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The Importance Of Feedback

We can navigate our way quickly and effortlessly through many of the bigger challenges of life, but may agonize over how to best style our writing and speaking depending on the topic and audience. Because many of us have far too little practise in the latter as we’re growing up, we never really hone these skills to then feel confident. The thought of having others evaluate our presentation skills can be really nerve wracking!

Consequently many people feel overwhelmed and decline when asked to write or speak, even when they may be the best qualified person to do so – whether professionally or personally such as at a friend’s wedding. A familiar audience is easier to prepare for and they’re far more forgiving if your phrasing is clumsy, your word choice poor or your conclusion sounds weak and unsure. However small  and familiar the audience, it can still be far too intimidating an experience.

As a blogger, when your audience is not made up of prospective work clients or guests at an event, but an invisible global online audience, everything changes. Any nervousness get puts aside; we don’t have eyes directly upon us, hear people chatting up the back or worry that the applause sounded too brief. We can veto comments and silence our critics.

Social media allows us to be in control – we get choose our topic, our angle, our writing style and publish it. We can continually rehearse and edit a video clip until we’re happy, or delete it later. When writing, there can be continual review and editing before uploading it without any time constraints. We can be nameless or craft a clever nom de plume, be as creative as we like, promote it or keep it very low key.

Delivery of our message is then without pressure, but without feedback how do we know if our message been delivered to anyone?

Unless you have a large number of followers, there probably won’t be the immediate and resounding feedback from an in-person audience or any feedback perhaps since in cyberspace your musings may not be seen by anybody. Ever! Your blog post could go viral perhaps, but there is simply SO much content – more than anyone could read in a lifetime.

So despite the enormity of the global online audience it can be very elusive and quiet. For some bloggers, that is a much scarier outcome than presenting in person. As blogging can also used as a form of social media, in order for it to be social, it needs interaction between writers and readers.

Engage, just like in the real world!

As you trawl through various blogs and invariably like what you’ve read, hit that “LIKE” button. Add a comment. Liking costs nothing, is fast, easy, doesn’t commit you to anything but encourages the continued sharing of thoughts and knowledge.

As with any form of social media, don’t save your “likes” for that one-in-a-million post, or you may find that those had inspired you may close their accounts.   Just as we want people to respond favorably to our Instagram, Facebook or blog uploads, we have to be prepared to do the same for others. Reciprocating is obviously good manners, and promotes the confidence in others to keep going.

Putting your thoughts out there online may be less nerve wracking than in the real world, but without feedback, we really don’t know if we’re talking to anyone. Feedback is essential to nurture confidence and keep the dialogue flowing.

Getting feedback can be scary. Not getting any is much worse!

Location, location, location!

We take for granted today the relative ease and affordability that one can be transient, especially when single or in a couple without children. May jobs permit or even require us to be mobile.

A common mistake in researching family history is to assume our ancestors  simply relocated as we may today to a new home in another village, town or to the opposite end of the country. We may find records that are a match in name only, and excitedly apply them to our tree as they seem to conveniently fit. We can’t apply ideas about the way we live today – people a few centuries ago didn’t have the luxury of moving for a retirement by the sea, or receiving a promotion providing they move to another city.

Certainly some were shipped out of their country against their will, or willingly moved country due to famine or the lure of gold. Then there were many who had no choice but to fight in battles, whereby they disappeared completely or were located as a casualty of war somewhere very far from home. Criminals would happily ‘disappear’ and unmarried pregnant women would often temporarily move before their pregnancy became visible, better employment in the next village may have been secured, or a marriage may have meant relocation to the next village or parish.

Typically the average person didn’t move far, as even without the variety of many and bulky possessions we have today, they didn’t wish to leave the security of their kinship group. They also often relied on the family business for their employment. The actual process of moving was tricky; before the convenience of public transport, unless you owned a horse and cart you had to walk.

So you will have to consider – how ‘portable’ were your ancestors in the era that they lived?

This will have a very different answer depending on whether you’re considering a household 50 years ago, 150 years ago or 500 years ago, what country they were living in, their occupation and financial capacity to move.

Research and consider carefully what was going on.

What was happening in their immediate area that may have prompted a move? Or the wider area, such as with the Industrial Revolution which saw many move from scattered homes in the countryside and small villages into the bigger towns. Were there battles, plagues, famine?  Did your ancestors have the financial capacity to move? Were there any family scandals or stories that may give clues?  A change in financial circumstances may cause someone to become a pauper and homeless, whereby they may relocate to the nearest poorhouse or workhouse. Religion could have seen your ancestors being persecuted and moving accordingly.

Your genealogy ‘thinking cap’ will be tested! Remember, the further back in time you’re looking the more difficult it was for a person and family to move  and thus not a decision to take lightly.

They may have lived in an era when arranged or parental approved marriages were the norm. Wealthier families often married from within their extended family, and also cast their view countrywide when considering a suitable spouse for their offspring. This meant that sometimes a married couple had grown up a great distance apart, and any pre-marriage records of them obviously won’t be in the same place.

In early times, at a moments’ notice, Lords of the manor would send the men from their villages off to battle. Many a free man once recorded in deeds, jury rolls and church records disappeared, without any record of their death much less burial. Or they may turn up in records on the other side of the country where they are imprisoned, fined or found to have married.

Marriages may have been typically at the bride’s church – often but not always the same as the groom’s – but the couple generally would live where the groom had come from. So if the groom was from another town, the bride who you were researching would be most likely to appear in records of another town, parish or state. Of course this wasn’t always so, but may apply to the place and time you’re investigating.

First born sons into well off families inherited the family home and land assets, while later born sons would frequently find themselves provided with a smaller or less favorable landholding which may see them attending another church, resulting in brothers appearing in records of two different churches.

Certain occupations meant that the person would travel, often and far such as a sailor or merchant. Generally though this was not the case. If you know the occupation, consider how likely then it would be for them to suddenly turn up a long way from home, and that you may be looking at the wrong person. Investigate thoroughly, as although there may be logical explanation as to why they have relocated, but you may discover your ancestor never left at all.

Sometimes people who seemed to move did not at all. The Industrial Revolution didn’t just prompt moves from the country, it also saw villages merge together or into the nearest town so place names changed rather than your ancestor moving residence. Countries and territories that changed name after wars would again mean that people who did not move may have seemed to have disappeared from their location. Sometimes small spelling variations and errors meant your ancestor has become temporarily ‘lost’ because of a few small spelling details until your modify the way you search for them.

And of course, sometimes a person or family is hidden from our sight because they were accidentally missed by the person transcribing a census or other documents – they will simply not up in our searching via databases but only by meticulously going through the actual records.

Your ancestor may in fact be exactly where they were all along!

Get Some Records!

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Empty shelves? Few of us are lucky enough to have many physical records that are older than a generation or two. So we have to go hunting, and typically find after speaking with relatives we quickly hit that first wall which sends us to a genealogy site to help us. Soon there are new walls, or we are overwhelmed by the numerous potential people all sharing our ancestor’s name in the local area, and are unsure of how to isolate our ancestor.

This is a perfect time to look through information contained in records beyond what is available on searchable databases such as with Ancestry. Many of the following are able to read in part or in full, and sometimes for free. Unfortunately you will find that you can only access certain information by travelling and physically reading the items, or paying for a reproduction of the material – and its freight – so you can read it at home, but sometimes we’re lucky and for less than a plane ticket can pay to download it to our computers – wonderful!

Remember, even if a record does not reference your ancestor or his kinsman it can still be enlightening about what life was like in their immediate area. This can be as valuable as the names themselves. By understanding how their local area was broken up into named smaller pockets or villages that no longer exist, you can better begin the process of elimination. For example, a parish record noting Mr X was not simply buried, but was noted of a specific mill, farm or part of the village, you may be able to see via old maps and census information a clearer picture of whether whether Mr X, Y or Z was the patriarch of your great grandparent’s home.

  • Early books about a town or area can be full of facts, perceptions, and illustrations which even if not about your ancestor can provide wonderful insight into the place and time they lived in. Some have pedigrees but be aware, that while many are correct you will find that there can be errors and omissions so it’s best to try to locate records from B.D.&M.’S  or legal documents such as rolls (see below) to support information. If available in a text format, old books and documents are more easily searchable by using the “Find” option in your browser – key in the place or family name and the information is very quickly scanned for results. Be sure though to then read properly what exactly is being said – context is everything.  Bookmark or save to ‘favourites’ the webpage so you can revisit and reference it if required.
  • Old maps can be a goldmine of information showing former names of villages and regions, landmarks, old mansions, estate names, mines or mills since filled in or demolished where your ancestors may have worked. Some even show the names of woods, farmlets, springs and pockets of land which had names at that time but not anymore.
  • Old newspapers can offer more than information in stories and the  classifieds. Advertisements may refer the family’s workplace or own business, giving addresses and even some illustrations.
  • Lists of benefactors, and those directly involved in building schools, churches – any other public works – and even sometimes the official gardener can be found mentioned in reproduced books online or websites about the history of the building or local area.
  • If you’re looking in England also refer to Domesday, the Visitations, occupational directories, hearth tax records, reports after a disaster, plague outbreak etc. I found a very detailed account after an outbreak of disease that focused on the area within one km from some ancestors that gave valuable information about the living conditions and the area.

Legal records, from court cases to land transactions give more than context but sometimes name an ancestor or their kinsman as a witness, plaintiff or defendant. These may be more recent and readily accessible, but before newspapers there was still a wealth of information being recorded.

  • Manorial Records include books, documents, maps, surveys, legal matters and court rolls within the administrative area governed by the manor. A manor was not simply a landed estate, mansion with the immediate surrounds, but the area and communities well outside it that its Lord ‘governed’. The boundaries could be very large and irregular so well worth finding out exactly what manor a village or town you’re interested in was in rather than assuming. You can determine from them names of men on juries and witnessing deeds that they were free men, what was regarded as an offence and responsibilities of various office bearers. Legal documents relating to changes in ownership or rent of land, or paying heriot – payment made on the death of a tenant, usually by an immediate family member – can give insight into relationships.
  • Get to know some of the terminology, and keep a list of words with explanations handy as you continue to encounter them. The Bailiff for example oversaw the day-to-day running of a manor, and being a form of public office he had to be a free man, not a villein. A villein was a tenant who occupied land but conditional to their performing services for the lord of the manor – they had no rights and could not even marry or leave the manor without permission.
  • Search online for Rolls that cover the area where your ancestors lived. There are several types, and they reference – grants of property which are witnessed (charter rolls), grants of land and wardship (patent rolls), grants of marriage and wardship (fine rolls) and close rolls which reference enrollments of private deeds and writs. While this may sound like difficult and tedious reading, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can decipher and discover many of the goings-on in the neighborhood directly effecting your ancestors, or even naming them.
  • Countries other than England have no shortage of such records, and through historical and genealogy associations’ website can advise what they have and how you can access it. With Google Translate there is no excuse to say you can’t read the language!
  • Many old books and documents (reproductions) can be purchased from specialist suppliers and sometimes through Amazon and Ebay. Choose carefully and with purpose to ensure you are not disappointed by buying the wrong volume and thus the wrong time frame, or that the very same book is already in your own State Library. I have nearly done both, realizing a potential error just in time!

A broad range of records is more likely to reveal specific names you’re seeking and enriches your understanding of your family’s passage through history.

Getting ‘Sticky’ Before Committing

Before committing names and dates of a new person on a family tree there are many ways to make our notes as we test relationships. We’ve probably all tried pencilling and rubbing out on large sheets for draft trees and quickly discovered that we’ve rubbed holes through the paper!

Some villages and towns have a few too many possible candidates to be the great, great grandparent I’m looking for, or I can’t immediately connect certain family groups. I can’t add them to my tree, but I don’t want to ‘lose’ my research about them either. I have learned the hard way and lost potential ancestors despite saving them in a massive number of bookmarked webpages careful organised into folders or Excel sheets.

I like to use sticky or post-it-note on large rolls of paper placed chronologically like in the photo to see visually and quickly the potential people / households in a specific location who may be related to each other and ultimately, me!

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Snippets of research on sticky notes are quick to review, add to or remove!

This is so much easier than progressively adding information and attaching records to your official tree about a person which then later needs removing after finding the individual was from another family nearby, even if related.

I keep a large roll of paper per village, and then create a bit of a map or timeline with the sticky notes. Extra information can be jotted in to assist in seeing patterns and it doesn’t take long before a picture emerges about how these people connect – or don’t! Data on 2 or 3 sticky notes may be combined, set aside, or after further research and careful evaluation be added to my proper tree.

Depending on the type of genealogy information we’re collecting, we need to record it differently but still want to access and adjust it easily. Sticky notes give me a quick and easy way to see and of ‘shift’ individuals, couples, households around as we consider if they belong in our family tree.

What do you do?

Travelling To Trace Your Past

The day trip or long haul journey to trace your past is locked in. Before you pack your bags and create a schedule of the repositories, cemeteries and former family homes you want to visit …prepare for the less obvious! You might still have a great time, but return home without any family history progress made, or worse lose it!!!  Always better to have the ideas in our mind BEFORE we go than have the “of course!” moment after the event….

I have done short and long haul travelling to retrace my ancestor’s steps, research and see something of where they lived. Even if the main part of your trip is for a holiday you want your research to be as productive as possible. Here are some of the tips that worked best for me.

  • Look it Up. Use Google Earth in advance. It can help you determine what if any parking is nearby, best routes to the destination etc. or if the home you want to view is even still standing – the site may now be a new duplex! There may be places close by that you see on the map that have come up on your radar while researching that can add to your to do list.
  • Get In Touch. Contact the venue by phone or email to establish everything you need to know in advance to avoid disappointment by not having what you need. Although there may be a website with some of this information, from personal experience there is often more to know. Many places only allow pencils, (do not assume they will lend some or a sharpener to you!) no taking photos (you have to pay for copies) and may even require you to book in advance particular books or archived boxes of family history information.
  • Location, location, location. If you are staying overnight (or several nights) book somewhere walking distance to where you will be mainly doing your research to avoid fares or lengthy walks. Save a fancy resort for the trip when you will actually enjoy it, and choose on the basis of what is practical. Some hotels have no desk and poor reading light for you to review your notes; see what’s available that will cater to your needs. Trying to do this in a noisy lounge can be frustrating.
  • Be Focused. Your strategy for each venue should begin with what is unique to the venue that you can’t find elsewhere or to corroborate what you may have found elsewhere.
  • Ask Around. Browse family history groups / forums focused on a particular region or town and you may find some very useful information about the nuances that will make your time there more productive. Better still, speak to locals after you arrive and you may even discover that your families may have been linked in some way.
  • Dress For The Occasion and Take Accessories. (Not A Short Pencil Skirt And Stilettos) While some venues will not have a dress code, be practical. One cemetery I visited had been very badly maintained – long grass and shrubs were so overgrown around whole sections of headstones, it was a battle to get in, and then push overgrowth away to read headstones. I really could have down with gardening gloves! While chances are your experiences won’t be as extreme, you may be wise to wear flat shoes suitable for walking over uneven ground and take sundries such as sunscreen mosquito repellent as the climate would imply. Many churches will require women to dress modestly, perhaps even covering their shoulders, and men to wear long pants. If you check out the requirements you won’t be turned away.
  • Flexibility And Timing. While it is important to be organized just as when you’re at home following a research process, don’t forget to be flexible enough so that if something shows potential to be explored further you can. Allowing yourself enough time is crucial especially when you may not be able to return for a very long time!
  • Use Your Technology. Bookmarking your research tools and then having them handy on your smart phone will save you time and stress when travelling. Using a storage app like Dropbox or the Cloud for as much of your key information and templates as possible will mean you can readily cross reference with information you already have via a smart-phone or tablet.
  • Beware of Too Much Brevity. Sounds obvious, but it’s often forgotten – make sure your notes are full and clear as possible so that when you look over them later you don’t  wonder what on earth your shorthand was meant to say.
  • It may rain. Heavily! Ruining your notes, wrecking your tablet and smart phone, cause all your writing to run into an illegible mess. Heading out, you may have a cloudless sky but within a few hours there may be downpour. Umbrellas are handy but can easily blow out leaving you every bit as drenched before you can catch a taxi. Take several plastic bags big enough to wrap around your precious cargo several times, and repeat for whatever goes into your suitcase. Sitting on a tarmac while a plane is being loaded is long enough for water to seep in and spoil your fun.  Or your shampoo bottle to leak all through your notes.

What tips do you have that don’t feature on the regular holiday maker’s guide?

Just Because It’s On The Internet, Doesn’t Make It So

Genealogy isn’t just about finding people from many generations ago. For many people it may include living cousins, grandparents and great grandparents ‘lost’ through family feuds, divorces, travel etc.

Imagine making a discovery online referencing your family, and as you scroll and scan through the page of information you discover to your horror that one of the following has occurred:

  • They have included harmless information but which is wrong.
  • They have ascribed relationships that are wrong, including perhaps that your relative is even a member of their family!
  • Or worse, they have written a book available online which refers in one chapter to your deceased close relative in the snippet you are able to read in a most defamatory manner. Not once but multiple times, despite never knowing them or anyone who did know them.

We are so used to everything looking professional and authoritative on the net, we can forget that the humans writing the content may make mistakes.

Lesson one – remember that just because it is on the internet, doesn’t make it so.

What do you do? Do you sit on your hands? You would imagine that if people are making their content visible to the world that they would want it to be right, and at the very least be open to a polite communication about the problem and a suggested easy solution. This avoids other people, who don’t know the difference, not duplicating incorrect information.

I’ve experienced some of these and despite using my very best manners in an email or the contact form, have had variable outcomes from which you, dear reader may learn….

Lesson two as you will see is to expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed!

Case 1: wrong information on a genealogy family tree making site. Even if your relative has passed away, it is reasonable for their death date and location to be correct, not a decade out and somewhere entirely different. Having the occupation correct would be nice too. This was not about mistaken identity, but was caused by using of records of another person with the same name. Was my cousin-so-far-removed I’ve lost count going to fix this error about my close family member? Despite being happy to hear to hear from me and share information, he never made the corrections.

Case 2: ascribed relationships that are wrong. Depending on the person, they may ignore you or reply that YOU are wrong (even if records prove otherwise, or the error refers to your own immediate relative) Just once, I was thanked and the changes were made.

Case 2: defaming a deceased relative. Okay, I haven’t actually tacked this one as I have been sitting on my hands! The book has been printed, and is available as an e-book, but frankly from what I can tell the author won’t be retiring on the proceeds and thus not really profiting from this book. Strictly speaking, it isn’t defamation if the person has died, but that isn’t the point. Should I contact them?

Case 3: a bit of a deflection, where you contact someone offering a wealth of information to support your contact and instead of replying, you find they have blocked you! If this long lost relative has ‘put themselves out there’ on a genealogy site behaves like this, you would really want to be in touch with them?

Despite hiccups like these, there are many moments making it all worthwhile. As you use cyberspace to explore your more recent family history, you’ll sometimes from an error or gap in information discover a rare gem – a fabulous living relation who you really enjoy getting to know. I’ve found several now!

Lesson three – somewhere among the rubble you’ll find treasure, just keep digging!!

Researching on the web is great - providing it's correct.
Researching on the web is great – providing it’s correct.

So many family history sites but where to start?

Using internet based research via sites such as Geni, Find My Past, Family Tree Now  and Ancestry is fun and informative, but if you are not savvy and review your catch carefully you will find you have snagged false leads and wasted your time. In the excitement of finding what may appear to be your relative, or household of ancestors it is natural to hope that that someone else’s information is correct about the relationships between some or all of the people on their tree. They may have records (but which are not for the individual they’re attached to) sources which may be only other incorrect family trees, and call themselves advanced users only because they use the facility often.

There are an extraordinary amount of records available to view online – not just transcriptions, but a digital copy of the actual record. You can browse legal papers, wills, immigration and shipping records, birth, death and marriage records. You must remember though the further back in time you go, fewer could afford to pay for the religious rites, and if they were non-conformists they may have only had a marriage conducted in the official church to make it legal because dissenters were persecuted.

First of course, ask everyone you can in the family for information and anecdotes, write it all down, make digital copies of photos and certificates etc, and don’t assume the family myth about something was not true – it may provide you with your best lead. There are many sites and blogs to give you tips about where and how to start, but some are so complicated to navigate around they are overwhelming. One of the first I used was Cyndi’s List.

Be like a sleuth and follow the evidence…

There is a treasure trove of information available and the trick is to work out which  pieces are actually relevant. You may have to examine a number of records for men of the same name, era and location before working out – if at all- which one was your ancestor. You’ll need to think quite laterally in the process, considering things for example such as the church denomination, that there may be several towns or villages of the same name and that someone may have remarried and had children with several spouses.

Here’s just some of the things to watch out for!

  • Find out before you join up what the focus is of the site and if it will meet your needs. Geni for example  is geared to link everyone up as part of one big family. It provides no records, so while you can create an enormous family tree many of the family relationships and data on individuals are wrong. It is not so simple to then disconnect from these erroneous trees you may have linked to, and although you can leave Geni, you can never fully check out as your profile is maintained so as to not ‘disturb’ the global tree.
  • Other sites allow you to create incredible trees with powerful analysis tools. Others are all about records, but you have to create your tree elsewhere.
  • Ancestry gives great tools including multiple tree creation and access to diverse records globally.  Many records it does not have in its database but available elsewhere can be added to your tree.
  • Use these site’s tutorials, but remember that they are just get you started and don’t cover everything you need to know to avoid mistakes.
  • People tend to assume others have researched properly, when they have simply duplicated others’ mistakes. Sometimes the errors are quickly obvious, but other times they are not. If they have no records attached to examine to support their tree, see what records can be found to support their family relationships.
  • Don’t cross-reference selectively, check everything! Part of someone else’s tree or household may be correct but two of the children for example may be the offspring of another couple nearby with the same name.
  • Keep a map handy, preferably one that shows place names as they were written rather than spelled now. These can be found on the internet, and are invaluable especially when they show and name areas, manors, mills etc. Some places of the past may have had their name changed entirely, so you may find that a mystery place was in fact exactly where that last known relative had lived.
  • It was only in 1841 the census began in England, but prior records were kept in many ways whereby you can trace family. If your ancestors were not English, records available will vary and of course not be in English, so be ready for the need for translation! When parish and legal records go back further in time, you will have to consider the use of Latin and abbreviations, and a general lack of consistency with spelling from one page to the next! You can check – visitations, trade directories, parish records, ancient texts, court rolls. Grow your own working file of abbreviations, and place name references so you don’t need to keep finding out what words mean or where places where in relation to each other. For example, determining that a woman was a vidua (widow) or uxor (wife) when buried, lets you know the status of her husband to help you find his date of death.
  • Sometimes the transcription page does not link directly to the record page but to the one before or after it, so you may need to toggle between pages. Referring to other entries in the document frequently reveals other useful information, so while it can ads time the task may save you time later.
  • Only by looking at actual records can you see if the person referred to in it could the right one. It is no good having Johannes of a location well to the north when your Johannes lived to the south. Sometimes the records are not that specific, but sometimes you see extra information that is helpful such as where they lived or their occupation.
  • Only by looking at actual records can you see if the transcription is actually correct! It is surprising how many errors I’ve found, citing a baptism that is actually a burial, or a marriage that is simply noting the child’s sponsors (God-parents) If available, read any notations on transcription page where others who have picked up errors can advise on the correction. Many transcriptions are done by wonderful volunteers who like the rest of us, can make mistakes.
  • Back in the day, parish records reflected the Roman ten month calendar which started in March. Often it doesn’t matter if you tree is only out a year here and there, but sometimes it does, so again check the record rather than the transcription.
  • Looking at newspapers online and in libraries can provide diverse information, especially in the family notices. Remember that articles, may not always be fully accurate and may have a bias on the part of the journalist or their interviewee. Sometimes you have to ‘read between the lines’,  or determine what was meant colloquially by phrases at the time that may be very different now.
  • Ancestors didn’t always refer to themselves the same way through life. Betty may have later gone by her full more formal name of Elizabeth, or August Heinrich Steggmann and George Edward McDonald may have later gone by Henry and Ned.
  • Although families typically did not venture far from their relatives pre-Industrial revolution, sometimes they had to within or outside their parish.  Famine, civil unrest, disease, call to arms and arranged marriages are just some of the reasons.
  • Generally marriages were at the bride’s church, not always the same as the groom’s. Sometimes records give such details, and if you’re lucky will include the names of witnesses, fathers’ names and occupations and whether the father was still alive.
  • Reading wills can be difficult sometimes due to abbreviations, lack of spelling consistency and the language used, but can offer wonderful insight from how people were related, their residences, assets (or a lack of) and an approximate date of death, especially if the will was ‘proved’ after the individual died. A will can help you clarify if someone is your target person or their namesake.
  • Some names are fairly uncommon and very localised back in time so much easier to traced, but others are so common it is difficult to go back more than a century with certainty. Occupational surnames tend to be more common so it may be easier to trace a family line where the name is more unusual.
  • It is always helpful to view ‘official’ pedigrees and the family trees uploaded online, but do not rely on them being correct or complete. Do your own checking – it is much quicker than deleting things that are wrong!
  • Don’t just add people or dates because it seems convenient. If there is a chance it could be correct, then make a very clear notation that the entry is still under review and may be wrong.
  • Referring to groups and forums can throw up reliable information about recent ancestors who were known to the writer or their participants.

Get Your Relatives involved.

If you create an online tree you can have other relatives view it and then collaborate with you. Mistakes can be corrected, photos and new information sent to you to be uploaded and the tree can be kept private so it’s for family only.

Be careful how you assign responsibilities though, as allowing editing rights (as compared with just viewing) can lead to accidental deletions and errors that could cause squabbles!

What Do You Really Want To Learn About Your Family Tree?

The concept of a family tree is the wrong way around. If you are positioned centrally at the bottom, it is from you that any offspring will sprout up into limbs, branches and twigs. Your ancestors however that have created you, are your roots, the network of people from whom you have come and should then be below.

By exploring what has preceded the growth above, you may have an opportunity to gain enormous insight into yourself, as well as those who came before for you and whose genes have made you YOU!

Creating a pictorial family tree is the easy part. Depending on the family, researching it only a few generations back can be extremely difficult! Having your tree accompanied with notes or a document for each person, household or cluster of generations brings the family tree to life, makes the names and photos meaningful, but creating such documents or stories, even if only for private family reading can become challenging. How do you approach conflicting versions of family ‘facts’, do you set it out just as milestone dates and achievements in point form or write it up like a novel, do you list all your sources, does everyone in the family get to contribute and acquire a copy, the list goes on!

Your objectives will influence how you present what you already know and then discover. It may seem obvious (especially in hindsight) that considering what your objectives are can save you a great deal of time down the track, not just in reformatting but relocating information which you may have discarded along the way.

As the tree’s roots emerge and and continue to ‘grow’ back in time, cross-reference what was happening at the time – were there diseases, uprisings, famines? Explore the events that shaped their thinking and behaviors, and perhaps a move well away from where the family had been established for generations. This helps to better understand how they lived, and what sort of people they were in the context of the era and place that they lived

Presenting your unique family’s path can be simple or complex, with a few side notes or a full story.

Whatever form your family tree takes, simply having names, dates, birth and death locations does not convey who these people were and how they lived. Your format for presenting your discoveries can be creative, and what you may want to learn from genealogy can be variable, but if do your ancestors proud and research the many influences in their lives, the  small investment of time can give far more appreciation of what shaped them, and went towards your DNA!

Genealogy is not simply like a jigsaw puzzle whereby you find pieces that will fill the space. When you get the right pieces in place, you also get a picture.