28 September 2006

Ryan Taylor RIP

It is a shock to learn of the passing of Ryan Taylor, a well know lecturer, writer and genealogist- librarian at the Allen County Public Library. Ryan gave an all day seminar, and a monthly meeting presentation to BIFHSGO last April. He had close connections to Ottawa having attended both Carleton and Ottawa universities, and has relatives in the City. It was my privilege to know Ryan and find out from him that his Taylor family originated from my home town of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, from where his grandfather came to Canada as a home child.

My sympathies to his family.

Family First

Expect the frequency of posting to drop off for the next couple of weeks as I deal with some urgent family business.

27 September 2006

The Saxby Gale

Here is a diversion from the usual genealogical fare on this blog.

October 4 marks the anniversary of the Saxby Gale, the tail end on an Atlantic hurricane which caused considerable damage in New Brunswick in 1869. A major storm had been predicted for the date nearly a year in advance by Stephen Martin Saxby, a British naval engineer. Most of the people by the name of Saxby in Canada appear to be descended from him. Read about him here, and transcripts of original documents about the storm here.

Improving Audio for Genealogy

At the recent British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa conference one of the talks I particularly enjoyed was on audio recording, and in particular preserving and improving the quality of old recordings. I've been to talks on fixing old photographs before at genealogy conferences, there was one at this conference, but a talk on audio was new to me.

Many of us have cassette tapes and other old media containing conversations with relatives no longer with us. The presentation, by Society member Tony Kennard, covered hardware and software needed to transfer the recording to new media and reduce noise.

Tony pointed out that the old media have a limited lifetime. The recordings should be transferred to preserve them. He explained the deterioration of old media, salvaging a recording when you don't own a proper playback device, wiring options between the playback device and a computer, and software. He recommended the GoldWave Digital Audio Editor, which happens to be a Canadian product, as the best value for money for home use. He mentioned Audacity, a free program that I've used, but in his opinion its capability to remove noise is not adequate.

Finally he warned against archiving sound recordings in MP3 format as the compression is such that salvaging anything after damage is virtually impossible.

26 September 2006

Family Secrets Revealed with DNA Analysis

Here is the text of the handout that went with my presentation at the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa conference last Saturday.

1. Web Resources
Genetics & Genealogy - An Introduction with some DNA Case Study Examples, by Charles F. Kerchner, Jr. - http://www.kerchner.com/anonftp/pub/introg&g.htm

“How to” guide for DNA genealogists who have Y chromosome haplotype - http://www.geocities.com/mcewanjc/howto.htm

International Society of Genetic Genealogy - http://www.isogg.org

World Families Network - http://www.worldfamilies.net

Y Chromosome Haplotype Reference Database - http://www.ystr.org/index.html

2. DNA Testing
DNA Company Comparison Chart – very detailed information on markers tested - http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~bonsteinandgilpin/dna/ydnaco.htm

Company Sites
Ancestry-by-DNA - http://ancestrybydna.com
DNA Fingerprint (merging with FTDNA) - http://www.dna-fingerprint.com
DNA Heritage - http://www.dnaheritage.com
DNA Tribes - http://www.dnatribes.com
EthnoAncestry - http://www.ethnoancestry.com
Family Tree DNA - http://www.familytreedna.com
Oxford Ancestors - http://www.oxfordancestors.com
Relative Genetics - http://www.relativegenetics.com
Trace Genetics - http://www.tracegenetics.com

Project Sites
Genographic Project - https://www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/
Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation - http://smgf.org

3. Books
The Seven Daughters of Eve, by Bryan Sykes, ISBN: 0393020185

Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree, by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and Ann Turner, ISBN: 1594860068

4: Web Lecture Extra
Beyond the Human Genome Project: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?tip=1&id=3853

25 September 2006

Limited Time Free Access to Selected Genealogy Databases

Until October 4 Olive Tree Genealogy, through a co-operative effort with ancestry.com, is offerring free access to:

- the very popular New York Passenger Lists 1851-1891 & 1935-1938 including Castle Garden passenger lists;

- the Boston Massachusetts Passenger Lists, 1820 - 1943.

Search as often as you like -- with no obligation to purchase anything - and no credit card required. All you need to do is use the special links provided on this URL to register by providing a full name and email address to ancestry.com

22 September 2006

Celebrate Your Anglo-Celtic Roots

Those in the Ottawa area this weekend are welcome to stop in to Library and Archives Canada for the 12th annual conference of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. Find the full program here. Even if you only have an hour why not visit at the marketplace, there's free parking Saturday and Sunday. See the products and services available from the exhibitors including Global Genealogy, Natural Heritage Books, and Archive CD Books Canada.

20 September 2006

New Online English Genealogy Resource

Ancestry comes through again. I had been wondering what they were up to. There has been a drought this summer with nothing much new by way of major data collections appearing on any of their web sites. On Tuesday the wait came to an end as they released scanned and indexed pages from 430 London telephone directories. These are for the Home Counties of London - Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Surrey; in total 72 million entries between 1880 and 1984 covering both homes and businesses. There is a good search engine, standard for Ancestry, and you get to view the original published page as well as the transcription.

This new addition is a bonanza for anyone with ancestors in the area; its a rare English family that doesn't have a branch into the London area. Not everyone had a phone through most of the period, far from it, but if listed you should be able to follow their moves, and perhaps correlate when they disappear from the directory with a death index listing. Remember, this is scanned and OCRd material. Expect errors , missing pages and other problems. Only the head of household is listed. This is a situation, are their any others, where it helps to focus on how full the glass is and not how empty.

19 September 2006

Great Genealogy Publicity

As a result of a lot of work on publicity the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa managed a nice bit of exposure last Saturday on Ottawa radio station CHIN for its conference next weekend. For a few days the hour long program is available on a podcast

18 September 2006

FreeBMD Updated

On Thursday last FreeBMD, a volunteer transcription of the index to civil registrations in England and Wales, was updated. The site now contains 122,117,046 individual records and nearly 157 million total records. If you searched before and didn't find what you sought its worth going back to see if the index entry of interest has been added.

Births are now reasonably complete from mid-1837 to 1910, except for gaps in the 1850s, 1862 and 1881. Marriages are reasonably complete to 1915. Deaths still have a way to go for 1860 and 1861, but are otherwise reasonably complete to 1911.

I was surprised on Dick Eastman's Skypecast last Saturday to find that some folks don't know you can search FreeBMD without cost through ancestry.com or ancestry.co.uk. While I prefer the original FreeBMD search engine, found here, the site does suffer from slow response at times and you will likely find yourself waiting around less if you search through ancestry. It will likely require a free registration.

16 September 2006

Can't Find the Genealogy God?

Many genealogists seem to have faith that a special Genealogy God exists able to tell them whether a relationship they have found or suspect is the truth. Particularly where information is conflicting they look for some omnipotence to tell them what to believe.

T'aint so! What you have instead is freedom. You are the judge of what meets your standards of proof. Others may choose to set themselves up as the judge of your standards. You have the freedom to judge their standards.

You can choose to follow codes of professional practise and seek to meet the "genealogical proof standard." In the US the self-appointed Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) has a web site that lists the elements:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search;
  • complete and accurate source citations;
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
Do these make sense to you? While the process is comparable to those for similar professional groups I do find they make a bit of a fetish about complete and accurate source citations, rather than a citation sufficient to allow finding the source. It smacks of pedantry that finds virtue in process rather than substance, perhaps because its relatively easy to judge when people apply for certification.

A rule of thumb some people use is that you need three pieces of evidence to support a relationship, and it should be independent evidence. It might be a child's birth certificate and the father, mother and child together as a family in two censuses. Even if all the paper records align in this way there is still the possibility of deliberate deception. A child fathered by a woman's husband's brother is a situation that might be easily concealed and that not even a DNA study might uncover. In practice its often impossible to know if the evidence is independent.

Unfortunately genealogy has not yet reached the stage of development where people work with a probabilistic assessment of the confidence in a relationship or fact. Such a systematic evaluation would show you can never be 100% certain ... although I can only say that with a high probability! You would set your own standard, be it 90%, 99%, or 99.999% confidence. Even the most enthusiastic adopter of the approach that the best fit in the IGI is good enough might have second thoughts if informed there is only a 40% chance it is correct. That 40% figure is not the result of any study, just chosen for illustration.

In my view a statistical approach is what the genealogical community should be aiming for, but I doubt the BCG powers that be would be comfortable with statistics and Bayes' Theorem.

14 September 2006

Toronto City Directories

The first Directory of Toronto was published in 1833, when the total population was only some 9,000. In 1903 the forty-second issue of the City Directory of Toronto contained 97,087 individual names, exclusive of firms, corporations, etc. The estimated population for the city at the end of 1902 was 267,000.

By 1908 the directory has entries for 129,355 individuals, for an estimated population of 365,000. In a statistical table it shows 28,839 births and 20,051 deaths for the period 1903 to 1907. That's a net natural increase of 8,788. The remaining increase of some 90,000 was accounted for by people moving into the city, many of them part of the huge influx from Britain in the first decade of the 20th century.

Directories are a valuable resource for genealogy, and some Toronto directories for this period are now available at The Internet Archive. The links for these two years are: 1903 directory`and 1908 directory. Get to earlier Toronto directories, and other digital publication of the Toronto Public Library, here.

13 September 2006

BBC Genealogy Videos

I'm impressed.

In connection with their BBC1 series Who Do You Think You Are? the BBC have put together short videos on genealogy basics. You can get to them on their web site and follow the link to Video: How to Get Started.

The information content is provided by Britain's premier media genealogist, Nick Barratt. He gives clear explanations of the fundamentals, with a presentation that is not at all stuffy. There are segments on census returns, death records, personal memorabilia, historical context, immigration, oral history, birth records, marriage records, tracing relatives, and wills and probate. Some material is repeated between segments, not a bad idea as, despite it being out of fashion, repetition aids memory.

The video borrows video techniques from a generation nurtured on MTV. Humour and some good motivation are thrown into the mix. If you're looking to see a different approach to learning about family history you can't go wrong with this series.

It's worth exploring the rest of the web pages too. There's more advanced material on, Localizing Your Ancestors, 'What's Been Done Before?', Using Libraries, 19th Century Immigration, Directories and Periodicals, Church Courts and, 19th & 18th Century Sources written by Else Churchill who is Genealogist with the Society of Genealogists. Material on Crime, Family Secrets and Professions is authored by Nick Barratt.

Welsh Genealogy - three lives lease

Casgul'r Tlysau doesn't mean much to me. The translation from Welsh is Gathering the Jewels and refers to a web site where "you will find over 20,000 images of objects, books, letters, aerial photographs and other items from museums, libraries and record offices in Wales." It's a surprising genealogy source.

As I have no deep rooted Welsh ancestry I explored the site using the origins of a Welsh-born friend. I've traced his origins back to the village of Pentyrch in Glamorganshire. Searching Pentyrch on the site gave 13 hits. The Iron Age bronze terret with red enamel inlay, shown here, has a caption which informs it would have guided the reins of a chariot drawn by two ponies, and was found near Pentyrch in the 1960s.

Of particular interest to me was an image of a page from a 1824 land use survey (terrier) of the Glamorgan estates of the Marquess of Bute. There is a land lease to Thomas Jenkins, the same name as my friend's earliest known ancestor. It documents a three lives lease of 81 acres of land at a rent of seven pounds and sixpence. The lease commenced in 1764 and two of three people whose lives are mentioned are still alive in 1824, ages 66 and 64. They would have been four and six when the lease started. When the last of them died the lease would end.

The value of a three lives lease in its later stages is well illustrated. Whereas Thomas Jenkins benefits from 11.6 acres for each pound of rent the adjacent entries on the page get only 3.3 and 2.3 acres for an "at will" lease. The trick at the start of the three lives lease, assuming you negotiated a good deal, was to choose people who would live to a ripe old age so you, or likely your descendant, would benefit as long as possible.

12 September 2006

Genealogy Lectures Online

Earlier in the month the US Federation of Genealogical Societies held its annual conference in Boston. Most of the lectures were recorded and many are available as mp3 downloads for $1.99 US each here. There are quite a few lectures of Anglo-Celtic interest --- British, Irish and Canadian topics. Those involved as a director of a genealogical society, or thinking of becoming involved, may want to check out some of the lectures on different aspects of running a society.

The only thing lacking is that the graphical material that usually accompanies a live presentation is not available. On a skypecast last evening Drew Smith, a board member of FGS and co-host of the Genealogy Guys Podcast, explained that speakers fear they will lose speaking opportunities if they let their complete presentation go for $1.99. I can see the concern, but speakers might also consider that making one presentation available online, perhaps for a limited time, would be a great promotion tool. David Attenborough, Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Bryson, Jared Diamond and others seem to have no such concern in making their Royal Society (London) lectures available here.

11 September 2006

International Society of Genetic Genealogy

Based on my experience with DNA testing I'm impressed. Not everyone is, including long time genealogy newsletter writer Dick Eastman, as I found out during a brief conversation on Saturday. Dick sees a role, but isn't an enthusiast.

There are just too many good stories about people who have made breakthroughs on intractable genealogical problems to dismiss genetic genealogy. A new one was briefly related to me by a member of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa on Saturday, and a goodly number of them are found at the web site for the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. Take a look.

Will genetic genealogy turn out to do for genealogy in the next decade what the internet has done in the last? There's a chance.

10 September 2006

Bridge -- Warning

Travellers between Ogdensberg (NY) and Prescott (ON) are advised of a bridge malfunction just on the US side of the international border. While no reports of problems have been received construction of an artificial island may be underway. Only light traffic may be expected at customs and immigration terminals.
Images courtesy of Google.

08 September 2006

A Cornish Sourcebook

The British are parodied as insular, the best example being the perhaps apocryphal newspaper headline "Fog in the Channel: Continent Isolated." How can this be reconciled with the extent of the British Empire at its zenith?

For genealogy and local history insularity can be a virtue. Residents take a delight in their unique clearly circumscribed situation. Although a peninsula rather than an island Cornwall has similar unique attributes. It was a delight to stumble upon this site which seems to be a labour of love by one
Chris Bond. Delve into the Index to the Historical Place Names of Cornwall to be delivered to a world marked by Celtic names distinct from those of the rest of England, certainly more like Wales. Look through for the list of Cornish place name elements for insight into the meaning.

The other sections of the site include:
Historical Illustrations of Ancient Cornwall; Maps and Plans of Cornwall; Historical Texts; Parish and Manor Bounds; Postcards of Cornwall; Public Domain Photos; and more. If you're looking for something specific, and there are many surnames mentioned, try the whole site index found by scrolling to the bottom of the home page.

07 September 2006

Smart Family History

Smart Family History, newly published in 2006, is written at an intermediate level for the person researching family history in England and Wales. The blurb by The National Archives, the publisher, reads "This is a unique concise guide for family historians who have looked at basic sources and are impatient to find out more. .... Renowned for his talk ‘I’m stuck (up my family tree): where do I go from here?’, expert Geoff Swinfield offers a wealth of smart ideas to help you save time, avoid common pitfalls and progress your research more efficiently. ..."

Your Family Tree wrote "There is a wealth of intelligent advice...a useful, concise and informative book to keep at your side." and "Every genealogist will find new things to try in this convenient and affordable guide."

It is arranged by the stages of life, and the records to be expected for each of them, together with hints on research technique. Judging by the sample and statistics the writing is not overly technical. The layout seems rather pedestrian, but that's based on only two sample pages available out of nearly 250.

This is another good selection by Diana Hall, genealogy specialist at the Ottawa Public Library, to be purchased for their collection by way of a donation from the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. Available at amazon.ca. ISBN: 1903365805

06 September 2006

Genetic Genealogy: Go Directly to Oblivion, do not collect publicity

It happenned again, Matthew Stibble has blogged on something that hit a chord with me.

I've just finished an article on DNA and genealogy for a British genealogy magazine, and attempted to contact several commercial testing companies for information. All had comprehensive websites which answered most of my questions, but I was looking for more.

One company gave an email address, no telephone number. I received an automated email reply. From a previous experience with the organization I expect to eventually receive a another reply explaining that they have been overwhelmed with emails and apologizing for not getting back sooner.

The second company has a 1-800 number where I left a voicemail message. After three weeks, and several attempts to call, each responded to by voicemail, I have still received no response. What confidence would you have in this company?

A third responded promptly but then failed to follow up.

The news was not all bleak. Family Tree DNA responded promptly and provided scanned images that I wanted the same day. No prize for guessing which company will receive the good publicity.

05 September 2006

Genealogy Crowdsourcing

In one of the blogs I regularly monitor Matthew Stibble asked for input for an article he is writing on "crowdsourcing, web 2.0, long tail and social networking - all the latest buzzes online." Crowdsourcing was a new word to me, but a gentle google found 572,000 English pages, "The Rise of Crowdsourcing" from a June issue of Wired magazine being the first hit. Worth reading.

Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as "a business model akin to outsourcing. The difference is that instead of professional vendors, crowdsourcing relies upon unpaid or low-paid amateurs who use their spare time to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D. Crowds targeted for crowdsourcing include data companies, such as Jigsaw, garage scientists, amateur videographers, freelancers, photo enthusiasts, smart mobs and the electronic herd." Wikipedia itself is a crowdsourcing project.

What sort of crowdsourcing projects are there in genealogy? Dick Eastman's Encyclopedia of Genealogy would qualify, although the crowds seem to be rather muted. There are innumerable places, notably Rootsweb newsgroups, where genealogists can post their genealogical conundrums and ask for advice. To get to those postings you do have to sort through assorted inane cackle and self aggrandisement in some of those groups, notably GENBRIT-L.

Perhaps the UK is further ahead. I subscribe to genesreunited, an offspring of friendsreunited, where you can post information on ancestors you are seeking, and people who link to that person can contact you (if they subscribe). It was the resource that allowed me to link to a whole branch of second cousins in the family tree earlier this year.

If you can think of other crowdsourcing examples in genealogy, particularly any where the person supplying the solution can receive a monetary reward, please let me know about it at aa327 at ncf.ca .

04 September 2006

Cemeteries and Cemetery Symbols

This is one of the symbols I imaged recently at Ottawa's Beechwood cemetery. I'd had it in the back of my mind to explore the meaning of this and other cemetery iconography, then came across this site worth a look. Although the site is US-based, and the examples are from Colorado, many of the organizations mentioned, and the symbols, are international.

There is a Visual Glossary of Religious Symbols at an about.com site. I'm always a bit leery in mentioning about.com sites despite good content. They used to have aggressive behaviour, and I'm not sure my experience isn't better now only owing to better blocking.