A Surfeit of Mead: a family history tale

Yes, it has been a bit quiet here lately. A whole nine days without giving a Zoom talk, although I have attended a few. I deliberately left a gap, thinking that family might be able to visit. Sadly not to be. I have had some family Zoom time including joining in with the construction of a mega Harry Potter Lego set, with the participants kindly holding up the board to the camera, so that I could witness every step. I have also forced myself off the laptop and have begun the mammoth task that is turning out the loft, of which more later as this is a family history story.

I had reached a bit of a halt whilst re-examining my children’s paternal line. This did include the excitement, mentioned previously, of discovering four sisters who had ten illegitimate children between them and also an ancestor who dropped dead on her way back from working in the fields but I digress. I felt that I was getting a little bogged down with this story so, prompted by the imminent visit of my daughter to Whitby, I turned to look again at her Mead ancestors who came from that area. This was a real case of restart, revisit, review, as all I had done on this line in the past twenty five years was to add on the 1901 and 1911 census entries. Almost all the research had been done pre-computer, using certificates, censuses and the IGI (the forerunner of family search). I had never had the opportunity to visit a Yorkshire record office.

So, with new eyes, access to images of original registers and online indexes, I was gratified to confirm my previous research, which stretched back to my children’s 4x great grandparents. Fairly swiftly, four further generations were added. These solidly respectable (glossing over a few very short pregnancies for eldest children) and comparatively prosperous Yorkshire yeoman farmers did lack imagination when it came to naming their children. Seven generations in the direct line and every blessed one was called John or Francis. All the Francises had brothers called John and you’ve guessed it, all the John’s have brothers called Francis. Ok, I’ll concede, one was called John Edward but really.

Then I started on the families of the brides. This is still ongoing but it is fascinating, well to me anyway. I am back to the seventeenth century here so the contextual social history is not a problem. Remember though that I am a soft southerner. One with strong emotional and familial links to Northumberland but definitely a southerner. I am now immersing myself in the local history, which is new territory for me. I skim read the relevant General View of Agriculture, being very grateful that I can still speed read as it is 392 pages. Now I am dredging the depths of my knowledge of sixteenth and seventeenth religious history and giving it a new application. I am currently embroiled in tales of priest’s holes and recusancy, as it turns out that one of the brides came from a staunchly Catholic parish and that her very unusual surname appears on lists of those whose estates were sequestered. It is also a surname that seems to now be extinct, just nine English/Welsh births (in all three spelling variants) and only one, a female, in the last ninety years, another fascination. Today I may be doing a mini-one name study of the name in the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries. I am forcing myself to put this research aside in order to tick at least one thing off the to do list every day and also to incorporate some loft-sorting but I am enjoying this immensely. Just keeping everything crossed that the Borthwick Institute restart their coping service soon and there isn’t some massive backlog as almost every generation of Meads left a will. I have zero desire to rush to a hairdresser or a café when lockdown eases but I need those wills!!

And the loft-sorting you ask. That was going well. I was able to sort through my ‘souvenirs’. This was particularly helpful as, in company with the lovely ladies of my online memories group, I am filling in the gaps in my auto-biography. I have now opened the suitcase containing my diaries (daily entries since 1 January 1971 and a few isolated entries prior to that). It turns out that in 1968 (which I abandoned in September) I not only noted the weather but also all the books I read and more bizarrely what I wore, ‘wore school uniform, changed into kipper tie dress’ etc.. What with that and the Meads and associated families, I may be some time. Oh, I have twelve Zoom presentations to give this month, ah well, I foresee some early morning starts.

Mastering the Art of Talking in my Sleep or Continuing my Campaign to do Two Things at Once

This week has seen me enter my 45th year of serious family history research, although I drew up my first family tree at the age my oldest grandchildren are now. It is the obsession (hobby really doesn’t cut it) that keeps on giving and I can still find something new. This last week or so it has been a potpourri of discoveries. An exciting new one-place source, of which more another time. The story of the interesting four Gilbert sisters who had ten illegitimate children between them, plus a niece with one and an aunt with three more. After that I thought I’d better stop looking. Filling in my census and trying not to die between the day I submitted it and actual census day and creating an account of my own census day memories. I have recorded a video of a family history story for my grandchildren, well I had fun with it anyway. I have half written one talk and recorded another, so a fair bit achieved this week.

A few weeks ago, I managed to be in two places at once. Now I have mastered the art of accomplishing tasks whilst sleeping. This is going to be sooo useful. I appeared as a speaker for the Family History Down Under conference, which went live in Australian time. Hence, I was able to give a talk whilst I was asleep and wake up to a raft of lovely comments and questions. My final session on Embarrassing Ancestors is due to go live any minute and as it was a brand new talk, written with audience discussion in mind, I am keen to know what others think. You can still register for this conference and listen to all the sessions, or register for just one of four streams.

I have also made a possibly rash decision about how to spend my time over the next academic year and if am successful, stand by for accounts of my latest adventure. Only one life and all that. It might mean delaying novel number three, which wasn’t really happening anyway and I might start being a bit more hard hearted when asked to give talks; I have twelve booked for April and that pace really isn’t sustainable.

In non-historical matters, I was asked to complete a random Covid test, to assess levels of asymptomatic disease. Assembling the accompanying box to return the test was a challenge. The instructions were on the underside of the box I was trying to reconstruct. Do I hold it above my head? Do I try to assemble it upside down? Do I look, memorise and then assemble? Then there was the stick it down your throat and up your nose (ideally in that order) thing. The next challenge was putting the swab in the tiny transparent tube. This was a bit of a fail. Having taken my glasses off so I could see my tonsils in the mirror (my close sight is better without glasses), the tube was beyond my clear sight range and it took a few goes to get the stick in. I know, I know, I should have moved it closer. What a wonderful thing hindsight (or indeed just sight) is. Next step to put the test in the fridge and await to see if the courier who was, I was told, going to arrive between 15.03 and 17.03, could find my house. What’s with the .03 business? With a two hour window you’d think it would just be 15.00. Should I refuse him entry if he arrives at 15.02? Unsurprisingly, since apart from the empty next door chapel and the mobile post van fifty yards away, I have only left the house three times since October, it was negative. Or at least my hand which accidently touched the swab with all the getting it in the tube malarky is uninfected.

The excavation of the office continues. I have sorted out and sent three sacks full of paper to recycling. No, I really don’t need all the rough scribbles for my PhD. There are a few more files to cull and I have to decide if I am ever likely to read photocopies of umpteen academic articles. Oh and if anyone local wants a huge pile of House Beautiful Magazines dating back four years you are welcome. At least I can say they come from a Covid free home.

Spring is on the way and just to prove it here are some catkins from my newly pruned trees.

My Life in Seven Censuses #Census2021 #Censusdayphoto

Fresh from filling in my census form in last week and then keeping my fingers crossed that I would live until census day to avoid confusing my descendants, I decided to look back at my appearances in censuses past. I have found the forms that I saved in 2011, 2001 and 1991, so I know exactly what I put then and I have copied the latest one too. I am sure I have the 1981 return somewhere but unearthing that may involve a trip into the uncharted territory of the loft. I have tried to pick photographs that were taken as near to census day as possible. It was difficult to find later pictures for years ending in 1 as I am the photographer, so appear in very few. 1991 was a total fail – I don’t seem to have anything between 1989 and 1993. So here is my offering; please do likewise and create your own census day stories.

23 April 1961

This is one of only two censuses where I appear as part of a complete family unit. I have just had my fifth birthday. I am living in a three-bedroomed terraced house at 28 Sundridge Road, Addiscombe, Croydon with my parents. Recent censuses ask about central heating and I believe past ones have included questions about radio ownership. At this point, we do not have central heating, although we do have both radio and television, as well as a fridge. I am about to start my second term at Tenterden School. I am a little hazy about when my father moved from job to job but he is working as a projectionist and I think, has just started working for Associated Electrical Industries. My mother is probably doing freelance book-keeping at home. I will shortly be going for a week’s holiday to Bognor. I have just been given my second tortoise, Emma.

25 April 1971

I am a stroppy teenager and am just about to return to Croydon High School after a term off having broken my wrist and ankle. Breaking both at once means that I haven’t been able to use crutches. School is two bus rides away and involves many flights of stairs, so attendance isn’t practical whilst I am in plaster. At least, that’s what I am claiming. I am studying for eight O levels (this will reduce to seven after my absence, although actually I learn better at home than I do at school). Whilst I am home from school, I am volunteering at the nursery school up the road; the first of many voluntary jobs involving children that I will take on. I am also recovering from a severe bout of flu, leading to my weight dropping to under six stone. I have just met my first ‘proper’ long-term boyfriend.

By this time, my father has died and my mum and I are living in a two bedroomed maisonette at 3 Parkfields, Shirley, Surrey. Thus, the census shows no record of my living at what I regard as being my childhood home, 57 Firsby Avenue, Shirley. We had solid fuel central heating at Firsby Avenue but now have electric, oil-filled radiators.

Mum is working both at home and in the office as a book-keeper for the instrument makers Negretti and Zambra. Around this time I am working in the restaurant at Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium at weekends. An important member of our family is our dog, Sparky but she won’t appear on any official document.

5 April 1981

I have been married for nearly eight months and I am living in my first home of my own; a three-bedroomed Victorian terrace, 31 Cross Street, Sandown, Isle of Wight. We have gas central heating. Although I have had a colour television for nine years, we have reverted to black and white to save the license fee. I am working as a school secretary and my husband is a civil servant for the Customs and Excise Department. Censuses are keen on asking about qualifications, so I will record that, at this point, I have seven O levels, three indifferent A levels and a Diploma of Higher Education in history and sociology (DipHE was a short-lived and fairly meaningless qualification that was the equivalent to two years of degree level study). I am working to convert this into a full degree through the Open University. I am looking forward to starting a family and I am just about to go on holiday to Guernsey.

21 April 1991

My second and last census as a complete family unit and a short stay in Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire has slipped between the enumerators’ nets. Now I am in the ‘forever’ home at 12 Ranelagh Road, Lake, Isle of Wight. This is a detached three-bedroomed house with a two-bedroomed flat in the basement. We now have gas central heating, a washing machine and a freezer but the television is still black and white. Both my daughters feature in this census as school children. I have completed my honours degree and also have a Further & Adult Education Teachers’ Certificate Parts I & 2 (City & Guilds).

I am teaching genealogy evening classes and doing free-lance research. My husband is still with the Customs and Excise but is now commuting daily to Portsmouth to do so. My mum has moved to a bungalow round the corner.

I have learned to drive so the household has a car to record in the census for the first time (my dad’s short spell as a car owner fell between two censuses).

I am actively involved with Isle of Wight Family History Society, running their bookstall and library. I am also the Honorary Education Liaison Officer for the Federation of Family History Societies, traveling to Birmingham for the meetings. I am a governor at my daughters’ primary school.

29 April 2001

I am still at the same address, the first home to appear on two censuses. We finally have a coloured television. I am now a widow; one daughter is at university and the other is on the roll at the local High School.

My short stints as a lecturer for The Open University and a school dinner lady have come and gone. I am working part time teaching history in a private faith school, with a handful of pupils. I will later also teach geography and law, as well as taking on a role as school bursar. I am also working as a relief special needs classroom assistant, which I love.

I have added to my qualifications with a Part 2 certificate in Genealogy and Heraldry from the Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies.

I am still involved with Isle of Wight Family History Society and also the Braund one-name Society as their historian and editor.

27 March 2011

Now I have relocated to Devon and downsized drastically to live alone in my current seventeenth century cottage. It has three bedrooms but two are little more than box rooms, a tiny garden compared to the 250 foot that I have left being and central heating fed by an oil-powered Rayburn.

The intended early retirement has certainly not happened. I have now spent nearly ten years with the job I must not mention and have been promoted to a position of responsibility. I work occasionally as a traffic census enumerator. I am also enjoying working as a seventeenth century historical interpreter for a local tourist attraction. Living where I do, my lecturing opportunities have greatly expanded. I volunteer for Devon Family History Society and the Braund Society. I have also completed my PhD. Both my children are now married. I have begun to travel abroad regularly; later this year I will visit Australia.

My daughters and sons in law are staying at my house on census night, in preparation for my mum’s funeral the following day. [Although I have put a note to this effect with my form, I didn’t include them as visitors. I have no idea why, perhaps I had already filled it in.]

21 March 2021

Again a home appears in two censuses, although this one is now sporting an additional conservatory, giving me 35% more downstairs space. I am still living here by myself, although due to COVID, I have a ‘bubble’. I have not seen my family, which now includes three grandchildren, for six or seven months. There are no holidays on the horizon.

I have had two more promotions in the job I must not mention but this is currently greatly reduced due to the pandemic. I am still giving family and social history lectures to a worldwide audience, although this is being accomplished virtually at present and this is keeping me busier than ever. Following the closing of the tourist attraction for which I was working, five years ago, I went free-lance as an historical interpreter but my colleagues and I haven’t been able to present in person for over a year.

I am now chairman of Devon Family History Society and also of my local history group and I continue to work for the Braund Society. I am a published author of both fiction and non-fiction.

What will 2031 bring?

One of those Weeks – mostly about yoghurt and family history

It has been one of those weeks. First there was yoghurt-gate. I volunteered to manage the T***o delivery without the aid of my trusty bubble companion. I’ve done this before. It does involve military style pre-planning because I am one of those who anti-bac wipes the milk cartons, hides the non-perishables away for three days and decants frozen stuff into clean bags but it can be done. Well, usually it can. For some reason I totally failed on separating out the non-perishable stuff into one bag as I unloaded the green basket that Mr Delivery Man rested in my porch. Then one of the yogurts found its way on to the quarry-tiled kitchen floor. Just take it from me this is NOT A GOOD THING. I suppose I should be grateful that it wasn’t carpet. I kid you not, yoghurt found its way out of the open kitchen door, three feet from where it fell, it spanned the three foot hallway to the door of the living room and such was the projectile quality of said yoghurt that it was still at a height to land on top of a table a further three foot away. I then had to clean up the worst of the yoghurt, which seemed to be enough to fill ten yoghurt cartons, despite the fact that the yoghurt pot was still three-quarters full. There were also quantities of yoghurt over me. The dilemma, should I abandon slowly defrosting shopping in order to get changed? Should I continue to unpack clad only in my underwear? In the end I carried on in my yoghurty garb, trying not to step in residue on the floor. At least I had decided against mopping the kitchen floor earlier in the day, as that would have been a total waste of time.

The upside to all this was that it bumped up my daily step count a treat. I am still trying to do at least three miles a day and as I am not going out this involves a great deal of jogging on the spot. This worked well during the weekend’s indoor athletics championships. Every time there was a decent length track event, up I sprang and jogged along. It really wasn’t worth getting up for the seven seconds of the 60m races but the 800m heats were ideal. I am quite thankful that there wasn’t a 10,000m event though.

Males, 3D Model, Isolated, 3D, Model, Full Body, White
Free image via Pixabay

I have also managed to lose the plot a couple of times this week, involving being a little late to one meeting and failing to realise until very late in the day that two meetings I thought would be consecutive, actually overlapped. This involved letting other people down, so caused me some sleepless nights but I guess we are only human.

Spurred on by the amount of dust revealed by the recent sunshine, I began to do some spring-cleaning/decluttering. I am now up to 2007’s spring clean. I am sure my offspring will be grateful to have a little less to sort out when the time comes. First, to rediscover the ‘office’, which I rarely actually use for anything other than storing officey things, as I prefer to sit by the wood-burner, or in the conservatory, according to the season. I am determined not to have more books than will fit on the seven six foot high bookcases (and that’s just half the collection – there are another six full height book cases in the spare bedroom.) So far, I have managed to part with some 1980s guides to record offices, the over-head projector acetates that I used to use for talks and today 30mm slides that were used for the same purpose. I have also jettisoned a whole load of old computer discs ‘how to recover Windows 98’ and the like and some random bits of computer wires that don’t seem to fit anything. Unless you looked at the bin and recycling box, I’m not sure you’d know I’d done anything but it is a start. I am now debating whether I can dispose of the large microfiche reader that hasn’t been used for about three years. I considered replacing it with a hand-held one but £100 for something I may never use seemed rather steep. I think I may go for adding it to the ridiculous amount of stuff in my loft ‘just in case’.

I am still Zooming left right and centre; it is a quieter week this week with only fifteen meetings. There are a couple of major events coming up, where I am virtually speaking. These are recorded sessions and somehow I always sounds as if I am reading a script (which I am not). It is more difficult to sound spontaneous in a recording and I have noticed that it is similar for other speakers. So you can join me for Family History Down Under in a couple of weeks’ time, including the premiere of my Embarrassing Ancestors talk and at the Family History Federation’s The Really Useful Show in April. Looking further ahead, the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottowa have just published the programme for their September conference and I will be there with another new presentation. In between, there is THE Genealogy Show in June, so it is going to be a busy year.

On the back of all this Zooming, I offered to run a Zoom of Zooms, so that other family history groups can benefit from the steep learning curve that I have gone through with Devon Family History Society and other groups in the last eleven months. This is not really me being philanthropic, it is self-defence, as I have already advised several groups and I thought it would be easier to do one meeting for a number of groups. If you know of anyone who is thinking of using Zoom, or would like to use it more proficiently, let me know and I will pass on the link. Believe me, virtual meetings are here to stay, even when face-to-face meetings are possible as well. It is not ‘too late now it is all almost over’.

I am excited begin another presentation of my Writing up your Family History online course for Pharos Tutors on Monday. Last time I looked there was still room for a couple more so why not begin to create order from the chaos of your family history notes.

Talking of which, I have now cracked open the new version of Family Tree Maker without too many hitches. I’ve also been revisiting one of my brick walls for the nth time. I still think I know who the parents of my 4x great grandfather (3 times over – best not to ask) are but I just don’t feel confident enough to ink them in. There may be a blog post!!

#RootstechConnect Ramblings Part 3

This will be my final #RootstechConnect report. I have more sessions to watch on my playlist and I will mention any that stand out but this is the last dedicated post. Many congratulations to the organisers. I hope it will be repeated.

 It is strange how so many of us are binge watching RootstechConnect talks, when we could just watch one a week for the next year. Maybe it is in a subconscious attempt to replicate the hectic face-to-face experience. Despite being lured into the garden by the glorious weather, I have made inroads into my playlist over the last two days.

Having recorded details of all my Relatives at Rootstech on a word document I realised that it would have been a lot more useful if I’d gone for a spreadsheet, so I could sort by common ancestors and so on. That took a bit of time. Now I have my list I need to do something with it and actually contact a few of these people.

For the final official day, I tried the two part Tracing your ancestors in the 1700s using DNA with Dr Tim Janzen. Sadly, his approach assumes that you have far more close relatives than I have and also makes use of GEDmatch, which I don’t use. When he said ‘I tested my mother’s sixteen first cousins’, I realised that his methodology wasn’t going to be much help to me!

Bringing your Genealogical Society into the C21st with Andrew Lee, was next, there were three parts this one. Suffice it to say that most of the societies I am involved with are considerably further into the C21st than those he was describing. It began with ‘get an email address for your society’. To be fair, it came from a US perspective and seemed to be addressed to small groups of 30-100 members. I really hope that less enlightened groups take his advice on various topics.

The great thing about virtual Rootstech is that, if you find a presentation isn’t relevant to you, you don’t have to regret sampling it, as you haven’t missed out on another session in order to attend.

Then it was time to check out every booth in turn and see if any of the downloadable resources were of use. I spent most of the time at the Family Tree Maker booth and was interested to see their resources for societies. I succumbed to the latest version but still have to grasp the nettle and try it out. I do miss the supply of free pencils and sweets that would come with a trawl of the various stands at an in-person conference!

Back to the ever-increasing playlist to listen to Discovering Records of the Enslaved a discussion between Sharon Batiste Gillins and Cheri Hudson Passey. A really thought-provoking session on how we share information about issues surrounding slavery, be we descended from enslaver or enslaved. I also watched her excellent follow up session Discovering Slaveholders in the Family Tree. These are definitely right up there on my best sessions list.

I looked at Community Reconstitution by Joe Price, thinking that it would be one for the one-place studiers. Personally, I prefer the term reconstruction but I wasn’t being picky. It was interesting to find that he viewed surname studies as a form of community reconstitution. The focus of the talk was not about community reconstitution at all, or at least not in my sense of the term but about adding more people to the Family Search tree. There was an emphasis on quantity over quality, advocating the use of five year olds to add new people and adding records whilst listening to audio books and exercising. That way madness lies.

Another session that I would recommend that you put on your must watch list is Girls must Feed Pigs by Darris G Williams. This is an interesting look at personal testimonies from various sources, such as Parliamentary enquiries, diaries and letters, that flesh out the evidence in the mainstream records. He recommended this from the family search wiki and similar pages for other countries. Ok so the list is shorter than the number of books on these topics that I own but it is a good start and we were invited to add to the content.  I just need several more lifetimes to do all this.

Encouraged by Twitter traffic, I then took a look at what #21dayfamilyconnectionsexperiment was all about, although I am not sure that I am any the wiser. Creative Storytelling Techniques borrowed from Photography from Laura Hedgecock was next, a novel idea and Laura’s photographs are stunning.

I learned about The Genealogist’s new Map Explorer feature. Something else to tempt me to take out a subscription, although I always told myself I’d wait for the rest of the Valuation Office Records to be added before adding to my subscription list. I did ask the question; it will be a while.

The final talk of my weekend was Shortcuts to Success: solving English genealogical conundrums with Else Churchill. Now to tackle those relatives at Rootstech. Only 20% are on my maternal side and 121 of the 269 descend from the same couple!

#RootstechConnect Ramblings Part 2

A bit of a slower #RootstechConnect day for day two. I began by spending rather too much time analysing my Relatives at Rootstech (237 and counting). The bias towards descendants of one particular couple is marked.

To begin the day I watched 10 Things you are Probably doing Wrong with Jenny Joyce, definitely things that all researchers should bear in mind. On the topic of doing things wrong, am I the only one who keeps clicking on the little pink ticks in my RootstechConnect playlist, thinking that will start the video when in fact it removes it from the list?

Next, I enjoyed Michelle Patient’s From Convict Stain to Royalty; I always know Michelle’s talks will be good. I followed this with Connecting Children to their Family History with Jana Greenhalgh of Genealogy Kids.

Then it was time for  Family Tree Magazine’s afternoon tea. Great to chat with friends again; I think that this is the aspect of a live event that we are missing the most. This time the poll was for our favourite teatime snack. This session included an ‘interesting’ interruption from an interloper. I didn’t quite catch what they said but it led to their immediate expulsion! Having Zoomed almost daily and sometimes more than once, since March this is my first such incident!

Continuing the theme of down-under presenters, I very much enjoyed Rob Hamilton, talk about Freemasons’ Records. I am inspired to see if I can find out more about my grandfather’s membership. I first enquired thirty five years ago and was given some very basic information; perhaps they might be more forthcoming now.

As I wasn’t asked to speak at Rootstech this time, I thought I should probably listen to Becoming a Better Conference Speaker by Julie Miller from NGS. Much of this was directed at responding to calls for papers in the most effective way.

That was enough for one day. I suspect many attendees are in the same position as I am, for every talk I remove from my playlist, two more are added. Good job we have a year to view!

Tomorrow I must make sure that I have done all I need to do in the Expo Hall before it closes. Decisions, decisions, do I want to invest in updating my Family Tree Maker; can I cope with the learning curve?

#RootstechConnect Ramblings Part 1

I have to congratulate the #RootstechConnect and Family Search Team for an impressive feat of organisation. The day began with a Zoom breakfast chat with the lovely folk from Family Tree Magazine (UK). It was great to see so many familiar faces. I was able to become part of the ‘What Family Historians Like for Breakfast’ poll.

I then started making my way through the playlist that I’d made from the 1500+ sessions on offer. This proved not to be as daunting as I’d thought, as some were less than two minutes long and none were more than twenty minutes. There doesn’t seem to be a way of knowing how long the session is until you open the video. I started with Why Family Search has a shared Family Tree with Brad Lowder, worth watching for the hilarious opening but I might dispute his reference to it as ‘the most accurate tree’.

I tried looking at Thru Lines and Genetic Clusters with Nicole Dyer, then watched Penny Walters’ more substantial Adoption sessions. Having had fun with Relatives at Rootstech, I tuned in to Mike Sandburg’s session, which was accompanied by rather a lot of background noise. I learned that you could filter the relatives by maternal and paternal lines. Only 20% of mine are on my mother’s side.

I then decided I’d better see what was on offer in the Expo Hall and maybe pick up some bargains. I was tempted to upgrade my Family Tree Maker at a seriously discounted price, although the person I ‘spoke’ to seemed to think it was a better idea for me to use the existing customer discount, which is substantially less than the show offer. I then tried to get a reduction for my soon to expire Ancestry account. Having got rid of the virtual assistant I got a real person who offered me 30% off but I would have to ‘ring this number’ as they couldn’t process payments on chat. I duly rang that number and spoke to a ‘customer solutions agent’. I was a bit surprised to find the person on the end of the phone had absolutely no idea what Rootstech was. She kept telling me that Rootsweb was different! ‘You know’, I said, ‘big virtual conference, half a million people.’ It appeared to fall on stony ground and I couldn’t get a discount as I had no record of the ‘conversation’ I’d had online, not much of a solution there then.

Some ‘proper’ sessions next. Maurice Gleeson on Y DNA for surname research, Sylvia Valentine’s Children in Care and Debbie Kennett’s Secrets and Surprises, followed by the briefer 10 Virtual Family History Activities to Connect with Family from Shenley Puterbaugh. I watched and enjoyed Sunetra Sarker’s live keynote session but I will give the other keynotes, none of whom I’ve heard of, a miss. I am afraid I just can’t get my head around using non-historians/family historians as keynotes, although that’s just me, other people love these sessions and find them inspiring.

I then had fun with My Heritage’s new Deep Nostalgia feature, which animates old photographs in a somewhat creepy fashion. This is another marmite thing and I have misgivings about tampering with the original evidence but this didn’t stop me giving it a go.

I finished the day with a brief visit to a virtual genie pub.

All in all, great fun. I hope you are joining the party. Now all set for day two. What will that bring?

Facts, Figures and Fiction: having fun with Relatives at #RootsTechConnect

Today came the excitement that we can see who our Relatives at Rootstech are. I now have 71. Not unexpectedly, 65% are living in the US, 16% in Canada, 10% in Australia and 9% in the UK.

The closest relation, who remained so about as long as my alleged relationship to Prince William lasted (see yesterday’s blog), was a third cousin. Some more tree surgery and now she is correctly labelled as a 5th cousin once removed. I have four of these and these are the closest Relatives at Rootstech. This is about par for the course given my dearth of cousins. Amongst the Relatives at Rootstech, I have six sixth cousins, fifteen sixth cousins once removed and seven sixth cousins twice removed. Then follow various seventh and eight cousins. The most remote relatives identified are nine nineth cousins, five of whom descend from the same couple.

What was most interesting, was which branches of my family were and were not, represented. I should say that, apart from one brick wall great great grandparent, my tree is fairly evenly populated, with many lines back to 4x or 5x great grandparents and beyond. I looked at my Rootstech relatives and which of my eight great grandparents they linked to. As expected, no one was connected to the brick wall ancestor. I have now added the people who I believe to be his parents and the ancestry beyond that, to see if that makes any difference. Much more surprisingly, two other great grandparents were not represented at all, although I suppose one was called Smith and others may not have had much success tracing them. Given the high levels of emigration from Devon and Cornwall, I was expecting many of my relatives to link to that quarter of my ancestry. What I wasn’t prepared for was quite how overwhelmingly this was the case. 72% of my Relatives at Rootstech come from this 25% of my ancestry. An overwhelming 38% of my Relatives at Rootstech come from just one line, although I must say that I believe the earliest generations of this tree to be speculative. I suspect that US descendants of this line became adherents of the LDS church, which might account for the high number of matches.

I began, as you do, by madly and randomly clicking on the various listed relatives. The I went through them methodically, making a note of all the names, so, if the number goes up, I can tell who is new. I have also listed the relationship, the common ancestors and where the relative lives. I then went through each one, to see if they featured on my list of DNA matches. Of course, I only picked this up if the user name was similar or recognisable. I thought I might identify the connection for some of those DNA matches with no Ancestry trees, or private trees. I was surprised and disappointed find just one Relative at Rootstech who was also a DNA match, and I had already identified her place on my tree.

Relatives at Rootstech by Great grandparent

If you want to join in the fun, there are three stages to the process. You need to make sure you have signed up for RootsTechConnect using the same email address that you use to log in to Family Search. You have to have some kind of tree at Family Search and you have to have opted in to Relatives at Rootstech. I would love to find out that I am related to someone I know.

The Power of Blogging and Being in Two Places at Once

There have been some more excitements on the family history front lately. Having discovered new third cousins, just a week later, I was contacted by the great niece of my father’s life-long best friend. The best friend had written his memoirs, mentioning my father and my contact also had photos that I didn’t have. As my father died when I was nine, these memories were particularly precious. The way in which she found me was also amazing. She didn’t go searching for the descendants of my dad, instead she had Googled a place name, where her great-uncle had been during the war. On last year’s VE day anniversary, I had blogged about my dad’s wartime experiences. He and his friend had joined up together, so the place was mentioned and my blog came up on her Google search!

Along with half the genealogical world, I am signed up for next week’s RootstechConnect. If you haven’t yet registered, go ahead now, it is free. There is an unbelievable amount on offer. An optional aspect of this is to join ‘Relatives at Rootstech’ via the Family Search website. This means that, during the conference, you can contact those who appear on the same composite family tree as you. This tree is hosted on Family Search and for it to work, you have to have a least an outline tree there. This was something that I had resisted up until now but as I lack any living ancestors, I thought I would go for it. It actually doesn’t take long, as you only have to add three or four generations before you link up with the worldwide tree that is already there. There are minor frustrations, as you have to lop off some of the wildly speculative connections that others have added but this was soon accomplished. As of today, I have 69 relatives at Rootstech.

Adding to the Family Search tree also enables you to have a bit of fun seeing if you are related to anyone famous; although many of the possible celebrities are American. I really don’t subscribe to the cult of celebrity and I would far rather be connected to interesting lesser known individuals but it seemed rude not to give it a whirl. For about ten minutes I was Prince William’s tenth cousin once removed. I was mildly interested enough to see if the suggested link held water. It didn’t. After a bit more pruning, I was left with an alleged relationship to an obscure US President. Suffice it to say, that was wrong too but by then I’d lost the will to conduct any more tree surgery.

I have been revisiting one line of my daughters’ ancestry and have been able to add a few generations. When one of them was very small (I won’t say which one to project the guilty) she decided that she was going to name her future children water filter and fish tank; this decision passed into family lore. So there I was, delving into a Wiltshire parish register, only to find that her x times great grandfather had the christian names Fish Coppinger. I checked the original and also a military record and that really was his name. I hoped that would be a clue to earlier relatives but although Fish Coppinger (in this case Coppinger was the surname) was a notable individual, he certainly doesn’t seem to be a relation of the Wiltshire agricultural labouring family that I was researching. I suspect they named one of their fifteen children after the local landowner, in the hope of preferential treatment.

FindmyPast are rolling out new ways of viewing documents. I haven’t had much change to explore yet but after the initial, ‘oh no this is awful’ reaction, that usually accompanies anything new, I have discovered some distinct advantages. I am a fan of the new ability to go straight from image to transcription without going back out to the results. Moving to adjacent images is also now easier.

Oh and the being in two places at once thing. This is an art I appear to have now perfected. I was giving a Zoom talk the other day, whilst my friends were in a meeting of a different society. It seems that someone in their audience was multi-tasking, as they were able to hear a snippet of my talk being relayed by someone who hadn’t muted themselves and was in one meeting, whilst listening to mine.

The really exciting news is that I will be joining the ranks of the vaccinated next week and just to prove that spring it on the way, this lone daffodil has been bravely blooming in my garden for the past couple of weeks.

Family History Happy Dances

Regular readers will know that I am distinctly devoid of family members, apart from my five descendants and two in-law descendants. No siblings, no first cousins and only six second cousins, all on the same side of the family. So, a third cousin (with whom I share great great grandparents) counts as practically my closest relative. Since I was a child, thanks to my great aunt and the family photo album, I was aware of my great grandmother Clara’s four sisters and brother. I was also aware of the children of those siblings, my grandmother and great aunt’s cousins. I had photographs of most of them too. This generation was born between 1878 and 1895.

About five years ago, I decided to trace these cousins of my grandmother further forward to the present day. Imagine my surprise and excitement, when I discovered, in my own generation, a third cousin who had been in my class at primary school. (I should point out this was not in some small ancestral village. We were living in a highly populated area, each having a potential of about twenty schools that we could have gone to). My mother was certainly not aware that my classmate was the granddaughter of the first world war soldier whose image looked out of the pages of our photo album.

Mary Archer Dawson née Bowyer our mutual great great great grandmother

Although I did not keep in contact with any of my primary school peers into adulthood, about ten years ago a few of us did get together via Friends Reunited. We formed a Facebook Group and some of us met in person from time to time. I attempted to make contact with my newly discovered third cousin but wasn’t able to do so.

Then, this weekend, one of our Facebook Group organised a Zoom gathering. By the process of osmosis, the word spread and there before me was my third cousin! Fortunately, she was as excited as I was.

There are some interesting events coming up. On 9th February I am taking part in the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies Diamond Event. I shall be giving suggestions for those who are wanting to write their own memories and sharing reminiscences of the period 1946-1969. There may still be spaces if you want to book. Then, in March, I shall be joining my down-under friends for the virtual Family History Down Under Conference, giving two presentations. In between I am criss-crossing the country with talks to local societies as well as running my own. Of course there are also the excitements of RootsTechConnect to enjoy this month.

I am still on a book selling mission. I had to repurpose two book boxes in order to send birthday presents to my descendants. This means I now have a pile of loose books looking untidy. So, if you were thinking of buying a copy of any of my books from me, now might be a good time. Just in time for Valentine’s presents! On the topic of selling, Martha is also selling some of her beautiful craft items (if privacy settings prevent that link from working, take a look at the post I shared on my Facebook page). I think Edward may be going to benefit from the proceeds.

I regularly receive catalogues from a seller of old documents and paper ephemera. This week, one of the items on offer was a Devon based, late nineteenth century chemist’s notebook, giving recipes for various medicines and ‘cures’. It was not what you might call cheap. Using the fact that I have been giving wall-to-wall Zoom talks over the past couple of weeks, including a voice damaging seven in five days, as justification, I parted with my hard-earned cash. I am now eagerly awaiting the postman. Said postman is officially a star. Today he successfully delivered a missive addressed to ‘Mistress Agnes, c/o Dr J Few, Buckland Brewer, N. Devon’. Given that about 1200 people live in Buckland Brewer, I thought that that was pretty impressive.

In other news, I have just been asked to share the story of my Thockrington One-Place Study to a Northumbrian Group. I am looking forward to this challenge.

Last but definitely not least, thank you to everyone who sponsored Martha and I for our Move for Mind challenge we hit our modest exercise and fund raising targets.