Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Genealogy Websites and Online Data

Academic researchers, commercial vendors and volunteer interest groups have produced a vast array of online resources useful to family historians and genealogists.  The quality of the websites and data contained in them varies hugely.  For this discussion, I will focus on websites that offer access to digital copies of original records.

Quality has nothing to do with the total number of records, or the number of collections or data sets.  Quality is unrelated to the cost of a website subscription or motivation of the provider.

Without documentation of all the processing of records and information in them a researcher cannot asses the reliability of records. We can’t change the imperfect state that the original records come to us in. Archivists work hard to preserve both the records themselves and the context of their creation and use, but online presentation is often performed by other parties. Digitisation, indexing, and search are just a few of the processes that happen before an online version of the record is presented. Presentation can have profound influence on how records are perceived and the conclusions drawn from them. Consequently, transparency is an ethical obligation.

What are the most important website features? How can they be assessed?

The following, in order of importance, are essential:
  1. Catalogue
  2. Transcript quality
  3. Search facilities
  4. Browsing facilities
  5. Record quality
The quality of other features are also important, and a bonus if included.  Examples include analytical tools, user data (e.g. family trees, imported sources, research notes etc.), collaborative tools and social networks. But for now, I will discuss the basic five points above.

Collections with different histories or characteristics should be assessed separately. Only the catalogue can be assessed across a whole website.

Catalogue First

Yes, I really do mean that the catalogue is more important than anything else.

Genealogists use archival material, whether in the form of original records or some kind of derivative.  Genealogy websites are really a digital archive of such materials, so a genealogy website’s catalogue should share many of the features of an archival catalogue.

In her blog post The Value of Archival Description, Considered, archivist Maureen Callaghan recognizes researcher’s needs:
“getting to understand who created records, why they were created, and what they provide evidence of – really gets to the nature of research. These are the questions that historians and journalists and lawyers and all of the communities that use our collections ask – they don’t just see artifacts, they see evidence that can help them make a principled argument about what happened in the past. They want to know about reliability, authenticity, chain of custody, gaps, absences and silences.”

So, a catalogue is more than just a list of collections. Such a list might be the starting point for creating a catalogue, but falls well short of the sophisticated database that comprises an archival catalogue. It contains information about the collections, so serves a quite different purpose to search and browsing facilities.

A good catalogue answers questions about the website’s collections with no fuss:
  1. Is the catalogue complete, including collections not yet digitised and indexed with a timescale of expected online availability? This information allows the researcher to make informed decisions using the database or seeking the records elsewhere.
  2. What record collections does it contain? You want to know that relevant records are included before paying a subscription or spending precious time searching for records, don’t you?
  3. Where did the collections come from? Typically records come from originals in an archive, or a publication. The barest minimum information for archival material is the archive and the archive reference, and for published information, the bibliographic reference. That allows the researcher to check the archive’s or bibliographic catalogues.
  4. How do the collections relate to one another? Logical groupings of record sets by record type reflect original function of the records, whilst groupings by creator reflect the history or provenance of the records. Both are important for understanding how the records can be used. Were several types of record created by a particular process e.g. collection of taxes involved assessment of liability, record of payments and penalties for late or non-payment.
  5. What is the structure of the data set?  How is the record set arranged? Is it by date, person or something else?
  6. Is each collection or record set complete?
  7. What is the extent of each collection and record set?  How many sub-sets, how many records in each?
  8. Does the catalogue entry describe the records? Is a brief history of the original records creation and provenance included? Were the digital records an image of the original, or derived from a microfilm or transcript?
  9. What information do the records typically contain?
  10. Is a scholarly work on the record type referenced, or a critique on the strengths and weaknesses of the records included?

Transcript Quality

Transcription transforms manuscript and typescript documents into computer readable text, essential for creating searchable records. In evaluating the quality of computerized records consider if the website documents the following:
  1. The completeness of the transcript.  A complete transcript captures the most information so is far more useful than an abstract or an index. 
  2. Accuracy of transcription is influenced by how it was produced.  Optical character recognition (OCR) is commonly used for typescript.  Human data entry of manuscript or handwritten material depends on palaeographic and keyboard skills.  Typically, OCR and unskilled data entry yield less accurate transcripts.
  3. Checking procedures should detect obvious gobbledy-gook, and common OCR and data entry errors.  Double data entry produces a con-census interpretation, but may not avoid common reading errors.
  4. Have error rates been assessed?

Search Facilities

Good search rests on an accurate transcript, not algorithms or user added ‘corrections’.  Repeatable search, essential for confidence in the validity of results, requires a complete data set and stable search methods.  Search is not a simple operation, so inexperienced users need coaching and encouragement, not dumbed-down, limited functionality.  Consider the website’s documentation and functionality of the following:
  1. Targeted search on individual data sets and collections as default. Choosing which collection or collections to search first is much more efficient than filtering out irrelevant collections.
  2. Search on all data items in the record.  This requires a complete transcript.
  3. Full text search, the ability to search everywhere in the record, also requires a complete transcript.
  4. Complex search, the ability to specify ‘AND’, ‘OR’ and other operators.
  5. Name matching algorithm choice.  Examples include soundex and metaphone, which perform phonetic matching for English-language names, and Daitch-Mokotoff, which is adapted for Slavic and German spellings of Jewish names.
  6. Date ranges. Can start and end dates be specified, or a central dates with accuracy?
  7. Are place searches restricted to place names? Is a proximity search based on distance included?
  8. Wildcards, replacement characters in the search term that stand in for unknown possibilities e.g. Sm*th returns Smith, Smyth.
  9. Separation of transcribed values and interpreted values with options to search on either or a combination. For example, the abbreviation ‘Wm’ or Latinised ‘Gulielmus’ can be interpreted as William. Standardised interpretations are known to librarians and archivists as authority control http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authority_control . User added ‘corrections’ are another kind of interpreted value.
  10. Filtering of search results.
  11. Optional ‘sticky’ settings and well-chosen default settings.
  12. Result presentation.  Is it simple, clear and contain the information important to you?  Does it include the search terms used?
  13. Result sorting on data fields chosen by the user. What does ‘relevance’ mean?
  14. Result export in a variety of formats, ready for use by with software tools of your choice.
  15. Logged searches that document research activity.

Browsing Facilities

Browsing is a tool for examining records in the context of the record set.  It should replicate the experience of turning the pages of the original.  The order of digital images should exactly follow the order of the original pages.  The structure of the record set and relationships between individual records contain subtle information about the creation and use of the original.

Browsing does not replace search. When used as a last resort when search fails, it is an indicator of poor search or transcription.

Record Quality

Original records are typically presented as digital images. Genealogists use the most original source available so they can be confident that the information is as reliable as possible. A digital image is not the same as the original, but can come acceptably close, provided that:
  1. Good image quality that is legible.  Sharp focus, resolution, colour accuracy, and contrast all contribute to legibility. Digital image file types vary in the degree of data compression, which influences image quality.
  2. Information that identifies the record portrayed included in the image file. That means all the information that you want in your citation, such as the archive and archive reference of the original, page number, record identifier, person of interest etc. A meaningful file name is helpful, but enough detail makes an unreasonably long name, as is human readable text added to the image. Potentially most useful is embedded citation information in the image file metadata, which is computer readable.
  3. Technical camera or scanner metadata provides provenance of the image, including whether it has been modified.

Your Challenge – Review one data set

There is a lot to consider in assessing the quality of genealogy websites and the data they contain. Of course, we want all the features mentioned above in a user-friendly package, but I think there is quite enough to start with above. Have I omitted anything vital? Do you agree with these criteria?

Before we can hold genealogy data suppliers accountable, we need to fairly assess whether what they offer is of sufficiently good quality for our purposes.  What constitutes ‘fit for purpose’ is open to debate.  I think genealogy data consumers would benefit from setting expectations and demanding quality, and that suppliers would benefit greatly from carefully considered feedback.

In the interest of collaboration between suppliers and consumers, I challenge you to review one data set using these criteria.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Reflections on Anzac Day

Donald Black Paterson.
AWM image DA16067 out of copyright.
In a few days, Australians and New Zealanders will commemorate a date of great importance in both our nations’ histories, Anzac Day. Since this is an international blog I thought it might be a good idea to talk a little about Anzac Day and why it’s significant to us. Of course this will be to a large extent my own perspective and the New Zealanders (aka Kiwis) will have somewhat different views and experiences, so please excuse my focus on this side of the Ditch.

Firstly, what does ANZAC even mean? It’s an acronym for Australia New Zealand Army Corps and represents the combined military forces of both nations that was mustered at the beginning of World War I, a key milestone for 2014. Historians, writers and family historians are bound to spend hours writing about matters military over the next few years.

Some of you may even wonder why Australia and New Zealand got involved in an overseas conflict. Both nations were of course British colonies though Australia had the dubious distinction of being a convict dumping ground for Britain after the American colonies gained independence. Although Australia had many immigrants from other nations, Britain was still seen as “home” or the “motherland” by many. Any conflict which affected the homeland affected us, ipso facto.

On top of which, Australia had only become an independent nation in 1901 albeit part of the the British Empire. We were involved in the Boer War also, but it wasn’t until 1915 at Gallipoli that our forces en masse were tested in battle to such a scale. Australia’s disenchantment at the motherland probably started there as the military strategies and planning of the British generals were called into question. At least 8,141 Australian men died during the Gallipoli campaign and there were over 26,000 casualties. One of those casualties was Peter’s paternal great-uncle, Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass, who was injured at Gallipoli. He was a professional soldier and went on to fight on the Western Front, but the loss of so many of his men at Fromelles destroyed him. There are many references to him in the book, Don’t Forget Me, Cobber[i].

Major WEH Cass (right) Gallipoli, Bolton's Ridge, Allah Gully
AWM Image A00862, out of copyright.

The call to arms was answered swiftly in Australia with men enlisting almost from the start of the war. My husband’s great uncle, Sydney Pentland, 21 years old and from Laen in rural Victoria enlisted on 19 September 1914 with the 8th Light Horse Battalion and arrived at Gallipoli in June 1915. As Light Horse Battalions, they had not been deemed suitable for the initial Anzac landing. He was taken to hospital in Malta in June 1915 ill with influenza, however his family were advised by letter that he had been wounded.

Sydney returned to Gallipoli once again in July. A bout of influenza in August saw Sydney evacuated once again, this time to Alexandria: the terrible conditions on Gallipoli were taking their toll on the men. He returned to Gallipoli on 25 October 1915 after he recovered. Sydney died on Gallipoli of shrapnel wounds to the skull on 1 November 1915. Sydney Pentland's name is among those on the Lone Pine Memorial. His brother Donald Black Pentland, 19 enlisted in June 1916 and died on the Western Front on 4 October 1917. He is remembered on the Ypres Memorial Gate.

Peter’s mother blamed Winston Churchill for the loss of her uncles, and no doubt the effect on her mother, Ellen, who I imagined shared her sentiments. Her personal vendetta and loathing continued throughout her life. We hope to visit both memorials later this year and place poppies against their names.

Postcard from the Fisher family's collection.
In many ways Sydney and Donald were typical of the Australian troops where many men came from country areas: the men were capable and skilled in their horse riding (hence so many Light Horse regiments), and also their use of rifles. For all their practical experience, they were innocent in so many ways, as evidenced by the simplicity of the games played on the long voyages to Europe and back.  The ship’s voyages are a great resource at the Australian War Memorial.

While the men’s primary motivation may have been responding to the call of the British Empire, at least some was a response to economic conditions, poor seasons, and the chance for what they thought was a grand adventure. As they set forth it was common for the men to be given some special gifts by the local community such as hair brushes, and my cousin Nora tells me her father Les was given a miniature prayer book which he later sent home to his sister. Christmas gifts, letters, and postcards kept the men in touch with their families at home in Australia.

Recruitment train at Wallumbilla, Qld c 1916.
AWM image HO2211. Copyright expired. 

No doubt some also visited relatives in Ireland or the United Kingdom while they were on furlough…at least some aunts, uncles and cousins would still have been alive in the places where their own families had left. Enlistment drives were held nation-wide via train or recruiting marches. Strangely to me, the men who returned seemed happy to encourage their fellows to enlist, despite what they themselves had seen.

The WWI Honour Board for the Catholic men of Crows Nest, Qld. Held by the Crows Nest Folk Museum and photographed and published with permission. It includes James Gavin (KIA) and his brothers. 

Uniquely, the Australians were all volunteers – even in the defeated mid-war referenda of 1916 and 1917 the serving soldiers believed that service should be voluntary even though they thought more men should answer the call. Interestingly there was strong representation from descendants of German settlers, despite the wartime hysteria. You can read my story about some of them here. Australia’s Indigenous servicemen have tended to be overlooked until recently: click on the link to read my story in 2013. Can anyone tell me if the New Zealanders were also all volunteers? I suspect it may have been all the ANZAC forces but it's not clear.

The Anzacs were known for their casual response to military discipline and rank and often found themselves in bother. However they were not subject to the British firing squads if they were court martialled.

A Digger is welcomed home in Sydney.
From the personal collection of the Fisher family.
Reproduced with permission.
It would be a rare family in Australia who had no one serving as an Anzac in World War I, and almost certainly no community was unaffected by loss, and memorials are scattered the length and breadth of the country. Many families had more than one son serving and some families lost more than one son, as did the Pentlands. The letters on the men’s service files are full of pathos as one reads of wives or families hoping for some small token of their sons or husbands, little understanding the sheer devastation of the battlefields. How they must have struggled to come to terms with the ambiguities of their loss.

When the men returned there was no real understanding of what they’d gone through, as there never really is after war…how can there be? National, home and local celebrations were held to honour them and in some places they were gifted with special memorial medals donated by the local community.

I apologise that this is a very Aussie-focused post. I’m really not knowledgeable enough about the impact and details on New Zealand to comment with any accuracy. Each year there is an Anzac Day blog theme (scroll down to see links for previous years) and for the past few years it’s been hosted by our Kiwi mates. I’ve written about my own, and my German interests often on my blog and you can find the stories through this link.

AUSTRALIAN CASUALTIES

From the Australian War Memorial site we get a sense of the contribution of this new nation.

From a national population of approx. 4.9 million, over 416, 809 Australians enlisted for representing 38.7% of the total male population aged between 18 to 44.[ii]
Outcome
Number affected
died
58,961
wounded
166,811
missing or prisoners of war
4,098
suffered from sickness
87,865
At almost 65%, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was among the highest of the war.

IN MEMORIAM
Remembering the men of our own families, and my research interests, who made the supreme sacrifice in WWI. The first two men were my grandfather’s cousins:
James Gavin enlisted 9 July 1915, KIA 19 July 1916 (Fromelles) buried Rue Petillon Cemetery, Fleurbaix.
James Paterson: enlisted 31 August 1915, died 5 April 1917 (Noreuil) on Villers-Brettoneux Memorial.
Sydney Pentland: Died of wounds 1 November 1915, (Gallipoli), Lone Pine Memorial
Jack Gavin: enlisted 4 September 1915, died 8 June 1917 at the Battle of Messines, buried Kandahar Farm Cemetery.

FURTHER RESEARCH

For those who would like to know more, these web sites are your first ports of call, though there are many others:
Australian War Memorial for embarkation lists, nominal rolls, war diaries and ship records.
Australian National Archives for digitised copies of the men’s service records.
Trove for stories sent home which lend a personal touch to the circumstances, and also letters sent back to family members at home.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission for information about the cemeteries where our ANZACS are buried or commemorated.

Happy Easter to everyone in Worldwide Genealogy, both readers and bloggers. 



[i] Don’t Forget Me, Cobber: the Battle of Fromelles 19/20 July 1916. Corfield, R S. Corfield and Company, Victoria 2000. (A cobber was an Australian term for a mate, now sadly almost disappeared from the vernacular language).
[ii] http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/enlistment/ww1/

Saturday, 19 April 2014

My Brick Wall Continues to Haunt me.

When I first started researching my family history, I asked my father, where did his grandfather come from?  His answer was "He came across the Mississippi River and he lost his wife and child while crossing.  My mother never talked about it."  I was also led to believe they were from Oklahoma...
How I began my journey back was written here on my blog.
Levi Edwin Gildon was my great grandfather.  His father was Charles R Gildon son of Charles Gildon born 16 Feb 1773 in Norwich Twp,New London,Connecticut to Richard Gildon and Issabelle.  I had found Charles R early on in Texas and found that he was born in Connecticut researching the censuses.  The birth I first found on the old FamilySearch.org IGI files.  The data is now found in the Indexed records "Connecticut, Births and Christenings, 1649-1906," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F74M-P76 : accessed 17 Apr 2014), Charles Gildon, 16 Feb 1773; citing ; FHL microfilm unknown.
There are several researchers who think his middle name could be Rawles... no rhyme nor reason for this. Why not Richard after his dad?  Which brings me to my mystery man, Richard Gildon.
Richard Gildon, as I said above, was first found on Vital Records in New London County, Connecticut as father to Charles. The next record I found was in "Record of service of Connecticut men in the I. War of the Revolution, II. War of 1812, III. Mexican War", Connecticut. Adjutant-General's Office; Johnston, Henry Phelps, 1842-1923 Hatford, Connecticut 1889 Page 6.
Found now on Archive.org;  https://archive.org/details/waroftherevolution00recorich
Richard was a responder from Canterbury to the call for defenders at the battle of Lexington. He was one of the minutemen.
Fold3, Revolutionary War Rolls, Connecticut, Chester's Regiment of Militia (1776 - 77) folder 201 page 58 
Then in the book, "Old Houses of Antient Norwich" Mary E Perkins, Norwich, Connecticut, 1895 pages 331 - 332, and 462, Richard is mentioned again.  He had a shop/home which is later identified as Charles Gildon leather shop, making fine saddles, gloves, etc.  Many wondered where Charles apprenticed.
After the revolutionary war, Richard does not appear in any records found so far.  His wife is the head of household in the first census. No notation in the books as to his possible demise or where he came from. I have kept an eye open to Virginia and the possibility of him traveling north from the Northern Neck of the land where a Charles Gildon b about 1750  married a Mary Dixon in 1771.
I dug around in old newspapers and found a possibility in a Pennsylvania Newspaper on Newspaper.com; Page 63 Richard Gilding, John McIntire 12/15 1768, English 25 breeches maker 4 days, Sunday, 2 pounds, 5'4-5.The Pennsylvania Gazette.  Gilding is an alternative spelling for Gildon and the leather working would work.
Then I found an advertisement in 1766 for letters waiting in Annapolis, Anne Arundel, Maryland, USA for a Richard Gildon.
My hopes are up that I will be able to prove these are my Richard, but much work is needed for proofs.  It was hoped by first researchers that his son Charles would tie them to Charles Gildon the writer, who wrote against the Pope.  A possibility, but I have never seen any children for Charles Gildon and his brother, Joseph, became a priest.  I would say the connection would more likely be that my Richard was a dissenter too and wanted to honor the writer.
There is also the possibility that his beginnings are hidden by misspelling of the last name as Gilden or Gilding.  All these variables keep me going back every once in a while with hopes for a break through that will take me across the pond to tie Richard to the many Gildons in England.
I am traveling again. Hailing from Idaho, US this time.




Friday, 18 April 2014

Happy Easter - 1916

This month my post is not about genealogy, but about an Easter postcard sent home from The Front during the First World War.

I am an avid collector of vintage postcards - I have been since I was a small child.  Over the years, I have gathered a large collection of cards ranging from topographical cards of English places to subject cards of cats and dogs.  My all time favourite type of postcard are the beautiful silk postcards sent home during the First World War by soldiers to their loved ones.  Most of these postcards were put into protective envelopes and sent back home to Blighty in the normal post.  It is for this reason that the majority of First World War silk postcards do not have any details about the recipient and so appear to have been unposted.

It seemed appropriate at Easter to post an image of one such postcard - sent home from a soldier to his mother in 1916.  All I know about the sender is that his name was "Stan" - I have no other detail about him. I hope he survived the war and returned home to his mother and family.  He must have written his postcard whilst "resting" - before moving back up to the Front and the horror of the trenches.

[Below is an exact transcription of the back of the postcard - including grammatical errors.]

Easter 1916 - Postcard from the Front

1916: Dear Mother and all at home.  Just a card hoping it will find you well I are. Pleased to say.  I are quite well and getting on allright there is little news I can tell only by the time you get this I will be in the trenches again.  From your loving son Stan.

Whoever you were, Stan,
an unknown soldier of the British Army,
I salute you, and hope you made it home. 



Happy Easter (Heureuses Paques) 
to the readers of this blog



*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

I look forward to sharing with you more of my discoveries over the coming months - see you next time on this blog on 18th May 2014. In the meantime, you can catch me on my blog Essex Voices Past or on twitter @EssexVoicesPast

You may also be interested on my previous posts on this blog


© Essex Voices Past 2014

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Family Heirlooms and Memories Traveling Style

This month Man and I will be wandering from East Tampa back to SE Michigan to our stick built home.  I hope to do a bit of research along the way, maybe visit some friends and family along the way and see some "new to us" sights.

Family history is a large part of who I am and what I do.  And, I live in a RV for months on end.  I don't want to just leave all of my memories, heirlooms and such back in Michigan.  I want them with me, if possible, in some form.

So, I thought I would share a few of my ideas with you, how I take my family history with me.

One way is the photo headboard in Tana's bedroom.  These are small framed mirrors, the mirrors being covered with family photos.  I can change them out if I want to.  Man and I get a lot of joy out of this "headboard", his parents, my parents, and our children and grandchildren reside here.


We also have some framed photos I can put out, and a digital photo frame.

Over the years I have been blessed to have been given a number of family heirlooms.  I have to leave them behind in the stick built home while we travel in our rolling home, Tana.  Sometimes I do miss having my family artifacts around me.  I found a way to get around the times that my heart yearns for connectivity to my family and the heirlooms.  I have on my data base, Legacy, a special field/fact I have developed called, "Heirlooms".  I photo heirlooms I have care of, and place the photos in this fact.  I can then look at the photos of them any time my little heart desires.  Here, for example are some old bottles out of the family farm in Virginia.


Or how about this lovely wooden bucket that was produced at the plant my grandfather worked at for many years, my father procured it and gave it to me:


When I am feeling a little homesick, open Legacy, have a long healthy look. Works for me every time.

(By the way, I wrote about this back in October of 2011 when I was still using RootsMagic for my data base.  You can read about it here.  This graphic is from the RootsMagic version, in reality, it is not that much different in Legacy.)


One of my favorite "take the family memories with us" tricks is to take plants with me.  Here is a box full in travel mode.  They are packed tightly in a waterproof box.  When we stop for a week, they are taken out and set about the RV.


Inside that box are two spider plants, here is one.  They were given to me by my grandmother many, many years ago.


This philodendron is from Man's mother.


This, which I cannot remember the name of, was a gift from one of our sons.  Yes, it is blooming.  This photo was taken during the first week of April 2014.


I also happen to carry another box of plants, violets, a favorite house plant of mine.

Carrying my family with me when I travel, a very good thing.


 

.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Ancestral April Fool



Laughing fool, c 1500 (via Wikimedia)
This April, I've been fooled by a name.

I've started researching my father's grandmother's family, who lived in the same area of West Wales for - well, if you believe old family stories, many centuries. I've been looking for great-grandmother Sarah Davies, born in Llandyssilio[gogo], Cardiganshire, between 1853 - 56. And I thought I'd found her in the 1861, 1871 and 1881 Wales censuses. In 1881 this Sarah was living in an old farmhouse that's been in the family for generations. Right name, right age, right birthplace, right-looking address.

Wrong Sarah. I found her in the same house in 1891, but with the married surname James. 'My' Sarah had married Rhys Lloyd of Llandyssil/Llandysul before then.

We can all follow false trails. It's so easy to be fooled by the 'right' details. The fact that my ancestors were unadventurous in their naming doesn't help. Half my foremothers were called Sarah or Elizabeth, and a lot of the men were Thomases. And of course finding a married woman's maiden name can just complicate things even more. Poor Sarah has gone back into my 'to do' file, and I'm picking myself up, dusting my research off, and starting all over again.

There's an up-side, though, with names and false trails. I'm guessing that if you've looked at online family trees which have your own ancestors in them, you'll have found some cuckoos in the nest. A John Jones married 10 years after he was buried, perhaps, or a Jane Smith who emigrated in 1865 when records show she never moved from her Scottish birthplace. They're in your family's tree, but they don't belong there - and you have the documentary proof.

I've got my own cuckoos in the family nests. For instance, my 3xgreat-grandfather, Nicholas Delaney - the one who got me interested in genealogy - was transported from Ireland to Australia in 1802, and married Elizabeth Bayly (Bayley, Bailey) in 1808.

Reed warbler feeding cuckoo (Wikimedia)
A look at some family trees have him married before, in Ireland, to a woman with a very 'modern' looking name. Now fair enough, a name could be spelled in plenty of different ways, like Elizabeth's surname in the last paragraph. But when it looks extremely 20th century, like Kathryn, Debra or Barbra, you have to go 'hmm'. And if her second name is also not what you'd expect in rural Ireland in the 18th century - Jay, Kay or Dee, for instance - well, it's time for a pinch of salt.

It turns out that this cuckoo wife was born in the US (and would have had to cross the Atlantic as a young woman to live in deepest County Wicklow in order to meet and marry Nicholas). Digging a little deeper into her history, I find she was born in the mid-20th century. How she ended up in Nicholas's tree in the 1790s, I do not know.

So in this case the name is a hint that you need to look very closely at the proof for this claimed 'relative' - which Worldwide Genealogists would do anyway, of course!

When I start searching for great-grandmother Sarah Davies again, I plan to use names as clues. I've said that my lot were all very traditional in the forenames they chose, so maybe they followed traditional naming patterns, at least for the first few children (many of them had traditional large families, too).

In many parts of the UK, couples would use this pattern, strictly or loosely, until the later 19th century:

1st son - named after the father's father
2nd son - mother's father
3rd son - father
4th son - father's eldest brother


1st daughter -
named after the mother's mother
2nd daughter - father's mother
3rd daughter - mother
4th daughter - mother's eldest sister


Of course, it's never that simple in real life. Some people used variations on this pattern. Some only followed it for the first few children. Some didn't use it at all. Parents who were firstborns could choose another sibling's name for baby number four. Children could be named after other relatives, a powerful local family, royals, role models or political figures. And if someone had fallen out with a parent or sibling they might well not want to name their baby after its spiteful granny or criminal uncle.

Still, I'm glad of any clues which might help me track down those elusive ancestors hiding away in the records.

I'm looking at you, Sarah.


Apologies to all my fellow Worldwide Genealogy bloggers - in its wisdom Blogger/Blogspot has decided not to let me make comments once again. I thought I'd sorted out the glitches! (Sigh...) So I just wanted to let you know that I'm enjoying your writing and all the inspiring ideas and information. And please do comment on this post. I'd love to hear from you - I just won't be able to chat!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Can We Step up to the Challenge

How Are Your Analysis Skills?

 Background

Pat Richley-Erickson Aka DearMYRTLE posted a challenge to any of her followers/readers on her blog on 2nd April 2014 (1) .
In this post I want to discuss how I approached this, and how on reviewing, I discovered I had issues when analysing my sources.
If you are not aware I am one of the panellists discussing Mastering Genealogical Proof (2) in Study Group 2 a hangout on air recording being held on Sundays. (Schedule available on DearMYRTLE blog (3)) So this challenge is putting any knowledge I have retained from these discussions to the test.

Preparation

Deciding what to write about to create an interesting but not too lengthy post was my first challenge. I have plenty of sources but which ones do I use and should I approach this as a new researcher should and decide on what question I wanted to answer. One might think this was an easy thing to do but like many new researchers I found these sources with an almost "scattergun" approach and it can take something to look at them outside of what is recorded in the standard genealogy software programs.
After at least one failed attempt this was the question I came up with " Who were the siblings and parents of my grandmother who was orphaned? ".
The 3 documents were a birth certificate, census and orphanage document.

Reasons for not publishing

Before I finished writing my post whilst in the process of writing my citations I realised that 2 of the sources I was about to use had the same author.
Both the Birth Certificate and the letter for the orphanage were created by the Superintendent Registrar for Warminster and he had signed both documents.

My original hypothesis to the question about what siblings my grandmother had would have been incorrect. I only ever knew she had one brother, if you look at the census record she is the youngest of 5 children (4). The next question was why had I only ever known the 1 brother.
I should have laid out what I knew about my grandmother and possibly cited this as personal knowledge. I could have also cited her son and daughters for the additional information they had provided.

Also, in retrospect, I had set a question whose parameters were much too broad.
My research question could have been as simple as When was my grandmother born? or Who were her parents?.

In my attempt to show what I had found I had not considered how I had got there.
The records I have contain a large amount of useful information, much of it can be classed as primary. But the number of documents I will need to cite, to fully build my conclusions for the question I originally posed, will most certainly exceed the three I was initially going to use.

I hope that this exercise has shown that we not only need to analyse the documents that we use but we need to think about how we obtained them and have they answered the question that we originally wanted to answer. Why the records were originally created, is a question we need to ask if we do not wanted to duplicate sources from the same informant.

So are YOU and your ANALYSIS SKILLS up to the CHALLENGE if so then please join in.

We can all benefit from peer review and even if you don't plan to publish your research in a recognised journal it is well worth it for the thought process it takes to put your case.

When I get more time in the coming week I hope to step up to this challenge and I will post a link in the comments. 


References

  1. http://blog.dearmyrtle.com/2014/04/the-ragu-challenge-3-2-1-cite.html
  2. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 6. [Book available from the publisher at http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/mastering_genealogical_proof ]
  3. 1901 census of England, Wiltshire, Warminster, Christchurch parish, folio 37 recto, p.9, household 53, Edmond Compton; digital image, Find My Past (http://new.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed 5th April 2014) ; citing PRO RG13 /1943

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Thoughts in the Midst of the A - Z Challenge

I am so bogged down in the A - Z Challenge this month, that I decided to write some of my current thoughts. For the A - Z Challenge this year I've been publishing postcards and letters that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother before they were married. They cover 1907 to 1912. I'm finding it frustrating to have to put them up out of chronological order in order to fulfill the A - Z part of the challenge.

One of the postcards I didn't use for "E"

 Even though I was able to do a bit of organizing before the challenge began, I find that I don't have time to do the research I usually do for posts.  In fact, I scrapped some of my original ideas and looked for simpler cards to post that would require less research. 


The visiting of other blogs in the challenge is a big hoopla part of the challenge, although for me the main reason for participating in the challenge is posting everyday and looking for interesting bits in my research I might not have noticed.  With over 2,000 blogs participating, I've found it difficult to find blogs that grab me. Maybe I'm just tuckered out! I'm all caught up so I think today I will take some time to interact with the living family members.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Visiting Past Connections - a reflection on the influence of the gold rush on our family history


Peter McGregor
Last weekend I was visiting family in Queanbeyan and to follow up on my family tree research on the McGregor and McDonald branches of my family tree I thought it would be a good idea to visit the old gold mining district of Braidwood, Majors Creek and Araluen.  My sister and I decided to take our mother on a Saturday afternoon drive.  Our plan was to see if we could find the gravestone of our great great great grandfather Peter McGregor (1809-1882) who arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1849  and along with his family settled in the Araluen district.  Peter McGregor is the grandfather of the "McGregor Sisters" who feature in my blog "The Other Half of My  Tree: stories of my female ancestors." 

As we drove through the undulating country side, past the rivers that still bear the scars of the bygone mining 
View of the Araluen Valley

days I pondered on the significance of past gold mining days and how it played such a significant part in the development our family history. As with many countries, the discovery of gold and other minerals has played a significant role in our countries.  In fact I would go so far as to say that the discovery of gold was a turning point in our history, and therefore pivotal in our own family stories.

The itinerant life of miners and their families leaves us with a difficult, though interesting story to trace.  Many of the gold miners left on a whim to seek their fortunes in the gold fields, and if at first they were not successful the moved on to new diggings.  Others finding the life too arduous or unprofitable, sought a living in other areas such as farming or providing services to the miners, while others moved on to the cities. One side of my father’s family made their living carting with horse and bullock trains in this district.  Three generations of this family were responsible for moving  mining equipment, timber and supplies from Araluen and other towns in the district, to Braidwood and from Braidwood down the Clyde mountain to the port village of Nelligen. 

our map
As we drove down the steep windy road into the Araluen valley I couldn’t help but think of how difficult this must have been for fully laden buggy on dirt tracks of the mid 1800’s.  The views down into the valley were quite spectacular, and we finally arrived in the sleepy settlement of Araluen with just a few houses scattered amongst the green fields.  It was hard to believe that in the 1860-1870’s this area was a booming settlement with the reputation as being one of the richest goldfields in NSW and Australia.  There were as many as 20 pubs scattered through the mine fields and by the 1870s the settlement could boast some 20 butchers, a number of general stores, bakers, shoemakers, blacksmiths as well as a number of churches to serve the different denominations of the population. 


After dropping into the small pub on the highway to get directions to the two cemeteries (nicely drawn on a
flooded creek
scrap of paper) we headed off to find Peter McGregor’s gravestone.  Luckily we had our little map as the cemeteries were certainly off the beaten track.  As I thought it was more likely that Peter McGegor would have been buried in the Anglican Cemetery we headed there first, turning off on to a dirt track, over a cattle ramp, as far as the small creek which was surrounded by mounds left over from the mining days.  To our dismay, the creek was flooded and we weren’t able to get through to the cemetery.  How disappointing!! 

catholic cemetery - Araluen
Not to be put off, we headed back out to the road and turned on to another dirt track, making our way through numerous puddles and over many bumps, till we came to the small Catholic cemetery, sitting on a hill out in the middle of the valley.  Quite a spectacular resting place with the hazy mountains in the background.

It was time to move on to another small mining town, Majors Creek. This was one of the small gold mining settlements that our forefathers had lived in, and there is still a working gold mine there today.  Here we found the lovely old St Stephens Church which was built in the 1870's. 

After snapping a few photos, we drove out of the town over the old stone bridge which was built by Peter Rusconi, the same master mason who build St Stephens Church.  As we crossed the bridge, we could see along the river evidence of the diggings that were once the gold mines of the 1800's.

main street of Briadwood
War Memorial
Our last stop was the beautiful little historical town of Braidwood . It was time for some refreshment and to take a few pictures of the lovely old historical buildings in the main street as well as visit the Braidwood War Memorial which has our great-grandfather Malcolm Michael Shepherd listed on it.

Unfortunately, we were not successful in finding Peter McGregor's grave. This will have to wait for another day, however, it was wonderful to drive through the area and visit the little settlements that were so important in the lives of our family members past and to reflect on how the discovery of gold in this area has shaped our family history.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fascination of Old Newspapers: 1

I love browsing through old newspapers. They are goldmines, full of snippets of information that give a contemporary eye view The reports and the advertisements enable us to glean life as it was at that moment in time.  It  is not textbook history, recorded in the conventional manner, but the content  is full of vigour on many varied aspects of life for ordinary people in the 19th century - and essential background material in adding colour to  writing family history narratives, beyond the basic names and dates. 

The  “Random Gleanings” below have been drawn  from old newspapers of the Scottish Borders, grouped by topic.   In this first of a series,  I will be taking a look at:
Accidents,  Art & Entertainment, Crime and Punishment and Emigration

 ACCIDENTS
“SELKIRK - CARLISLE MAIL OVERTURNED.  On Saturday morning, about half-past one o’clock, the Carlisle mail, when about a mile and a half beyond Selkirk, on its way from Edinburgh, was suddenly overturned, and several of the passengers considerably injured.  In particular, one gentleman named Waterson, and another named Macdowall, both inside passengers, had each a leg broken. Among the inside passengers was Mr. R. B. Blyth of Edinburgh, who escaped with a slight bruise on the left side. Messrs Waterson and Macdowall being rendered unable to proceed on their journey were conveyed back to Selkirk, where they still remain under surgical treatment. It is not exactly known how the accident occurred.” (Kelso Chronicle:  12 April 1833) 


HAWICK - SERIOUS ACCIDENT AT WILTON MILL.  It becomes our painful duty to record a serious accident that occurred at the above establishment on the forenoon of Wednesday last. While David Fiddes, scourer, was in the act of oiling part of the shafting that propels one waulk-mill, a pump, and a washing mill, his right hand and arm unfortunately became entangled between two iron wheels, which completely crushed them to jelly. Fortunately, he extricated himself in an instant; otherwise his life would at once have been forfeited. Being immediately taken home, he was promptly attended by Drs. Douglas and Lee, who at once proceeded to amputate the mutilated limb, about midway between the wrist and the elbow. The poor sufferer stood the operation with unshaken firmness; and so far as the present is concerned, his life is out of danger. No blame can be all attached to the proprietors, as the wheels were completely boxed in; and the only cause of regret is the temerity of the suffering patient, who ought to have oiled the shafting when at rest, and by no means when in motion. We hope that in future greater caution will be observed, so that these calamities may be of rare occurrence, if not altogether obviated.”

(Kelso Chronicle:  7 March 1845).



ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT  


“KELSO - PANORAMA OF THE WAR:   From an advertisement in another part of our impression, it will be seen that Mr Burford intends to visit this town next week, with his panorama of the war in the Baltic and Black Sea. This work of art, comprising 16,000 square feet of canvas, and moved by machinery, gives a representation of some of the most interesting events in the present fearful struggle. At the present time it can scarcely fail to be an object of attraction to our townsfolks.” (Kelso Chronicle:  3 August 1855) 

 “HAWICK – PHOTOGRAPHY:  Who will venture to say that this is not the age of inventions, and improvements on old inventions – decidedly an age of progress? Amongst the more recent discoveries in science, photography attracts at present more attention than perhaps any other. Every one has heard of it, and not a few of every class know something about it. Even men who, from the nature of their employment, were least likely to turn their attention to it, are nevertheless studying the art not only for pleasure, but many of them with a view to profit, and already have they to a certain extent realized their object.  Even in this comparatively small town several individuals, by remarkable perseverance, aided it is true, by good natural talents, have become adepts in the art..  (Kelso Chronicle:  3 August 1853)



“LILLIESLEAF - MAGIC LANTERN ENTERTAINMENT. A very interesting and amusing entertainment was given by Mr Birrell in the Currie Memorial Hall on Friday evening. Several short stories were read, and beautifully illustrated be means of a powerful oil lantern A number of comic and catastrophic slides were also exhibited. The whole entertainment was much enjoyed by over 250 children from the village and district, and several; ladies and gentlemen. Mrs Birrell rendered valuable assistance in the manipulation of the slides.”  (Southern Reporter:  10 March 1892)

CRIME & PUNISHMENT

 “HAWICK - DARING ROBBERY:  Betwixt Friday evening and Saturday morning last, two excellent webs of blue and white plaiding check, each of them upwards of 50 yards in length, were taken off the tenters of Messrs. Dickson and Laing, Wilton Mill. A reward of £10 has been offered for the discovery of the perpetrators of this heinous offence, who there is reason to believe, from the state the tenters were left, have not been unaccustomed to the work.”  (Kelso Chronicle:  16 May 1845) 





 “SELKIRK:  In the Sheriff Court of Selkirk, on the 11th inst,. Mary Bell, who was accused of theft at Mountbengerknow on the 29th January, last, was brought before the Court and a Jury, and having confessed her guilt, she was sentenced to three weeks’ imprisonment in the Jail of Selkirk, from this date. ----- James Dryden, residing in Selkirk, was brought before the Sheriff-Substitute on the 7th instant, on a complaint at the instance of the Inspector under the Poor Rates for the parish, for having deserted and failed to maintained his wife, and was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in the prison of Selkirk. (Kelso Chronicle: 13 March 1846)




“HAWICK – PILFERING:  A boy of the name of Miller was taken into custody, and lodged in the jail here on Saturday, for stealing eggs out of a cart. We think some plan should be adopted for bringing the idle boys that frequent our streets into industrious habits, as it is a well known fact that all the boys who have been convicted and banished from this town for the last twelve years, commenced their career in crime by stealing from fruit carts and pilfering from shops.”  (Border Watch:  14 May 1846)


 “BERWICK - SMUGGLING OF WHISKY:  On Saturday last the excise officers made a seizure of six bottles of whisky concealed in a gentleman’s luggage, who came hither by the North British Railway, and was proceeding to London."
(Kelso Chronicle: 4 Sept. 1846)


 “STATISTICS OF GREENLAW PRISON FOR THE YEAR 1848.  Committals 148; males 186; females 12, of which there were committed for assault 71, theft 24, riotous conduct 13,  begging 7,  malicious mischief 7,  sheep stealing 1,  rape 1,  illegal fishing in the Tweed 1,  poaching 5, falsehood, fraud, and wilful imposition 3,  deserting wife or child, under the New Poor Law Act 2,  culpable homicide 1, contempt of court 1,  robbery 1, lying down on the North British Railway 1,  indecent exposure 1, harbouring vagrants 1, breach of trust and embezzlement 1,  bigamy 1,  females deserting their children 2, deserter 1, lunatics 2.  The committals for 1847 were 78 males and 19 females (97) - 1848 thus exhibited the startling increase of 51 over the preceding year. 



The number of cases of assault stands very high, 71, being 42 above the number for the same offences for 1847 – almost all these may be said to have originated in intoxication. While nearly one-third of the males in the preceding list could neither read nor write, it is worthy of remark that only one-sixth of the females were so deficient.



The greatest number confined at any one time during the year was 30, nearly double the greatest number in the proceeding year. In comparing this report with the return for 1847, and more particularly with some of the former years, the great increase (51) would seem to place the formally peaceable agricultural county of Berwick in a very unfavourable point of view, were not that a great proportion of the crimes have been committed by strangers called into the county by the demand for labourers on the lines of railway formed and in the course of forming.”  (Kelso Chronicle: 2 March 1849)



"DRUNK IN HAWICK. Yesterday- Before Provost Milligan. Gilbert Oliver, labour, Baker Street, who was considered to be past redemption, having made his 66th appearance, was sentenced to three days imprisonment for being drunk.” Hawick Express:  4 January 1890)
 

Note:  Bearing in mind that Hawick had around 15 churches, a Salvation Army Corps, several mission halls, Christian Brethren, and a long established Total Abstinence Movement, it is surprising therefore, that Provost Milligan should consider that Gilbert Oliver was “past redemption".



EMIGRATION


“HAWICK - EMIGRATION. There is likely to be a very considerable emigration from this Town to Australia during the present summer. The parties are generally masons, joiners, and mechanics, and the most industrious and sober men in the place. It is very probable that the circumstances of several parties from this neighbourhood having realised large fortunes in a very short period may have some influence in producing this movement.



As a proof we may state that upwards of 60 chests of drawers belonging to families about to emigrate have been sold by public roup during the course of the present spring, and there are yet a good many safes to come before Whitsunday. Many of those who have gone have left their families behind them, so eager are people to get away from the mother country. Nearly 50 have departed this week, all of them in good spirits. These are chiefly for Australia. Their departure has given occasion to numerous marks of respect. There have been emigrants’ balls, emigrants’ suppers, and not a few testimonials of a more solid description have been given.”.  (Hawick Monthly Advertiser:  4 May 1854) 




“EMIGRATION TO QUEENSLAND

BY STEAMER

 FREE PASSAGES are granted to FEMALE SERVANTS, Housemaids, Laundresses, Cooks, &c., of good character, between 17 and 35 years of age, on payment of £1 for ship it, and fare to depot in London, all of whom are in great demand in the Colony, and receive wages from £20 to £50 per annum, and board and lodging. An experienced Matron accompanies each steamer, and on arrival, passengers are received into the Government depot, free of cost.



Assisted passages are also granted to approved females, such as nurses, seamstresses, &c., and to labourers whose labour is connected with the land, such as ploughmen, gardeners, miners, navvies.

    

Forms of application, rates of passage, handbooks, and all other information may be obtained on application to

THE AGENT-GENERAL FOR QUEENSLAND,

Westminster Chambers,

                                          1 Victoria Street, London, S.W.


(Advertisement in the Hawick Express:  30 November 1889) 

********
Over the coming months, look out for further 
Random Gleanings from Newspapers Past
  

With a big thank you to local historian Gordon Macdonald  for his contributions.