Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Perfect Christmas Gifts for Genealogists

Christmas is fast approaching, so I thought that it would be useful to write about some items that would make  perfect gifts for the genealogist in your life. Some of the items will be quirky and fun, but most will be practical, and will prove to be useful for delving into family histories and recording the information found.

Let's start with the fun items. Amazon has a large selection of genealogy mugs and t-shirts available. They are generally well designed with amusing and witty slogans, and are ideal for any keen genealogist who likes to flaunt their hobby with pride.

While these gifts are thoughtful, you might want something that's a bit more practical. What about a family history gift box? These affordable presents allow the recipient to have the history of their surname researched by genealogy experts. Other variations of genealogy gift boxes include items such as photo albums to allow you organise your research. Some even include books offering advice on researching your family tree.

Of course, you could always buy a genealogy book separately. There are hundreds to choose from, of varying prices. My personal collection, including some that were given to me as gifts, have helped me immensely in my research. A good book on genealogy will prove to be invaluable to anybody who wants to find out more about their ancestry. One of my personal favourites is the companion to the popular television series Who Do You Think You Are? Fans of this show would be equally delighted to receive one of the series DVDs that are available.

One of the most useful Christmas genealogy gifts you can buy for a loved one is a good family tree software package. These are essential for conveniently organising research into one well designed and easily accessible place. They can store photographs, digitised images, and even audio and video files. They allow family trees to be constructed and shared across the web, and are an excellent tool for keeping track of family history data.

Whatever genealogy gift you choose to buy, I hope that it is well received, and I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Free Credits at Find My Past

To celebrate 'Start Your Family Tree Week' from the 26th of December to the 1st of January, the website Find My Past is offering users 50 pay as you go credits, absolutely free! This is a great opportunity to view some census records or newspaper articles at no extra charge.

All you have to do is go here and click where it says "claim your credits now." Then just enter the code 
and the free credits will be yours.

Just make sure you do it quickly, because the code will expire on the 2nd of January 2013. Also, the credits will expire after 90 days, so use them up. (I'm sure you will)

Saturday, 8 December 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - John Bishop

The long awaited tenth episode of series 9 of Who Do You Think You Are? aired on Thursday night (6th December). The ninth episode featuring John Barnes aired way back in October, so I'm not quite sure why the last episode was delayed for so long. Anyway, it featured Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop, and it lived up to the usual WDYTYA? high standards.

John first search of the records revealed that his great-great grandfather, Charles Bishop from Paddington in London, married his great-great-grandmother, Catherine Evitt of County Armagh, in 1852 in Montreal, Quebec. The records also revealed that Charles was a Lance Sergeant in the Army when the marriage took place.

Further research into Charles' military records showed that he was only fourteen years old when he joined up. He served in Bermuda before moving to Canada. He also joined the military band before becoming the band Sergeant several years later. The final piece of information revealed by the records was that he ultimately bought himself out of the Army for a large some of money while his wife was pregnant.

The next stage in John's journey was to visit Chichester cathedral, where Charles was on probation as a lay vicar in the 1850s. This tied in with the information that John previously had, which was that Charles was listed as a lay vicar in the 1861 census. A lay vicar was essentially a singer in the choir, which makes sense based on Charles' musical background. Later on in the 1860s Charles moved to York cathedral, before becoming a travelling performer as a minstrel. John was amazed to read newspaper reports that his great-great grandfather had performed in some of the same theatres as he had himself.

This is just one more example of the lives of our ancestors resonating in the present. Here's looking forward to series 10 of Who Do You Think You Are?

Sunday, 2 December 2012 Advent Calendar

The good people at are embracing the spirit of Christmas by offering free tips and prizes on their special advent calendar page of their website. Each day there will be something of interest. If you missed yesterday's, the 1st of December, it was a competition to win a copy of the soundtrack to the film Quartet. Don't worry though, you can still enter right up until the 1st of January 2013.

Opening today's door reveals an exclusive video offering advice on searching birth, marriage, and death records. 

The advent calendar can be found here. Enjoy!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Find My Past Historic Newspapers

Anybody who has studied old newspapers as part of their family history research will know how useful they can be. There are already a few websites offering historical newspaper transcriptions and digitised images, but fans of Find My Past will be pleased to know that a newspaper section has just been added to the site.

There are millions of pages of historical newspapers to view, dating from 1710 to 1950 and covering Scotland, England, and Wales. Each record costs five pay as you go credits to view, but subscribers to the Britain Full package will have unlimited access.

The project has been launched in conjunction with the British Library, and Find My Past have promised that new records will become available regularly.

Old newspapers are not only an extremely interesting insight into the past, but they can also provide information about your family history that you won't find anywhere else. 

Good luck with your research!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Interesting Names

This is not strictly speaking a genealogy story, but is interesting nonetheless. The BBC News website has an article about how some people in Britain have struggled with having unusual names. The names, such as Formaggia, Bandoodas, and Akinyemi, are described as "foreign-sounding." In other words, they are only unusual in Britain because they are not native to the country.

From a genealogical perspective the article is interesting for two reasons:

  • Firstly, some of the people in the article share personal stories of their relatives and how they migrated to Britain. 
  • Secondly, there are instances of names being changed over the years. As every genealogist knows, this can be extremely frustrating and troublesome when conducting research.
The article is worth a look, and can be found on the BBC News website.

Genes Reunited Price Changes

The website Genes Reunited have announced that they have made some changes to their pricing structure, effective immediately.

  • Viewing an original 1911 census image now costs 5 credits, or 50p, instead  of 30 credits, or £3.
  • Viewing a 1911 census transcription now costs 5 credits instead of 10.
This appears to be a permanent change rather than a promotional offer, and is very welcome. The more sites that offer important records at reduced rates the better. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Who Do You Think You Are?

I, like many of my fellow genealogists, have enjoyed the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are? However, it has been disappointing that the series finished abruptly on Wednesday 17th October with one episode still to go. I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of John Bishop, the subject of the missing episode, but I'd be entertained by his family history adventure just as I am with every edition of WDYTYA?

The BBC have not to my knowledge explained why they haven't shown episode 10 (John Bishop). They have now stated, however, that it will finally be shown on Thursday 6th December.

Better late then never I suppose. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Scottish DNA

A new research study is being launched by ScotlandsDNA into the three different types of gene for red hair, with the specific purpose of discovering why Scotland has such an abundance of red headed people. Around 13% of people in Scotland have red hair, compared to a global figure of 1-2%. The researchers believe, however, that in Scotland alone there could be over one-and-a-half million. It is interesting to note that red hair can skip generations in the same family. 

The aim of the research project is to accurately map the number of Scottish carriers of one of the three types of genes that can lead to red hair. The researchers are hoping to be able to establish a theory for Scotland being the most red-headed nation in the world.

The amount of emigration from Scotland throughout the centuries has clearly contributed to the global total of red headed people. It would be extremely interesting to expand the study to include genealogical data, although this is obviously outwith the scope currently. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Free Military Records On

This is just a quick reminder that Ancestry UK is currently offering free access to their First World War service, pension, and medal records. The promotion runs from the 9th to the 12th November 2012 to commemorate Remembrance Sunday on the 11th. 

This is a great opportunity to learn more about our ancestors while taking the time to pay our respects to all of the brave soldiers who have fallen in combat. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

More Wills Added to ScotlandsPeople Site

ScotlandsPeople have just added almost 400,000 more wills and testaments to their records. The new documents relate to the period from 1902 to 1925. This means that they now have over one million wills and testaments in total, some dating as far back as 1513.

Scottish wills and testaments can provide some invaluable information when tracing ancestors, and they can also be extremely interesting. ScotlandsPeople currently have some excerpts from the wills of famous Scots to view free of charge, Andrew Carnegie and Sir John Murray being the two prime examples.

The entire wills and testaments index is free to search, but there is a charge of 10 credits, which equates to £2.33, to view a document. With the amount of information contained in many of the documents this can often be well worth the money.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Barack Obama's Ancestry

With the 2012 US Presidential election less than two weeks away I thought I'd write a post about the ancestry of President Barack Obama. My previous post on the ancestry of Republican hopeful Mitt Romney can be found here.

It is well established that President Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas in the USA. Rather than focus on the specifics of these particular lines, I thought it would be more interesting to highlight some peculiar coincidences that were found when research into the president's genealogy was carried out a few years ago. 

The New England Historic Genealogical Society spent many painstaking hours discovering President Obama's ancestry, and what they found is fascinating. For example, who would have imagined that he was related, albeit distantly, to six former presidents, including George W. Bush? The common ancestor of both is a man called Samuel Hinkley of Cape Cod, who died in 1662. 

President Obama is also genealogically linked to Brad Pitt through Edwin Hickman of Virginia, who died in 1769. Another distant cousin is former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. 

It's a small world after all. The New England Historic Genealogical Society's research has uncovered many more links between well known people, including several in the political sphere. Their work is important and fascinating, and is to be commended.

It's amazing to think that one person over two hundred years ago could have such an influence on the modern world, but that's genealogy for you.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Find My Past TV Show

I wrote a previous post about Genealogy TV Shows, and in that post mentioned a new show call Find My Past, with obvious ties to the website. Well, I quite liked it, and I'm pleased to report that it's coming back for a second series. 

The format is the same: each week of the ten part series three people investigate how their ancestors were linked to famous historical events. The finale of each episode involves the three participants learning about how their ancestors' lives intertwined. Series Two promises episodes dealing with the great fire of London, the gunpowder plot, and the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. 

Presented by Chris Hollins, Find My Past series two will begin on Tuesday 30th October 2012. It will be shown on the Yesterday channel, on Freeview channel 19, Sky channel 537, and Virgin Media channel 203.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

View the 1911 Census for Free

Find My Past is currently offering access to the 1911 census for England and Wales for free. Transcripts, which normally cost 10 credits, can be viewed completely free of charge until the 18th of November 2012. Viewing the original image will cost just 5 credits rather than the standard 30. After this promotion ends the price for viewing both a transcript and an original image will be 5 credits.

This is a great opportunity for anybody with English or Welsh ancestry to carry out some research for free. 

Visit Find My Past.

WDYTYA Series 9 - John Barnes

The penultimate episode of this series of Who Do You Think You Are featured the ex-footballer John Barnes. John was born in Jamaica, but played for England at international level. A terrific footballer in his time, I was hopeful that John's genealogy would be as interesting in his career.

John's research naturally began with a trip to Jamaica, where his mother still lives. It is often the case that Jamaican genealogical research will involve slavery in some way, due to the economic dependence on the sugar plantations for trade and export. Thankfully, John's research took in a time after slavery had been abolished.

The first ancestor who John wanted to learn more about was his maternal grandfather, Frank Hill. John had remembered him from childhood as being somebody who was always reading. He was a journalist by profession, and a trades union leader. John discovered that his grandfather had been imprisoned in the 1940's, when Jamaica was still a colony under British rule. The reason for imprisonment was Frank's political beliefs. He was a member of the People's National Party, which fought for Jamaican independence. 

Frank's plight drew the attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies back in London, who during the war period of the 1940's began to realise that some form of self rule for the colonies was inevitable. This led to Frank Hill being released. John Barnes' uncle was essentially at the forefront of Jamaica's move towards independence, which it finally attained in 1962.

John then moved a generation back, to Stephen Hill, who was a journalist like his son. Stephen was much more favourable to the white ruling establishment, however. As a result, he came under pressure and faced criticism from black civil rights leaders at the time. The juxtaposition between the establishment journalist father, Stephen, and the radical journalist son, Frank, is an extremely interesting one.

Both men lived during fascinating times in Jamaican history, and as journalists both helped to shape the political discourse. Once again, Who Do You Think You Are? has proven to be educational and enjoyable.

This episode can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - Celia Imrie

Episode 8 of Series 9 of Who Do You Think You Are? featured the actress Celia Imrie. Her tale was one of political machinations dating back to the 17th century, and I was enthralled by it. I was, however, a little disappointed that she didn't research her Scottish roots, particularly the ancestry of her Glaswegian father.

The story instead focused on Celia's great x8 grandfather, William, Lord Russell. William was the son of the Earl of Bedford, and lived in some very turbulent times. He was a Whig politician who was tried and convicted of conspiring against King Charles II and his brother James. The charge of treason carried a sentence of death. It appeared as if the charges were false and were brought about for political reasons. William was a staunch advocate of constitutional liberty, and was also extremely pro-Protestant, and therefore anti-Catholic, in his views. 

William was inevitably found guilty, and was sentenced to a gruesome death involving being hanged and quartered. This was eventually commuted to a beheading, which was more merciful but still unjust. 

William's grandmother, Frances Howard, was also researched in this episode. She had been the subject of an arranged marriage at the age of only thirteen. The Howard family were hungry for power and political influence at the royal court of King James I. This marriage was annulled, however, when Frances reached adulthood, and she went on to marry Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset.

This, again, was a political marriage, and led to charges of murder against Frances and her husband. Somerset's adviser, Sir Thomas Overbury, did not like Frances, and was making moves to reduce the power of the Howard family, and to gain more for himself. When he died of suspected poisoning the blame was laid at the door of the Somersets. They were found guilty of murder, locked in the Tower of London, and sentenced to execution. They were later pardoned and eventually released.

Celia Imrie's Who Do You Think You Are? story was a fascinating insight into the politics of 17th century England. The actions of Celia's ancestors have to be viewed in context, however it was a little surprising that she stated many times how proud she was of her ancestors, both of whom had been found guilty of crimes.

Celia Imrie's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Welsh Genealogy by Bruce Durie

If, like U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, you have Welsh ancestry, you may be interested in a new book by expert genealogist Dr. Bruce Durie.Welsh Genealogy provides all of the information you could possibly need to help you to find your Welsh ancestors. It is a companion to Scottish Genealogy by the same author.

In fact, Dr. Durie has written many insightful books on the subject of genealogy. I have several of his books, and they are generally excellent. I have also had the privilege of attending a genealogy seminar held by Dr. Durie at the University of Strathclyde. It was extremely informative, and very useful in my research.

Welsh Genealogy will certainly be worth checking out if your family history extends to the beautiful land of Wales.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - William Roache

The Coronation Street actor William Roache was the subject of last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Now 80 years old, William's personal memories are extensive enough to act as a very good foundation for genealogy reasearch.

Williams focus for this episode of WDYTYA? was his grandmother, Zillah Waddicor, and her life running a cafe in Alton Towers in the period between the two world wars. This was prior to Alton Towers being converted to the theme park that it is now famous for. Originally it was the country estate of the Earls of Shrewsbury.

As a large cafe catering for up to one thousand people at a time, Zillah's business was very important to the local community. As a result, and thankfully for William, several records have been kept, including photographs and even an example of a menu. The success of Zillah's cafe is an example of the first generation of working class day-trippers, and in that context is important to the understanding of social history.

As proud as William was of his grandmother's entrepreneurial spirit, he wanted to find out how she had become so successful, and what role his grandfather, Albert, had to play. From the census records of 1911 he discovered that Albert had run a stall selling soft drinks and ice-cream in Blackpool. Business directories going back to 1896 revealed that the stall had originally been owned by Albert's father, James.

More than this, James actually owned several properties that he rented out. William found James' will, which  revealed that his estate was worth almost half a million pounds in today's money. Interestingly, James made his daughter-in-law Zillah, and not his own son Albert, an executor of his will. Furthermore, he left his entire estate in trust to only one of his three granddaughters. A check of the 1901 census showed that the other two granddaughters, including William's mother, were living with other relatives, suggesting that they were not as close to James.

Discovering that his mother, at only three months old, was not living with her parents was an emotional end to William's WDYTYA? journey.

William Roache's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - Alex Kingston

Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured Alex Kingston, famous for her roles in ER, Moll Flanders, and many others. Her story appeared interesting from the outset due to the fact that her mother is German and her father English. This mix of nationalities offers a lot of potential when it comes to researching genealogy.

Alex's first line of inquiry was regarding her great-grandfather, William Keevil, who she knew had died in the First World War. Prior to enlisting, however, he had been a photographer. A trip to Battersea library helped Alex to trace her ancestry back a further generation. She was also able to check the census records to discover what William was doing up until 1911. 

Interestingly, William was listed as a lantern slide maker. We discovered that lantern slides were the very early equivalent of modern photographic slides used in projectors. William was working with imagery at the early days of the photography industry, and it was a natural career progression for him to eventually become a professional photographer himself.

The next stage of Alex's research involved combining the two separate threads of William's photography career and his military service with the Royal Engineers. Again, fascinating facts emerge, as it was discovered that William used his professional expertise in a military capacity. He took part in sound ranging, which involved using sound waves recorded on photographic film to precisely locate enemy guns at the front line. Once again William was at the forefront of new technology.

Unfortunately, for all his hard work William was killed as a result of shelling during the battle of Passchendaele in August 1917.

The second part of Alex's story involved trying to discover if family rumours of Jewish ancestry were true. She quickly discovered that her gx4 grandparents were Michael and Elizabeth Braham, and it is believed that the original family name would have been Abraham. This is not evidence of Jewish ancestry in itself, however. For that, some detective work was required. It was discovered that one of the daughters of Michael and Elizabeth married into an Orthodox Jewish family, which would suggest beyond reasonable doubt that the Brahams were themselves also Jewish.

Researching Jewish ancestors often throws up some very interesting stories. Jewish records are usually very well kept, and can be extensive. However, I have discovered in my own personal research that Jewish ancestors can be difficult to trace due to migration throughout Europe.

I really enjoyed Alex Kingston's story on Who Do You Think You Are? You can view the episode on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

WDYTYA? Series 9 - Hugh Dennis

Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? had a military theme again, which is in no way a bad thing. The subject was Hugh Dennis, or more specifically his two grandfathers. Both experienced the harrowing death and destruction of the First World War.

Hugh's first story to unravel was that of his paternal grandfather, Ronald Dennis. Ronald was born in 1899 in a village called Wales, situated to the south of Sheffield in Yorkshire. This was an area synonymous with coal mining, and Ronald's father, John, worked at the coal face down a pit. Rather than following in his father's footsteps as most boys did however, Ronald showed enough educational potential to be awarded a grant to attend a grammar school.

Attending grammar school gave Ronald good prospects for the future, and a professional career seemed likely. However, world events conspired against him, as they did for so many young men. In January 1917 he joined the Army, and was sent to St. John's College in Cambridge for officer training. In addition to being taught how to fight, the men were also educated in the manners befitting of a "gentleman." In fact, officers from the lower classes, such as the coal miner's son Ronald, were called "temporary gentlemen," only considered to be of a sufficient social standing until the war was over and they were no longer officers. I found it disheartening to see the snobbery being shown to men who would go on to risk their lives during the war.

A visit to the Imperial War Museum in London revealed that Ronald was sent to France in October 1918, unbeknown to him only one month before the end of the war. Nevertheless, the nineteen year old officer could not escape the horrors and danger of war, and was injured by shrapnel while defending the village of Futoy. He was sent home to recover, and left the Army after the war had ended.

After researching Ronald, Hugh turned his attention to his maternal grandfather, Godfrey Hinnels. Godrey's war experience was quite different to Ronald's, and involved some ferocious battles as well as the loss of a brother. 

One battle was particularly bloody. Godfrey was stationed near to the village of Neuville-Vitasse with the Suffolk Regiment in April 1917. Originally tasked with burying the dead from previous battle, the regiment were soon involved in an attack on the Hindenburg Line as part of the Battle of Arras. Combat involved the soldiers working their way along the German trenches, throwing grenades ahead of them before advancing with bayonets. 

It must have been horrific. After almost achieving their goal, they were pushed back along the trenches. Of the 700 men that began the attack, only 350 survived, and no territorial gains were made. Godfrey was one of the lucky ones. 

His next major engagement was at Passchendaele in July 1917. Under intense German artillery bombardment many lives were lost. Godfrey and the rest of the survivors were removed from the front line. Then, in the spring of 1918, Godfrey and his new Lincolnshire Regiment had to defend the town of Wytschaete from a heavy German attack. Within a few hours the battalion had been decimated. Less than ninety survived, with once again Godfrey being one of the few who made it out alive.

Neither of Hugh's grandfathers spoke of their experiences during the First World War. Like so many others they sacrificed so much, and were forever affected as a result. 

Hugh Dennis' thoughtful, moving episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Historical Photos Of The World - Historypin

In a previous post I wrote about historical photos of my family, and how I always find old pictures to be of great interest and value in genealogy. I have recently come across a website that has a huge historical image archive. It is called Historypin, and it contains thousands of historical photos of buildings, landmarks, and people from around the world.

Historypin is built on user content - users upload their personal photographs and share them with everybody else. As a result there is a real community spirit with the project, and getting involved in the community is very easy. Sign up is free, and a quick visit to the community homepage provides a wealth of information on schools, libraries, archives, and museums - basically anywhere where history can be learnt and enjoyed.

The key to Historypin is that individuals, groups, and organisations work together to create a massive resource of historical pictures and information. As users upload their photographs they can add stories and details to provide context. This really helps with the understanding of the time period that a picture represents, and is fascinating for any family historian.

The way that Historypin works is really cool. It is based on a giant map, which every historical photo is pinned to. The map can be searched by place or time to find historical photos of relevant scenes. Best of all, since Historypin works in conjunction with Google, old photos of an area can be compared with a modern equivalent using Google Streetview. This is a lot of fun, and it is fascinating to see the ways that areas have changed, and stayed the same.

Due to this link up with Google, a Google account is needed to log in to Historypin, but this is very straightforward, and completely free, to set up. The more people that get involved in the community of Historypin the better it will be, and the more historical photos of interest will be shared and enjoyed.

Monday, 10 September 2012

ScotlandsPeople 10 Year Anniversary

The website ScotlandsPeople has been providing invaluable genealogical information to people all around the world for 10 years. The first incarnation of the site was launched in September 2002, and although it has gone through some changes since then it is without a doubt one of the best resources available to anybody tracing their Scottish ancestry. 

ScotlandsPeople is the official government backed resource for state records. There is a huge amount of information available on the site, and it is expanding all the time. Valuation Rolls for 1915 were recently added, for example. The site is incredibly easy to use, and there is no annual membership. You simply buy and use credits as you need them. Very convenient.

With the amount of migration from Scotland over the centuries ScotlandsPeople is an absolutely essential resource for any genealogist. The ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh is also well worth a visit. Credit has to go to the relevant authorities for realising the importance of preserving historical documents, and for investing the time and money into making them available to us.

I for one am very grateful for the service provided by ScotlandsPeople. My family tree would not have grown anywhere near as much, or as quickly, without the information I found on the site. 

Congratulations to ScotlandsPeople on your success in the past ten years. Here's to many more.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

WDYTYA? Series 9 - Annie Lennox

Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring singer Annie Lennox was of particular interest to me due to its focus on the north-east of Scotland. Regular readers of this blog will know that that is where many of my ancestors are from. In fact, Annie discovered a Mrs. Cruickshank, who shares my surname. However, since this is a very common name in that part of the world I am sure there is no connection, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Annie began her WDYTYA? journey looking for details of her great-grandfather Charles Henderson. She first searched for his birth certificate, which revealed that his father was James Henderson and his mother Jessie Henderson nee Fraser. Annie decided to focus her research on her great-great-grandmother, Jessie.

After initially drawing a blank on the census records she soon discovered that Jessie's real name was Janet. Name changes such as this were actually quite common, which is useful information to have if you are searching for Scottish ancestors.

The 1851 census showed Jessie (Janet) living with her brothers, sisters, and mother in Banff. They were listed as paupers. Further research revealed that Jessie's father had died only a couple of months before the census took place. 

By the time Jessie was five in the mid 1850s she had been orphaned. Records showed that at the age of ten she had been sent to live with a Mrs. Cruickshank. This is the point at which the mystery of Annie Lennox's ancestry really began to take shape. To cut a long story short, Jessie's mother Mary was illegitimate. Mary's father, James Rose, was a solicitor, and of a higher class than Mary's mother. He chose to marry someone else rather than taking responsibility for his daughter. Astonishingly, the census records showed that in 1851 he lived literally around the corner from his daughter and grandchildren. While he lived in comfort, they were living a life of hardship as paupers. 

Baptismal records from the 1790s revealed that James Rose had a sister, Ann, who went on to marry a John Cruickshank. This then was the Mrs. Cruickshank who Jessie was sent to live with when she was ten. Annie Lennox speculated that this was simply a convenient arrangement, with Jessie working for her keep, rather than as a result of Mrs. Cruickshank feeling any love or kinship for her great-niece.

Annie then continued her research to find out about Jessie's later life. The first record found was of Jessie working in a flax mill in Aberdeen at the age of thirteen. Next was the 1871 census, which showed that she was married with a child, Annie's great-grandfather Charles. She went on to have three more children, but then died in 1885 at the young age of thirty-five. 

This account is only half of Annie Lennox's Who Do You Think You Are? story. The second half of the program involves more illegitimacy, meetings with the kirk elders, and dancing with the Queen Mother at Balmoral. The episode can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer here

Thursday, 30 August 2012

WDYTYA? Series 9 - Patrick Stewart

It was another military themed Who Do You Think You Are? last night with renowned actor Sir Patrick Stewart, famous for playing various Shakespearean roles, Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men, and, of course, Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise.

Patrick wanted to begin his research with the military records of his father, Alfred. Due to Alfred being posted abroad during WWII, Patrick didn't really get to know him until he was around five years old. As an adult Patrick had heard that Alfred had had a distinguished military career, and now wanted to use his WDYTYA? experience to look into this in more detail.

The first stop was the Imperial War Museum in London. Alfred's service record showed that he first joined the Army in 1925, two weeks after the birth of his first child. After completing his service, part of which was in the regimental police, he re-enlisted at the start of WWII. 

Alfred's first real experience of the horrors of war occurred at Abbeville in France in 1940. His battalion was met by well trained and efficient German Panzer divisions. The town and surrounding areas were heavily bombed, and the battalion witnessed crowds of refugees fleeing from the destruction. Not long after this incident Alfred and his battalion were evacuated from France as the Germans continued their relentless advance towards Paris.

On his return home a newspaper article revealed that Alfred had suffered from shell-shock whilst at the front line, and that the symptoms had remained with him when he returned to England. This suddenly brought context to the angry father that Patrick remembered from his childhood.

Alfred's war was not over, however, as he later joined the Parachute Regiment. During the years of 1940-1942 he had been promoted from a Corporal, to Sergeant, to Sergeant-Major. He was posted to the South of France as part of Operation Dragoon in 1944. This operation, in conjunction with the D-Day landings, had a huge impact on the outcome of the war. Patrick visited the area that Alfred had parachuted into, and even the exact buildings that had been used as headquarters.

The final part of the programme involved Patrick investigating shell-shock, now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The effects on some servicemen were tragic, and involved some people being classified as incurable, and being kept in asylums. In general, nightmares, violent outbursts, and alcohol abuse were commonly found amongst sufferers of shell-shock. As a child Patrick had witnessed Alfred being drunk and violent towards his mother, and while not excusing the behaviour in any way, he could now understand that there were extenuating circumstances to explain his father's quick temper.

Sir Patrick Stewart's Who Do You Think You Are? story is another example, one of many, of how war affected those who lived and fought through it. It changed the men who risked their lives, and as a result relationships with family members were altered forever.

This episode of WDYTYA? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer for the next two months.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - Gregg Wallace

The tears were flowing last night on Who Do You Think You Are? It was, I think, the saddest episode I have ever seen. It featured Gregg Wallace of Masterchef fame, and his search for his great-grandfather and his great-great-grandmother.

The episode began with Gregg visiting his mum, who provided an early photograph of Gregg's gx2 grandmother. There was, however, no name or information to go along with it. Gregg's first impression based on his ancestor's appearance was that she may have been well off. The information he obtained about his great- grandfather, Henry Roland Springett, was that he had abandoned his wife and children and deserted from the Navy. Not a particularly happy story to research, but it gets worse.

Gregg began his search in Plymouth, where a check of Henry's Naval records revealed that no desertion had taken place. Furthermore, prior to joining the Navy Henry had been a greengrocer, the same as Gregg himself. The really interesting revelation from the records, however, was that Henry had been away on duty when his wife had conceived and delivered a second child. Rather than deserting his family, Henry had been the victim of adultery! 

Further records revealed that Henry had attempted to divorce his wife, and to gain custody of his son, Gregg's grandfather. For unknown reasons, probably a lack of funds, these proceedings did not go ahead. It is thought that Gregg's grandfather grew up never knowing that his father had wanted him.

Gregg wanted to discover what had gone wrong in the marriage, and the answer shocked him. Henry and his wife Emily had had a child prior to Gregg's grandfather. Emily and her two children slept in the same bed while Henry was away at sea, and she left a small lamp burning so that she could nurse the baby. One night a terrible accident occurred when the young girl's flannelette nightdress caught fire from the lamp. She died from her injuries, and Gregg speculated that Henry may have blamed his wife for the horrific event.

More heartbreak was to follow. Later in life Henry met another woman named Emily, and they had two children together. His unbelievable misfortune continued when he witnessed her being knocked down and killed by a car. 

The amazing thing about genealogy is that it often throws up stories like this, that make us feel so sad for our ancestors that we never actually knew personally.

Gregg's research into his gx2 grandmother was no brighter. He discovered that her name was Selina, and that she had had a hard life working as a gloveress from the age of eight. Census records revealed a brother who was listed as an imbecile. Further research revealed that he had died after having a fit of convulsions, probably witnessed by Selina. Shortly after this she was admitted to a lunatic asylum, with symptoms including raving about being damned. 

After a few years she was released, and it was revealed that this is where Gregg's mother's photograph originated from. She went on to marry and have a family, but in later life suffered a relapse, and died in the asylum at the age of fifty-one. 

Gregg Wallace's Who Do You Think You Are? story was filled with heartbreak and tragedy, but made for compulsive viewing. You can catch it now on the BBC iPlayer.

Common Ancestry

There is a very interesting article on the BBC website today. Written by Dr. Yan Wong, it poses the question of how long it takes for the whole of humanity to have a common ancestor. Dr. Wong was initially researching the bloodline between King David and Jesus, but went on to widen the scope of the research to a modern setting.

Recent studies into DNA and the human genome have allowed scientists to speculate about ancestry, including making calculations about common ancestors. The problem arises due to the fact that the number of ancestors we have grows exponentially - 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, etc. Since, according to the Bible, there were 1000 years and at least 35 generations between Jesus and King David, Jesus could potentially have had more than 34 billion ancestors! This is obviously impossible, and is what is known as the "genealogical paradox."

Dr. Wong clarifies this by stating that inbreeding has to be taken into account; in other words certain common ancestors can exist in different branches of your family tree, and are therefore mistakenly counted twice. 

Further calculation based on this theory throws up some very interesting numbers regarding common ancestry. For example, it is estimated that the most recent common ancestor of all human beings alive today would have existed only 3000 years ago. That is astounding. Furthermore, this means in turn that somebody alive today will be the common ancestor of the entire population of the Earth in 3000 years time. 

Just think of how many genealogical records our descendants will have at their disposal!

I'm not doing the article justice here, so please visit the BBC website to view it in its entirety.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Church Record Sunday: Scottish Church Records

One of the most important considerations when research a Scottish ancestor is the religious denomination they belonged to. Scotland was traditionally a Catholic country until the Reformation in the 16th century, at which point a split in the Christian church occurred. From this time onwards the Protestant Church of Scotland has been the majority faith, although Catholics have remained a sizeable minority due to immigration from Ireland and Italy in particular. It is also important to be aware of other religious minorities in Scotland, such as Jews and Quakers.

In general, however, most of the historical records that are available relate to the Church of Scotland Kirk Sessions, with separate records for Catholic ancestors. Records have been kept officially by the General Register Office since 1855. Before this some records exist dating back to the 16th century, although some parts of the country are better served than others. In addition, some Old Parochial Registers provide greater amounts of information than others. 

The handwriting of original documents is often very difficult to decipher. Great care has to be taken when viewing transcriptions, as they are not always accurate.

Scottish church records can provide a large amount of useful information relating to birth, marriages, and deaths. They can also provide a fascinating insight into the ways of the past, particularly in terms of the Kirk Sessions. The Church previously had a much greater control over the lives of parishioners. There are many instances of people being summoned before the Kirk Session to explain undesirable behaviour, and to be punished for it. My own research uncovered one of my ancestors in the north of Scotland being born out of wedlock, for example.

Regardless of the religious denomination of your Scottish ancestors, you will no doubt be intrigued researching their lives.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - Samantha Womack

Last night viewers in the UK were treated to the first episode of series 9 of Who Do You Think You Are? This episode featured the actress Samantha Womack, formerly Janus, and proved that this excellent genealogy programme has lost none of its quality.

Samantha started from the position of knowing very little about her ancestry, as many of us do, and began her research by speaking to her paternal grandmother. From this discussion she was able to move a couple of generations back, as she discovered the name of her great-grandmother and her great-great grandparents.

She decided to focus on her great-grandfather, Alexander Cunningham Ryan, and his experiences in the First World War fighting for the Scots Guards. She had been told that he suffered complication with his chest as a result of being exposed to poisonous gas, and wanted to investigate further. However, as it turned out, the chest problems actually arose from a gunshot wound to the lung.

Alexander Cunningham Ryan's service records revealed that he was a Glaswegian musician before the war, and as a result Samantha's next port of call was Glasgow. In particular, she wanted to investigate the fact that he had previously been in the Highland Light Infantry. In fact, it turned out that he had joined when he was only fourteen years old. It was discovered that this is where he learnt his skills as a musician.

More interestingly, a question was thrown up as to exactly how long Alexander has served with the HLI. His original records stated eight years, but his later Scots Guards records stated fourteen years. Samantha discovered that between the HLI and the Scots Guards Alexander had served with the Royal Garrison Artillery in Plymouth. The next revelation was that he had deserted from this post and had been imprisoned as a result, which explains why he had lied about his service record to the Scots Guards.

Interesting stuff indeed, and it gets better. A search of local historical records revealed that his crimes were the theft of two musical instruments. With a dishonourable discharge, it would have been virtually impossible for Alexander ever to re-enlist. In effect, the beginning of the First World War and the demand for soldiers gave him an opportunity to serve again, and he was able to conceal his past successfully.

This story made up only the first half of Samantha Womack's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? She went on to research her great-grandmother's past, which revealed some heartbreaking facts. I recommend you catch the full episode on the BBC iPlayer if you can. All in all a very good start to the new series.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Historic Newspapers

Every genealogist knows how valuable historical newspapers can be when carrying out family history research. I have personally spent countless hours in my local libraries accessing information from newspaper archives. If you have any interest at all in how the news was reported in the past then you will want to know about Historical Newspapers, a website which offers you the chance to buy genuine original archive newspapers from the date of your choice.

I have recently used the service at, and I have to say that it is excellent. There is a huge collection of newspapers available from countries all around the world. My choices were the Glasgow Herald and the Glasgow News, both from 1882. They were absolutely fascinating, and included births, marriages, and deaths, house sales, and business advertisements. There were also sections on ships leaving Glasgow for the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. All of this information is undoubtedly not only useful, but also of great interest to family historians such as myself.

I was equally as impressed with the presentation of the newspapers. They arrived promptly, and were wrapped in tissue paper within an attractive presentation box, one of several presentation options available on the site. This, in fact, is the main selling point of the Historic Newspapers site, in that their newspapers make excellent gifts. The huge range on offer means that newspapers can be ordered to commemorate a particular date, whether that be a birthday, wedding anniversary, or anything else. You can even order newspapers as a souvenir of a particular world event, such as the moon landings. 

It really is fascinating to see what news was reported at a particular point in history. Historical newspapers make such a good gift because they are uniquely original, thoughtful, and a guaranteed conversation starter. As a keen historian and genealogist I would obviously be delighted to receive such a gift, however it is not necessary to be a student of history. People generally enjoy looking nostalgically at the past, particularly at the points that hold sentimental value to them. The gifts available from Historic Newspapers can evoke happy memories from previous times.

Whether for historical research, or as a gift for a special occasion, I cannot recommend Historic Newspapers enough. I have been very impressed by the professionalism of their website and service. If you would like to investigate their archive of historical newspapers from around the world you can take advantage of a special offer for Family History Finder readers. Just enter the code '15TODAY' at the checkout for a 15% discount off your total basket value.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Mocavo Genealogy Search Engine

I have just used the Mocavo genealogy search engine for the first time, even though it has been online since 2011. I used the UK version, although there is also the option of the original US version. First impressions are very positive.

Mocavo is a search engine that has been designed specifically for genealogists. A basic name or place search will very quickly return a collection of results from genealogy websites, blogs, message boards, and more. The search engine does not just look for the most up to date information as Google does, meaning that in theory it should be much more reliable at producing results which are useful and relevant. Even if a genealogy website has not been updated in months, the information it holds will still be crawled by Mocavo. That information could be just what you are looking for.

Mocavo requires the creation of an account to be able to perform a search. A name, email address, and password is all that is required. A basic account is free, but there is the option of signing up for Mocavo Plus at $79.95 per year. This will give you some extra features, the most useful of which is the ability to perform advanced custom searches.

The makers of Mocavo claim to have over 6 billion names in their index. Users can upload their own family trees and research documents, and share information with others. There is a real community feel to the site, and there is also a blog with many interesting and informative articles.

All in all I've been initially very impressed with Mocavo. I need to try it out further before I decide whether or not to upgrade, but I'm inclined to think that it will be my search engine of choice when carrying out genealogy research from now on.

Visit Mocavo.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Tuesday's Tip - Making Use of Genealogy Podcasts

One of the most interesting ways to indulge our passion for genealogy is to listen to podcasts and Internet radio. These can not only be interesting and entertaining, but also very useful for picking up some genealogy research tips. 

I have decided to bring together some of the best known genealogy podcasts in this post. I have not personally listened to all of them, but user opinion from others is very favourable.

  • Geneabloggers Radio - If you look to the left of this post you will see that this blog is a member of Geneabloggers. This website is a fantastic resource for family history bloggers. One popular feature is Geneabloggers Radio. Although it used to be broadcast on Friday nights, it now follows a more irregular schedule. The archive of previous episodes is well worth listening to, and details can be found here.
  • The Genealogy Guys - This is one of the best known genealogy podcasts on the Internet. The discussions by George G. Morgan and Drew Smith are entertaining and informative, and include news from the world of family history research. Over 200 episodes can be downloaded for free from iTunes here.
  • Family Tree Magazine Podcast - The popular Family Tree Magazine produces a monthly podcast on their website. The July 2012 episode features tips on researching Revolutionary War ancestors, as well as news on the 1940 U.S. census. Episodes can be found here.
  • Genealogy Gems Podcast - Genealogy Gems is the very popular website run by Lisa Louise Cooke. There is a wealth of information on this site, as well as seven seasons of podcasts, equating to over 100 episodes. Each episode lasts for around thirty to forty-five minutes. You will need to subscribe to listen to the podcasts, but this is completely free. This list of episodes can be found here.
  • Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter - This newsletter is a terrific resource, and includes many highly interesting podcasts. Recent examples include an interview with Daniel Horowitz, the Chief Genealogist at MyHeritage, and an interview with Grant Brunner of Details can be found here.
  • Digging Up Your Roots - Regular readers of this blog will know that my research is mainly focused on my Scottish ancestry. Digging Up Your Roots is a genealogy program radio show produced by BBC Scotland. It features advice and tips by the respected professional genealogist Dr. Bruce Durie. Unfortunately it is only broadcast for a couple of months of the year, but at those times it can be listened to on the BBC iPlayer service. Details of the program, including the Digging Up Your Roots blog, can be found here.
Hopefully you will find some, or all, of these links useful, and the podcasts entertaining. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 10% Off

To celebrate the London Olympics are running a special offer whereby customers can get a 10% discount on their subscriptions. All you need to do is go to their subscription page, choose your package, and enter the code 'TORCH' when prompted. 

Be quick though, because the promotion ends at midnight on Thursday 26th July 2012.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Scottish Post Office Street Directories

I want to write a quick post about a fantastic free resource that I have been making great use of in my recent research. If you have Scottish ancestors then it could be worth your while to visit the National Library of Scotland's website. They have a range of Post Office directories free to view on the site in PDF format. They cover areas throughout Scotland, and range from 1773 to 1911.

Some areas are better served than others, with the big metropolitan areas like Glasgow having more records to view than small areas such as Peterhead. I managed to find listings for my ancestors in both the Glasgow and the Ayrshire directories. In total there are 694 directories to choose from.

The Post Office directories are a great resource for discovering where your ancestors lived at a particular point in time. Some of them also list occupations, adding another useful piece of information to your research. Some also include advertisements and business listings, and as such can give an extremely interesting glimpse of the business practises of the past.

Saturday, 14 July 2012 Free Credits

I've just received an email from They are currently running a special promotion where they have credited some of their members' accounts with 25 free pay as you go credits credits. With a value of £3, this is a very generous offer, and there is absolutely no catch. You just need to log in to your account and use the credits within the next week. have census records for 1841-1911, fully indexed birth records, millions of parish records, and military records for 1656-1994. In other words, plenty of ways to use up those 25 free credits!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Wedding Wednesday - Scottish Weddings

Researching Scottish marriages is often highly interesting. There are certain Scottish customs which can prove confusing for people who are tracing their Caledonian ancestors. For example, sometimes it will appear as if a date of marriage cannot be trusted, as the parties would be too young to be wed. However, prior to 1929 girls could marry as young as twelve, and boys at fourteen. No parental consent was required, which is still the law today, although since 1929 the minimum age for getting married has been sixteen.

One of the most confusing aspects of Scottish marriages, at least for me when I first started my genealogical research, is the fact that a search might return several dates for the same couple. I quickly discovered that the dates related to a proclamation of marriage, known as banns, as well as the marriage itself. 

Proclamations of banns were traditionally made on three consecutive Sundays, and were recorded in the Old Parish Registers of both the bride and groom. The couple would state their intention to marry, and the congregation in each parish would be given the opportunity to object. If no objections were made the couple would usually be married in the bride's parish, sometimes in a church, but more typically in her own home. 

This means that there are usually several different records to research for any particular historical marriage in Scotland, but the results can be very rewarding. OPRs will usually reveal the names of the bride and groom, their parishes, the dates of proclamations and the marriage, and the names of at least two witnesses.

The OPRs will also sometimes show irregular marriages. An example of an irregular marriage would be a man and woman living together as husband and wife, but without having gone through the proclamation of banns and a formal ceremony with a minister. Such instances were often punished by the kirk sessions in the parish, hence their inclusion in the OPRs. Prior to the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1834 irregular marriages were relatively common.

Finally, from 1855 onwards Scottish marriage certificates can be a rich source of information. They include the names, addresses, ages, marital status, and occupations of the bride and groom. They also include the names and occupations of the parents of each party, including the maiden names of the mothers. This can be extremely valuable new information, and is an advantage of Scottish records over others. The names of two witnesses can also be found on Scottish marriage certificates. 

Researching the marriages of your Scottish ancestors can not only be enlightening, but it can also provide a huge amount of important information to take you on to the next step of your genealogical journey.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Free Record Worksheets

I have just received an email from Family Tree Magazine highlighting some of the tools that they offer to genealogists to aid them in their family history research. In particular, they provide forms, worksheets, and organisers to help you to keep track of all of the information you discover relating to your ancestors. On their website they offer basic charts and worksheets, research trackers and organisers, census forms, immigration forms, record worksheets, and forms for oral history and heirlooms. They are all available in PDF format, and they are all free. You can get them here.

Another similar resource which I have used myself is offered by the BBC. Once again the records are in PDF format, meaning that you will need the free software Adobe Reader to view them. On offer are first information sheets, record sheets for births, marriages, and deaths, and a pedigree chart. As with the Family Tree Magazine resources, all of these are completely free to download. They can be found here.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012 Census Records

On the 2nd of July 2012 FamilySearch released index returns of the Scottish censuses for 1881 and 1891, meaning that they now provide records for 1841-1891. The data for this latest release has been provided by also hosts transcriptions and index returns for the censuses for England and Wales for the years 1841-1911. With their continuing work on the 1940 US Census, as well as their ever growing list of Canadian transcriptions, it is more evident than ever that this is an invaluable resource for any family history researcher. There really is a huge amount of information on offer, and best of all it's free!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Free Canadian Genealogy Records

I was excited to discover that the Canadian Ancestry website is currently running a very enticing promotion. To celebrate Canada Day on the 1st of July, and therefore the forming of the country in 1867, the site is providing free access to its records.

More specifically, you will be able to access the site's military, immigration, census, and vital records. You will have to sign up, but this is completely free. This is a fantastic opportunity for anybody whose ancestors emigrated from Britain, with it being particularly common for Scots to make a new home for themselves in Canada. With passenger lists, BMD records, and census returns from 1871 available this promotion will no doubt allow many genealogists to fill in a few gaps in their family history.

The records are available at, but be quick, because they are only available until the 2nd of July 2012.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Family History Show

I recently began following the expert genealogist Dr. Nick Barratt on Twitter, and noticed that he was promoting a website called The Family History Show. I thought I would check it out, and having done so this post will be about my thoughts and opinions of the site.

The Family History Show is a website hosting monthly video podcasts covering various topics from the world of genealogy and personal heritage. The vodcasts are presented by Nick Barratt himself, along with fellow genealogy expert Laura Barry. With these two names involved you know right away that the site will be informative, and useful from a family history research perspective.

This definitely turned out to be the case. At the time of writing there are seven vodcasts on the site, each of which contains top tips, case studies, and interviews with various important figures from the genealogy field. There is also interesting footage to enjoy from visits to museums and archives. Episode 5 in the series, for example, includes a visit to the National Maritime Museum, with a particularly fascinating section on the Titanic Archive. 

The vodcasts are well presented and very professionally produced, as is the entire site. In addition to the vodcasts there is a "Genealogy World" section, which includes informative articles and external links to useful genealogy resources. There is also an extremely interesting blog written by Nick Barratt.

All in all I was very impressed by The Family History Show. I think that going forward it's going to be a useful and entertaining resource, and I'm looking forward to the next vodcast. You can visit the site here.

EDIT - An eighth vodcast has now been added to the site. Its theme is medicine, and it includes advice on accessing medical records and tracing medical ancestors.

Episode nine focuses on the College of Arms and tracing ancestors from the nobility.

Episode ten involves a visit to the Geffrye Museum and tracing the history of houses. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Online Petition for Access to Records

As promised in yesterday's post, here is the first example of interesting genealogy related content I have found on Twitter.

It relates to an online petition to the UK Government to improve access to birth, marriage, and death certificates. More specifically, the purpose of the petition is to bring about legislation whereby the General Register Office could issue uncertified copies of records in a digitised format, or on plain paper. These would exist purely for genealogical research purposes, and would have no legal standing. As a result, they could, and should, be considerably cheaper than the current statutory charge for certified copies of records.

This makes perfect sense to me, and I have already signed the petition. If you would like to do the same, the page can be found here.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Genealogy and Social Media

Anybody who uses the Internet cannot fail to notice the massive presence of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. These two alone can count their users in the millions. Social media has become so popular because it is multi-functional. Not only does it allow people to connect on a social level, but also on a professional one. It is well suited to a huge variety of businesses, interests, and hobbies, and genealogy is no different.

A quick look on Twitter using "genealogy" as the search term will bring up a huge number of people to follow. I did just that, and I have now started a Family History Finder Twitter account. (You can follow me by clicking on the button to the right) It's very early days, but I'm already excited about the amount of information that is available. For example, I follow Scotland's People, who tweet regularly about genealogy courses that are taking place. They also send out very interesting "this day in history" tweets.

Genealogy websites tweet about new records that they have available. This is obviously extremely valuable when trying to keep up with your family history research. They have also been known to tweet about special offers that they are running on subscriptions. This is also true for the official accounts of genealogy magazines, so following these types of accounts might even allow you to save some money.

Of course, the whole point of social media is that it's social. It allows people with a shared interest - genealogy - to connect and converse, often in real time. This makes it an ideal platform for sharing information, advice, and resources. I know that I will get a lot of benefit from reading the tweets and posts of people who know a lot more about genealogy than I do. My plan is to share the most interesting and useful info on this blog.

Social media websites, forums, and blogs can all be extremely valuable for developing genealogical skills and expanding family trees. As a bonus, they can also be enjoyable to read, and a way to make new online friends.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mitt Romney's Ancestry

I have just read a fascinating article on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's ancestry. Firstly, let me make it clear that this post does not advocate any particular religion or political view. I simply felt that it was an interesting story to talk about.

Mitt Romney is currently one of the most famous Mormons on the planet, and his family has a long history of involvement in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The church, founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, is well known to all genealogists as a rich source of family history records.

Although the church was founded in the US, it is in England that Romney's earliest known ancestors were baptised into the faith. Miles Romney and his wife Elizabeth (nee Gaskell) were impressed with the sermons being given by the American Mormon missionaries in Preston, and converted as a result. A few years later, on the 7th of February 1841, they emigrated to Illinois in the US. This may have been for a combination of reasons, including the socio-economic conditions in the north of England, religious persecution, and the promise of a better life in America.

The rest of Mitt Romney's family tree shows that his great-grandfather Miles Park Romney was born in Illinois in 1843. At the time this was the home of the Mormon church, before it relocated to Utah. The Romneys relocated along with their church. Miles and Elizabeth dies there in 1877 and 1884 respectively. Mitt Romney's grandparents, Gaskell Romney and Anna Amelia Pratt, were born and dies there. 

At some point the Romneys spent some time living in Chihuahua, Mexico, as this was where Mitt Romney's father George Wilcken Romney was born in 1907. Finally, there was a relocation to Michigan in the US, where Mitt Romney was born in 1947.

The full article on Mitt Romney's ancestry, including a very interesting take on Mormon polygamy, can be found here.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Books about Family Trees

I recently picked up a couple of books about family trees. These books were not offering tips and advice as many of the others in my collection do, but were instead about the personal genealogies of the authors. Neither of the books are particularly recent, but having read both I wanted to write a couple of quick reviews.

The first book is Mad Dogs and Englishmen: An Expedition Round My Family by the famous explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Actually, to give him his proper name, Sir Ranulph Twistelton-Wykham-Fiennes. My first observation of this book is that I'm not sure how much genealogical research was involved. The author quite clearly knew much of his family history prior to beginning writing. The landed classes often have very detailed and extensive family trees, as much to do with marrying into a suitable family as taking pride in the achievements of ancestors.

This is by no means a criticism of the book, the purpose of which is to tell the stories of the author's ancestors. This he does extremely well. It is remarkable how many of history's important events Sir Ranulph's ancestors have been witness to. The book is really about history rather than genealogy, it just so happens that all of the characters share a common link. To give you some idea of the content of the family tree being discusses, those characters go all the way back to Charlemagne in the ninth century.

I really enjoyed this book. It shows just how interesting family trees, and history in general, can be.

The second book I read, whilst entertaining, was not as enjoyable as the previous. It is My Family and Other Strangers: Adventures in Family History by Jeremy Hardy. This book is much more about the ins and outs of conducting family history research, and that ironically is why I didn't enjoy it as much. Jeremy Hardy is a comedian by profession, and I felt that he didn't treat the subject with the respect it deserves. Throughout the book his attitude is one of condescension, and he seems to view the research as a chore. I'm not being precious about this, he's got every right to find genealogy less interesting than I do, but it doesn't make for a particularly good book about family history.

Perhaps I'm being a little unfair, as the book is well written, and the journey to discover the author's past does make for a good narrative. I just wish he would have enjoyed that journey a bit more.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Old Photographs

One of the things I love best about researching my family history is finding old photographs of ancestors. Unfortunately this happens all too rarely, and I only have a few in my collection. To me, old photographs are full of character, and I like to imagine what the people contained within them were like. This is true even when I am looking at pictures of people who have nothing to do with me. The Internet is a fantastic resource for finding interesting old pictures.

As mentioned, I have found it difficult to source photographs of my ancestors. In general, the fact that photographic techniques were only really developed in the mid to late nineteenth century means that the resources available are much more limited than other records that might date back for centuries.

It is often necessary to rely on extended family members to provide photographs, or even distant relations met through genealogy websites or forums. This is exactly what happened to me, as after viewing my family tree a very kind lady emailed me the following picture of our shared ancestors.

The woman sitting on the left is my great-great-grandmother, Sarah McClymont Campbell (nee Love). She was born in 1871. The older woman sitting on the right is Sarah's mother, my great (x3) grandmother, Sarah Love, nee Kennedy. She was born in 1846 and died in 1924, meaning that we can estimate the time the picture was taken to be the early twentieth century.

The following pictures show a third generation of this family, Sarah McClymont Campbell's daughter, and my great grandmother, Jeanie Cruickshank (nee Campbell). The picture on the top shows Jeanie, her husband George, and her sons George and John. George is my grandfather. The picture on the bottom is just of Jeanie and George senior. 

I hope that you've enjoyed my family photos. If so, please leave me a message to let me know, and please check out my post on the historical photos of interest to be found at Historypin.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

What's In A Name?

I wanted to write a follow-up to my previous post about names. The reason for this additional post is that names are so important when researching your family tree that they merit discussing in more detail. 

Your ancestors' names will be found on any vital records, and this is what allows us to further our research using other resources. There are several difficulties that can arise when researching using names, any one of which can bring your research to a stop, or send you in the wrong direction. Some dangers to be aware of include:-

  • It is much harder to research a common name than an uncommon one. If your ancestor had a name such as John Smith then you will need other pieces of information in order to narrow down your search. A year and place of birth is a good place to start.
  • Spellings can vary between vital records. Many search engines on genealogy websites have a wild card function to allow you to check different spellings of a name.
  • Names will often be shortened on census returns. An ancestor you know as William could be listed as Will, Bill or Billy, and a name such as Elizabeth has many different variations.
  • Prior to the nineteenth century a woman would not necessarily take the name of her husband when married.
  • When a child died the parents would often give a subsequent child the same name.
  • If your ancestors were from the Scottish Highlands be wary of the fact that as usage of the Gaelic language declined some Gaelic families Anglicized their names.
As mentioned in my previous post, the Gaelic prefix 'Mac' means 'son of.' It is also sometimes written as 'Mc.' Therefore if your surname is 'MacDonald,' for example, then at some point in your family history an ancestor named Donald had a son, starting the name. This would have occurred many centuries in the past, most likely outside the scope of your genealogical research.

Perhaps a more useful naming pattern to be aware of is the Scottish tradition of naming an eldest son after the paternal grandfather. The second son was then named after the maternal grandfather. A third son would then be named after the father. The eldest daughter would be named after the maternal grandmother, the second daughter after the paternal grandmother, and the third daughter after the mother.

These rules were often followed quite strictly, and I have personally found this to be the case. Since families historically were often large, it is possible to discover the names of grandparents if you have the names of the grandchildren. There is no guarantee that these rules will have been followed, so names always have to be verified, but this naming pattern can provide important clues to past generations.

The names of our ancestors gives us a fascinating insight into our history. I love finding ancestors whose names are unusual in modern times. Jamesina and Brownlow stand out. On the other hand, I also like the fact that I have five generations of ancestors called George Cruickshank. It shows a very definite link stretching back for almost two hundred years.