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Family History beginnings... that have no end!

Discussion in 'How I got started in Family History' started by JMCWSW, Mar 8, 2022.


    JMCWSW LostCousins Member

    1977, and my son's baby book... and I realised that for all the stories I'd plagued my Mum about "tell me what it was like when you were a little girl" I was actually missing factual data.

    By then (in 1974, 1975 & 1976) I'd lost my three remaining grand-parents, but years' before, in a fit of pre-genealogy, I'd gathered some basic details of their parents, and roots, and so it began...

    My son's Dad was born in England, so I wrote to his Aunt's Uncles and his Dad and gleaned that side... but it's been a long time before I was able to accurately track some of that side of the family, and even now the 1921 Census won't fill in the gaps. But I've long kept in touch with my ex-step-sister-in-law, and my late husband's first cousin, who have provided information useful in going back and going forward.

    Starting as young as I did gave me the advantage of being able to continue to contact my parents' own Aunts & Uncles and cousins. I acquired stories, *AND* a family bible (along with all the memorabilia my Nana had moved into our family home with). I joined our NZSociety of Genealogists, and kept on learning how to research, and how to record! I finally graduated from pencil and paper charts to Excel-style spreadsheets on an Amstrad, and from there, eventually Reunion for Mac (now on a laptop with 30,000+ profiles).

    I've travelled the world in search of my roots. My Australian *ancestry* starts in 1803, ("Calcutta" convict/first settler of Hobart), and ca 1840s, (58th British Regiment) in New Zealand. I've an Azorean Portuguese whaler who jumped ship in NZ waters, and a Jewess (also a convict). One set of gt.gt.grandparents married at the Cape of Good Hope, living in tents on the railway line. There's gold miners, more soldiers, more mariners, shoe-makers, sawyers, and, of course, the agricultural labourers.

    Oh and three ancestors who changed their name. One completely, the other two, just their surname. One took his middle name, his mother's maiden name, as his new surname. The other added SMITH, but kept his surname as a middle name.

    I've cousins of nth degree who are Native American, Australian Aboriginal, Black America, Pacific Islander and New Zealand Maori... and that's just the ones off the top of my head. Personally I have no Scots or Irish... however my son and grand-daughter do.

    Then I married twice more... and so have now researched four distinct families. Let's not start on the unrelated one-name-studies; rabbit holes; and assorted "that looks interesting, maybe they're related" scenarios, or the "yeah, sure I'll see what I can find on your family.... oh look a convict!"

    DNA testing changed so much. (I can't believe any serious genealogist hasn't done that by now...)

    Most of my distant brick-walls have gone... but I'm still totally stuck with one branch of my family. My gt.grandfather never married my gt. grandmother, neither did he die anywhere conveniently. "He came, he begat he disappeared". I have a name... and his grandson did a YDNA test for me, but still drawing blanks on that one... Not a totally unusual name, and no approx. date of birth. *sigh*. Lots of researched family trees in my files, but none that provide reliable DNA matches;

    ~ and his father-in-law is just as frustrating. I have his death, his marriage, his children (and dozens of DNA matches) and his service records for the 96th Regiment, but no baptism, nor 1841 Census record to match his supposed surname (BROWN) and birthplace (Bristol). He was in Tasmania by 1851.

    Next month I'll be back in Tasmania catching up with my fourth-half-cousins... only a few days so not enough time to try and make contact with others I now know about, but I've met many family members before on trips.

    In late May we're off again to the UK. The maps have been dragged out... I have four or five new parishes of my own to visit, since last there, and two whole countries to introduce my husband to. Like my son, he has both Scots & Irish ancestry. In 2016 we visited all our shared parishes/counties. In some cases our ancestors were hatched, matched or despatched in the same churches in Lincoln & Norfolk... and we even have family arrived on the same immigrant ship to NZ in 1874. But we're not related!!!

    It's a long story... my journey... but I live and love my family history. I regret the way it works (doesn't work) now, though, with the disreputable copying of family trees that so many indulge in. When faced with a huge number of incorrect poorly researched trees littering ancestry and myheritage, I sometimes upload my own fully cited and resourced branch of a tree to Wikitree... so at least, there is one factual representation. All my other online trees are for private purposes and research only. We've lost the collaboration with cousins that was at the forefront of this website's purpose, and which has brought me some of the happiest memories over the years, of exploring my ancestors in cahoots with my known cousins. Now, close DNA matches rarely get involved/become friends. :-(
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 9, 2022
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  2. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Welcome to the forum - what an interesting story!

    I guess your definition of a 'brick wall' is different from mine, because every time I knock down a 'brick wall' there are at least two more behind it, so the number of distant 'brick walls' in my tree just keeps growing. It's only the recent 'brick walls' that have reduced in number - thanks to DNA.

    JMCWSW LostCousins Member

    The distant ones were at the limits of 5th - 8th... and were barely discernable, but just one or two matches in the right places and times, led to many more that fitted, from my *absolute* reconstruction of everyone in the same parish over a number of years. It is my MO... to work with a single surname in a single parish! Sometimes it is a rabbit hole... but rarely!

    JMCWSW LostCousins Member

    Oh, I should say... with rare exceptions... I just don't give a hoot beyond a certain time-frame. I'd rather be happy at convinced relationships from 1750 than pie in the sky scenarios, that are dubious, back beyond that.
  5. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Family reconstitution is one of the techniques in the Brick Walls Masterclass. It's something most of us did in the early days, because when we had to go the record office to look at registers it was second nature to note down all the occurrences of certain surnames to avoid having to go through the same registers again. And not just in one parish, farm labourers had to go where the work was.
    It's not just about the time frame - the abundance, availability, and quality of the surviving records is crucially important. Details such as the mother's maiden name in a baptism record, or the suffix Jr in a burial record can make a world of difference - and wills can sometimes be incredibly helpful (if we can find them).

    Of course, it's much more likely that we'll find DNA confirmation of our research post-1750, but thanks to emigration to the American Colonies atDNA can sometimes reach further back, as in this article, which describes how matches in the US validated one of my lines back as far as 1674.

    JMCWSW LostCousins Member

    "thanks to emigration to the American Colonies"
    One of my brick walls came down due to a family from Suffolk/Norfolk becoming early Latter Day Saints. Dozens of copied trees to deal with, but similarly a dozen or more DNA matches. They hadn't made the link I finally did, because all had failed to look for their ancestress on the 1851 Census, when she gave her place of birth, and was in the same household as her re-married mother... who had a brother who had a daughter, who matched my ancestress whose own remarriage, led to her previous name being recorded somewhere where her maiden name should have been recorded. Confused??? LOL!!! That accounts for two of my new parishes to visit.

    Similarly, although the actual age is wrongly ascribed on her Monumental Inscription, and on the last USA census in which she was alive is a "very old lady"... again lots of American DNA matches, and enough tree information that she came from parishes in Norfolk... within walking distance of my key parishes, from which I'd lost the roots of an ancestress. I'm less happy with those results, as I've still not got the key baptism I need, but there's this gap in the range of siblings where she fits. Said "very old lady"'s witness at her wedding? Could be coincidence (but I believe not) but my ancestress' husband, so I'm attributing "very old lady" as my ancestress' sister.

    " to look at registers it was second nature to note down all the occurrences of certain surnames"
    I could go on... but yes... that whole "it takes a village to raise a child" concept in family history is so worth pursing. A fellow member on here actually did that for me when I got to Norfolk in 2003 and the record office was semi-permanently closed. A year or so later I made contact with Heather, who earned my undying love and devotion for all the record searches she did in two parishes for all incidences of all my surnames, and emailed them to me. It's only in the last couple of years I've been able to confirm she never made any mistakes, now those parishes are finally online... and when I finally sorted out that brick wall, through DNA, it did turn out that Heather and I are cousins. (She popped up on this site, later, as a match off the 1841 Census).
  7. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    That's a new one to me.

    JMCWSW LostCousins Member

    If you think in terms of the inhabitants of some households in census.... you'll get it!!! The grand-children, the adult daughters at home, the "lodgers" who are siblings, or aged parents... Another oldie but goodie "no man is an island". Life was less insular for our ancestors.... looking only at the immediate parents, without observing their siblings, and extended family scenarios... is adding those bricks to the walls, when we need to be dismantling them.

    A perfect example:

    My gt.gt.grandmother, Rebecca, was living with her paternal Aunt & Uncle in 1851, her brother was with his paternal grandparents in 1841, and his father in 1851 all in Lambeth... England's largest parish and the surname was WHITE. For years it was a needle in the haystack kind of thing. I had her parents names from her death in New Zealand (that's where we do get lucky down here), and had their marriage certificate... but no clues as to where her mother Hannah HOLDEN daughter of James had come from. (She died in 1845). One day (some 30 years later) I realised the gap between Rebecca, her brother and her mother's death could accommodate another child. This realisation luckily dawned after the release of the GRO Indeces with mother's maiden names... and yes; up popped another child... b. 1844. He's with his maternal grandparents in Sawbridgeworth, Herts. in 1851. The family surname is HALDAN, not HOLDEN, but that's interchangeable across some five generations of ancestors in the same parish.

    Guess where we're staying when we alight off the plane at Heathrow? I only have two parishes that feature that many generations. (The other is Banham, in Norfolk) My lot have always been very mobile; but within those parishes, pretty much inter-related!
  9. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    That's an extended family, not a village. According to Google "it takes a village to raise a child" is an African proverb.
  10. Britjan

    Britjan LostCousins Star

    The "It takes a village " quote /proverb has numerous roots around the world , as one might expect. I was introduced to the phrase as a trainer for Girl Guides in Canada in the 1980's and used it in conjunction with UNICEF programs we were already exploring . Stashed away I have my trainer notes because it was one of the most successful modules I shared! Thanks for the prompt to put a search on my to do list.
    Over the years I have come to respect First Nations teaching on community/village responsibility as more in line with my own experience , not through Google but through being invited to join conversations.
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  11. Margery

    Margery LostCousins Member

    Britjan, well I was a trainer for the Girl Guides in Australia! The Training for Trainers scheme here was very comprehensive and led me to university where I graduated in adult education. I travelled throughout NSW and was welcomed at many country towns as "the trainer from HQ" and I enjoyed many experiences. Your post has brought back many memories.
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