Thursday, 16 May 2013

Becoming A Professional Genealogist

It goes without saying that I find genealogy to be incredibly rewarding. Lately I've been thinking a lot about extending the scope of my personal family history research by studying genealogy, with the goal of ultimately becoming a professional genealogist.

I've been doing some research on the Internet, and what I've found so far hasn't filled me with hope. The genealogy courses I have found are expensive, and the actual qualifications obtained vary from course to course. It appears that a genealogy degree, or some relevant qualification, is required for entry to most family history societies, but that even with such qualifications it is very difficult to find employment. 

I would love to work as a freelance genealogist. Reading through family history magazines and websites I have seen countless adverts from genealogists offering their services, so at least some people must be making a living doing what they love. I am by no means an expert, but I've been tracing my ancestry for several years; I've also helped my wife and various friends with their family trees. I know I've got the dedication to be a professional genealogist, but:
  • do I have sufficient knowledge without taking an expensive degree course and gaining a qualification?
  • would anybody hire me? This is the scary part, as I'd be needing to make a living from this.
I'm not giving up yet. I'm going to keep on researching to see if I can make my dream a reality. If anybody reading this has gone through the same thing, or if you are now working as a professional genealogist, I'd love to hear from you. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Who Do You Think You Are USA Cancelled

The American version of Who Do You Think You Are? has apparently been cancelled after three seasons by its parent company NBC. This is a real shame, as I always found it to be really entertaining, if not quite as in-depth as the UK version.

I've just recently been watching the third series of Who Do You Think You Are USA, specifically the episodes with Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe. Since The West Wing is one of my favourite programmes of all time this has been a real joy for me. 

Martin Sheen's episode saw him travel to Ireland and Spain to trace his ancestry. His mother's Irish roots saw him investigate an uncle who fought in the Irish Civil War. He then travelled to Spain to investigate a relative from his father's side who fought against Franco's army in the Spanish civil war. 

It was interesting to note that Martin Sheen believed that he had inherited since political activism from his ancestors, as did Rob Lowe in his episode. We saw him travel to Germany to research his ancestor who was sent to America to fight against George Washington's forces in the Revolutionary War. Rob would have preferred his ancestor to have fought on the other side, but was proud nonetheless when he discovered that his ancestor settled in America and became a patriot. 

Other episodes of note from season 3 of Who Do You Think You Are USA featured actresses Helen Hunt, Edie Falco, Rashida Jones, and Marisa Tomei. Helen's story involved her German Jewish ancestors who made their fortune during the California gold rush, Edie's was about her great-grandfather and how he was estranged from his father, Rashida's was a moving tale of her mother's Jewish ancestry stretching back to Latvia, and how several members of her family were murdered during the holocaust, and finally Marisa's episode was an extremely interesting tale of murder and feud in Italy. 

It would be really disappointing if this is the end for Who Do You Think You Are USA. The good news is that the show's producer, Lisa Kudrow (of Friends fame) has stated in interviews that they will definitely be making more, so it seems likely that it may reappear at some point, possibly on one of the cable channels in the States. Lets hope that this is the case, and that the BBC continue to show it on BBC1 and the BBC iPlayer here in the UK. 

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Free Census Records Access At Ancestry are offering free access to their census records for 1901 and 1911 this bank holiday weekend. From Friday 29th March 2013 until Monday 2nd April 2013 you'll be able to search these census records for free. 

Sounds like a good deal to me, but you need to be quick.

Visit Ancestry to search the records now. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Finding Your Roots

I just watched a really interesting new genealogy TV show called Finding Your Roots. It's broadcast on Sunday nights at 8pm on the PBS channel. (Sky channel 166, Virgin Media 243). 

Finding Your Roots draws some comparisons to Who Do You Think You Are? in that it deals with the family trees of celebrity guests each week, however the two shows are different in their approaches. Finding Your Roots deals with two, or sometimes three, subjects each week, and presents them with their genealogy records in a "book of life" rather than them doing the research for themselves. 

This is a clever way to progress through a family history, and in the episode I watched last night it was also quite moving at times. The two subjects were American (it is an American show) politicians Cory Booker and John Lewis. Both men are African-American, which is only relevant in that it allowed the show to include  interesting social history in the context of the ancestry of these two men. Specifically, there was information relating to slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The mixture of genealogy and social history, also done very well in Who Do You Think You Are?, is an aspect on which I am very keen.

Finding Your Roots starts with a short biography of each subject, which sets up the genealogical research nicely. At this point they can state if there are any family mysteries that they would like to be investigated. Throughout the rest of the show the results of the research are shown to the participants in their "book of life," a scrapbook that contains photographs and copies of records and other documents. We also get to see interviews with the researchers to see how they found their information. 

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Finding Your Roots is that they use DNA testing to help to unravel some genealogical problems. In fact, the show states that their methods involve "public records, personal family histories, and DNA analysis." In the episode I watched DNA testing was used to confirm that Cory Booker's maternal great-grandfather was a white doctor, and that his grandfather, as the family suspected, was illegitimate. DNA analysis is a fascinating new aspect of family history research, and it promises much for the future.

Finding Your Roots is hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Throughout the run of the show the celebrities to be featured will be:

S1 EP1 - Harry Connick Jr and Branford Marsalis
S1 EP2 - Cory Booker and John Lewis
S1 EP3 - Barbara Walters and Geoffrey Canada
S1 EP4 - Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick 
S1 EP5 - Angela Buchdahl, Rick Warren, and Yasir Qadhi
S1 EP6 - Robert Downey Jr and Maggie Gyllenhaal
S1 EP7 - Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and Ruth Simmons
S1 EP8 - Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho, and Martha Stewart
S1 EP9 - John Legend, Wanda Sykes, and Margarett Cooper
S1 EP10 - Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier, and Linda Chavez

I really liked the first episode of Finding Your Roots, and I recommend it to anybody who enjoys watching programmes about genealogy and social history. You can find out more at the official website

Monday, 4 March 2013

Abraham Lincoln Family Tree

I recently watched the film Lincoln, and was very impressed. It is as much about the president's family relationships as about his political struggle to abolish slavery. It got me to thinking about the Abraham Lincoln family tree, and specifically how the famous name of Lincoln had been passed down through the years. I decided it was time to do a little research, hence this special Family History Finder blog post on the Abraham Lincoln family tree.

First a little information about Abraham Lincoln's genealogy. The 16th President of the United States was born in Kentucky in 1809. He was the second son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. (Yes, Tom Hanks is a distant relative, as is George Clooney!)

The couple had three children: Elizabeth was born in 1807 and died in at the age of 20, then Abraham, then Thomas junior, who was born around 1912 and died as a child. The issue of children dying, while not uncommon at the time, was particularly prevalent in the Lincoln generations.

Abraham's father, Thomas, was born in Virginia in 1744. Thomas' father was also called Abraham, and was born in Pennsylvania in 1744. He in turn was the son of John Lincoln, who was born in New Jersey in 1716. The Abraham Lincoln family tree goes as far back as his great x 4 grandfather, Edward Lincoln from Norfolk, England. Edward's son, Samuel Lincoln, was born around 1622, and made the journey to America in 1637. He died in Massachusetts in 1690, but not before growing the family tree that would eventually bear the name of Abraham Lincoln.

The Abraham Lincoln Family Tree - Marriage and Children
Mary Todd
Abraham Lincoln married Mary Todd in 1842. The following year their first son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was born. As it was to turn out, he was the only one of Lincoln's four sons to survive to adulthood. Edward Baker Lincoln was born in 1846 and died in 1850 of suspected tuberculosis. William Wallace Lincoln was born in 1850 and died in 1862, with the cause of death believed to be typhoid fever. Lincoln's youngest son, was born in 1853 and died in 1871 of congestive heart failure.

The grief that must have been felt by Abraham and Mary Lincoln after the deaths of Edward in 1850 and William in 1862 in unthinkable, and the president was said to be a very caring father. Mary was so affected by the deaths that Abraham considered having her committed to an asylum.

The Abraham Lincoln Family Tree - the Descendants
Robert Todd Lincoln
Robert Todd Lincoln was for obvious reasons the only one of Abraham Lincoln's children to produce any offspring. He became a lawyer and served as Secretary of State for War under Presidents Garfield and Arthur. In 1868 he married Mary Eunice Harlan, and they had three children together. Mary Lincoln was born in 1869, her brother Abraham in 1873, and a second daughter, Jessie, was born in 1875.

Abraham died of blood poisoning in 1890, but Mary and Jessie both went on to have children. Mary married Charles Bradford Isham in 1891, and their only child, Lincoln Isham, was born a year later. Although Lincoln married in 1919 he never had any children of his own.

Jessie Harlan Lincoln married Warren Wallace Beckwith in 1897. They had two children together: Mary Lincoln Beckwith was born in 1898 in Iowa, and Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith was born in 1904. Mary never married and had no children, which meant that after her death in 1975 her brother was the last living descendant of President Abraham Lincoln. Although Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith married three times he failed to produce any offspring. His second wife, Annemarie Hoffman, had a son in 1968 whom she named Timothy Lincoln Beckwith. Robert stated that the child was not his, and the paternity was never confirmed.

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith
When Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in 1985 it ended the Lincoln line, so bringing to a close this Family History Finder blog post on the Abraham Lincoln family tree.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Meet The Izzards

BBC1 screened a very interesting programme over the nights of Wednesday 20th February and Thursday 21st February 2013. In Meet The Izzards comedian, actor, and marathon runner Eddie Izzard used state of the art DNA analysis techniques to discover where his family originated from. The first programme dealt with his mother's line, while the second focused on his father's lineage. Each was extremely illuminating.

The start of the first programme promised an epic journey over ten thousand generations of ancestry, a task that can only now be completed for the first time using new DNA analysis techniques. Eddie began by visiting the genetic science department at the University of Edinburgh, where his DNA was analysed and recorded.

Genetic mapping involves discovering markers in shared DNA. Put very simply, these markers can denote ancestry in specific areas of the world at certain times. The marker 'L' is the earliest and refers to Africa and the origin of all human existence. Eddie's first stop on his journey was therefore Africa, specifically Namibia.

There he met a local tribe who taught him about their hunter-gatherer existence, which is very similar to how Eddie's ancestors would have lived two hundred thousand years ago. Eddie's second key marker revealed that his ancestors lived in East Africa around sixty thousand years ago, so that is where he travelled to next.

In fact, his destination was the point at which it is believed the earliest humans first left Africa. Eddie planned to retrace his ancestor's footsteps across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait into Yemen, where coincidentally he was born, however political unrest meant that he was unable to do so.

The next significant marker was from around eighteen thousand years ago in the Middle East. This is particularly important in the development of humankind, as it relates to the birth of agriculture. Eddie visited Turkey where he learnt about how humans overcame an intolerance to animal milk as a result of genetic changes. He also learnt that everybody with blue eyes, like Eddie himself, can be traced back to the Black Sea coast 10,000 years ago.

From here there were two main migration routes into Europe: into southern Europe, and into central and northern Europe. Eddie's direct ancestors on his mother's side moved north, specifically into Scandinavia. Since this marker relates to only 2000 years ago Eddie was able to meet people in Denmark who share direct genetic ancestors with him.

Eddie's next genetic marker on his mother's side was in England in around 500-1000AD, meaning most likely that he had Viking ancestors who travelled to the country during this time.

After exhausting his mother's lineage Eddie turned his attention to his father's DNA ancestry in the second episode of Meet The Izzards. Eddie's father had already managed to trace his family tree back to around 1650, but DNA analysis allows research to extend much further back into history, although not to the specificity of individual ancestors.

The oldest known marker of the male 'Y' chromosome dates to around 150,000 years ago in Cameroon, Africa. All modern males are genetically linked to this one ancestor. Eddie visited the Equatorial Rainforest to meet a local tribe and learn about hunting-gathering, much as he had done in the first episode. As with his maternal line, his paternal DNA shows that his ancestors crossed the Red Sea from Africa into Arabia.

A new piece of information, however, was that Eddie's DNA is 2.8% Neanderthal, which is higher than average. It is believed that Neanderthals, an entirely difference species from Homo Sapiens, were white in complexion and originated from Europe, whereas the earliest humans were black and from Africa.

Eddie's next important genetic marker, known as 'I2', links him to central Europe around 20,000 years ago. This was around the time of the last Ice Age, meaning that Eddie's ancestors would have had to have adapted well to the conditions in order to survive. After the end of the Ice Age Eddie's ancestors migrated to Saxony, and from there on to England as Saxons, most likely around 500AD.

Part travel show, part history lesson, Meet The Ancestors was both interesting and entertaining. It is fascinating to think that everybody on the planet is linked genetically if you go back far enough. If you missed the programme then I highly suggest you catch it on the BBC iPlayer, or alternatively check out the website.

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Remains of Richard III

Efforts are underway today to finally uncover the long lost grave of the English king Richard III. Richard, who allegedly arranged for the murder of his two young nephews in the "princes in the Tower" story, was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The exact whereabouts of his grave and remains has been lost over time, but historical records show that the body was taken to the church of the Greyfriars Franciscan friary in Leicester. That building has long since disappeared, but archaeologists believe that they can locate it under a modern car park.

If they are successful, and they find the church and human remains, then DNA testing will be carried out. From a genealogical perspective this is amazing, as the DNA of the remains will be compared with a modern descendant of Richard III. Canadian Joy Ibsen, now deceased, was confirmed as a descendant of the royal line, and had previously had her DNA sampled to be used in Plantagenet genealogy research.

It is going to be very interesting to discover if the remains of the famous Richard III have finally be found, and how this will enhance our understanding of the man and his life.

UPDATE: Excavation work at the site has revealed the church, chapter house, cloisters.....and reasonably well preserved human remains. These remains have now been sent for DNA analysis, which should take between 8-12 weeks. After this point we will know if the final resting place of Richard III has been discovered. 

UPDATE: At a press conference this morning (Monday 4th February 2013) researchers from the University of Leicester confirmed that the remains found in a Leicester car park were indeed those of King Richard III. The DNA evidence, in conjunction with the genealogical evidence carried out by the university's project genealogist Professor Kevin Schurer, confirms beyond reasonable doubt that the skeleton is that of Richard III. His remains will now be buried in Leicester Cathedral.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Scotland's People Release Valuation Rolls For 1905

Back in April last year I wrote about how it was now possible to view the Valuation Rolls for 1915 on the Scotland's People website. Well, they have now released 74000 more images, this time for the year 1905. The files can be searched by name or address, and contain "the names of the owners, tenants and occupiers of each property."

While the 1905 Valuation Rolls do list entire families as the census does, they are nevertheless useful for pinpointing exactly where an ancestor was living midway through the decade. They can therefore be used along with the 1901 and 1911 census records, and the 1915 Valuation Rolls, to create a time-line of an ancestor's movements over a 14 year period. 

Another useful feature of the Valuation Rolls is helping to establish an ancestor's social class. Knowing whether they owned or rented a property is helpful in determining their status. 

The Valuation Rolls for 1905 and 1915 can be searched now at Scotland's People

Friday, 18 January 2013

More Free Credits For Find My Past

A few weeks ago I told you about the promotion that Find My Past were running, whereby they were offering all of their users 50 free credits.

Well, they're doing it again, only this time it's 40 free credits instead of 50.

All you have to do to claim your free credits is visit Find My Past, and click on "claim free credits." You will then be taken to a screen to sign up for an account, or log in if you already have one.

The code that you will need to use to claim your free credits is


The code expires on the 2nd of February 2013. Enjoy.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Online Ancestry Courses

There are a wealth of Internet resources available to genealogists. While some people take up genealogy simply as an interesting hobby, others want to study the topic in more depth. To satisfy this demand increasing numbers of educational establishments are running ancestry courses.

North Highland College UHI in Scotland is the latest to offer a course, and it seems unlikely to be the last in 2013. The college is in fact launching two new ancestry courses, the first offering an introduction to basic Scottish ancestry research and the second relating to ancestry tourism for businesses.

The latter course highlights the growing importance of ancestral tourism to Scotland's economy. The annual Homecoming initiatives which began in 2009 are a way to reach out to the millions of people around the world who have Scottish ancestors. Many of these people have already visited the land of their roots, and many more are sure to follow. This generates a lot of revenue for the Scottish economy each year.

But ancestral tourism also benefits countries all around the world. More and more people are combining holidays with family history research. As the popularity of genealogy continues to grow so too will the trend for ancestral tourism. Now all I need to do is find an ancestor who was from the Bahamas!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Hopes For 2013

I'm hoping that everybody had a nice, relaxing, peaceful Christmas and New Year. I know that I did, but now it's time to get back to the important business of my family history research. 

2013 promises new opportunities for discovering the past as more and more records are released online. This is one of the best aspects of our hobby, in that it is constantly evolving. There is always information lying undiscovered, just waiting to be brought to light. Personally, I have a few brick walls that I still need to break through, and I'm hoping that 2013 will be the year that I finally manage to do it.

I aim to become much more organised in 2013. I want to free up more time for research in my local library, and I'd love to plan more trips to the Scotland's People Centre in Edinburgh.

I'm excited by the opportunities that 2013 will bring. Who knows what further secrets I'll discover in my family's past?