Tag Archives: family history

Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue: Don’t Trust Your Ancestors’ Records

In my last post I wrote about my major DNA breakthrough which saw both mum and I doing the genetic genealogy happy dance. That breakthrough resulted in us finding the married name of one of my grandpa’s three sisters, enabling me to trace a brief life story. The sisters all left their home in Carrowbeg near Kilkelly in County Mayo and emigrated to the Boston area of the USA between 1909 and 1922. However one ended up in Canada.

The DNA breakthrough related to the last sister to emigrate, my grandpa’s youngest sibling, Catherine. That left Bridget and Mary Callaghan still to trace.

I worked on the theory that Bridget, the eldest, was the one most likely to have ended up in Canada, on the basis that when Catherine went to Boston it was to join her sister Mary. I also used my grandpa’s mysterious postcard addressed to “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic].” img_0577

Given my grandpa’s curious spelling of Maguire and Massachusetts, and the lessons of genealogy about the variations in the spelling of names, it seemed a distinct possibility that I may not necessarily be looking for Mary Lovell. And so it proved. Ancestry’s data-set of Massachusetts State and Federal Naturalization Records were the key to unlocking this mystery. Specifically the 1940 petition of housewife Mary Lavelle of 20 Maguire Court, Newtonville, Massachusetts. My grandpa’s mangling of the postcard name and address is now oh so obvious. And it is a wonderful example of not taking spellings, ANY spellings, as gospel.

Her petition matched exactly the details provide on her arrival in the USA. These included her date of arrival, 20 November 1920, and the ship, S.S. Carmania.  She spells her maiden Callaghan surname as it is pronounced, Callahan. This matches her spelling of it on arrival in Boston twenty years earlier. Her birthplace, the tiny village of Carrowbeg, or Carabeg as she records it, matches. So a couple more spelling anomalies to throw into the mix.

Her date of birth was given as 30 March 1893. Mary’s baptism record transcripts do not have her date of birth, but she was baptised at Glan Chapel on 10 April 1893.  Her officially registered date of birth in Ireland is 15 April 1893 – another case of a baptism pre-dating the officially recorded date of birth. And to add to the confusion, when Mary died the US Social Security Death Indexes have yet another date of birth for her – 7 April 1893.

The witnesses on the petition were Mary Murphy, who also lived on Maguire Street. That name gives me pause for thought – Mary’s mother’s maiden name was Mary Murphy. Is it a possible relative? However it is a very, very common name so maybe not. But the other witness was definitely a relation – none other than sister Catherine Rudolph. Well and truly tying the Callaghan sisters together.

There is also a short description of 47-year-old Mary. She is white, with a medium complexion, mixed grey hair and standing at 5ft 1½in and weighing in at 150lbs.

Mary’s naturalization petition was granted on 10 December 1940.

One other nugget of information was the details of her marriage on 29 November 1922 in Boston to Patrick Lavelle. He hailed from Letterfrack, County Galway and had arrived in the USA in 1910. He was 49 years old according to the information provided by Mary, although some of his own records show he was born on 15 February 1886, but more of that later. He became a naturalized American in 1935. According to Mary’s petition the couple had no children. So, out of the three sisters who emigrated, only one actually had a birth child. It is amazing we actually got that DNA match which unlocked this puzzle.

Mary did, however, have step-children. Patrick had been married before. When he arrived in Boston in August 1910 he left behind in Hamilton, Scotland a Scottish-born wife Sarah (née Gallagher) and three Glasgow-born children: Mary born in 1907, Nellie in 1908 and Julia Agnes in 1910. Julia and her mother joined Patrick in Boston in 1911, but it appears the two older girls grew up in Galway, Ireland. How difficult a decision must that have been? They were but toddlers. Did they ever see their parents again?

With Patrick now working a a coal teamster, two more children were born in Boston – a son, John, in 1913 and a daughter, Margaret Josephine, in 1915. Then, on 18 February 1920 tragedy struck. The Boston Evening Globe of 18 February 1920 carried the following death notice:

Lavelle – In Neponset, Feb[ruary] 18, Sarah L. Gallagher, beloved wife of Patrick Lavelle. Funeral from residence, 15 Eaton St., Friday, Feb[ruary] 20 at 8:15. Requiem services at St Anne’s Church at 9a.m.

The following month Patrick applied to become a naturalized American – and was rejected because the “petitioner lacks education“. It is this set of records which gives his 1886 date of birth. It has the wrong year for the date of birth of youngest child, Margaret, (1916 rather than 1915). There is also an earlier 1913 description of the 27 year old Patrick, at the time he declared his intention to become an American citizen. He was 150lbs, 5ft 5in with dark hair and brown eyes.

The 1930 census shows Patrick and new wife Mary living in Newtonville Avenue, Newton, MA with John and Margaret. Patrick is now working as a caretaker in a coal yard. Patrick’s age is given as 42 and Mary 36.

In 1932 and still at Newtonville Avenue, watchman Patrick once more declared his intention to become an American citizen. In this declaration he gives his date of birth as 12 January 1887. I’m getting so used to these multiple birth dates now. But more bizarrely (and somewhat impossibly) his eyes have changed colour to blue!  I really cannot make that one out. I’m not sure if that’s quite the meaning of the Crystal Gayle song “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue.” And yes, it is the same man. He still stands at 5ft 5in and has black hair, but he has put on a some timber – with his weight now up to 185lbs.

Eyes

Image courtesy of Pixabay

His petition was submitted in 1935 and this time Patrick was successful. By now the family are at 20 Maguire Court, and this is their address at the time of the 1940 census. And incidentally now Patrick is 50, so a year of birth circa 1890.

Patrick Lavelle circa 1932

Patrick Lavelle

Patrick died on 3 February 1958. Mary died on the 20 February 1981. They are buried at the Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Waltham, MA. And Patrick’s year of birth etched on the headstone is……1885.

Apart from the absolute joy of tracking down my grandpa’s second sister, and learning more about US genealogy records, this particular exercise has reinforced the need to cross reference and source as many records as possible for your ancestors: because the truth of one record might not match the reality given in another. And spellings – even what we consider modern 20th century ones – do vary.

Sources

  • 1920 to 1940 US Censuses
  • 1959 Newton City Directory
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Birth Records 1840-1915, Original data: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1963
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. Massachusetts Vital Records Index to Deaths [1916–1970].
  • Ancestry.com US Social Security Death Indexes 1935-2014
  • Boston Evening Globe
  • GRO Records, Ireland: Births registered at Swinford for the District of Kilkelly
  • Find a Grave via Ancestry
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Irish DNA Breakthrough

Over two years ago I wrote about one of my main DNA aims: to find what became of my grandpa’s three sisters who left County Mayo for the USA in the early 20th century. The mystery of what became of the Callaghan sisters was one which nagged away at me. I knew one of them ended up in Canada via Boston, mum thinks it was Quebec Province, and married a French Canadian. Mum did not know which sister this was, but I suspected the eldest; the two younger sisters I traced to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1920s via ships’ passenger lists.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Mum was also desperate to find out about her aunties – Bridget, Mary and Catherine/Kate, so she joined me in doing an Ancestry DNA test. We were aware the Quebec line would draw a blank DNA-wise, as mum knew this sister had no biological children and adopted a boy who at one time was in correspondence with mum’s brother who was tragically killed aged 19. Contact was lost with the Canadian branch at around this time, or so mum thinks, and she cannot ever remember hearing about the sisters in the USA.

There must have been some contact though between the USA sisters and my grandpa. I have a mysterious, unsent and undated postcard written by him and addressed to “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic].”  The image is the church in which the family were baptised – Glan Chapel near Kilkelly. It seemed a logical assumption this was intended for one of his sisters, now married. Proving it was unfortunately not straightforward, in part due to my lack of experience with USA records.

Several months after submitting the DNA tests I finally had what appeared a very promising match – an extremely high confidence second/third cousin match with mum and a third/fourth with me. No tree but, correlating with other DNA matches with other testers who had trees, it seemed to be down the Callaghan line mum and I were so keen to find out about.

An initial contact with the tester confirmed the DNA match was with a descendant of grandpa’s youngest sister, Catherine. Then nothing more. After two years I had given up. Then out of the blue the other month I received another message followed by a photo of grandpa’s sister which made my mum’s day. I am not including the photo in this post – it is not mine to share. I was also given Catherine’s married name which was all I needed to find out basic details about her and introduce me to some US records in the process.

Catherine became an American citizen in 1937. Her naturalization papers confirm her birthplace as Carrabeg [Carrowbeg], County Mayo and the details correspond with those on the passenger list detailing her arrival in Boston back in 1922. In her naturalization petition she gives a date of birth of 4 September 1903. Later, her social security records amend this to 7 September 1900, which matches with the date of birth given when she was baptised on 9 September 1900 at Glan Chapel, Kilmovee Parish. Interestingly going back to Ireland for her official birth registration in Swinford, County Mayo on 27 October 1900, her officially recorded date of birth there is 7 October 1900.

Like my grandpa, the official date given is a judicious tweak to avoid a late birth registration. This is not unusual for the family, along with many others in rural Ireland. They would have found it a trek to get from their isolated Carrowbeg farm to Swinford to register the births of their children. They did it as and when they could, and amended the birth dates accordingly to avoid any penalties for failing to comply with the legal requirements of registration within 42 days of birth. I therefore take the birth date given at time of baptism for my rural Irish ancestors as the most reliable one – God before state. Their baptisms invariably take place within days of birth. Therefore I find the Callaghan family often have their baptisms pre-dating their births when comparing to officially registered birth dates!

By 1937 Catherine was living at Wellington Street, East Braintree, MA. Her naturalization papers give a brief physical description – a diminutive 5ft 3in, 122lbs with blue eyes, brown hair and a medium complexion – so no change from her 1922 passenger list description. They also state she married James E Rudolph in Boston on 29 August 1925 with a child was born around three years later. By 1937 though, she is a widow. Her husband’s birthplace is recorded as Middleborough, MA., and a date of birth is given as 23 June 1904.

A quick look at the 1930 census sees James E Rudolph, Catherine and their child living at 6 Belmont, Braintree, MA with James working as a pipe fitter. Lothrop’s Braintree Directory of 1931 lists James as Ernest, still living at 6 Belmont with wife Catherine, with the occupation of electrician. There certainly appears to be a little confusion over his name because Clarence is another variation middle name which appears in records, including census and Middleborough town records.

What is clear is Catherine’s husband died by the time of the publication of the 1935 edition of Lothrop’s Braintree Directory, with her now Wellington Street address listing her as the widow of Ja[me]s E Rudolph. The Massachusetts Death Indexes confirm a death registration year of 1935 at Weymouth, under the name of James E Rudolph. Other sources appear to indicate he died in March that year.

The 1940 census shows Catherine and her child at Wellington Street, Braintree. Life must have been a real struggle. It shows her seeking work, having been employed for only 8 weeks the previous year and earning only $20. She did have an income of $50 or more from sources other than money, wages or salary. But the fact she was seeking work is indication that this was insufficient.

By the time of her death on 1 October 1970, Catherine was residing at Hanover, MA. She is buried with her husband at Saint Francis Xavier Cemetery, Weymouth, MA. I wonder if my grandpa ever knew? He was still alive in 1970. Mum certainly cannot recall him mentioning anything.

I feel content that at least I now have some details about what became of Catherine. And mum is thrilled to have seen a photograph of her auntie. So DNA has provided the hoped for breakthrough. But that result has also led to the cracking of the postcard mystery. More to come on that in my next blog post.

Sources:

  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Birth Records 1840-1915, Original data: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • GRO Records, Ireland: Births registered at Swinford for the District of Kilkelly
  • 1910 to 1940 US Censuses
  • Lothrop’s Braintree Directory 1931 and 1935
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. Massachusetts Vital Records Index to Deaths [1916–1970].
  • Ancestry.com US Social Security Death Indexes 1935-2014
  • US Billion Graves via FindMyPast
  • United States Obituary Notices via FindMyPast (source Tributes.com)

Windrush Landing Cards: How Could This Record Destruction Happen?

The destruction by the Home Office of the landing cards which recorded Windrush Generation immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK is rightly causing a public outcry. For those unaware of the scandal, the term ‘Windrush’ applies to those arriving from the Caribbean between 1948 -1971 to fill Britain’s post-War labour shortages. It originates from the ship ‘MV Empire Windrush’, which set sail from a Jamaica in 1948. Carrying workers and their families it arrived at Tilbury Docks in July that year, the first such vessel to dock.

The Immigration Act of 1971 gave those who had already moved here indefinite leave to remain. In the Windrush cases, these landing cards provided people with proof of their date of arrival. For some this is the main/only evidence source. The destruction of these cards in 2010, combined with subsequent immigration changes, has had devastating consequences for some people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades. They are suffering needless anxiety and stress trying to prove they are not in the UK illegally. As a result, some have been denied access to jobs, public services including health, and have faced deportation.

Beyond this central human aspect, how does this impact on family history? Well, many family historians are horrified that documents so important for future researchers have been destroyed. There are calls to preserve all records which deal with people. Some say they should all be stored at The National Archives, possibly in a digitised form. Other suggestions include outsourcing, possibly to a commercial provider.

Human angle aside, to many the destruction of a potentially rich genealogical source beggars belief. Or does it? If only it was that straightforward.

The bottom line is government departments cannot keep everything. They never have. They never will. One has only to work in the environment to know just how much paperwork was generated in the past; and now we have moved onto the born-digital filing age it is arguable even more digital documents and emails are being stored electronically than paper was under the old regimes – but minus the previous rigorous systems.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Government is just the same as any other organisation, right down to a family level. Think within your own family over the generations. Documents and photographs have always been destroyed. Records we know must have existed have gone. How many missing parish chest or poor law records am I rueing the loss of? What happened to all those original family birth, marriage and death certificates that I have had to re-buy copies of? What about family photos? If not deteriorated and destroyed accidentally, they’ve probably been binned by those with no knowledge, appreciation or understanding the records may have for future generations. Decisions made at speed with space-saving at the forefront. You can’t keep everything.  A home as much as a government office or off-site storage facility only has a finite amount of space. At some point a decision needs to be made about retention.

One positive about government records, there is a framework in place by which decisions around file destruction or retention and second review are made (although even here in recent years it is being made quicker and easier to destroy, with the implication that retaining a file for second review is a last resort). In the case of the landing cards, the system appears to have catastrophically failed. But for me the main losers aren’t us genealogists, as much as I regret that: it’s the human consequences for the living.

But sadly I can see how it has happened. Here’s my take.

Over the past 20+ years there has been the drive towards a paperless office. Office and storage space costs. And when there’s an office move, it inevitably results in less storage space, not more. Long gone are the rows of filing cabinets of the 1980s (and earlier) civil service office. It’s bin, bin, bin because we are paperless generation, cutting costs. Offsite storage facilities are under similar capacity pressure. Which is one reason why there is pressure to get rid of documents like the landing cards. And any document which isn’t neatly fileable, such as card indexes, handbooks or file slips, and the danger of destruction is higher when it comes to downsizing. There are not the same procedures in place as involved with an old pink file.

cabinet-157891_1280

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Another consequence of the moves towards digital filing systems is the appreciation of old paper files, card indexes etc., and the way these were managed for decades in the civil service, has been lost. This includes underestimating the value of old file slips detailing the status and whereabouts of files, including those now no longer retained in the office. One peculiar pleasure I get from visits to The National Archives is the filing methodology. Take the War Office WW1 files: it is the same system I learned as a new civil servant at the Ministry of Defence in the late 1980s. Happy days! But for a generation not familiar with, and lacking understanding of, the old civil service ways comes the increased risk of accidental destruction.

During the same 20+ period, the civil service has undergone a series of redundancy programmes. This, alongside natural wastage, has meant staff experienced with the files and their history have gone, and that sense of continuity has gone with them. Combined with destruction of office filing slips, it means in some cases knowledge of what old files still exist, where they are and what they contain is lost. Another risk: it means decisions are being made by those who lack the same in-depth understanding of what the records actually are, why they were created, how they interlink and what value they have. The ramifications of destruction are lost – and may not be realised until it is too late. Similarly what remains, possibly in archive storage, and any work-round strategies are similarly not known about or understood.

And herein lies another problem: staff reductions. Gone are the legions of clerical staff whose job included maintaining files. When decisions are made about staff numbers, the amount of time needed to undertake routine, but essential, tasks such as file maintenance is underestimated or ignored totally. This is because the final decisions are taken by senior management who possibly have never undertaken these ‘menial’ duties, so do not know what’s involved to do it properly. Neither have they had to scrat around identifying and recalling files and pulling out key documents from them – that’s the responsibility of more junior staff. Senior management making the staffing decisions therefore give these file-related maintenance duties a low priority. So fewer clerical staff pushes the job upwards to hard-pressed junior and middle managers. As a result it becomes a task to do when you have time – which is hardly ever.

And the born-digital files are suffering as much as old paper files. They still have to be maintained and reviewed. With the added complication that filing on them is even more an individual responsibility. It means (and senior management are particularly guilty here) that digital documents don’t get filed; or they are filed multiple times; or there is a general file dump when a mailbox is in danger of collapse – on a generic file, so not where the documents ought to be. Think of that for the future. But I digress.

So if space is such a premium, why doesn’t government digitise all the old paper files and indexes? Easy answer. Money. It’s a mammoth task. Unpicking, preparing, arranging and scanning row upon row of paper files, not to mention the card indexes and other specialised filing systems. There is insufficient staff to do it. No day-to-day work would get done. All time would be spent on the digitisation process. Temps cost money too, as does outsourcing the job. And in a time when the government imperative is to cut departmental running costs, this is a non-starter.

file-cabinet-146152_1280

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The other solution put forward is getting a commercial provider to do it. Or perhaps they could even have the documents, as happened with the Western Front Association who became custodians of the Great War soldier’s pension record cards and archives thus saving them from destruction by the Ministry of Defence. But this depends upon a reputable organisation wanting the documents and coming forward. And it relies on government departments informing these organisations about records of interest. It also depends on the sensitivity, and time period, of the documents. Think overzealous Data Protection issues/fears, 100 year rules and the like.

Bottom line. The cost of being caught out for destroying the landing cards is not as great as the long-term cost of retaining them. The Home Office have been caught out here. But then think of all the other destroyed files we know nothing about. Most of which we will hear nothing about. Someone has to make a judgement. And we have to accept sometimes it will be a wrong call – as is clearly the case with the Windrush debacle. But despite the imperfections, is it the best we can hope for?

And as I said at the outset, the government can’t and don’t keep everything. This is nothing new. There are oh so many examples (and I’m not going to mention the Irish censuses), some deliberate and others accidental. The Great War Soldier’s Pension Cards had a happy outcome.

However, back in 2014 when they faced calls for an inquiry into historical cases of paedophilia, it emerged in excess 100 Home Office files relevant to allegations of a child abuse network were either missing or had been destroyed.

The 1931 England and Wales census was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1942. The General Register Office civil servant who visited the debris determined that:

….it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.

Hence the importance of the 1939 Register (especially with no 1941 Wartime census). Incidentally in 1950 there was a subsequent check to see if any 1931 census records had been saved from the conflagration and stored elsewhere.

First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen held at The National Archives under MH 106 are only a representative selection of Great War medical records. The rest of the collection is missing, believed destroyed before the Second World War. This is but one example of where only a sample selection of records have been kept.

And as for the problems of digital filing systems, don’t get me started. If you think there are problems now, this is like walk in the park compared to what we’re facing in 20 years time.

Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

It’s been an all-consuming interest for the past goodness knows how many years. I’ve spent countless hours on research. And don’t mention the small fortune shelled out on subscription sites, books, certificates, data storage, courses, archives visits, family-related antiques, postcards and ancestral tourism. I’ve amassed files full of records and reports. I’ve endured the frustration of dealing with the fog-plaiting myriad of online records. My living room floor frequently takes on the role of a temporary filing cabinet. I’ve risked eye-strain and headache trying to read scratchy, barely legible writing and faded documents, both original and on microfilm and microfiche. I spend hour upon hour caught up in suffering, harsh lives, misery and death. Some days I’ve nothing to show for it other than the eliminatation of yet another source.

Is it really worth it? Should I have been living in the present and making memories rather than digging up the past? What really is the point of knowing my 6x great grandfather’s name let alone how many children he had and what happened to them all? And when I’m gone will all my research follow me into the ground or go up in smoke?

But then there’s that Eureka moment when I’ve found out something. The intellectual challenge of cracking what appears to be an insoluble family history puzzle, as well as the broader learning about aspects of history never taught at school: ones that are really interesting because I can relate them to my flesh and blood. There’s the thrill of actually reading that document or handling some centuries old piece of paper and feeling that connectedness with history. There’s the sense of belonging through finding my family, ones that are long-forgotten. It’s like bringing them back to life in a way. There’s the sense of community too, with those pursuing the same obsession. There’s the brick wall that nags at me night and day. I’m never finished. Loose ends abound. There’s always more to discover. So day after day, week after week I’m drawn back.

Let this serve as a warning to anyone starting out on family history. Are you really prepared for the expensive, frustrating, 24×7 obsession you’re about to unleash into your life?

And if the answer is yes, you won’t regret it!

The Changing Landscape of Family History

I’m feeling a little lost. This is the time of year when my thoughts would be turning towards planning my ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ adventure. But, as was announced last year, this is a show that won’t go on. Yes, the writing may have been on the wall with the massed ranks of so-called chuggers, aka charity muggers, in evidence last year. Stand space was expensive making it difficult for genuine family history organisations to have a presence. Even The National Archives gave it a miss. Is this a sign the popular interest in family history research has plateaued and is perhaps on the decline?

And, dare I say it, maybe the TV show ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has struggled occasionally with who it thinks it is in recent series. Yes, there are some gems of episodes. But it doesn’t seem to hold the same thrall of its early days. The BBC have also seemed happy to tinker with scheduling, to the detriment of viewing continuity, possibly an indication of where it now stands in their pecking order. No longer a flagship viewing offering? But is that in part because the format needs a shake-up?

Also has the series encouraged the belief family history is quick and easy? The big Internet and associated ‘it’s all a mouse-click away.com’ con, which in turn fostered the ‘fast-food family historian’ in us all to some extent. That attitude led to some of the more informative talks at last year’s ‘Live’ show, such as ones about genealogical proof, being a step too far for some of the audience. It’s too much like hard work, all this checking, corroborating and building a body of evidence.

I personally feel the absence of a national show has left a huge void in the British family history calendar of events. But maybe that’s because I’m a tad family history research obsessed. I’m going to miss its social aspect, the chance to see what’s out there beyond my own family history interests, the informative talks to improve my skill set, not to mention the opportunity to grab a book bargain or subscription discount. I’m seeking out alternatives, from the ‘Secret Lives’ conference to local and regional events and talks. One source to find out what’s on is GENEVA, an online calendar of GENealogical EVents and Activities.

On the same era-ending theme, earlier this month the final edition of ‘Your Family History’ magazine plopped on my doormat. Or should I say I dashed to the newsagent to buy my final copy, as my subscription expired the previous month and no reminder to renew was sent? For 15 years, initially under the title of ‘Your Family Tree’, it has provided information, advice and tips for the family history community from beginner to the more advanced. But time has been called on the publication. Reasons cited for its demise included rising costs and competition from the Internet. This competition presumably extends to digital media, blogs, podcasts and the like. But again I’m left wondering if the appetite for family history research has levelled out.

The family history landscape is changing. In reality it has always been a constant evolution. But the Internet is the real game-changer in recent years, considerably speeding up the process.

I started my family history journey probably just after the launch of ‘Your Family Tree’ (as it was called then). Back then it was old fashioned painstaking research methods. None of this ‘everything only a mouse click away’ belief, too often implicitly peddled by T.V. programmes and family history subscription sites now. Online subscription-based genealogy database services were in their infancy. IGI and FreeBMD were my high-tech, online ports of call. Microfiche and microfilm readers, Family History Societies and visits to local libraries and archives provided my gateway.

I well remember the days of going to my local library and scrolling through the census. Ditto for parish registers. I’d even plan holidays to visit archives in family associated locations in order to fit in a few hours research. This for basic record sets like the census or parish registers, things we take so much for granted today. Hard to imagine, but it wasn’t online and neither did it come automatically with a helpful searchable index. If you were lucky the local Family History Society might have compiled an index booklet. Or maybe an antiquarian publication had reproduced them. But, as the Family History Society exhorted, you still needed to check the original document.

But in the main you were ‘indexless’, and it was the long job of scrolling through filmed copies of the census, or going through the parish register microfiche by microfiche noting down all occurrences of family surnames. And maybe repeating the process, as research turned up a new surname to track in the same parish….several times over. But that way, you did get to familiarise yourself with the records, the community in which your ancestors lived and the writing!

It’s hard to imagine that this was how we did family history only a few years ago. Today, subscription genealogy services are in constant competition to get the next big dataset online. This is today’s gateway to family history. Yes, it is brilliant there is so much out there to tempt people into the wonderful world of family history. It’s making family history more accessible. And it can save masses of time in travelling up and down the country on archives visits. But in the race to get it all online, clear source referencing along with precise coverage dates, seems to have been dismissed. For instance the unwary may assume Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Parish Register collection includes all parishes. It doesn’t. But finding out what is there, and the years covered, is not an easy task. And transcribing errors may in turn lead to false negative results.

In a way it’s become too big, too unwieldy and the race to ‘chuck stuff online’ has meant it’s been too organisationally chaotic. For many there’s that initial flurry of interest, but it all tails off. And make no wonder people give up. It can be like plaiting fog. Especially when you don’t fully understand what’s there in the first place. I’ve heard people admit to it. They start off enthused but then they soon find it all too overwhelming and lose track (and interest) in what they’re doing.

In a way, the Internet may have curiously decreased knowledge too. There doesn’t seem to be the same willingness to trawl through a parish register, the Quarter Sessions or a Borough Court register to check for yourself. It’s too much like hard work. Yet there are times when this is necessary. For many it now needs to be the quick click, instant gratification of an online search and move on without evaluating whether it’s right or wrong. And hey presto I’ve got a tree going back to 1066!

A corollary is because so few are prepared to put in this painstaking work, the amount of time it takes is not appreciated. For so many there’s no interest in finding out about the variety of records, what they can and can’t do, what pitfalls there are, and what alternative sources exist to plug gaps. Which is why the demise of knowledge-bringing magazines such as ‘Your Family History’ is such a loss.

I’m forever seeking out information and knowledge to develop my family history skills: be it reading, both online and traditional books and magazines, as well as attending talks, webinars, podcasts and formal learning courses. I’m currently signed up to a series of Guild of One Name Studies monthly webinar. There are so many sources of learning out there if you look. And by doing them and improving your knowledge, you’ll be amazed how much you learn which in turn will lead to more accurate family trees, and hopefully breakthroughs. But that’s the point: you have to know the limitations of online sources and actively seek out knowledge beyond the confines of your computer. And by seeking out this wider knowledge you become more acutely aware of the computer pros and cons.

And yet there still seems to be only a passing realisation that not everything is on the internet. There is so much more in archives waiting to be explored. Much of it will never make it onto these online providers such as Ancestry, FindMyPast or The Genealogist because it is not commercially viable. Who for instance would be interested in churchwarden accounts, Vestry minutes, charity records, manorial documents and the like for some obscure location? But often these documents may help prove a link.

Bottom line, these companies are only interested in what makes money. After the 1921 census, what will they use to generate income and fresh interest? Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why price structures are amended; why Ancestry is putting its more recently acquired UK military datasets not on Ancestry.co.uk but on sister-company Fold3, in order to get another subscription stream; and why there is such a push on DNA testing as an alternative cash-cow. I’m not against DNA testing per se. It has a place. It is another tool. But there is perception peddled that it’s a quick root to a fully formed family tree, with no research required.

By the same token cash-strapped Councils, looking to make savings, are cutting back archives opening hours, or even closing them, because so much is online. Read the same for local libraries. It’s an easy excuse for them to use in order to reduce costs. And so it’s all online becomes a self-perpetuating myth.

Which is why I think David Olusoga’s recent BBC2 series ‘A House Through Time’ was such a refreshing change. Not only was it interesting, engaging and informative, it was a new way to introduce people to family history. It didn’t propagate the ‘it’s all online’ impression. And it wasn’t afraid to admit some people were difficult to trace and the trail went cold. Hopefully it has reached out to, and inspired, a new set of family historians, those seekers and keepers of documented, accurate ancestral truth, memories and knowledge.

The Accidental Blogger – My 2017 Review

My 2017 blogging year didn’t go quite as planned. Two posts a month was what I promised. And with 33 for the year I ever so slightly overachieved. So unplanned in a positive way. This number was down significantly on my 2016 total of 60+ posts, but deliberately so. I continue to enjoy researching and writing. I also find the process helps me to focus on, and review, my personal family history research. But keeping volume up, alongside quality and interest, is a tricky balance. Hopefully I achieved that balance in 2017.

I accidentally stumbled into this blogging lark. My blog started in April 2015. In those first nine months it had a tad over 2,900 views. In 2016 it grew to 12,163. So how does 2017 compare?

The Headlines: Despite the reduced output my blog did not suffer. It had 20,649 views. I feel slightly giddy and ever so grateful that folk actually looked at my random stories and thoughts about family and local history. In 2015 I averaged roughly about 322 views per month. In 2016 this grew to over 1,000 per month. Roll forward to 2017, and it achieved over 1,700 per month.

My Best Day: 28 July 2017 had an amazing 662 views. For hard-core bloggers that’s not many, but I feel hugely privileged so many people took the time out to engage. Sunday is now my most popular day, with 22% of views. And, once more, the golden hour is 8pm.

How Did They Find You? Facebook was the primary referrer with over 5,000 clicks leading to my site. Search Engines accounted for almost 4,000.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress continues to astonish, with views from around 80 countries. Unsurprisingly, as I’m based in England, over 13,000 were from the UK. Almost 4,000 reached me from the USA. But I had views as far afield as Rwanda, Fiji, Venezuela, Albania and Lebanon (one from each of those countries). So if you’re reading this a huge thank you!

I also loved reading the comments I’ve received indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. Some of these have resulted in new direct family history connections with distant cousins. Others have been from descendants of those named in my research. Again, thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2017: Other than general home page/archives and my ‘about‘ page, these were:

  • Access to Archives – What Price and at What Cost? This was my reaction to the news that Northamptonshire Archives proposed introducing charges to visit, alongside a reduced number of free access hours. The fact this post received over 1,500 views is testimony to the concern felt throughout the academic and family history communities about this development. The proposal was thankfully shelved. But it shows the ongoing issues we face with access to archives at a time when Councils are facing difficult choices about their priorities in a climate of tight funding.
  • Buried Alive: A Yorkshire Cemetery Sensation had almost 1,000 views, with its multiple stories of people ‘rising from the dead’. It included a particularly macabre tale from Leeds, with a gravedigger seemingly ignoring knocking from a coffin. It goes to show that the Victorian fear and obsession with premature internment still holds a fascination today.
  • General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free was actually posted in 2016. But in 2017 it had a resurgence, with its close to 800 views more than doubling its 2016 tally. This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF certificate trials. There is currently an extended pilot running for these £6 PDFs, which I blogged about here.
  • Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was dealt with my latest shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But imagine the horror this Yorkshire lass felt to discover she has genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I did try to kid myself that it couldn’t possibly be Lancashire blood. But a discovery last month via traditional family history research seems to confirm the accuracy of LivingDNA’s results. It points to a 5x great grandmother from Colne. How could my mum inflict this on me?
  • A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town had just shy of 600 views. The 1852 inquiry into sanitation in Batley proved to be a fascinating peek into the lives of our ancestors, their struggles to obtain drinking water, the issues of sanitation in an increasingly urbanised area, the problems with disposing of the dead and the knock on health effects, with frequent epidemics. All illustrated with examples from the town. Despite the grim and dry(?) subject, the post clearly whet the appetite for this type of local context to family history.

So a real mix of posts ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales. This snapshot really sums up what my blog is about. A bit of my family history, interspersed with general genealogical topical updates, and a smattering of local history posts about the lives and times of my ancestors and the communities in which they lived.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

  • Death by Dentition looked at teething as a cause of infant death in the 19th century. This research was promoted by the discovery of my 3x great grandmother’s youngest daughter’s death in 1870.
  • Batman – My Family History Super Hero uncovered the extraordinary persistence of my aged Irish great grandad in trying, and lying, to enlist to serve in the Great War not once, not twice but three times. I discovered his final attempt in 1918 was to join the newly formed RAF. So he, not his grandson (my dad) was the first to serve in that branch of the military.
  • In my commitment to the role of libraries in the community, I shared my thoughts on their importance in A Library is Not a Luxury but One of the Necessities of Life.
  • I also wrote about a couple of murders with local connections. One remains unsolved. Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder involved a woman of ‘ill-repute‘ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death. The other, Mother-in-Law Murderer, was a tale of poisoning which resulted in the hanging of a Batley woman in 1794.
  • Finally, if you want to discover a claim to Brontë fame, check out Finding Your Brontë links.

What Does 2018 Promise? Well, as in 2017, I aim to do two posts a month. I’ve lots of ideas for these, including some in-depth research pieces. In this centenary year of the Armistice, some will definitely have a Great War theme. Others will have a more general family or local history context. And, of course, there will be the occasional topical offering when something big hits the genealogy news. Hopefully these topics remain relevant and interesting, but any other suggestions would be welcome.

The big question, as ever for me, is time. 2018 promises to be a busy year personally and professionally. This may impact on my blogging output, as I do need to focus on my family history client research work, the final year of my assessed genealogy course and my book. I’ll have to see how it pans out.

But whatever my blogging year holds, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2018 filled with family history fun!

2018 Family History New Year’s Resolutions (Otherwise Known as Rewarding Challenges)

Well it’s that time of year again. In my penultimate post of last year I assessed how my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions went. In my final post of the year I set out some general family history related suggestions for 2018 for those seeking ideas. So now to look forward and set my own goals for the New Year.

I’m sticking to just five ‘challenges‘ once more. They are a balance of personal, professional and wider family history objectives. And they do, in part, link to some of the suggestions I posted yesterday.

Work on my Aveyard One-Name Study (ONS): Yes, that hardy perennial which had very stunted growth in 2017. I will spend more time on it in 2018, says I through gritted teeth. It’s not that I don’t like doing the work, it’s just I never get time. And because it’s a relaxed, gentle-paced kind of hobby, it’s the one which is easier to knock on the head when other areas of life and work pick up speed. So in an effort to kick-start it, I may in part combine it in part with Resolution Number Two.

Complete my Pharos Tutors Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) Course: I’m now into Year Two of the eight module course. This year I have my final three modules and assignments. I also must undertake a pre-19th century Project. I’m currently finalising my research proposal, and I’m hoping to frame it in such a way to fulfil some personal family history research, or link it to my ONS. Either way the course will provide me with an excuse to do some of my own research for a change, whilst at the same time being part of my Continuing Professional Development.

Finish my Book Research: This was a ‘bolt from the blue‘ piece of work which hit me in 2017. Alongside my husband I have wandered into a publishing contract. The book is due out later in 2018 and my research is well underway. I aim to complete the bulk of the remaining research by early March. I’ve already set aside January to focus on it, in between my Pharos Medieval Genealogy module. After that, it’s just dotting ‘i’s’ and crossing ‘t’s’ for me. Luckily for me the writing part is down to the other half.

Personal Research: Some ancestors are sent to test us. One of my trials is my 4x great grandfather Abraham Marshall. He’s an hiding-in-plain view type of chap. One of those ancestors I put aside as I couldn’t find an obvious family for him. In theory he should be straightforward. I just need to put in some effort, something I’ve never found time to do. It may involve an element of family reconstitution and lateral thinking. So 2018 is the year in which I will put in that effort and marshal my Marshalls, so to speak. We’ll see how it goes.

Attend a mixture of Conferences, Lectures, Family and Local History Fairs and Talks: The demise of ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ leaves a major gap in the genealogy calendar. But there is so much more out there. It is an opportunity to connect with other events, including those organised by that backbone of grassroots genealogy, the Family History Society. I’m going to commit to attending a minimum of six events over the course of 2018. I’ve already signed up for a major genealogy event, the Secret Lives conference. Organised by the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), The Guild of One Name Studies, the Halsted Trust and the Society of Genealogists, it runs over three days in late summer. But I will also mix it up with smaller scale local events and talks. Family history can so often be a solitary interest, where you find yourself either tucked away in a local archive or at home behind the computer screen. Often, in pursuing our family history goals, we overlook the value of connecting with others who share our passion. And in doing so we overlook the value of our local Family History Societies. So I’m making 2018 my year of championing the work of local history groups and Family History Societies. Starting with the Huddersfield and District Family History Society January sale: Parish Register index booklets for £1, CDs at £5 and census CDs £5 too, plus p&p. That’s my kind of sale!

So just five New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. But I’m pretty relaxed about them as, from the experiences of this year, life can throw the unexpected at you. What you want to achieve evolves and changes as the year progresses. Some new opportunity may mean a shift in priorities. And family history is meant to be fun, not some rigid tick-box exercise.

Whatever your family history aims and hopes are for 2018, I wish you have a rewarding and interesting New Year. But above all I’m wishing you peace, health and happiness, because that’s what really counts.

Word Tree by Jane Roberts using http://www.wordclouds.com

My Top 12 Family History Suggestions for the New Year

As the year closes, here are 12 Family History suggestions for you to consider in 2018. 12 as in one per month. Or maybe because I simply couldn’t whittle them down to 10. You can judge!img_4905

  1. Review your research. Often research is ‘completed‘ and then shelved for years or possibly for ever, even if there are gaps. It does pay though to periodically revisit your research. What might have seemed a dead-end 12 months ago, may no longer be the case. A new record set, an additional piece of information gleaned through researching another family member, or even your own improved research techniques – all these can mean a brick wall is ready to come crashing down.
  2. Join a Family History Society. These organisations are the bedrock of family history up and down the country. They offer a wealth of help, advice and local knowledge. They also provide opportunities to meet with others sharing the same passion for, what can be, a solitary pursuit.
  3. Visit an archive. Contrary to what may appear to be the case, not everything is online. Far from it. And even what is there is not perfect. The indexing may leave something to be desired. Or the source citation may be so unclear as to mislead. One of the simple pleasures of family history research for me is physically connecting with original source material. To hold a document from a bygone era, possibly centuries old, and realise you’re touching something created by people long since gone. All the more special if, within that document you discover your ancestor’s name.
  4. On the same lines, check out your local library. They may have lots of free resources to help you with your family history research. From local newspapers on microfilm, to electoral registers, donated research, council minutes, medical officer of health annual reports, school yearbooks and magazines. The may have censuses, and microfilm or microfiche copies of parish registers. Many have free computer access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. So get down to your local library. You may be pleasantly surprised what’s there.
  5. Talk to relatives. They are living connections with the past, often too easily ignored whilst you pursue your paper trail. My dad died this year. Even though I did quiz him about the past, it’s only now he’s gone that I realise there’s so much more I wished I’d asked him. A few years ago I gave dad a book to fill in about his life. He never did it. So talk to your relatives whilst you have the chance.
  6. Do a family history course or webinar. Anything really to improve your skills. It doesn’t need to cost much. There are lots of free tutorials. Check out The National Archives events – they do some really good free online webinars. FindMyPast also do them. Your local Family History Society may run courses too. But ultimately your research techniques, and results, will benefit from it.
  7. If you do a DNA test, and if you are able to, please Please PLEASE include a tree. Even if it’s only a skeleton tree with a few direct line ancestors. There are so many treeless DNA testers, and it’s so frustrating trying to work out what the connection is between you and them. Yes there are ways and techniques to try to work round this. But it’s so long-winded and speculative. It’s far easier if at the outset there are some family names to work with. So if you received a DNA test this Christmas, besides the initial excitement of spitting or swabbing, do take a bit of time to upload a tree. By doing so you may get more potential DNA matches contacting you too.
  8. Check out #AncestryHour on Twitter. Tuesday’s at 7pm-8pm (GMT). Lots of fast-paced, fun, friendly family history chat, tips and plenty of opportunity to ask questions. More details are here. Starts again on 9 January 2018.
  9. If you do have a public tree on Ancestry, review it to make sure it’s accurate. And if you’re new to family history and looking at these public trees don’t take them as gospel. Do your own research and checking. So many of these things are blindly copied perpetuating the myth that 95 year old 3x great auntie Ann gave birth to twins!
  10. A bit long term, and on a less cheery note: what will happen to all your painstakingly researched family history once you’re gone? Will it end up in the bin? Start thinking now about how it will be preserved. Is there someone in the family to pass the baton on to? If not, is there another option?
  11. Photographs. A dying art in this digital age. I can’t remember the last time I put a family photo in an album, never mind label the names. They’re all on my phone, FaceBook, or when I get round to it, on my computer. So perhaps devote some time to putting a few key family photos (with names) in an album for future generations. Perhaps I’m showing my age and technophobe side here?
  12. Make 2018 the year when you better organise your family history research. Note sources in full. Note negative searches. Note dates searches were conducted. Write up research, and file it, at the time you do the work – not six months later when you’ve not a clue what paper is where, let alone what your scribbled note says and anyway it’s now all too overwhelming to sort out.montage

Whatever you do with your family history quest in 2018, enjoy it! I’ll publish my own New Year’s Resolutions tomorrow.

My 2017 Family History Review – Life Got in the Way

It was a year which didn’t quite go as planned. It was a year full of heartache, but punctuated with moments of real joy and achievement. All of this impacted on my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017.

I had set myself five goals, but personal issues meant a major switch of focus. Mid-year both my husband and father had significant health problems resulting in lengthy hospitalisation for both. Then followed an even lengthier period of recuperation for my husband. Dad however lost his long battle with cancer. Genealogy took a back seat.

Going Forward but Looking Back: Snowflake and me – Photo by Chris Roberts

Given what happened I’m really satisfied with how I fared with my New Year’s Resolutions. My assessment of these are below.

Aveyard One-Name Study: Data collection is still ongoing in fits and starts. I did say I would be doing it at a relaxed pace, fitting it in and around. As things turned out it was more relaxed than anticipated. It was one of the non-essential pieces of work and, as a result, was one thing which ground to a halt when real life kicked in. I’m still working through the censuses.

Healey War Memorial Project: Names were quickly collected but again, because this was non-essential in the grander scheme of things as the year progressed, it has taken a back seat. And then my husband hi-jacked me for a different Great War project which has taken priority. More of that in my 2018 Resolutions.

Blog Posts: Through it all I’ve kept on blogging, averaging at just over two posts a month. So target met. I’ll do my annual blogging review shortly.

Palaeography Practice: Again another Resolution I’m happy with. The fact I signed up to a palaeography course with Pharos helped. I now enjoy transcribing. It’s my take on code-cracking. I need to keep practicing though. My archives visits certainly help.

Personal research into my brush maker ancestor, an asylum inmate, an army officer and two wills: I intended setting aside July to do this. For obvious reasons it never happened. However, I did manage to do a fair amount of the work later in the year by fitting it into an assessed genealogy assignment. I have a couple of loose ends to tie up, one of which involves a visit to the Borthwick Institute. But for all intents and purposes the work is done, and more besides. Although, as with much in family history, one brick wall broken leads to several more to crack.

Given the circumstances of the year, three out of five isn’t bad.

In other news, I am a civil servant no more. This has given me more time to devote to family history. I passed Year One of my Pharos Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) course. I have taken on a volunteering role as a committee member of Batley History Group. But the big news was in September I did something totally unplanned. I went to the Society of Genealogists to attend an interview and written test to become an Associate of the professional Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA). I was thrilled to pass and see my profile on their website, especially given this was the period between dad’s death and his funeral. My pleasure was tinged with sadness: this was the first thing of major importance I couldn’t share with him.

So now I’m a professional genealogist,  taking on client work and loving it. I take as much pleasure in researching for others as I do in undertaking my own family history journey of discovery.

In my next post I’ll set out my 2018 Resolutions.

The Camera Doesn’t Lie – But the Caption Might. A Lesson in Family History Evidence

This post is dedicated to my dad who died in August 2017, after an almost three year battle with cancer. It is prompted by a photograph which appeared recently on a local Facebook page.

This is the photo which inspired me to write this post. It is a St Mary’s Batley school Rugby League team photo. Apparently under 15s.

St Mary’s 1948-49 Rugby League Cup Winning Team – Photo reproduced with permission of Mark Oliver Lockwood

The top right boy is identified as ‘Kev Hill’. My dad. My heart wanted it to be so, but my head said otherwise. It looked more like dad’s marginally older brother, Gerard. Plus dad would have only been about 12 at the time.

I knew dad was a good rugby player, a winger. He was quick, really quick. I know when dad served in the RAF, he played Rugby Union on the wing for them: back in the 1950s Rugby League wasn’t an accepted military sport. Rugby League though was his true game. It was in the family. His uncle, Thomas Brannan, played for Batley. His cousin, Brian Briggs, played for Huddersfield, St Helens and Wakefield. He also represented Yorkshire, England and Great Britain.

One of my earliest memories is dad taking me to Mount Pleasant on a Sunday afternoon to watch Batley play. We’d usually be accompanied by his brother Gerard, and my cousin Claire. It is from those early days watching the game with dad, either live or on TV, that I developed my love of Rugby League.

One of the conversations I had in dad’s last months was how he believed his playing days wouldn’t have been halted temporarily if his own dad hadn’t died when he was three. Dad suffered a bad led injury and, for a time, his naturally protective mum stopped him playing in the lead up to a cup final whilst at school. His mum eventually relented, but it was too late. It meant he missed the cup-winning final. A big deal for him, which almost 70 years later he talked about. It meant he wasn’t on the team photo which was on display in Batley Nash. Maybe it was the team photo in the year or so after the one above.

Anyway, back to this 1948/49 photo. Seeing it knocked me for six. It was the type of photo I’d share and discuss with dad. He’d go through those photographed, identifying them from his school days. But this was the first time ever he’d been labelled on a picture. And I couldn’t ask him about it.

Dad’s younger sister and brother are alive though. And they confirmed my belief. The photo is incorrectly labelled. It’s not dad. It is his older brother Gerard, who died a few years ago. I’d noticed uncle Gerard’s shorts contravened kit rules. My uncle also pointed out that Gerard wasn’t wearing rugby boots, something I hadn’t noticed. It turns out uncle Gerard was late for the team photo. So the family knew the history behind it.

Maybe if this photo had surfaced years later when those who knew dad and his brother were long gone, descendants would’ve accepted the name labelling as correct. Who is to say that the family history photos we have today haven’t been similarly mistakenly named? As with any other family history source it pays to evaluate that source and ask questions. In this case:

  • When was the labelling done – was it years later?
  • If names do appear, who did it? The person, another family member who knew them or someone totally unrelated?
  • Is it a family group photo, for example a wedding shot, which features many family members? This might make it easier to put names to individuals. Or is it a class photo, with no other family members on?
  • Does the period look right, in terms of clothes, style and type of photograph, studio name and location etc?
  • If there are dates indicated on the shot, do they fit in with what is known?
  • Does it match the family member’s appearance in other photos (if they exist)?
  • Do other sources corroborate it?

So the moral of this story, in life as much as in family history, is question and challenge. Back up with other evidence to build up a body of proof. Don’t go on just one single piece of ‘evidence‘ and don’t go with your heart – use your head.

Dad – Father’s Day 2014, with the Family History Book I wrote for his present