DNA: GEDmatch

This is the last post in my 3-part mini-series about using chromosome browsers in genetic genealogy.  You’ll find links to all my previous DNA posts [here].

Today we’re talking about GEDmatch: an online service that allows you to upload your autosomal DNA data files from any of the testing companies and compare with people who have tested with different companies.  In other words, you’re not restricted to just comparing your Ancestry results with other Ancestry matches or your MyHeritage results with others who tested there: you can compare common matches with all the testing companies in one go.

Alongside this they also have a number of tools to help with analysis of these comparisons. The basic package of tools is free to use.  These include a chromosome browser, which is particularly useful if you tested with Ancestry, since they don’t provide one.  There are more advanced tools (called ‘Tier 1’), but there is a monthly fee to use them, currently US$10 per month.  You can subscribe just for one month at a time when you know you’ll have plenty of time to explore. 

GEDmatch doesn’t itself offer DNA tests.  They state that when you upload your data, the information is encoded, and the raw file deleted.  Even so, we should all always check Terms & Conditions when we upload our DNA data to any site, and be sure we’re happy.

Often people who upload to GEDmatch don’t know what to do next; and I know both from personal experience, and from discussion with my own DNA cousins, that at first sight it all seems pretty daunting.  So in this post I’ll talk you through what I consider to be the essential basic tools.  Once you’ve uploaded your DNA files you’ll find links to all these on your home page at GEDmatch, in the right hand sidebar:

Screen grab of GEDmatch sidebar showing package of free basic tools

All you need to make use of these tools is the kit number you’ll see on the left hand side under ‘Your DNA Resources’.  It starts with one or more letters followed by some numbers.  Copy that and then follow these links:

One-to-many DNA comparison
Click on the second ‘One-To-Many’ option, and on the new page that appears, paste your kit number in the box and click to display your results.  What you’ll get is a list of everyone on GEDmatch who matches you.  They are arranged in descending order of the size of your match.

Looking from left to right you’ll see your matches’ kit number, name or pseudonym, email, largest segment and total cM (this is the field by which the matches are arranged in decending order), likely number of generations to Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) and some other information.  You might already recognise some of these people and be able to place them on your tree, together with your MRCA.

Screen grab of GEDmatch One to Many list, showing detail of matches to a number of other testers

Now we’ll move onto finding out more about some of these matches.  So pick the top one or another one near the top, and copy their kit number.  Then back at your GEDmatch home page, click on:

One-to-one Autosomal Comparison
Paste your own kit number in box 1 and your selected match’s kit number in box 2.  (Hint: after you’ve pasted your own number once you can bring it up again by double clicking on box 1, so on subsequent searches you’ll only need to input your match’s kit number.)

For these early searches leave the rest of this form in the default settings.  You can play around with them and learn more later.  Click compare.

What you’ll get on the next page is a chromosome browser showing exactly where you and this person match.  For every chromosome with a matching segment you’ll also see a little box, showing start and end position of the segment and number of centimorgans (cM).  The image below shows just part of one of my match comparisons – Chromosomes 11 to 15.  As you can see, this person and I have a matching segment on Chromosome 14.

Screen grab from GEDmatch showing part of a One to One comparison in the chromosome browser

If you’re painting to DNA Painter, as described in my last post, this text in the little box is the information you need to paste to ‘paint’ the segments.  If you match on more than one chromosome you can go back to the input form and change ‘Graphics and Positions’ to ‘Position’ only.  This will remove the chromosome browser from the results and simply provide you with several little boxes of information that you can then copy all in one go.

Now, keeping those same two kit numbers, return to the home page and click on:

People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits
Again, enter your own number for kit 1 and your match’s for kit 2.
What you get this time is three lists:

  • people who match BOTH of you
  • people who match just you
  • people who match just kit 2, and not you.

It’s the list of people matching both of you that’s most obviously helpful.  If you can already place any of these shared matches this may help you to narrow down the part of your tree where you and this person have common ancestors.  However, thinking back to my previous post on chromosome browsers, matching a third person does not necessarily mean you all ‘triangulate’.  Certainly you share a common ancestor with each one, but it’s possible that the common ancestor they share with each other might be on a different line, not related to you at all.

If you’ve read my previous DNA posts or if you’ve already been using MyHeritage, you’ll see that this basic package of tools on GEDmatch is not dissimilar to the tools on there.  The One-to Many comparison equates to the MyHeritage DNA match list; The One-to-One autosomal comparison equates to MyHeritage’s chromosome browser; and the People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits roughly equates to the shared matches you see when you click to Review any of your matches.  The advantage of GEDmatch is that there is no fee to use these tools.  There is also the availability of the more powerful ‘Tier 1′ tools when you want to make use of them.  MyHeritage, on the other hand, combines all of their tools with availability of matches’ trees that you can compare with your own.  Plus they have the triangulation tool discussed two posts back.  In terms of enjoyment of use I would have to say I prefer MyHeritage’s DNA offering above all others, but GEDmatch is a powerful additional tool in your DNA toolkit, not least because not everyone has tested with/ uploaded their data to MyHeritage, and because of the availability of the Tier 1 when you feel ready to move on.

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My DNA posts are intended as a beginners’ guide, building up the information in order, in bite-sized chunks.  Click [here] to see them all in the order of publication.

DNA Painter

This is the second in my 3-part mini-series about using chromosome browsers in genetic genealogy.  You’ll find links to all my previous DNA posts [here].

My last post introduced chromosome browsers.  We looked at how to interpret the data revealed in the browser, how to use it for One-to-One or One-to-Many comparisons, and the importance of using this information in conjunction with documented trees.  We talked about the weakness of chromosome browsers, being that they are unable to distinguish between DNA from your maternal line and that from your paternal line.  MyHeritage have partly got round this by introducing a ‘Triangulation Tool’ which operates when using the chromosome browser in One-to-Many mode, highlighting when the matches being compared ‘triangulate’ – that is, when you and all the matches being compared are all descended from a common ancestor. 

What MyHeritage cannot tell you is which of your lines – maternal or paternal – this match is on.  You have to work that out yourself.  One other obvious issue – and this is by no means a weakness on the part of MyHeritage, but it is a drawback anyway – you can only use the Triangulation Tool on MyHeritage to compare segment data with people whose autosomal DNA was either tested with or has since been uploaded to MyHeritage.

DNA Painter is a third-party tool that helps you overcome these two difficulties.  It was created by Jonny Perl in 2017 and has gone from strength to strength.  It’s free to use provided you create only one profile.  If you want more than one profile, or if you want to use the advanced tools there is a charge.  I have seven profiles.

I cannot express enough how fantastic DNA Painter is.  For me, it’s right up there with seeing the Aurora Borealis.  I know that may sound excessive, but it’s true.

Briefly, the way DNA Painter works is this: when you’re comparing your DNA with another person’s using a chromosome browser you can download the segment data.  This data – whether it be from MyHeritage, FTDNA, 23andMe or GEDmatch – can then be uploaded to DNA Painter and ‘painted’ on your profile. Unlike a chromosome browser, DNA Painter has two lines for every chromosome – a paternal line and a maternal line so you can start to separate out your matches.  If you know which of your lines these segments are on – say, if you are painting a match with your maternal first cousin so you know this is on your maternal line – you can include this information, and these segments will be painted to your maternal copy of those chromosomes.

Blaine T Bettinger’s excellent video showing how to use DNA Painter was all I needed to get me started.  He covers how to paint segments, how to edit them, and other features (although there are more now than when this video was made in 2017).  I watched it through once, then again in short bursts alongside ‘painting’ my first segments, and after that it was all plain sailing.

So without further ado I’m going to suggest you watch this video. (The automatic start point is not right at the beginning – you’ll need to wind it back.)

Blaine T Bettinger: Mapping your Chromosomes with DNA Painter:

Just to be clear – you can’t use DNA Painter if your results are just on Ancestry.  You have to be able to see your results in a chromosome browser.  So if you tested with Ancestry you need to upload your data from there to MyHeritage or FTDNA or GEDmatch before you can use DNA Painter.

This is how my main profile on DNA Painter looks right now.  Click it to see a larger image:

Chromosome map from DNA Painter

The pale blue lines in the background represent the copy of each chromosome that I got from my father and the pale pink lines are for the copy I got from my mother.  By the time I found DNA Painter I had already confirmed a number of my matches on GEDmatch and MyHeritage. These were the ones I painted straight away. As these were known and confirmed matches I already knew our Most Recent Common Ancestor couple (MRCA) and I knew if the match sat on my maternal line or my paternal line so was able to paste them accordingly.  These known matches set the scene for anything else I paint.

More recently I allocated specific colours to each of my grandparents.  My paternal grandfather is shades of blue and my paternal grandmother yellow.  My maternal grandfather is green and my maternal grandmother red. You can see this on my profile: the blue and yellow shades are always on my paternal line, the green and red shades always on my maternal line.

Apart from my brother (he’s not on here; I made a separate profile for him) I have no matches at all closer than second cousin, so the nearest MRCAs for whom I have confirmed matches are at great grandparent level.  In my colour scheme the closer ancestors have a pale version of their allotted colour, and the further back generations have increasingly darker shades of that colour.  Again on my profile, look at the maternal line on chromosome 13.  You’ll see two long lines representing my great grandparents, and within them several shorter segments of darker green.  These darker segments are ancestors further back along these great grandparents’ lines whose DNA I’ve discovered because of matches with more distant cousins.  In fact these more distant matches have evidenced that the first long green segment on chromosome 13 is from my great grandfather, while the second long green segment is from his wife, my great grandmother. 

In every case I record the MRCA couple when I ‘paint’ the match, and these are shown in the table at the bottom right of the profile. 

If I have a segment already attributed to one of my copies of a chromosome – let’s say to my Dad’s paternal great grandparents and another match on that same segment comes along that seems to be from my Dad’s maternal line, then something is wrong.  While both of these relationships are consistent with my own paternal copy of that particular chromosome, it is not consistent with my Dad’s chromosome inheritance: one of these would be on his maternal copy and the other on his paternal.  He could not have passed on both of these copies to me on the same segment.

So – possibilities include:

  • I’ve made a mistake
  • My tree, or my match’s tree is wrong
  • There is a case of misattributed parentage (often referred to as an NPE – ‘non-paternity event’) somewhere along one of these lines in my own tree or my match’s tree
  • All of the above is absolutely in order but this person and I also match on my maternal line and that is where the segment is from
  • The segment is a piece of DNA belonging to a shared population group, such as Jewish or Irish

You make mistakes as you go but you can edit and change them very easily as new info comes in.

Here’s an example of a DNA match with a surprise and how I used DNA Painter to record it, changing my initial conclusions:

A and I matched at around 3rd to 4th cousin.  He was adopted but had found his birth mother and had an idea of who his father was.  Using my own tree and working back the tree of his suspected father I was able to confirm that we had MRCAs at 3xG grandparent level, making us 4th cousins.  The man A thought might be his father definitely was.  I added A to my list of confirmed matches and painted our segments to my profile.  Our match was on my paternal line, and painted yellow for my paternal grandmother’s ancestry.

After so many years of searching, A found it quite difficult to accept so easily that we had found his father, so I offered to work on three other close matches that triangulated with the two of us.  When A could see that other matches led to the same conclusion I thought he would be convinced.  The first two matches did indeed lead back to the same MRCA, and both of them were closer matches to A than they were to me – they are all descended from one of our 3xG grandparents’ sons, and I am descended from another.  A was happy: something shifted for him, and for the first time he really believed he knew his roots.  Then I moved on to the third of our common matches.  Starting with a small amount of information on this person’s online tree, I worked back until I found an overlap with A’s tree.  But it was confusing: A’s match with this person led up another of A’s lines – one that didn’t end with our confirmed 3xG grandparents.  It took a bit of working out (there was a lot of false information on census and marriage records and a nasty divorce) but eventually I was able to follow their common line… back to another set of my 2xG grandparents still on my paternal line, but this time my paternal grandfather.  A and I are cousins twice over: on both sides of my paternal line, both of these connections confirming different parts of A’s father’s line.  DNA Painter actually allowed me to record this information by keeping two of the segments yellow and changing the third segment we share to blue – it’s the pale blue segment you see on my paternal line towards the end of chromosome 12.  How amazing is that!

My main profile on DNA Painter is for confirmed matches only.  However, there are still a number of decent matches on MyHeritage, FTDNA and GEDmatch that I can’t place.  I didn’t want to lose sight of them, so I created a new profile for my mystery matches.  By comparing my mystery profile matches to other confirmed new matches from time to time, I’m able to narrow down our match, at the very least allocating some of them to either my paternal or maternal line or even moving them into my main profile.  More recently I decided to set up an Irish mystery matches profile which I hope in time will enable me to home in on distinct parishes or areas.

In the “Segment/Match Notes” I list how the match descends from the common ancestral couple, any relevant ID numbers, and anything else pertinent including other potential ancestral lines in common. This means that I list every generation beginning with the common ancestral couple and ending with the tester.

It occurs to me that chromosome mapping kind of turns it around so that it’s about mapping your DNA segments just as much as it is about proving your family tree.  I do know, though, that my chromosome map will never be complete.  My close family is too small.

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It’s perfectly possible to make great DNA discoveries without even looking at a chromosome browser.  However, working with chromosome browsers and DNA Painter has done more than simply help me to sort out my matches.  It has helped me to visualise and better understand complex abstract information.  By viewing my matches in a chromosome browser I saw, for example, that the twenty-two chromosomes are all different lengths and numbered 1 to 22 broadly in that order of length.  I also saw and understood that the longer the segments, the closer the family connection.  Hence a lot of short segments indicates either that you are more distantly related, or you may simply share a lot of DNA as a result of being from an endogamous or close-knit community, going back centuries. I knew that the segments I was looking at came either from my mother or from my father, but it wasn’t until I started to use DNA Painter that I understand the maternal copy and paternal copy of each chromosome covers the full length of the chromosome.  Originally (because of the single grey line on the regular chromosome browser) I thought 50% of that line was from one parent and the other 50% from the other parent.

If you’re a visual person you too may find it easier and more enjoyable to work this way.  It is definitely more fun!

There is a DNA Painter User Group on Facebook with, at the time of writing, approaching 12,000 members, and there are very knowledgeable group members who will help with any questions. Jonny and Blaine are also on there.

*****

My DNA posts are intended as a beginners’ guide, building up the information in order, in bite-sized chunks.  Click [here] to see them all in the order of publication.

Counting the population, 1811-1831

Since 1841 the decennial census has been an increasingly invaluable resource for genealogists and family historians, providing us with a ten-yearly check-in on our ancestors that we can compare with parish registers, civil BMD certificates, and other documents recording events in their lives. 

But did you know that the census did not begin in 1841?  There were four earlier censuses, in 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831. 

There had been calls for a better knowledge and understanding of the state of the population since the middle of the 17th century.  How many people were there?  How many paupers?  How many men were available to fight, and what would be the impact on their communities if they were required to do so?  These, and other important questions were behind the call, and it was felt increasingly that existing parish records were not up to the job. However, it was not until the turn of the 19th century that the issue finally found its way to the statute book.  The Population Act of 1800 provided for ‘an enumeration’ of the population on 10 March 1801, or as soon as possible thereafter, with two objectives:

  1. to ascertain the number of persons, families and houses and a broad indication of the occupations in which the people were engaged;
  2. to gather information to provide a better understanding of whether the population was increasing or decreasing.

Information relating to the first objective was to be collected by the Overseers of the Poor or ‘other Substantial Householders’, via house to house enquiry.  The second objective was to be addressed by selective scrutiny of parish registers during the previous hundred years, and was to be carried out by the Clergy in England and Wales, and by the Schoolmaster ‘or other fit person or persons’ in Scotland.

This pattern of specific Act of Parliament followed by a census the next year occurred every decade up to and including the 1910 Act / 1911 census.  (The Census Act of 1920 provided for future enumerations as well as for that due to be taken in 1921.)  As with the censuses since 1841, the questions asked were amended in 1811, 1821 and 1831.  You can read the exact questions asked, together with more about the history of the earlier censuses at the Vision of Britain website

Sadly for us as genealogists and family historians, what distinguishes these early censuses from those since 1841, is that they were simply enumerations of the population: there was no requirement to record names.  Of course the information recorded was and remains of use to various professionals including planners, population analysts and historians, and we can access digitised images of the original reports via online search at histpop: online historical and population reports.  An abstract for Leeds Town for the 1801 enumeration, for example, shows that the East division, where I know some of my ancestors lived at that time, had 1,156 inhabited houses, occupied by a total of 1,339 families.  58 additional houses were uninhabited.  I also see that in this division there were 2,387 males and 2,737 females, and I can see the breakdown of occupations of these people.  Similar information is available for 1811, 1821 and 1831 – and of course for every other parish in the country.

If by now you’re thinking this is all very nice, but you would far prefer to see records with the names of your ancestors and to learn a little more about them specifically and their lives… you may be in luck.

When the overseers, schoolmasters, clergy or other fit and substantial persons carried out their enquiries, they did of course make their own records. Generally this would have included a list of actual named householders, together with the required information for that household. They were, as we know, not required to submit this information; rather they extracted the numerical data from it. Having done that they may have destroyed their original paperwork. On the other hand, they may have retained it, often amongst the papers in the parish chest.

In fact quite a few name-rich lists from the early censuses are known to have survived and more come to light from time to time. As they do, their existence and whereabouts are recorded by a team at the University of Essex Department of History, who have published a booklet listing their findings: Census schedules and listings, 1801-1831: an introduction and guide, available online [here]. Documents are listed by county, alphabetically, and within that by parish. Known locations of the documents are included. They may, for example, be at the local record office; copies may be at the main library; and local history or family history societies may have transcribed them. The authors at Essex University acknowledge that theirs is a work in progress, so it’s possible that there may still be more to be found amongst parish records and papers at your local Record Office.

To return to my Leeds Town example, notes have been found for almost the whole township for 1801, and these do include the East division. I haven’t yet been able to view it, but it will certainly add another piece to the developing jigsaw puzzle of known information about my ancestors in this area.

I hope you find something of interest about your parishes too.

A virtual tour of medieval London

These two videos are nothing short of amazing.

They were created in 2013 by two teams of six students from De Montfort University. The task was to create a gritty representation of 17th century London.

Both videos ‘recreate’ 17th century London as it existed before The Great Fire of 1666.  The amount of research is clear, not to mention artistic and animation skills.  They researched street layouts using historical maps, contemporary building construction, and diaries from the period.  The hanging signs record genuine inns and businesses from contemporary records.

Watching these videos really helps me to imagine myself back in the period.  One of the things I notice is the number of church spires.  London had 126 parishes, and although most of them have not survived, the scenes remind me very much of central Norwich today, with a church and little churchyard at almost every corner.  I realise that London must have looked very similar.  I literally lose myself every time I watch these.

The videos were created for ‘Off the Map’, a competition run by The British Library and video game developers GameCity and Crytek.  ‘Pudding Lane Productions’ (above) won first prize.

The first video lasts 3 minutes 29 seconds; Triumphant Goat’s, below, is 7 minutes 59 seconds.

Explore my links!

I’m taking a break during September, and will be back here on 1st October.

Before I go, I’d like to invite you to explore my Links, which I’ve been working on over the last couple of months.  You’ll find them at the top of this page, on the top menu bar.

Click on Links (either right here or at any time from the top menu bar) and you’ll find a page of categories.  Each category has a dedicated page with more information that I hope you’ll find useful.  I’m adding to these pages all the time and I do use them myself as a library of the sort of information that always comes in handy.  The categories are:

Essential general websites for genealogists includes sites like GENUKI and A Vision of Britain through time, which are invaluable for homing in on a locality and getting essential information.

Websites with free access to transcripts and databases of essential genealogical records includes sites like FreeBMD, FreeCen, FreeReg, FamilySearch and GRO, where you can look up transcripts or use indexes to records free of charge.

Online dictionaries, glossaries of useful terms, etc includes lists of old medical terms, occupational names, Latin phrases and a useful timeline of Victorian legislation.

Websites providing online maps includes links to lots of different types of map that I find useful when exploring my ancestors’ lives and I think you will too.

Social and political history includes links to various websites specialising in a particular historical period that will be of use when researching and understanding ancestors’ lives.

DNA includes a list of my own blogs about DNA for genealogy, together with other websites and online resources I’ve referred to within them.  It’s a work in progress.  I’ll be adding more to this in the autumn as I publish more posts on this subject.

There is also a page for each of several cities of particular interest to me: Leeds, York, Norwich, London, and a page with links to regional Family History Societies, again just for the areas of interest to me, but an Internet search will lead you to something suited to your own needs.

I hope you’ll find the information in these pages useful.  It’s intended as a general resource so please do feel free to refer whenever you need to.  If you spot a gap do let me know.

As mentioned in my last post, I’ll be starting work on a two-year Advanced Genealogy and Family History course in September.  To enable me to focus fully on that, when I return to blogging in October, I’ll be reducing my output from three posts per month to two: on the 1st and 15th of each month.

I do occasionally post little extras and share articles via my Facebook page.  So if you’re on Facebook please click to follow the link below, and like/follow English Ancestors.

Wishing you a good September.

A Secretary Hand survival guide

Handwriting dated 1678

Unless we limit ourselves to transcripts of documents, sooner or later every genealogist has to confront the challenge of archaic handwriting styles.  Later eighteenth and nineteenth century handwriting styles generally pose no difficulty for me (although I’m aware from online genealogy groups that this is not universal) but earlier than that it’s a whole new ball game.

Developments in handwriting were not an accidental process.  Different styles of writing were devised to meet changing needs.  Hence ‘Textura’, the beautiful calligraphic script we know from illuminated manuscripts, was very formal and tidy, but the clearly separated letters were themselves composed of separate strokes, the pen being lifted from the page after each stroke.  Beautiful it may have been, but the process was very slow and painstaking.

The evolution of cursive handwriting in the middle ages was a significant development, making the process of writing quicker and more efficient.  Formed with as few strokes of the pen as possible, the whole purpose of the new cursive texts was the speedy copying of official documents or records.  The earliest cursive script we’re likely to see in parish registers is ‘Secretary Hand’.  Imported to England from France and Italy in the fourteenth century, its use became widespread in the late fifteenth to seventeenth centuries – exactly the period when the keeping of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials became mandatory.

The handwriting example above is definitely one of the easier examples I’ve seen.  It was written by my 8xG grandfather in 1678.

The difficulties of reading Secretary hand can include:

  • It was popular at the same time as other cursive scripts, including ‘Italic’ (which I find easier to read) although the two hands were used for different purposes.  By the mid seventeenth century a hybrid style developed incorporating aspects of these two and what was to become the (much easier to read) eighteenth century ‘running’ hand.  We’re likely to see examples of all of this as we look at parish registers and other documents of the period and on occasion we will need to try to decipher them all.
  • There were of course unique individual handwriting styles and idiosyncrasies, just as we have today
  • The formation of certain letters can actually look like other letters to our modern eyes
  • Writers still used the now obsolete Anglo-Saxon letter y, or þ (known as ‘thorn’) to represent a ‘th’ sound, the long s, which we can easily confuse with an f, and sometimes the Middle English letter ȝ, easily confused with a z but in fact known as yogh, and used where modern English has gh or y.
  • Words may be abbreviated or contracted
  • Some syllables or letter combinations were replaced with hieroglyphs
  • Writers were not consistent in the use of the above, even in the same document or the same sentence
  • Spellings were not uniform, and certainly were not the same as today’s
  • In the case of surnames and placenames, the scribe may have written down what he ‘heard’

However, there is lots of help available online.  I’ve put together a list of resources from respected bodies you might find useful when trying to decipher Secretary and other sixteenth and seventeenth century scripts:
Basic guidance, abbreviations and editorial conventions for reading Secretary Hand from Folger Shakespeare Library
Recognising different letter forms of medieval scripts from University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections
Secretary Hand alphabet examples from FamilySearch

Or if you’re really determined, and have the time to devote to it, here are a few online courses, made freely available:
English Handwriting Online 1500-1700 from University of Cambridge
Palaeography tutorial & exercises from University of Oxford
Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500 – 1800: A practical online tutorial from The National Archives
And finally:
Early Modern Scottish Paleaography: a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that I’ve just completed in preparation for commencing the Advanced Genealogy Diploma.  The benefit of this course is that the basics of paleography are introduced via a series of mini ‘programmes’ (videos) by Dr Lionel Glassey.  These are excellent and perfectly targetted for the general interest audience – although I’m still finding the older Secretary Hand difficult to read.  (I’m hoping this will improve with practise, since this is a major part of the first year of my forthcoming course.)  The MOOC is provided via futurelearn by the University of Glasgow.  The paleography is intertwined with Scottish history, and is therefore doubly useful for those with Scottish roots.  However, these sections can be speed-read if you wish.  If you do have Scottish roots you might be interested in using your new skills to help in transcribing the kirk session records of Govan Old.  There is a link to learn more about this right at the end of the course.

Google Books is my genie!

I remember years ago, watching an episode of The Goodies on TV.  They had got themselves into a typical Goodies scrape, and one of them said ‘What we need is an English-Swahili dictionary….. Ah! Here’s one!’  It still makes me smile now, the absurdity of something so obscure turning up on the table right beside you, just when you need it.  And yet, exactly this has happened to me….. twice!

The first time was six years ago.  I had just worked out that the reason I’d spent many years searching without success for my great grandfather Edward, was because he was listed with a completely different surname on every census and other conceivable document.  Finally, tracing him back through his childhood to his birth, I realised that his father had been a Jewish immigrant who had died not long after Edward’s birth.  Edward was then listed in 1861 with his mother’s maiden surname and in 1871 with his stepfather’s surname.  In the 1880s after marriage, he and my great grandmother tried out several different variations on all of the above, registering and baptising their children with different surnames before finally settling on the one I knew as my grandmother’s.  I remember sitting at the dining table working through all this in my mind, and wondering if their motivation might have been rising antisemitic tensions.  With no memory at all of his father and no emotional connection to the surname with which he had been registered at birth, Edward seemed keen to remove it – and the threat of antisemitism – from his family. I remember raising my eyes heavenwards in a rather dramatic gesture of seeking divine intervention, and thinking ‘What I need is a book about Jewish history and antisemitism in Leeds in the 1870s and 1880s.’  At the time we were having work done in another room, and all along the floor by the dining room window, piles of rather obscure books were taking refuge from the dust and upheaval under way in their usual room.  Still deep in thought, I exhaled, lowering my eyes in the direction of the window to my left, and as I did so the very first thing I saw was a book with the title Immigrants and the class struggle: The Jewish immigrant in Leeds, 1880-1914.  Why my husband had this book remains something of a puzzle, but it was just what I needed.

The second occasion was just last week… you’ll soon start to see what all of this has to do with the title of this blog post!  I’ve been writing up the story of Benjamin who was transported to Tasmania in 1834.  Research had turned up the name of the convict ship on which he was transported and the names of the Ship’s Master and Ship’s Surgeon.  I knew from wider reading that Benjamin’s experience of the voyage would have depended largely on the attitude of the Ship’s Surgeon, Thomas Braidwood Wilson.  Like every Ship’s Surgeon he was required to complete a log of the voyage, including treatment of serious illnesses and general comments.  Unfortunately, since Dr Wilson chose to write his log in Latin I was able to learn nothing at all about the man.  If only there was some way of finding out more about him and getting inside his head…

In these situations I always start with Wikipedia.  Although this is not accepted as a reliable source, a good entry will include sources and further reading.  So starting with Wikipedia I learned that Dr Wilson was not only a Royal Navy Surgeon but also an explorer and botanist.  At least two of his descendants have written about his life, but there didn’t seem to be a way of getting copies of their work outside Australia.  That was when I hit the jackpot: a narrative of one of his voyages around the world, starting with a convict voyage to Sydney in 1828 then a circumnavigation of Australia including a shipwreck and several exploratory expeditions inland.  That alone would have given me an insight into the man, but then just for me (!) he concludes with a chapter about the practice of transportation and his approach to dealing with convicts during the voyage.  The full facsimile copy of this is available to read for free on Google Books.  You can click the image below to find it yourself.  I read the entire text and found it easy to read, most interesting and most importantly for my particular needs, very enlightening about the author.  If early exploration about Australia interests you, perhaps you’ll enjoy it too, but I’m really just including it here as an example.Title page of facsimile copy of TB Wilson's A Voyage Round the World, published 1835.There are several points to come out of all this:

Firstly, don’t give up!  The seemingly impossible might just happen.  Admittedly, when it does, it is probably more likely to happen through the intervention of the Internet rather than a physical book appearing at your side.

Second, it seems that in the ninteenth century people wrote books and pamphlets on all kinds of rather niche topics. Even if you don’t know the title of the book (or even if you don’t know such a book exists), if you start out with a search on Google or Wikipedia you might be guided to exactly what you need.

Third, I’ve previously referred to other facsimile copies on Google Books, e.g. [here] and [here].  Being now out of copyright, many of these books and pamphlets have been copied and made available for anyone to read, free of charge.  Alternatively, the entry may direct you to where library copies are available.

Fourth, you may also find Amazon Kindle to be of use.  Here too, many older, out-of-copyright books have been typed up and made available for free from Kindle.  I’ve downloaded several novels to read as background for my research, just to get a feel of the period.  You don’t need an actual ‘Kindle’ to make use of this.  A free App enables you to read Kindle books on other devices.

Finally, other Kindle books may be available at very reasonable prices that will help fill in some gaps for you.  I usually find these come up as suggested items when I search for something specific.  For example I was searching for an (alarmingly expensive!) book about prison hulks when a short biography based on the memoirs of a transported convict popped up as a suggestion.  It cost me £4.49 and being an e-book was available immediately for me to read.  Very useful it was too.

I hope all of this has helped you to imagine that the seemingly impossible might be within your reach… at least in relation to antiquarian publications.

Finding ancestors’ siblings

You’ve found a new ancestor and now you now want to find his or her siblings.  How do you do that?  An obvious answer that might come to mind (depending on the era of course) is that they will be listed along with your direct ancestors on the census.  But that isn’t necessarily so.  The census will list all children of the family who are still alive and at home on the night of the census.  Some might have died before they even got a chance to be included on a census; some might be working away in service or apprenticeship; some might be spending the night with grandparents.  In other words, the census is a good start, but it might not be complete.

So to be sure of finding all the siblings, we need to use other sources.  We need to check baptisms and, after 1837, civil birth registrations.  And before we can do this, we need to get as much information as possible about the parents.

I’m going to use four different online resources to get information about the siblings of one of my ancestors: Ann Wade who, according to the 1851 census, was born in Huntington (just outside York) around September 1850.  Her father was William Wade from York, and her mother was Jane, also from Huntington.

These are the resources we’ll be using:

To get started, we need to find Ann’s birth. We will use the GRO birth index and the following search criteria: surname Wade; forename Ann; female, born 1850 (exact); Registration District: York.

I find two Ann Wades born in York that year, but one would have been older than six months at the time of the 1851 census, so I’m leaning towards the other, registered Oct-Dec of 1850, and her mother’s maiden name is Cass.

If I can find a marriage within a reasonable time before 1850 between a William Wade and a Jane Cass, then I know I have the correct family.  The Marriage Index on FreeBMD has such a marriage in Oct-Dec 1948, and a further FindMyPast record shows that the marriage took place in Huntington.

We now have all we need to search for all children born to William Wade and Jane née Cass in York, after their marriage (1848).  I like to allow 20 childbirthing years, but this can be extended.  As we work with the different resources, note how the search criteria differs slightly for each one.  See how, as the information we input varies, this can impact on the usefulness of the results.  But note too how we can use the various resources together to build up a richer picture of the family.

Census returns
Before we start searching using the four websites listed above, let’s see what the census returns have to say.  According to them, how many children did William and Jane have?  These are the children recorded:

1851 – Ann, 6 months
1861 – Ann, 10yrs; William, 6 yrs
1871 – William, 15 yrs; Sarah, 9 yrs

Let’s see if there are more, who slipped through the net.

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The General Register Office Birth Index – free to use, but you need a (free) account.

The search criteria now varies from our first ‘fact-finding’ search for Ann.  We input the following: surname; forenames left blank;  mother’s maiden name (If these are names likely to be mis-spelled, we can change the ‘exact matches only’ to something more approximate); Registration District: York.  For this search we need to start at 1848, so I’m starting with 1850 plus/minus 2 years, then 1854 plus/minus 2 years, 1858, 1862, etc.  I will need to do this twice: once for females and once for males.

These are the birth registrations (Wade; MMN Cass) the GRO Index returns:

  • Ann, Dec 1849 (MMN mis-transcribed as Coss so I didn’t pick her up at first)
  • Ann, Dec 1850
  • Thomas, Mar 1852
  • John Thomas, Jun 1853
  • William, Dec 1854
  • Edwin, Dec 1855
  • Thomas, Jun 1857
  • Edwin, Jun 1858
  • Sarah, Sep 1861

A bit of an advance on the census returns!

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FamilySearch – free to use, but you need a (free) account.

Let’s switch now to FamilySearch.  What we hope to find here are the baptism records for each of the children.  These should fit together nicely with the births.  From the top menu bar, Click Search then Records.

On this search form the search criteria is: surname (Wade, in my case); parents’ names (I don’t include the mother’s maiden name in case it confuses the search, just her forename); birthplace; country (England); and the start and end years of my search.  The search will stick to these dates exactly.

Here’s what we get, all on the first page of results, all identifiable by the parents’ names, and all but one identifiable by the York parish of St Maurice:

  • Ann, baptised 24 Sep 1849, York St Maurice
  • Ann, baptised 28 Sep 1850, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, baptised 11 Jan 1852, York St Maurice
  • John Thomas, baptised 30 Apr 1853, York St Maurice
  • William, baptised 16 Oct 1854, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, baptised 27 Dec 1855, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, baptised 16 Apr 1857, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, baptised 5 Apr 1858, York St Maurice
  • Sarah, baptised 4 Jul 1861, York St Olave

(So this also tells me the family moved house between April 1858 and July 1861.)

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Ancestry – Subscription site. You may be able to access at the local library, or free access during one of their ‘free’ weekends.
Our search in Ancestry starts with Search on the top menu bar, then selecting Birth, Marriage & Death.  Search criteria here is: surname (forename left blank); year, plus/minus 10 years; birthplace; parents’ names.

This returns 159,267 birth records, but I can see which ones are in York, and if I hover the cursor over the record I can see the parents’ names without having to open each record.

So it’s quite quick to see that the following civil birth registrations and baptisms are all on the first page.  The advantage here is that if your tree is on Ancestry, saving these records will automatically input the source information.

  • Ann, Dec 1849; baptised 24 Sep 1849, York St Maurice
  • Ann, Dec 1850; baptised 28 Sep 1850, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, Mar 1852; baptised 11 Jan 1852, York St Maurice
  • John Thomas, Jun 1853; baptised 30 Apr 1853, York St Maurice
  • William, Dec 1854; baptised 16 Oct 1854, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, Dec 1855; baptised 27 Dec 1855, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, Jun 1857; baptised 16 Apr 1857, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, Jun 1858; baptised 5 Apr 1858, York St Maurice
  • Sarah, Sep 1861; baptised 4 Jul 1861, York St Olave

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FindMyPast – Subscription site. You may be able to access at the local library, or free access during one of their ‘free’ weekends.
Search criteria: surname; forename left blank; year (plus/minus 10 years); location.  It is not possible to input parents’ names, therefore results are not filtered by this information – a disadvantage since this search returns 47 civil birth records and 145 baptisms.  All the siblings are there, but I have to open and check each one to see if they are children of William Wade and Jane née Cass.

However, FindMyPast has a big advantage in this particular case: their records include images of the original parish registers and original Bishop’s Transcripts – always preferable to using a modern transcript.  One way of overcoming the disadvantage of the limited search criteria would be to find the children from the GRO and FamilySearch, and then to key in specific names and dates for each on on FindMyPast in order to obtain the specific records with images.

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As you can see, in this situation, the free sites served us very nicely, and together gave us transcripts of all the evidence we need.  In this particular case, although FindMyPast was the most cumbersome to use, the records available were the best.  By familiarising ourselves with the search mechanisms of a number of sites – your subscription site along with whatever free-to-use sites there are – you’ll soon learn which site would likely give you the best results in any search, and you’ll get to know how to use them in combination for best results.

And as for the Wade family, for whom only three children ever showed up on the censuses, the sad truth is that there were nine live births, and six of them died shortly afterwards.  This adds considerably to the ‘story’ of parents William and Jane.

Archiving photographs

I hope this finds you well and feeling positive.  I had planned to be spending this coming week and last with family, but it wasn’t to be, not for a few weeks yet.  I hope you’re finding things to do with your time, and that if the lockdown has left you with even more to do than usual (e.g. home schooling) that you’re finding some time for yourself too.

So as it’s Easter weekend I thought something light would be in order.  I’ve been sorting through my inherited family photos and I’m at the very early stages of archiving them properly.  It will take a long time to do it, but reading around the subject I’ve come up with a list of what I need to do, and I thought I would share that with you.

Organise:
Sort photos into families.  If possible, store these in acid free boxes until they are scanned.  The scanning is likely to take some time, and is best done in small batches.
I’ve sorted my photos into my mum’s side, my dad’s side, and the ones that were taken after my parents got together.  There are also some people I don’t know, plus others that I feel sure I will be able to put a name to when comparing with other images.

Scan:
I know from past attempts at archiving my photos that the scanning process will take considerable time, particularly as I like to digitally ‘clean up’ the images as I go.
Scan the front and if there is anything on the back, e.g. photographer’s studio, date, greeting, etc. scan the back too.
Store them as tiff files with caption and metadata.  (There’s something I didn’t do last time.)

Save:
Save to hard drive, pen drive, the Cloud, etc – as many places and options as you have.

Use and Share:
You can now attach copies of these photos to people in your trees as well as share them with others researching your family – preferably to receive more photos in return!  You could also use them in projects to scrapbook your family history, create albums, etc.

Label:
As you finish with each batch of scanned photos the originals can now be labelled.  There are two schools of thought on this:

  1. Label with a soft #2 pencil on the back of the image.   To do this, lay image face down on a clean, white sheet of paper.  Write gently close to edge of rear of image.  Do not press hard.  Here is a blogpost about the best writing materials to use.
  2. Alternatively… Do not label the actual photos!  Instead place in acid free envelopes or sleeves.  Label each sleeve.  Afterwards remove the photos from their sleeves as little as possible, but if you do remove them, be sure to return each one to the correct sleeve.  Apparently, polyester sleeves are acid free and recommended for archival quality.
  3. Ancestry have produced a blogpost on what information to include on the label when archiving photographs.  It’s a lot more than you might imagine.

Store:
The photos can now be stored in archival conditions.  Everything should be acid free.  Particularly fragile photos can be wrapped in acid free tissue paper instead of being placed in sleeves.  I’ve found archival photo storage boxes at a dedicated preservation equipment supplier that I’ll buy when they reopen after lockdown ends.  These boxes must then be stored in a living area of the house (not an attic, cellar, garage, where temperatures fluctuate).  Ideal conditions are well-ventilated, cool rather than warm, low humidity and dark.  In a box under the bed but not close to a radiator might be a good place.  My plan (at this stage) is to place the archival storage boxes in a plastic crate that will fit under a bed.

I have two large biscuit tins of precious photos (you might wonder why they are in buscuit tins if they are so precious – but even this is a step-up from how I received them) plus two large plastic crates of more recent albums, so I have my work cut out here.  This isn’t a weekend project!

Please do leave a comment if you can add anything to this.

On that note I wish you a Happy Easter, Chag Sameach or if neither apply I hope you have a very happy weekend.

My granddad’s ‘housewife’

Army issue khaki 'housewife'

This is my granddad’s army sewing kit, known as a ‘housewife’, and dating from the period 1907-1919. As a young soldier, he had to learn to take care of his own uniform.  During the freezing cold winters of some of his tours, he also learned to knit – partly for something to fill the time, partly for the warmth afforded by the results.  Upon arriving back home late in 1919 he married my grandma, and when my mum came along it was he who passed these skills on to her, teaching her to mend and sew by hand and to knit.  Many years later, she – my mum – taught me.  From these humble beginnings my love of all kinds of needlework expanded and developed, straying far from my granddad’s knitting for warmth and sewing for necessity.  Eventually, in 2009, I started my first online blog which focused  on needlecrafts and other creative projects.  It has to be said, though, that by this time my ‘sewing kit’ occupied considerably more cupboard space than this little roll…

British Army khaki soldier's 'housewife', unrolled

My granddad’s ‘housewife’ belongs to me now.  Although it’s standard issue, it is nevertheless a very personal item, and would have travelled with him to many parts of the world.  It bears his regiment and personal identification details, and contains everything he needed to keep his uniform in full working order: needles, thread, elastic, safety pins, spare buttons … and tucked away at the back of that pocket … what seemed to be a bullet!

.303 calibre Enfield rifle drill cartridge

So one day, back in 2012 I posted these photos on my needlework blog.  The point of the post was to highlight the link between my granddad’s sewing and knitting and my own needlework skills, which bizarrely I seem to owe to the British Expeditionary Force!

However, that blog post caused quite a stir!

A couple of readers pointed out that the bullet could be dangerous.  They advised me to investigate its safety.  But how do you investigate the safety of a hundred year-old bullet?  In the UK, gun ownership is strictly regulated, and my gun-related knowledge was and remains virtually non-existent.  (Is it a bit dense to say I assumed it was the action of the gun that propelled the bullet through the air, rather than the explosive properties of the bullet itself…?!)

So a local gun club was my first port of call.  In an email sent via their website I explained that I had an early 20th Century British Army bullet and asked for information as to where I should go to have it checked out.  I was surprised to receive, almost immediately, a telephone call from the club, advising me that the bullet could be dangerous.  It would not spontaneously explode, but if dropped at a certain angle it could do so.  Not only that, but it’s illegal to be in possession of even one bullet in the UK without a firearms licence.  So concerned was my adviser from the gun club that he would have driven over to my house to look at the bullet had it not been for the photograph I was able to point him to on the blog – the photo you see directly above.  After seeing this he thought it had been decommissioned.  This would make it both safe and legal – but he asked me to take it into the gunsmith for a second opinion.

I had walked past this gunsmith’s shop a hundred times without even knowing it existed.  Now (rather carefully!) I took in my bullet and they couldn’t have been more helpful.  It turned out that this isn’t in fact a bullet at all.  It’s a dummy, or ‘drill cartridge’.  My granddad would have used it for drills: for practising loading the rifle at speed.

By this time, in a highly unexpected turn of events, that post from my needlework blog had been shared by an enthusiast to his own firearms blog!  Consequently I now had a small international team of firearms experts advising behind the scenes.  The brass case, I learned, is the ‘cartridge’.  The four holes drilled into it indicate it will not fire.  (You can see straight through two of these holes in my photograph below.)  The ‘bullet’ is the red bit at the end, but a real bullet would have a cupronickel coating; this one is wood.  The reason my granddad kept it in his sewing kit was to avoid the risk of mixing it up with the live ammunition.

.303 calibre Enfield rifle drill cartridge

I was so grateful to everyone who got involved.   Of course I was relieved to know that ‘my bullet’ wasn’t dangerous – and that I didn’t have to give it up.  But I was equally delighted to have a little more information about my granddad’s time in the army.  Thanks to all these people, I now knew that the rifle my granddad used was a .303 calibre Enfield.  I already knew he was something of a crack shot – we have a number of spoons inscribed with his name, and a trophy – all won in Army shooting contests.  And in truth, as a firearms expert himself, he would not have kept this tucked away in his family home for more than fifty years if it had been dangerous to do so.

I share all this here for several reasons.  First of all, just look how much you can learn about a family member from one small item!  Secondly, it illustrates what a wonderful resource the Internet can be, not to mention the kindness of enthusiasts who really seemed to take this situation to heart, were keen to help and had genuinely been concerned for my safety.  But on top of all that, I thought you might appreciate the story.  🙂

Do you have a little something stuffed away in a drawer that you might be able to explore further?  You never know what you might learn!