is still a need for caution with the data available on Ancestry, Find My Past and the like. What sources are actually included in a database? Is the database complete or will more records be added later? What are the most effective search techniques and how do you untangle the results you find?

I saw this posted on a social media group recently:

“Which side do you work from and why? Family Tree Maker or Ancestry?”

Aggh! That had me positively jumping up and down on my soap box! Are we really led to believe that “everything is on Ancestry”? Is that what people think? Good quality research considers what sources are required THEN where they are, not the other way around.

This brings me onto methodology. In the UK we really do not give methodology much air time. Our US cousins are far better at formalising genealogy methodology. In my opinion we really need to think about this more.

Two things happened whilst I was at “WDYTYA Live” in Birmingham recently that left me with completely opposing opinions of “the way things are”. Firstly I went to a talk from American, Robert Charles Anderson, on the methodology he describes in his book Elements of Genealogical Analysis. It describes a systematic methodical approach to analysing your research and coming to sound conclusions. Some of you may be familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard, more commonly used in the US but, again, a sound methodology to establishing “proof”. That deserves a series of blog post on its own so I won’t go into it further here. I thought Mr Anderson’s approach was excellent but around half the audience got up during the talk and walked out. Was it just the American records bias of the talk or are people really no longer interested in doing things properly?

At the complete opposite end of the scale, a new book had just been published by Pen and Sword from a colleague of mine, John Wintrip, Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors. The title is deceptive and really does not show it off to the best of the publisher’s abilities. Yes, there is much discussion on the specifics of research in the pre-Victorian period but it is the subtitle that is important: “A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians“. I understand that it was sold out by the end of day 2, and I certainly did not see any copies for sale on the last day, so maybe we are still taking this seriously after all.

blogwintrop

We need more of this in the UK: Sound advice on how to conduct proper, good quality genealogical research.

John starts by considering the skills and knowledge needed for genealogical research and breaks this down into four areas:

knowledge of sources
searching skills
analytical and problem solving skills
external knowledge
There are chapters on sources, distinguishing between original and derivative sources and records, and search techniques, including how to get the best from online databases.

Special consideration is given to names, social status, religion, occupations and migration and how these may affect your research journey but there is much focus on methodology: using archives, evidence and proof and techniques such as family reconstitution.

John’s book describes research techniques as used by the professionals and those who take their family history seriously. It introduces the concept of considering the records you are using in the context of what was happening from a historical perspective at the time. Filled with useful case studies from his own research John teaches you to consider the wider picture. Is it possible that a birth you may be looking for is not where you thought because the father was in the militia at the time and stationed elsewhere?

We do not have a lot of information about genealogy research methodology in the UK. The only other recent publication that comes to mind is the also excellent Genealogy: Essential Research Methods from Helen Osborn. Taking a slightly different approach to John Wintrip’s book I heartily recommend both volumes to anyone serious about their research.

bloghelen

Please, and I know I have used this word repeatedly, can we do this properly?

 


Find out more about Karen here

 

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Trilogies

This post is by Pharos Tutor, Stuart Raymond, author, teacher and genealogist

I had a very curious experience last year. I asked Pen & Sword if they would be interested in publishing a book on Nonconformist Ancestors. To which the response was, well, why not expand it to include the Church of England as well? To which my response was, the nonconformist sources would be swamped. Well, in that case, why not two books, one on Nonconformity, one on the Church of England. Oh, and throw in another on Roman Catholic records as well. To which I responded, Help!!!

But my publisher was right. There were few up to date books which provided comprehensive coverage of sources relating to the various different denominations. Yes, there are many which cover aspects of those sources, such as my own on Parish Registers, or some of the Society of Genealogists’ My ancestors were … series on specific denominations. But there was little recent work which covered the whole range of sources in detail. So I set to work.

Earlier this year, the first of the trilogy appeared. Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors: a guide for family and local historians aims to provide an overview of nonconformist records. It begins with an outline history of nonconformity, which explains the context in which records were created. Those records are held in many different record offices, which are discussed in some detail.  Many records are common to all nonconformist denominations, for example, state and ecclesiastical records of late seventeenth-century persecution, and the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials deposited with the Registrar General in 1841 and 1856 (and now available at http://www.bmdregisters.co.uk). The structures of the various nonconformist denominations are sometimes very different, and it is important to know that the record keeping activities of Quakers are very centralised, whereas most Baptist or Congregationalist records do not go beyond the local church. The sheer diversity of nonconformist denominations must also be taken into account. The first denomination mentioned in my index is the Apostolic Church, and the last the Wesleyan Reform Union.

Tracing your Church of England Ancestors: a Guide for Family and Local Historians is currently on the point of publications; indeed, attendees at WDYTYA have already had the opportunity to see copies. As one would expect, this includes chapters on parish registers and associated sources of baptisms, marriages and burials, and also on probate records (which were a church responsibility). But it also deals with a wide range of other sources created by the Church of England at both diocesan and parish level. These range from churchwardens’ accounts to midwives’ licences, from incumbents’ visiting books to excommunication record. There is also a chapter on the records of Anglican organizations such as the Church Missionary Society, and the Waifs and Strays Society. I wonder how many genealogists have used the records of charities such as these?

The third book in the trilogy, Tracing your Roman Catholic Ancestors, is not due to appear until early next year. It will of course look at records of Roman Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials, which can be found in both Anglican parish registers, and in Catholic mission registers. But Catholics were subject to severe persecution for over 250 years after 1558, much more so than the nonconformists. So I will be looking in detail at the records of persecution by both state and church. Attention will also be given to the numerous seminaries, monasteries, convents and schools founded by English exiles on the continent during the penal years – and to the many institutions founded in England when the French Revolution forced their return to England. How many of our ancestors attended the Catholic schools they founded?

Now, what was I doing before I started all this? Ah yes, conducting my Pharos courses on apprentices and the seventeenth century.

Stuart A. Raymond

31st May 2017

Buy Stuart’s books from Genfair:  https://www.genfair.co.uk/search.php

Pen & Sword website: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/

 

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Your oldest document

This post is by Wayne Shepheard.

What is the oldest document you have found for an ancestor? Do you have a picture or image copy of it?

Church registers are among the most common sources for information. They are also among the most desirable as they are primary sources for birth, marriage and death dates, the building blocks for genealogical research. But many church records don’t reach back even to the 16th century, due to a lack of preservation or, in some instances, because they were never created.

Vital records appear to have been kept in most regions from the early 16th century onward, with a few local exceptions:

  • England – parish registers mandated in 1538 at the time of the Reformation; only a few Roman Catholic parishes have vital data from before this date, mainly for only prominent families

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#England

  • France – civil legislation mandated registers be kept from 1539; oldest have been found in Givry Parish from 1334.

https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/France_Church_Records

  • Germany – Protestant records from 1524, St. Sebald in Nürnberg; most reform churches kept records from 1650

https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany_Church_Records

  • Italy – mandatory from 1563 onward; oldest in Gemona del Friuli from 1379

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#Italy

  • Scotland – requirement for records of baptisms and marriages from 1552; most areas date from much later

http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/birth-death-and-marriage-records/old-parish-registers

  • Sweden – some parish registers date to 1620s; churches were ordered to record detailed books from 1686

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#Sweden

One might well ask why it took that long before authorities across Europe demanded the registration of births, marriages and deaths. Perhaps it was to do with governing bodies wishing to keep new and more accurate lists for tax purposes.

Genealogists may also find names of their ancestors, not necessarily with correct, or any surnames, hand-written in manorial or property documents. Other sources might be court records, both civil and criminal.

A tremendous upheaval in European population occurred following outbreaks of the Black Death of the mid-14th century resulting in the displacement or migration of great numbers of people. Connections to their origins may well have been lost with the mass movement of these working class people. Genealogists today would have great difficulty in tracing these families back further than the 15th or 16th centuries.

So the vast majority of us, who descend from regular people, will find difficulty in tracing our full family history. This may be one reason why so many family histories end up with Charlemagne in their tree.

In my search for the oldest genealogical-related record, I found a reference to a marriage in 449 BC interpreted from the Elphantine papyri, part of 175 documents found in Egypt in 1893. The record appears to be a formal recognition of the marriage between a Jewish temple officer, Ananiah, and Tamut, an Egyptian slave (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephantine_papyri#/media/File:Aramaic._Marriage_Document,_July_3,_449_B.C.E..jpg).

aramaic-_marriage_document_july_3_449_b-c-e

Marriage Document of Ananiah and Tamut, July 3, 449 BCE, Brooklyn Museum

The oldest record image for family members in my own library does not quite go so far back! It is for the 1603 baptism of an 8th great-grandaunt, Marie Sheppeard, in Plympton St. Mary parish, Devon. At least I am pretty confident she was related. The existing parish register only begins in 1602 so unfortunately just misses the baptism of my 8th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard, which I believe took place in 1601. I do have a copy of the record of his marriage to Margerit Lee in the same parish in 1630, the baptisms of two of their children in 1633 and 1638, and his will, made in 1657.

It is very important to actually see original or copies of original documents. Too often transcriptions and indexes misstate information. Getting back before 1600 is a challenge, though.

What is the very oldest record you have found for which you have seen a copy of the actual document? How did you come across it?

About the Author

Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in Family History Skills & Strategies (Intermediate). He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy, in which he relates his experiences as a family historian.

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Progress of a sort

This is a post by Pharos co-founder Sherry Irvine.

It is with some embarrassment that I confess that so many months have passed since my first article on getting back to my family history – to making a start at writing. Not much has happened in the way of writing, but I have not been idle: I have taken the time to think about the project and stumbled upon things that help me conjure up ideas.

The time available has been limited. I should have expected that now that moving closer to grandchildren would have an impact on allocating time.  Those hours I have found have been devoted to what can only be called preliminaries. It took several months settle into our new home, but we have progressed to the point where just about everything is either out of boxes or in readily accessible clearly labelled boxes. Fortunately there are not many of the latter and I have put all the family albums and loose photographs into one cabinet and part of another. I know what is where. Also, I know that I can spread things out and leave them should that be necessary. Mind you, it can be only one project at a time. Right now I am doing some sewing, so the machine stays where  it is for another week or two.

I went through the photo album for my father’s early years, 1918 to 1925. The pictures tell only part of the story, numerous though they may be. My notes, or those by my father, lack certain essential details: where did they live once the family, with my infant father, moved back to Toronto from Winnipeg in 1918? Obviously, some modern family history has been neglected.

The photo albums show one thing I know from my own childhood. He was surrounded by women. Most of the pictures were taken by one or more of my grandmothers sisters, whom we called collectively “The Aunts”. They were younger than my grandmother, only one of them married but had no children, and my father was an only child. His father and mother were over 40 when he was born.

 He was the centre of attention not only for his mother and her sisters, but for his grandmother and his one and only cousin, a girl ten years older.

He had a happy childhood, at least until he was a teenager in the hard years of the Depression. His father, an architect, was a man of many practical talents, and the summers at a cottage offered opportunities to mess about in boats, learn some mechanics, and mix with a wide range of people.

How do I show all that and more in an interesting manner that somehow is just the right length for young and old? And, most difficult of all how do I do next? (To encourage myself, I have decided that the organizing of photos and albums, the creation of a work space, and the review of the first album of my father’s life, are legitimate progress.)

Happenstance has come to my aid – I have found something that undertakes to explain scrap-booking in 60 illustrated pages. It seems quite out of character for me to be reading something like this, but I do see the relationship. Some of the advice makes good sense: for example, sort photographs by themes and then by logical groups. My theme is obvious, my father’s life, my groups of photos can be stages of his life: the number of groups does not matter as much as getting things sorted. This exercise turns the pictures into a means of creating an outline that will help me judge what to use, how much to write, and how to make it all look interesting. I can return to the easy-read scrap-booking guide to help me plan. At that point I am on familiar ground, as I have done a lot of planning as a genealogist. After all it is fundamental to good research, to writing a book, or preparing a lecture.

I am heading for firm ground.

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Rejected Apprentices – a little known source

This is a guest post by Stuart A. Raymond

What did you have to do in order to have your application to become a freeman of the City of Exeter to be rejected? For the period 1780-1802, the answer is to be found in a small alphabetical notebook held amongst Exeter City Archives in Devon Heritage Centre[1]. One applicant, Captain John Tren, claimed the freedom by paternity, but could not prove that his brother, who had inherited the right to claim, was actually dead. Apart from him, all of those whose rejections were recorded claimed by right of apprenticeship. Apprenticeship (as those who have completed Pharos’s apprenticeship course will know) imposed numerous requirements on the apprentice. They had to be totally obedient to their master, and had to serve their full term of seven years under his instruction. Marriage was forbidden, as was any absence.

Several of those rejected were described as ‘disorderly apprentices’. In addition to being ‘disorderly’, Richard Milford ‘married before his time was out’. Others ran away; John Gray was accused of ‘entering on board a man of war’. Problems might be caused by a master going out of business; Philip Gove’s master ‘gave up trade and went abroad 2 years and upwards’; he therefore could not serve out his term. Indentures had to be indented; William Baker’s indentures were not, so he suffered rejection.

The freedom in Exeter at this date was important primarily because it conferred the right to vote. It may be suspected that, in some cases, the mayoral court actively looked for a reason to reject applicants whose politics were not their liking. Was William Baker one of their victims?

Some 52 applicants are listed in this notebook, which throws an interesting side light on life in Exeter at this time. The Society of Genealogists’ Genealogists’ magazine (vol. 32(2), 2016) has just published my transcript of this volume under the title ‘Rejected Applicants for the Freedom in Exeter, 1780-1802’.

[1] Book 227.

 

[Pharos adds:  As well as Stuart’s article, this quarter’s Genealogists’ Magazine also has a very interesting article about Rose’s Act.  If you are a member of the Society of Genealogists you can now opt to read the magazine online at their website, and all past editions as well.]

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A Love Match or Simply Good Business?

Like anyone else, I have a lot of puzzles to work on in my family tree. One that had been nagging at me for some time was the precise blood relationship between a Joseph Beachcroft who married a Mary Beachcroft.

Mary’s father was Samuel Beachcroft, and in his will of 1732 he mentions his ‘son in law’ Joseph Beachcroft. But nowhere was there a Joseph of Mary’s generation in the immediate family. I have never found any baptisms for any of Samuel’s children, so I didn’t know how old Mary was in 1732, although her parents were married in 1701, which was a starting point and I knew she was under 21 in 1729 as her mother’s will states.

Meanwhile, there was a Joseph Beachcroft who was a first cousin of Mary’s father. On Joseph’s memorial inscription, there was a second wife called Mary Fuller mentioned. I had assumed Fuller to be her maiden name.

My spur to getting this sorted out finally as I searched back and forth on the internet, was the discovery of the marriage entry between a Joseph Beachcroft and Mary Beachcroft in Bermondsey in 1731. I had scoured the LMA collections on Ancestry for some time in relation to anything Beachcroft, but I hadn’t found this marriage before because it was indexed as Beackcroft.

The entry read; “Joseph Beachcroft of Battersea in the County of Surrey, Widower and Mary Beachcroft of Wandsworth, Licence first being obtained.”

This was intriguing.

It seemed to be Mary daughter of Samuel – they lived in Wandsworth. But why would she get married down the river away from friends and neighbours? Was this an entirely new couple, previously unknown to me, or was something else going on?

I needed to revisit everything and gather all the evidence to finally prove who Mary and Joseph were. I focused on the Joseph who was first cousin to Samuel. The son of a London Citizen and Haberdasher Joseph was christened 31 May 1678 at St Mary le Bow. He was apprenticed to his own father and became free of the Haberdashers in 1701 at the age of 23. He married Frances Pooley in 1705, aged 26, when she was aged around 20. No children seem to have been born to this couple and she died aged only 27 in 1711.

Between 1705 and 1721 he owned premises at Cheapside and traded as a Goldsmith. Although never a member of the Goldsmith’s company he was mentioned in their court minutes in 1705, 1707 and 1712 in connection with the selling of sub-standard goods and also in 1708 when he took on an apprentice of the Goldsmith’s company. Crucially, among the papers I had accumulated on Joseph there was evidence that he had indeed lived in York Place, Battersea in 1729, (not a very long walk away from Wandsworth). I had not put these two bits of geographical evidence together before and thought about how these first cousins Joseph and Samuel, lived so near to each other.

Finding the marriage bond or allegation would give the final corroborating information. Yet despite the London & Surrey Marriage Bonds and Allegations collection from the London Metropolitan Archives, being available on Ancestry, I could find nothing there. I later tracked it down in the Vicar General Marriage Allegations. This collection is at the Society of Genealogists (indexed at Findmypast just by surname), on microfilm, so I recently went to look at what the original said. It confirmed that Mary was just 19 and from Wandsworth, the daughter of Samuel. Therefore, as Joseph was 53 there was a 34 year age gap between them. In those days of shorter life-expectancy, Joseph must have seemed an old man to the young Mary.

Was this a love match or a simple piece of family ‘engineering’ cooked up by Samuel and Joseph in an arrangement going back years? A last ditch attempt by Joseph for a son before he died, and for Samuel to marry off his daughter to a rich cousin whom he liked or did business with?  Or did Joseph and Mary have genuine feelings for each other? What did Mary really feel about marrying a much older man, albeit a rich one? Unfortunately for Joseph there were to be no children, but his marriage to his young first cousin once-removed, lasted for 26 years until his death in 1757, age 79. Mary remarried in 1760, to a Mr Fuller, (hence the name on the memorial stone) but died herself just 18 months aged around 48.

I do so hope that Joseph was kind to his young bride, but I can’t help wondering what her life was really like.

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My Family History – What Now?

This post is by Pharos co-founder, Sherry Irvine.

We moved three months ago. We have done what many do at some point in retirement, moved to a much smaller home, one that is closer to family. The change precipitated lots of decisions about what would come with us on this next stage of our lives.

Furniture was the easiest decision – take only what fits. We were fortunate in having access to our house in advance of the move. It was painted, but it was also carefully measured and we planned what would go where.

Gardening things were also easy to deal with – not much to take when there are just two tiny areas to look after. Kitchen, no problem. This one is bigger. The major difficulty has been books and papers, (and knick knacks not far behind). I began with what I thought was ruthless weeding of my office bookshelves. Not ruthless enough. By moving day I had doubled the number of books that needed new homes. Papers were weeded, but not completely. We ran out of sorting time and we imagined we could live contentedly with a few stacks of file boxes for quite some time. That was a mistake. After about 6 weeks we were ready to take drastic action to get rid of the pyramid of boxes in the middle of the dining room. Well, we did it, but anyone challenged to find a dozen or more unpacked boxes would find most of them quite quickly.

So much of my family history material is on paper. I started a system of binders 35 years ago and that remains. Yes, I have digital files, text and photos and scans and downloads, but much of my work was done before the development of good software. I am not sorry about that. Sorting paper is something I know how to do.

I set to work sorting, tidying and tackled the problem of too little space and too many boxes. Hard work, however, being did was not clearing my head of a nagging thought. What am I sorting this stuff for?

I had no clear idea of how I would deal with it all, whether writing it up, giving it away or … that other fate of family history stuff I could not think about. The lack of storage space came to my rescue: as I concentrated on a logical arrangement of the binders and boxes my mind actually began generating a few ideas. I just let that happen as I set about figuring out shelf space for three-ring binders and went shopping for the right size of cabinet to fit in a 20 inch deep alcove. The cabinet turned up in a used furniture store, and I came up with my first project.

I will tell the story of my father’s life in words and pictures. This is familiar territory yet something special. I had a close relationship with my father, especially in the last several years of his life and I want to convey to our children and grandchildren what sort of a person he was. I want to take time to reflect on all my memories and to find out things I never knew. I want to talk about him with my siblings – I am the middle child and have an older and a younger brother – and discover the view from their perspectives.

All genealogists come up against this dilemma. There must be hundreds of ways out of it. I have decided to chronicle mine here in the Pharos blog. What about you? How have you tackled the challenge of what to do with your family history stuff?

About the author:   Sherry is the author of Your English Ancestry (2nd ed. 1998) and Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians (2003) and co-author of Finding Your Canadian Ancestors (2007). From the start of her career she has been involved in local and professional organizations. In 2005, the Association of Professional Genealogists presented her with the Smallwood Award of Merit for services to the organization and to genealogy. In September 2015 Sherry retired from regular teaching but she has not left Pharos. She will return from time to time helping in the FHSS program or as a substitute teacher. Meanwhile all that free time, will be filled with her own research and seeing much more of her grandchildren.

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Time to improve online coverage details

This is cross-posted from Celia Heritage’s blog.  Celia is a Tutor with Pharos, a member of AGRA and runs a family history research and teaching business in Kent.

 

Celia says:

It is my opinion that genealogy websites should provide full source details and coverage dates for each of their databases. They should also clearly state where a database is not yet complete.

While there is a wealth of genealogical and historical data now available online courtesy of websites such as Findmypast, Ancestry, TheGenealogist and FamilySearch it is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately determine what exactly the various databases include and, in some cases where they came from, thanks to the inadequate or inconsistent detailing of their sources.

This is caused by several factors but the main two are as follows.

• A lack of information as to where the information came from and the coverage dates and any gaps within the coverage. Source data should be clearly visible for anyone using the database or at least for anyone who wishes to make the effort to check the details.

• Inaccurate or unhelpful title names indicating complete coverage where coverage is not in fact complete are misleading.

Let us take parish registers as an example. Neither Ancestry nor Findmypast has a complete county-by-county listing of what they hold. If I am searching for a missing baptism, burial or marriage I need to know exactly which parishes for a certain county or counties are available online and for which dates. Once I know this I can work out which are not and will potentially have to be searched in the record office. However, since neither company provides a county-by-county listing of which parish registers they hold it’s not easy to check this.

I emailed Findmypast to ask if they had such a listing on their website as I know that they do sometimes issue such lists when new databases are released. This is the reply I received:

‘We are sorry but the website does not have a full list of coverage for the parish registers. You would have to check the search form for the parish and then carry out a blank search. Once you have done this you can change the results page by clicking the sort order at the top right – relevance. If you change this to ascending/descending you will see the years covered.’

This seems a very long-winded way of established county coverage, especially when they must have such listings in existence! Ancestry collections are better detailed but they still have no means of checking county coverage in one go. Similarly, the Family Search Wiki is a quite good way of determining which parishes have online coverage, but I don’t believe this is entirely up-to-date and this is again not as useful as a county-by county- listing, as each parish has to be searched individually to determine online coverage.

To my knowledge the only major commercial website to offer a county-by-county listing for parish registers is TheGenealogist which has its ‘List of all datasets’ at the bottom of its home and search pages. This provides a full list of which parish registers it offers and the coverage dates for each type of event and, for logged in users, this can also be accessed from the ‘Search’ tab, entitled ‘What’s included in my subscription?’ The list naturally covers all its other datasets too, not just parish registers, although some of the other categories are not as detailed as they should be.

In order to prevent the online world of genealogical sources descending into chaos, I call upon the major genealogy companies to make it quite clear what information their datasets do and do not include. Surely this is not too much to ask?

If you would like to join me in my campaign to encourage companies to improve the quality of their sourcing details and a new openness about which records they do and do not offer, please spread the word and encourage those interested in family history to email the companies concerned as well with this simple request. Let’s start with a request for full county-by-county parish register listings. Please share my blog with the genealogy world  and you can also follow my posts on the subject on Twitter @CeliaHeritage and Facebook. Your examples of inadequate source detailing and coverage are most welcome.

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Please let’s help Celia achieve her aim!

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