28 February 2007

Your Family Tree Free Trial Issue

I recommend checking out the free 20 page trial issue of Your Family Tree Magazine. The contents include:

1 - Interview your relatives - beginner's advice on making the most of an afternoon with your great aunt

2 - My great-uncle's memory - how reader John Stephenson researched his great-uncle's WWI death, and got the man the commemoration he deserved

3 - Image from the past - expert Audrey Linkman analyses a photo of a man in a bowler hat, posing with a child and a racing dog

4 - Family history detective: Prison records - how to research ancestors on the other side of the law...

5 - Website guide - using Ancestry.co.uk's family tree building tools.

YFT, which appears with a cover name Your Family History in Canada, is one of the few magazines to which I subscribe. It's well worth browsing.

26 February 2007

Ancestors in the Attic - week 15

This episode, which appears to be the final one in the current series, was broadcast last Wednesday. I caught the repeat on Saturday evening and didn't notice any glaring errors.

Overall for the series, I liked:
- learning about aspects of Canadian history through the lens of individuals experiences;
- the web site which gave good insight into the episodes and challenges involved.

I would have liked:
- a teamwork approach with more time devoted to documenting the search, more like the PBS series History Detectives.

I disliked:
- the artificiality of cellphone calls and people appearing from behind bushes and around corners;
- the quick-cut editing;
- the frenetic approach of the host.

25 February 2007

Paper of Record - Free?

You may have tried Paper of Record, the web site of Ottawa-based Cold North Wind Inc. A breaking news item at the Global Gazette reports that this online collection of digitized newspaper pages, completely searchable by any word, can now be accessed free of charge. To access the database you have to register on the site so they can mail a password to you.

I like the service, particularly at the price. In fact I was happy to have it included as part of my subscription to the Godfrey Library. However, considering some of the limitations, most notably the way in which pages were OCRd, I didn't find it worth a stand alone subscription. How long will it will last as a freebee?

24 February 2007

DNA in genealogy

Imagine you walk into a family history conference and are handed a small strip of paper, asked to moisten it in your mouth and insert it in a slot in a machine about the size of a cellphone. At the end of the opening plenary session you receive an envelope directing you to one of the conference rooms. Arriving there you find yourself amongst family -- family you didn't know about but whose DNA is a close match to yours. For most people the common ancestor is too far back to be able to confirm it with traditional genealogical documentation, but many in the room find a common geographic region in their family past. A few, some who may have known each other for years, find an unsuspected link between their family trees.

Fact or fiction? It could be closer than you'd think if the Pocket DNA Barcoder being proposed for animal species identification ever comes to pass and is adapted for human DNA. As explained in this item at ScientificAmerican.com, although the basic technology is available--and the DNA testing has been shown to work--it requires a clean, sterile lab to ensure accuracy. According to the article the pocket-sized gadget remains a further-off goal. I've learned not to underestimate the rate of technological change. Maybe we'll be experiencing this sooner than they think.

22 February 2007

Kanata Seniors Centre Link

I enjoyed talking to a lively group at the Kanata Seniors Centre on Thursday. We discussed the seven golden roles of beginning genealogy, explored surname distributions in the UK and some of the best genealogy web sites.

In case participants didn't find it there is a free site for exploring surname distributions here. In the session we used Stephen Archer's Surname Distribution Atlas CD available here.

British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920

Ancestry.co.uk have placed online the first release, surnames A amd B, for soldiers service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the British Army and claimed disability pensions for service in WWI. These were also men who did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II.

In addition to Attestation
forms completed on enlistment other items often found are: medical history forms, casualty forms, disability statements, regimental conduct sheets, awards. One file I looked at had a form recording a marriage.

These are some of the most used records at TNA (Kew), found in series WO364 known as the ‘Unburnt collection.’ More than half of the files were burned during WW2 air raids on London, so you have to be a bit lucky to find your ancestor's file surviving.

It's good to see these records becoming available through an Ancestry subscription I already have, and available without cost through many public libraries and Family History Centres, without the high pay per view cost favoured by TNA.

20 February 2007

Beginning Genealogy at Kanata

It's been busy. Yesterday was Heritage Day in Ottawa with an event at City Hall. In the afternoon I attended a meeting on street naming, one of the heritage initiatives I've been pushing.

This is also the time of year when Ottawa deals with its city budget. As usual, heritage related matters are at risk, despite being a miniscule part of the budget. I spoke to a tired looking Council at a public session on Tuesday evening.

On Thursday at 1 pm I'm speaking on Beginning Genealogy at the Kanata Seniors Centre. I understand 37 people are registered, but there's room for more. Find information about the Centre here.

18 February 2007

Saturday at Quinte Branch of OGS

I had a quick trip to Trenton, Ontario, on Saturday to give my Family Secrets Revealed by DNA Analysis talk to the Quinte Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. Beth and Bill Campbell, organized the meeting and had invited me -- Bill had previously heard the talk at last September's BIFHSGO annual conference.

The venue was a treat. A new building houses the municipal offices and library, situated on the lake shore of the Bay of Quinte with a magnificent vista of the Bay greeting you as you enter the library. You never saw such a contrast to cubicle land.

There were about 40 people at the meeting including several visitors and guests attracted by the topic. They had to bring in extra chairs. Amongst the pre-presentation announcements was a report from Nancy Trimble, the representative for that OGS region, read by a member. She mentioned the new format of Families including a colour cover, and that OGS was talking with Revenue Canada to examine the extent to which they can offer benefits only to members and still provide them a receipt for tax purposes. That deliberation will interest other Canadian genealogical, and likely other types of societies. BIFHSGO stopped issues tax receipts a few years ago when we determined that doing so was inconsistent with giving discounts to members for our events and publications.

Being a new facility the room came with a built in LCD projector, and was small enough that I didn't require a microphone. A few shorter people at the back did have to bob their heads up every now and again to see the bottom of the screen. I enjoyed the facility and felt the presentation went well. Others seemed to enjoy it -- there were lots of questions after the talk and one-on-one during the refreshments at the end.

I'd like to thank Bill and Beth, and the folks at Quinte Branch for inviting me to what is clearly an active OGS branch full of friendly folks. I'd happily speak there again -- hint intended!

15 February 2007

OGS Quinte Branch presentation

I shall be speaking on DNA in Trenton, Ontario, this Saturday. All welcome. More information here.

14 February 2007

How it's made: genealogy

Have you seen the TV program How it's made? You get the industrial strength truth behind the "home baked" and "family farm" images on the labels of the food we eat; the inside story on everyday consumer products.

Programs like Ancestors in the Attic, mostly portray a sanitized version of how a family genealogy or history is made. You don't see researchers spending hours, days or months searching original, or worse microfilmed, documents to uncover the elusive evidence. Although indexed census and civil registration records have made the search easier in many cases you also often find misindex or missing records. Many records remain preserved in out of the way repositories, unindexed and often unexamined for years, if ever, since they were created.

Another thing you don't see is people following promising but false leads. Genealogical research is like much other research where you, usually informally, formulate a hypothesis and then set out to test it. I've had an example recently in the context of a presentation I made to a beginning genealogy session when I spoke about the first golden rule of genealogical research - work backwards. I used the example of researching the ancestry of the new Mayor of Ottawa, Larry O'Brien. His father's grave marker shows a birth year 1908. The nearest I could come to establishing the next generation back was an entry for someone of the same name in the 1911 census, born in Montreal in late 1907. Was the grave marker birth year an error? I followed the Montreal family back two more generations into the Ottawa valley and was hopeful it might lead to some clues to establishing that as the correct family, but had to admit during the beginning genealogy presentation I didn't have evidence, it was a hypothesis.

On Monday I went to a public meeting where, to my surprise, Mayor O'Brien put in an appearance. It was an opportunity too good to miss so I asked him privately as he was leaving if his father was born in Montreal. He said no, in Manitoba, and mentioned the suburb of Ottawa where earlier generations had lived. Pretty good evidence against the Montreal hypothesis, and it was blown out of the water when I found his father, with a 1907 birth year, in the 1911 Manitoba census. Making the link back to that suburb is proving a challenge, but I do have a new hypothesis to work on. My presentation to a beginner session next week will have different story to tell and a new hypothesis to present.

13 February 2007

Historical Directories of England and Wales

It's a bit embarrassing to find that in nearly a year of blogging here I've missed mentioning a great web resource from my alma matar, Leicester University.

Historical Directories is a digital library of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919. You can choose to see those published for a specific county, or a certain decade, select a particular directory and search. The hits are highlighted on an image of the original page.

Directories of this period are usually regarded as a supplemental genealogical source. They rarely contain information about anyone but the head of household, and then often only if the person paid for a listing. But they can yield surprises. A great-grandfather of mine is listed as locksmith, gunsmith or bellhanger on various certificates and censuses I've seen, so I was surprised to find him listed in one of these directories as an umbrella maker. Obviously a man of diverse talents.

This is a free resource -- at least until next October.

11 February 2007

How Does Your Society Help Beginning Genealogists?

Saturday was a big genealogy day in Ottawa. The morning featured the monthly BIFHSGO meeting. As usual, people gathered early in the auditorium lobby at Library and Archives Canada to chat with friends, have coffee or tea and biscuits, and browse tables with published resources. It's a time to get advice from the local experts, swap books, and share stories of triumphs and frustrations. A few years ago we started issuing name tags to everyone which saves considerable embarrassment for those of us, including me, with poor memories.
For the past few meetings there has been a short pre-main meeting presentation, known as pre-BIFHSGO, of a more basic nature organized by Lesley Anderson, the Society Director of Education. These have proved popular. This month Lesley had organized a whole session of five presentations for the afternoon so no pre-BIFHSGO session was held.
The main meeting was fairly typical; a series of announcements, appeals for volunteers and for support for a local initiative, this month it was to get approval for a new City of Ottawa Central Archives given by Friends of the Archives President, John Heney. The speaker of the day was Marguerite Evans on "Sarah Hersey's Diary: The Spirituality of a 19th Century Pioneer Woman." Marguerite is a former university lecturer and, despite speaking on a topic rather more academic than our normal fare, held the attention of the audience as she explored the evolution of Sarah's spirituality as expressed in her diary writings as the situation of her family changed.
The afternoon beginner session had about 30 people registered, many who had started researching their family history some while ago and now realized they wanted some guidance on how to do it right. The session is given semi-annually, sponsored jointly by BIFHSGO and the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society, with the lead Society providing most of the speakers.
There were five 30 minute presentations using Powerpoint, supplemented by handouts. I started with a session appropriately titled "Getting Started" based on the Seven Golden Rules of Beginning Genealogy, as published in each issue by Your Family Tree. Alison Hare followed with a first rate presentation on using the census and civil registration records. Lesley Anderson covered organizing your information, Sharon Moor spoke on resources available in the Ottawa area, and Mike Moore on Internet Resources. The session ended with a question period, and many more questions informally after the close.
How does your Society help beginners, or those who want some elementary level instruction? I'd welcome information posted as a comment, or just a direction to your own blog entry or Society website information.

08 February 2007

Ancestors on Board - now to 1909

Way ahead of when I thought they might be, the second decade of these UK outbound ships passenger lists have been added.

See Stephen Rigden's blog entry here.

BIFHSGO February Meeting

Family history is much more than genealogy. Saturday morning's BIFHSGO meeting at Library and Archives Canada, featuring a presentation by Marguerite Evans RN, PhD(Ethics), certainly demonstrates that. A long-time member whose presentations I invariably find both substantive and enjoyable, Marguerite will speak on "Sarah Hersey's Diary: The Spirituality of a 19th Century Pioneer Woman."

In 2004 Ron Newman of Brockville, Ontario, donated the handwritten diary of Sarah Hersey to the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. The entries in her diary cover the period from 1804 until her death in 1850. In addition to the usual recordings of births, marriages, and deaths, Sarah also described such life events as the destruction of her house by fire, cholera epidemics in Hawkesbury , Ontario, and in Massachusetts. More significantly, however, she documented aspects of her faith; in particular, of her spirituality which was a way of life for her and which sustained her and enabled her to cope with whatever befell her. This presentation will examine various aspects of the diary entries to ascertain the intensity of Sarah's spiritual life and to compare her spirituality to that of current Postmodern spirituality.

You don't have to be a BIFHSGO member to attend, all welcome. The meeting starts at 10am.

07 February 2007

BMD Index Update - England and Wales

The Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) has informed members that the General Register Office (GRO) is developing a system to enable BMD indexes to the digitized records to be searched via the internet. These should be made available progressively from early 2008.

The FFHS has accepted the GRO's invitation to take part in user testing of this Multi Access to GRO Published Index of Events (MAGPIE) system. By early 2008, the historic birth indexes will have been loaded and the historic death records (those from 1837-1957) should also have been loaded. Those indexes will be accessible via the MAGPIE system on screen terminals at The National Archives at Kew, as well as via the internet, when the Family Records Centre at Islington closes. Loading of the historic death records will be followed by the modern birth and death records, then the historic marriage records (those from 1837-1945) and the modern marriage records.

That means that although the original vellum and paper indexes will be moved to Kew, they will eventually not be on open access. By April next year the experience of manhandling heavy index volumes around, and elbowing yourself some space in the search room at the FRC will be history. Better plan a trip soon if you want to relive that experience.

06 February 2007

Ancestors on Board - the blog

Have you seen the series of blog postings by Stephen Rigden at the new Ancestors on Board web site? These little essays help you find out more about some of the features and quirks of the indexed BT27 outward-bound-from-the-UK passenger lists at Ancestors on Board.

In case you missed the announcement of this major new database, the site covers long-distance voyages made from all British ports between 1890 and 1960. The data now available are from 1890 to 1899. Whether destined for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda or anywhere else under the never setting sun over the British Empire, your travelling ancestors of the period should be there. That's also true of passengers destined for rebellious former colonies or to corners of the world so deprived that there residents never had the privilege of living as British Subjects.

I'm anticipating the next batch covering the second decade 1900-1909 "to be published shortly." Rigden mentions in a recent posting a relatives found in this period bound for Quebec. That Rigden family may be found in the 1911 Canadian census in Vancouver. People by that name still live in BC today as well as elsewhere in Canada.

04 February 2007

Ancestors in the Attic Video - a women Mason

As mentioned in the previous post, you can watch short videos on the Ancestors in the Attic website. They're likely items considered too insubstantial to make it to air, but still interesting. I stumbled on one telling the story of the only woman Mason, named Elizabeth St Leger. A second cousin of mine mentioned her as an ancestor but didn't have the details. The video motivated me to follow up. It appears she's his six times great-grandmother.

The story told on the video is of this young Irish lady hiding in a grandfather clock, overhearing a Masonic meeting, and then being discovered when her father investigates the muffled sound of the clock striking the hour. To keep the secrets of the Masonic order they decide to initiate her as a Mason. Read a more detailed version of the story from 1895, nearly 200 years after the incident happened in 1710, here. It's devoid of clock, and gives other examples of women Masons.

Elizabeth St Leger married Richard Aldworth; the families are both of the Irish nobility in Cork. To link my second cousin to them meant tracing his family back through English census records, and bringing in evidence from The Times Digital Archive, a subscription database of the newspaper back to the late 18th century. When those sources ran out the names, dates and places seemed to make a smooth transition to genealogies in A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland by Sir Bernard Burke. Thanks to Google Books it can be consulted and searched online without charge.

01 February 2007

Ancestors in the Attic - Episode 13

There were only two segments this week. The first was a complex story of family members losing touch owing to separations and divorces, and descendants finding each other. It appears that although the program researcher (Paul) did dig up information on the family history the work that lead to a reconnection was done by family members. They used data submitted by subscribers to ancestry.com, or perhaps more accurately submitted to rootsweb.com and then appropriated by ancestry. Touching scenes of a reunited family vividly reinforced the value of secondary sources -- even though viewed with a certain scorn by professional genealogists -- can be useful, and adequate, when used in pursuing some family history objectives.

The second segment drew exclusively on a published family history, something the panel seemed to have no qualms about accepting as the truth, even though these can be suspect.

If you haven't found it on the Ancestors in the Attic web site, which is an essential complement to the program, there are a few videos not part of the televised programs. They are short, and one of them features the story of the only woman Mason, one that is also supposed to link to one of my obscure collateral lines.