The National Burial Grounds Survey

I have to admit to having a soft spot for a good burial records book. So it was with great interest that I learned a few months ago of a project to map every churchyard and burial ground in England and Wales. There have been a few articles published about it over the past couple of months so you may already know about it, but if not I hope this overview will be of interest.

It’s a huge project, commenced in the autumn of 2021 by Cumbria-based surveying and mapping company Atlantic Geomatics. Using state-of-the-art equipment, they are creating accurate maps of everything in every churchyard or cemetery. They will then photograph the memorials and headstones, and finally scan in original records of parish registers, linking them to specific graves on the map. Apart from the obvious uses for genealogists, church and local authority officials will be able to access their own private areas on the website, adding new records and photographs and recording biodiversity and health & safety information.

There are more than 18,000 church and municipal burial grounds in England and Wales. As of last August more than three hundred of them had been mapped, and it’s expected that the entire project will take seven years.

Although the church and other organisations will have free access to their own part of the website, there will be a cost to us, currently set at £8 per burial ground per month. This seems to me ample time to gather all the information for all ancestors buried in one parish or one municipal cemetery, and then perhaps subscribe another month to a different place.

Although The National Burial Grounds Survey website is now live, at the time of writing it just provides information about what’s happening and what will be available. There are also a couple of examples of mapped graveyards, but without the interactive records and headstone facilities. We won’t all have to wait seven years before any information beomes available, though. Completed data will go online diocese by diocese, as all stages of work for every burial ground within its boundaries become complete.

I’ve been thinking about how it might help with our research. Clearly there are overlaps with already available record sets and websites. Find-a-Grave, for example, (owned by Ancestry.com) includes data from 549,619 cemeteries in 246 different countries, with burial site, plot, information and headstone photographs. However, availability of information depends on whether or not a member of the Find-a-Grave ‘community’ has photographed and added the details to the website. The National Burial Grounds Survey will be systematic and largely all-embracing. I note from a document provided for the information of church/parish officials (see link at bottom of post) that ‘unmarked graves’ will not be mapped but can be added by officials when their whereabouts becomes known. I’m assuming this means plots simply not presently known to be graves, rather than ‘graves without a headstone’.

Family researchers like us will be able to do an initial search for free, and then subcribe by the month to access detailed information, including the exact location of the grave. This will be a great improvement on existing arrangements, which often involve contacting ‘Cems and Crems’ or religious burial ground officials, or even someone representing ‘Friends of XXX Cemetery’ going out and walking around to try to track down a specific grave for us. I’ve been lucky to have had great experience of these kinds of contacts, and free of charge, but some authorities make a significant charge for providing the information (more than the £8 monthly fee suggested here for just one request). It will be much easier to do an online index search and take it from there.

Linking the grave to the burial record is useful. Although much of this information is already available online, to see digital photos of the original record you do generally need a subscription to the commercial website licensed to provide it by the relevant Records Office where the originals are lodged. Furthermore, although coverage is increasing, not all parishes are yet available online; and certainly not all municipal cemeteries. My experience is that records kept by the latter are generally far more comprehensive than parish burial registers, easily standing in for a civil death certificate if required. In other words, the information provide by the records will vary in quality and detail and certainly won’t differ from what might already be available online.

Finally, although I note that the interior of churches will be mapped and location of pews, etc, recorded, there is no mention of the recording of graves within the churches, nor indeed the memorial flagstones, which I think is a great omission. Since amateur and professional genealogists are likely to be the primary paying users of the website, I think this is a missed opportunity. It’s a pity a representative from the Society of Genealogists or other family history organisation was not called upon for advice regarding the type of information we want. That said, precise locational information about who was buried where may already have been lost. The 1663 parish burial record of one of my ancestors states he was buried in the south aisle of the church. I’ve tried to find out precisely where, and with a view to photographing the memorial flagstone. Unfortunately, in this case the flagstones have long since been replaced, and there is no map.

To conclude, based on the information so far publicly available, I’m optimistic about this project. I’m sure it will make tracking down the final resting place of many people a simpler task, and without the need to bother local administrators with individual requests. Finding the exact location of the grave of many ancestors will be much easier, and that’s to be welcomed. I know I’ll be keen to subscribe for a month as soon as I know any of my main burial grounds of interest have gone live. That said, for the reasons outlined above there will inevitably be gaps in the indexes and, particularly for long-ago burials, it may not provide that vital piece of missing information we’ve been desperately hunting.

*****

Here’s some additional information found online:

A document produced by the Church of England/ Atlantic Geomatics for the information of church and parish officials

An article about the project: The Spooky Quest to Build a Google Maps for Graveyards (NB: I don’t think it’s at all ‘spooky’!)

Using historic directories in genealogy research

Have you ever used historic trade and local directories to help with your family research?

History
The first directory of London merchants was published in 1677, and from 1734 London directories were published annually. Directories for the rest of the country started to appear from around 1760 in the cities and big towns, a little later in more rural areas and small towns. Some of the directories covered a county, a wider region, or perhaps a collection of adjacent towns. These ones may include quite small towns.

Original purpose
The primary purpose of these earlier directories was commercial, and it’s no coincidence that their appearance coincided with the Industrial Revolution. They facilitated the trade and distribution of goods, including raw materials used by manufacturers. These earlier editions were aimed at commercial travellers. They therefore included distances from each town included to the others, distances from London, the location of the Post Office, plus carriers, stagecoach connections and later, railway connections. Places of worship and important public offices are also often included.

Layout
Originally only the chief inhabitants are included: principal landowners (‘gentry and clergy’ or ‘private residents’), more substantial tradesmen and professional classes. The listings of traders followed the local worthies, laid out by trade, and in alphabetical order within each trade. Over time, directories grew to include heads of households, with alphabetical listings of individuals as well as listings by trade. Some also include alphabetical listings of streets.

As an example, Pigot’s Directory of Kent, 1824, commences with a description of the county followed by distances between the various towns in the county, and from each town to London. There then follows a separate directory for each town, the towns appearing in alphabetical order. Within each town business types are arranged in alphabetical order. For example, Chatham has Academies, Attorneys, Auctioneers, Bakers, Bankers, and so on; and within each category, individual tradesmen/businessmen are listed alphabetically, with first and last name and street. You’ll find it [here].

I find it useful to start at the beginning of the directory, get a feel for the layout, and then use the index and page number links to flip about through the books, gradually homing in on towns, surnames and trades of interest.

Where to find them
There are various ways to access the directories.

First of all, the local and family history library covering your area of interest may have original copies for you to browse – possibly even a full collection of every historic directory published for the area if you’re lucky.

Next, there is a brilliant resource available online: the University of Leicester Special Collections Online. This includes 689 directories, ranging from the 1760s right up to the 1910s.
The collection is available [here].
The example used above (Kent and Chatham) is taken from this website.

Ancestry have a good selection that is searchable by clicking on ‘Search’ on the top toolbar, then selecting ‘Schools, Directories and Church Histories’.

FindMyPast also have a good selection. Click on ‘Search’ and then ‘Directories & Social History’ to start your search.

You may also find directories relevant to your needs in the relevant town/ parish on GENUKI.
I found transcriptions of three directories for Huntington, including my 4x great grandfather Thomas Cass, who was victualler at the White Horse inn, in the (very short!) 1823 Baines Directory for that parish

You may also find directories online by Googling, or by searching directly on Internet Archive with terms “directory” + name of town. As an example, Googling ‘internet archive York directory’ led me to the 1822 Baines Directory for the whole county of Yorkshire. Within its pages I can see that my 4x great grandfather John Wade is already at his woollen draper and tailoring business at Stonegate, York. I also found two members of my Bumby family, both blacksmiths, along with their addresses in Thirsk.

There may also be transcripts available from the family history society relevant to your area of interest.

That’s a lot of possibilities to work through!

How can directories help us as family historians?

  • First, from a local history perspective, it’s interesting to note what businesses were needed in the various towns, how these might vary from town to town according to location, and how this changed over time.
  • After 1841, they are a useful check-in for the years between the census, alongside addresses and occupations given on Births/ Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths/ Burials/ Cemetery records. Any one of these might add just a little more information that the others don’t have.
  • They can also be used to help locate people in the census if they are elusive. You might be able to search by address rather than name, or even find the correct Enumeration District and virtually ‘walk the route’ until you find your people.
  • Before 1841, they provide valuable information about trade and actual address. Usually, the abode on parish registers is the name of a village or area of town, rather than a specific address.
  • You may be able to use this new information in conjunction with contemporary maps to locate your ancestor physically within the town and its facilities.
  • If the individuals are in a town or city with Guilds and apprenticeship records, these should tie in with the trade being practised. I found that one of my 4x great uncles in York had changed his occupation. Having been apprenticed as a printer, he went on to become a bank clerk.
  • Here’s an interesting one: I recently read that many of our female ancestors were recorded in the census as doing ‘Unpaid domestic duties’ in the censuses not because it was the reality, but because census enumerators only enquired about the waged occupations of male heads of households. As an example, the 1851 census for Keswick recorded no landladies, whereas the Directory listed sixty-nine. (Steinbach, 2004, p10). Prior to the censuses, and once more using the Chatham Directory (above) as an example, I found a good number of women traders. If the business owner is a female of the finer sort her first name may not be included. So we see Mrs Bagster, the Misses Burr, Miss Omer and Mrs Russell all run Academies. However, Ann Chidwick is listed as a Boot & Shoemaker, Sarah Clark as a corn chandler, and so on. This information about the women’s businesses would be difficult, even impossible, to obtain via other means, even after the commencement of the census, but certainly before it.

I hope this has given you some new ideas for expanding your research.

Source
Susie Steinbach: Women in England 1760-1914: A Social History, 2004, Phoenix/ Orion Books, London.

Stoke-on-Trent: a family historian’s dream!

19th century buildings that are part of a historic pottery in Stoke-on-Trent. Now a museum.
Middleport Pottery, Burslem. Photo: Janice Heppenstall

I will admit that Stoke-on-Trent was largely a closed book to me until quite recently.  I have The Great Pottery Throwdown (initially BBC, later Channel 4) to thank for piquing my interest, and in September I visited one of the potteries where the programme has been filmed.

From ‘Six Towns’ to ‘Stoke-on-Trent’
Thanks to an abundance of local clays and coal, from the mid-seventeenth century, six towns in Staffordshire emerged as the centre of the British pottery industry, and one of the foremost pottery centres in Europe. These six towns were Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke-upon-Trent and Tunstall. A flip through the 1891 census shows Fenton, Hanley, Longton and Stoke-upon-Trent categorised as sub-registration districts under the civil parish of Stoke-upon-Trent.  Tunstall was a sub-registration district under Wolstanton civil parish, and Burslem was a separate civil parish. 

Map showing the Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent
Location of the Six Towns.
Image taken from thepotteries.org Click image to go to the page.

Modern-day Stoke-on-Trent is, famously, an amalgamation of those ‘Six Towns’.  This happened in 1910, with the creation of the federation and county borough of Stoke-on-Trent. Later, in 1925, Stoke-on-Trent was granted city status.  The county borough was abolished in 1974, when Stoke became a non-metropolitan district of Staffordshire, although it became a unitary authority in 1997. (Note that the original town and parish name of Stoke-upon-Trent becomes Stoke-on-Trent when referring to the modern city/unitary authority; or indeed, just ‘Stoke’.) 

Even in 1911 and 1921, after the creation of the county borough of Stoke-on-Trent, the census returns continue to be enumerated under the headings of the distinct towns.

‘The Potteries’
Today, in recognition of the importance of Stoke-on-Trent to the British pottery industry, this whole area is known as ‘The Potteries’. By the turn of the nineteenth century there were more than 300 potworks here. However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century it became difficult to compete with cheaper overseas producers. A succession of factory closures resulted in the loss of 32,000 jobs in the ceramics industry: from 45,000 in 1975 and 23,000 in 1991 to just 13,000 by 2002. (The Guardian: Gone to pot, 29 May 2002)

I’ve not been able to find a properly sourced account of the proportion of the population of ‘The Potteries’ actually employed in the industry during its heyday.  However, census pages suggest a very high proportion.  Try looking for Clarice Cliffe’s entry on the 1901 census.  This future ceramic artist and designer, now regarded as one of the most influential of the 20th Century, was born in 1899 in Tunstall, and is to be found in 1901 living with her father, Henry T Cliffe, mother Ann and three older siblings at 19 Meir Street.  With the exception of Clarice’s father (a Foundry Ironmoulder) plus four other people, every single person of working age on the two pages straddled by the Cliffe family’s entry is employed in the potteries.

An alleyway between 19th century industrial buildings. The buildings are connected at first floor level, above the alley. Today, the buildings make an attractive scene, with fairy lights.
Middleport Pottery, Burslem. Photo: Janice Heppenstall

Okaay… But why ‘a family historian’s dream’?
Pottery has been a huge part of Stoke-on-Trent’s past; and although there’s no doubt that the factory closures and decline of the industry have taken their toll on the local economy, it is immediately obvious to the visitor that it’s still very much part of the area’s present. First, a number of significant producers continue to thrive.  These include Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton; Portmeirion; Steelite International; Burleigh; Wade; Churchill; Endeka; Johnson Tiles; Dudson and Emma Bridgwater. Second, a number of the closed factories are now open to the public as museums. One account I read described the area as a sort of ‘pottery theme park’, but this is not a derogatory statement. Quite apart from this successful move to tourism, it’s clear from other blogs and articles found online that these museums attract serious ceramics enthusiasts as well as practising potters. It’s here, too, where the genealogical goodness is to be found. Wherever we’re from, most of us are descended from the ordinary workers, not the big people who employed them, made the rules and more frequently made the news. Often, all we know about our ancestors is a handful of entries on a number of official documents. However, by reading about the area, the industry they worked in, the history of churches the devout ones attended and so on, we can build up a picture of their lives – and for me, this is really enjoyable. How much more so, then, if we can add to this by visiting the actual place where they worked, or at least one very similar to it, listen to recordings/ watch footage of people who worked there, and see before and after photos of the place. Apart from the New Lanark mill and village, now a wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site but being a much smaller, individual concern, of direct ancestral relevance to fewer researchers, I haven’t come across anywhere to rival Stoke’s living heritage experience. If you know of other places, please do say so in the comments.

The museums
The Visit Stoke website has a page dedicated to the area’s award-winning pottery museums, heritage centres and pottery factory outlets. Here, you’ll find, among other listings:

Spode Museum Trust Heritage Centre This tells the story of Spode and its importance to Stoke over the 230 years of its operation, with displays of its history, people and working conditions from the 1770s until closure in 2008.

Etruria Industrial Museum The last working steam-powered potters’ mill in Britain.

Dudson Museum, in Hanley. Located in an atmospheric, original Grade II listed bottle oven, and focusing on the history of the company’s production together with industrial history, what life was like for the workers, etc.

Middleport Pottery, in Burslem. Includes the mould store, rooms where the paintresses worked, original Victorian offices, and a Grade II listed bottle kiln. The earlier series of The Great Pottery Throwdown were filmed here.

Gladstone Pottery Museum, in Longton. The only complete Victorian pottery factory. Although not one of the famous potteries, it was typical of hundreds of similar factories in the area making everyday ceramic items for the mass market. Here, you can experience what conditions were like for the men, women and children who worked in the Staffordshire pottery industry. The 2021 and 2022 series of The Great Pottery Throwdown were filmed here.

Bottle kiln, now disused but Grade 2 Listed, at Middleport Pottery in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent
Bottle kiln at Middleport Pottery, Burslem. Photo: Janice Heppenstall

The museum we visited was the Middleport Pottery, home of Burleigh ware and known locally in its time as the ‘Seven Oven Works’, this being the number of bottle kilns (three biscuit and four glost bottle ovens). All my own photos included here were taken there. It’s free to wander round outside, with a charge if you want to go into certain rooms and exhibitions.

The Middleport works opened in 1889, on the banks of the Trent & Mersey canal, and the Burleigh company was hailed as an example of efficient production and greatly improved conditions for the employees. That said, although these photos suggest a picturesque industrial past, The Potteries was not a healthy place to live and work. While today there are only forty-seven bottle kilns remaining in the city, there were previously more than two thousand. You’ll find more information about the bottle kilns [here].

Longton, below, situated in a slight hollow, was the most polluted of all the towns. Writer Arnnold Bennet considered it ‘akin to Hell’.

Photograph taken in 1895 by A.W.J. Blake, showing rows of workers' housing alongside working bottle kilns, and a great deal of smoke hanging over the town
Longton, circa 1895, with at least 65 bottle kilns and a great deal of smoke. Photo A.W.J. Blake. Click the image to go to the Longton page on the Stoke on Trent/ Potteries local history website.

Clearly, such living conditions would have caused and aggravated lung diseases for all inhabitants. However, for those in close proximity to processes involving flint or alumina powder, there was an additional hazard, known in the trade as ‘Potter’s Rot’. Caused by breathing in large amounts of the dust, this affected the lungs of potters. If your potter ancestor’s death certificate recorded a cause of death of silicosis or other lung disorder, there’s a good chance this may have been Potter’s Rot.

Room with long tables in centre, and chairs, where women once worked to paint pottery. Old pottery moulds are used to display shelves around the room
Long tables where the Middleport Pottery paintresses once sat and worked. Photo: Janice Heppenstall

It was a poster about Potter’s Rot in one of the rooms at Middleport that opened my eyes to the possibilities of this as a fantastic, experiential source of information for family historians. I have no Stoke-on-Trent or potter ancestors at all, but I’ve enjoyed researching this, and have no hesitation at all in recommending a weekend in Stoke with visits to as many of the above-named museums as possible for anyone who can trace their ancestry back to this area.

Other resources
If a visit is out of the question, there are still other resources, several of them freely available online.

On YouTube, search for “the potteries” and other similar terms to find lots of videos, including some documentaries.

Read the works of Arnold Bennet, which tend to be set in the area, including Anna of the Five Towns. Most of his works seem to be available for free from the Amazon Kindle store. (On the Amazon website, limit your search to Kindle, and search for “Arnold Bennett free”.)

The Colour Room is a film about the life of Clarice Cliff.

There is a good bibliography on the Stoke-upon-Trent page at GENUKI. I’ve seen excerpts from The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent… by John Ward (1843) and On the Mortality of the Parish of Stoke-upon-Trent, with reference to its causes, and the ratio of deaths among children and potters by John Thomas Aldridge (1864) whilst researching for this post; and they would be very useful for family historians. The older books are likely to be available freely online through Internet Archive or similar.

I also came across a chapter about the Pottery Industry in Staffordshire by Peter Van der Heyden which had useful historical information.

Whether you have Potteries ancestry or not, I hope you found this interesting. I hope it might give you some new ideas about thinking outside the box when researching the lives of your own ancestors. Do please add comments about any similar places you’ve come across, that would give useful insights about the lives of people working in particular places and industries. Is there anything to rival Stoke-on-Trent?!


Old books for free!

Did you know that there are ways to read old publications completely free of charge?

I mean… obviously you can go to the library, but a lot of the books we need as genealogists are not sufficiently ‘general interest’ to be available on the library shelves, and although they might be available on an inter-library book loan, that takes time.

But you can often get them absolutely free, and instantly. Here’s how.

First, there’s the Internet Archive. You can read about it [here]; and if you go to [the home page] and just scroll down a little, you can search for any title and see if they have it. If the book you need was published before 1927, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find it there.

Next is the Hathi Trust. Again, read about it [here] – their focus is more academic than the Internet Archive. Then, back at [the home page], just enter your search terms to see if they have what you’re looking for.

The type of book you might find is truly breathtaking! As examples – I can access the full range of Leeds Parish registers as published by the Thoresby Society, Leeds’s prestigious local history society. There is also a complete set of indexes for all probate and administration entries at the Prerogative Court of York, from 1389 to 1688. More obscure – and you would be surprised how often this happens – I like to read around events when researching my ancestors, and sometimes I think ‘Oh, *if only* someone had written a book covering precisely XXXXX’ Well, often they have! I wished for a book written by the actual ship’s surgeon on the voyage that transported one of my kinsmen to Van Diemen’s Land – and found he had indeed written a book, including a chapter on his approach to his charges during transportation voyages! More recently, and thanks to one of the regular readers of this blog (Thank you Tony!) we have found a book written by someone who worked as a child in a mill of interest to Tony, and actually alongside the older children of my 3xG grandparents!

But if you never wish, you won’t find them!

Less obscure books, like literature that might add useful context to your research can often be found for free at Amazon on Kindle. You don’t need an actual Kindle to read Kindle books. You can download the app and read on any other handheld device or on a PC. On the search bar, set the department to Kindle Books, and then put in the book or the author you want (e.g. ‘Charlotte Brontë’) and add the words ‘free kindle books’. If the book you want isn’t available for free it might be available at reduced cost – £2 or so.

Good luck! I hope you find just what you need!

Changes to the Find A Will website

Oh my goodness! What have they done to the online GRO Find a Will service?!

I haven’t had reason to order a post-1858 Will for ages, so I didn’t know about the changes until I saw the video below. But before moving on to that, in case all this is new to you here’s a bit of introductory information about Wills.

Before 1858 Wills were dealt with by the Church courts – finding them can be a challenge because there was a whole hierarchy of courts; and where your ancestor’s Will was proved depended on where they lived, where they held land, the value of their estate and a number of other factors. That’s a topic for another post.

After 1858 Wills came under the jurisdiction of civil probate courts: one Principal Probate Registry, a number of local Probate Registries and a single, central index which is available online and is searchable. In other words, if your ancestor died in or after 1858 and had something to leave to their descendants, their Will or Administration papers will be much easier to find. These are the Wills we’re talking about here.

The central index is known as the National Probate Calendar. Often, seeing that will give you all the information you need. For example, the entry for my GG grandmother’s second husband provides his full name, his address, his occupation, the date of death, the regional Probate Registry where probate was granted, the names of two men to whom it was granted, and the value of his effects.

That’s a lot of information, and it may already fill some gaps for you. It will certainly enable you to narrow down the entries and be sure you have the right person. However, particularly when you’re at the fairly early stages of your research and trying to keep costs down, you may be happy just to leave it at that.

Before we move on, there are a couple of notes about these entries:
First, the National Probate Calendar arranges information according to the year probate was granted, not the year of death. This is particularly important to note because when you watch the video you’ll see the online search asks you for the year of death and limits the search to that one year. You can start with that, but always be prepared to move forwards a year (or maybe more) if the person you’re looking for doesn’t show. In my example above this person died on 11th December 1898, but probate was not granted until 26th January of 1899. 1899, then, is the year under which he’s to be found.

Second, the people named (the people to whom probate is granted) are not necessarily the people who are inheriting. They are the executors (or administrators). They may be the same people as those inheriting, but may not. In the example above, the two men named as executors were just that. One was the deceased’s wife’s stepbrother; I’m not able to place the other. Again, even without sight of the will this gives me some interesting information: I know from other documents that the actual stepfather was abusive; I have no idea where he went after the 1861 census, but I know he was not living with his wife, my GGG grandmother. And yet here is evidence that his son from a former marriage maintained a kinship relationship with his stepsister, my GG grandmother.

If you have an Ancestry subscription you can see the National Probate Calendar with the full entry, including all the information above, and you can link it to your person’s profile. The record set is England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995

However, you can also see it using the government’s own Find a Will service, and if you want to order a copy of the Will, this is where you need to go. The cost of ordering is just £1.50. For this you get digital images of all the pages. Before ordering, please note that if your ancestor died intestate – that is, if he or she didn’t make a Will – this will be recorded on the entry as ‘Letters of Administration’ rather than ‘The Will’ (or sometimes just ‘Administration’ as opposed to ‘Probate’). If that is the case, obviously there is no Will to see, but the Letters of Administration will still give names of the administrators and those who will inherit.

So… if all this is new to you, I hope that has got you up to speed.

The GRO Find a Will website search facility has recently been changed, and it’s currently rather clunky! I’m going to hand you over to Dave Annal who has prepared a short video (8 minutes 57 seconds) that shows how he overcame the changes. I hope you find it useful – and that you find some ancestors’ Wills.

DNA Painter Ancestral Trees

Fan tree created using DNA Painter
DNA Painter fan tree

Today I have pretty things for you!
For ages I wanted to create a colourful fan tree. I had no idea how to go about doing that but suspected it would involve a lot of work, so I was particularly impressed when, a while back, Jonny Pearl introduced the facility to do this very quickly and easily on his DNA Painter site.

I wrote about DNA Painter earlier this year as part of my mini-series on using chromosome browsers as part of DNA research for genealogy. As explained in that previous post, DNA Painter is brilliant for mapping out your DNA segments, but in theory even if you don’t intend at this stage to use the main DNA functions, you could still get your own colourful fan just by uploading your tree to the site. You do this by downloading the GEDCOM file from your online tree or your own software or simply by inputting the information manually.

Once loaded, your tree will appear as a pedigree with each of the lines colour coded. The DNA Painter default palette uses pretty much the same colours I use on Ancestry to assign known DNA matches to each of my great grandparents’ lines, but here on DNA Painter the default paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather colours were the wrong way round for me. It was very easy to flip the colours. Editing and building the tree is very straightforward too. You can hover over any ancestor to edit their information, add their parents or delete them, and you can mark them as a genetic ancestor – someone who is a common ancestor confirmed not only by paper trail but also by DNA. Fly your cursor over any ancestor and then select View/Edit → Edit or Add Notes to change any information about them, including the colours used for them and their ancestors.

From this point you can go to the three options at the top left hand corner of the screen: TREE / FAN / TEXT. Tree is the default – the pedigree. Text is a handy pedigree list of all your ancestors, with dates and places of birth and death. However for me the fan is the most exciting part. It only goes to 10 generations and I have some lines further back than that, so they are not included. Already, though, you can see at a glance how well you’re doing and where you have gaps.

I’m sure the arrangement in the fan above is obvious, but in case it isn’t: from left to right, the colour blocks are pale blue for my paternal side and pink for maternal. Then I have blue for my paternal grandfather (with violet and blue for his ancestors); yellow for paternal grandmother (with orange and yellow for previous ancestors); green for maternal grandfather (with turquoise and green for his ancestors); and finally salmon pink for maternal grandmother, with deeper pink and browny pink for her ancestral lines.

For all versions of the fan tree shown in the images in this post, you can hover over any individual person’s ‘box’ to see their name, vital dates and their relationship to you. At the same time on the left of your screen you’ll see the lineage from that person to you. I couldn’t show this in these images because the screen shot process disables the hovering cursor.

You can also click on ‘Tree Completeness’ over at top right of the screen to get numbers and statistics of ancestors identified at each generational level. All the images in this post click for a bigger version, but you’ll definitely need to do that to see the info on this next image.

Screen grab of DNA Painter Ancestral Trees tool bar showing options for Tree view, DNA filters, Tree completeness and other options
DNA Painter Ancestral Trees toolbar

Moving along the toolbar options to ‘Dimensions’, these next two fan charts draw upon all the information you provided when you uploaded or built your tree. First, you can see all your ancestors colour-coded by the age at which they died.

Fan tree showing ancestors' ages at death
DNA Painter fan tree showing ancestors’ ages at death

Next, ancestors colour-coded by the century in which they were born.

Fan tree showing century of ancestors' births
DNA Painter fan tree showing century of ancestors’ births

So far all the charts shown relate simply to the detail of your family tree. However, if you also work with DNA, you can make use of all the following fan charts:

On the upper toolbar, select DNA Filters. The first option is Show Genetic Ancestors. Provided you have already marked which of your ancestors are proven as genetically linked (see above) you will now see how you’re doing in terms of corroborating your documented tree through DNA matching. This is mine.

Fan tree showing ancestors with genetic link proven by DNA
DNA Painter fan tree showing ancestors with genetic link proven by DNA

My first ever DNA post was about deep ancestral DNA testing: mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome DNA. To recap very quickly, everyone inherits mitochondrial DNA from their mother – but only daughters pass it on. This means everyone can be sure that they share the same mitochondrial haplogroup as their mother, their mother’s mother, and so on right back through time. That is illustrated by the following chart. (In fact I have only been able to trace this line back to 3xG grandmother, but even though I don’t know her name, I do know that my 4xG grandmother has the same mitochondrial as me.)

Fan tree showing mitochondrial DNA inheritance
DNA Painter fan tree showing mitochondrial DNA inheritance

Y-chromosome DNA works exactly the same way, but only males inherit it, and obviously therefore only fathers pass it on. So the Y-DNA inheritance path is an exact mirror image of the mitochondrial, following father’s father’s father’s father’s line right the way back. (The chart below showing this is for a man whose DNA I manage. Obviously I can’t get this information from my own DNA.)

Fan tree showing Y-chromosome DNA inheritance
DNA Painter fan tree showing Y-chromosome DNA inheritance

The second option in DNA Filters is Show X-DNA Path. At some point I’ll do a blogpost about X DNA. I haven’t done it so far because I don’t have many X matches to use as illustrations. If you already understand X-DNA inheritance patterns the meaning of the following two screenshots will already be clear, and when I do eventually write about this I’ll include them, since they illustrate perfectly the different inheritance patterns for females (the one immediately below)…

Fan tree showing X-DNA inheritance for females
DNA Painter fan tree showing X-DNA inheritance for females

… and males:

Fan tree showing X-DNA inheritance for males
DNA Painter fan tree showing X-DNA inheritance for males

Because of the dark colour used, it isn’t clear from these last two screen grabs that if you hover your cursor over the dark patch the intensity of colour reduces and you can see the individual ancestors’ names.

I don’t know about you, but I think all of this is pretty cool!

Presenting a visual legacy

Black and white photo of group British Army National Service recruits

One of the young men in this photo is my Dad. It was taken in 1946 during his initial National Service training in Aberdeen. When I look at it I think of an amusing story he told me about his time there.

One of the other recruits was from the Western Isles. A Gaelic speaker, it soon became clear he didn’t understand English. The NCOs persevered, doing their best to make clear what they required, but eventually it was accepted it just wasn’t going to work. The decision was taken to release the Gaelic speaking man from National Service. Assuming he wouldn’t be able to navigate the route to the railway station and make himself understood when buying a ticket for the journey back to the Islands, they asked my Dad to accompany him, buy his ticket and see him safely onto the right train. This my Dad did, and as they were parting the young man who spoke only Gaelic turned to him, shook him warmly by the hand and said in perfect Scottish-accented English: ‘Well thank you very much. You’ve been very helpful.’ And with that he jumped on his train and escaped National Service.

*****

Starting with more recent generations is more likely to create interest
My personal observation is that even people with no interest in family history will nevertheless enjoy stories about people they knew. I’ve often made the mistake of thinking a distant cousin might share my fascination with our shared line back to the 17th century, only to find what they’re really interested in is the life of their grandparents. As luck would have it, those more recent generations are the ones we have photos for. It follows then that old family photos are a great place to start in encouraging younger generations to take an interest in their wider family history.

In my last post I wrote about my dawning realisation that unless I make my family photographs more accessible, they could easily be lost forever when I’m no longer around, and I outlined what I’ve been doing to organise my files. This time I’m focusing on using and presenting those images. The emphasis here remains on digital images. But as is clear from the above example, this doesn’t exclude the beautiful monochrome photos we inherited from our parents and grandparents. I wrote previously about archiving the originals and how, for safety, these old photos should be scanned and digitised too, before the originals are safely stored. My own digitisation of all the old photos I inherited is about halfway complete. So now – old photos or modern – I’m ready to turn to what we can do once they are safely stored in our digital archives.

We need to provide context
A Facebook Family History group I’m a member of often has requests from people working through old family photos but with no idea who the subjects are. It takes a group effort with people contributing knowledge about changing fashions, estimating ages and the like, so that the original poster can try to work out who the subjects might be. I’ve also participated in ‘spot the unusual earlobe’ type discussions in which we’re asked if two photos might be of the same person, thirty years apart.

At the very least, then, what we need is to provide future generations with notes about who and when. If possible what, where and why would also be great. I like to take it a stage further if I can, using the photo as a starting point for a story, just like the one at the top of this post. I know from experience that this can help draw people in, but I need a way of presenting them alongside the images for family members to keep. What follows considers physical creations using images you print off yourself; and digital creations, in which you create the entire thing at your computer and then share the file/ link or a print of that end product.

Physical creations
Photo albums and scrapbooking are tactile and can be beautiful. I used to love arranging photos, and adding notes and other memorabilia. However, they take up a lot of space, and it’s now widely known that many albums actually harm our photos. Even if I took swift action to replace those first albums with sticky pages covered with film bought for about 99 pence each in my early teens, I know that none of my later albums, despite being much better quality, are actually ‘archival’. What we need is acid/ lignin/ PVC-free archival quality albums; and these come at a cost. It turns out albums with black pages are a no-no too; I have two of these. What’s known these days as ‘scrapbooking’ (and has little to do with what used to be called ‘scrapbooks’!) is probably safer for the photographs, since those who enjoy this craft are more likely to be aware of archival issues; and archival quality scrapbook papers, adhesives and the like are widely available. Having given much thought to this whole issue I’ve come to the conclusion that provided I don’t use treasured originals of monochrome photos, and provided I have a digital back-up of any images used, albums and scrapbooking are fine. I’ve removed all the old monochrome photos taken by my Dad from the cheap album I put them in when I was 13, and will be keeping them in an archival quality box from now on, but as long as any prints used can be replaced, I’m happy to have my photos in albums and scrapbooking albums.

Digital creations
Undoubtedly, digital creations have a lot of advantages. Whereas you would probably compile only one album or create only one scrapbook about an event or a special person’s life, a digital version of the same can be circulated amongst the extended family. This list has been compiled following a lot of online research and mulling it all over, a bit of talking to others, and some dabbling. It has enabled me to work out what options I’m going to use, and I hope it will help you too.

Creating Timelines
This idea turned out to be a lot more complicated than I expected. There are so many online applications and articles about creating timelines, that I had to keep reminding myself of what I was trying to achieve. What I want to be able to do is quite specific:

  • create a series of short timelines focusing on just one person or even just one part of that person’s life, for example my Dad’s time doing National Service, or my Granddad’s service with the Green Howards
  • build each timeline around my own family photographs
  • attach stories and significant local or world events as context
  • include maps
  • have it online, but private and password protected, so that I can invite family members but not overload them with info at any one time. This also means they could return to look any time they want without fear of losing, say, an email link or a document from me.

I narrowed the various options down to four online timeline websites.

Twile is online, free, private, password-protected and family members can be invited to view and collaborate. They provide the option to start by uploading a GEDCOM file, which I did. After a bit of exploration it seems easy to use. However, the skeleton timeline created by my GEDCOM goes back to the 1500s and this will seem cumbersome and off-putting to family members. So – just because I’ve already uploaded the entire GEDCOM – I’ve decided to use Twile for a different purpose: to create Timelines for more distant ancestors when I’m working on their life stories and researching/ recording context.

Timetoast appealed because it’s not linked to a family tree. You can create as many timelines as you like – so you can home in on a specific part of a person’s life and make another timeline for their full life if you wanted. Provided you’re happy with them all being public the account is free. There are two options for paid accounts, the more expensive Pro account providing an all-bells-and-whistles experience. My problem here is that I would want my recent generation timelines to be private but wouldn’t make so many timelines that it would be worth paying the full subscription. However, if you would make sufficient use of it this does seem like a good option.

HistoryLines also looks very good. They make it clear that what they’re about is the stories, and that’s just what I’m trying to achieve here. Their vehicle for telling these stories is your family tree and although you can start with a couple of stories for free, there is a subscription if you want to keep going. Their offering is different from the others in that they have gathered together a lot of contextual information that you can access and link directly to your timelines. This contextual information is arranged by State and, being a US-based company, my impression from the website was that you’d get more from what they have to offer if your ancestry is within the US. However, I wrote to ask a few questions and received very full and helpful responses to them all. Importantly, they tell me they do have a lot of contextual content for England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. You can also just input information and leave it to HistoryLines to auto-write the stories if you don’t feel confident about writing your own content.

Treelines is free but they do reserve the right to charge at some point in the future. They say ‘If ever we do start charging users, even if you decide not to pay for a subscription, we will not delete any data you’ve already added to the site.’ You have the option for uploading a GEDCOM, but for this website I’ve inputted manually myself, my parents, my grandparents and my great grandparents. I’ll gradually add siblings, etc, as I focus on the timeline for each of these people. Your tree is accessible only to the people you invite to it, although there is an option to make any timeline public. Importantly for my needs, there is the facility to add additional stories away from the main timeline for that person. This is the website I will use to share stories and timelines with my children, nephews and niece.

Books
Online self-publishing and marketing platforms like Blurb offer free book-making tools to help users design and publish books and ebooks. They also provide a platform for promoting and selling the product should you wish to do that. They offer a variety of book formats and quality papers, and a range of styles of book, including travelogues and family photo books.

My husband’s second cousin (also a genealogist; we worked together on their shared line) has been using Blurb for fourteen years. She tells me the company is helpful, the quality and colour of the printed books excellent, and they deal well with text passages alongside images. The maximum number of pages for the printed book is 240. She pays extra for premium lustre paper and image wrap onto the cover. The pdf file of a book costs about £3.80 and you can share it with no restriction, but the cost of printed books is high so she waits for special offers. I haven’t seen any of her actual printed books but I do have a copy of the pdf of her family history book, which is nothing short of a masterpiece. It seems to me that paying a lot for what is destined to be a family heirloom is money well spent. When I wrote to Blurb to ask a couple of questions they replied within 24 hours, answering fully. They advised that all of their papers are acid-free/archival quality, and that all their books, regardless of paper type, should last as long as a typical bookstore book with proper care and handling.

Photo printing Apps
A quick Google search indicates quite a few photo printing Apps are available. After downloading to your mobile device you can use them to create a range of books (hardback, softback, booklet), prints and other products. So this is a variation on Blurb, but only for your mobile phone/tablet photos, and great if your phone is your primary camera. This is not for me – I want to edit photos and add contextual information, spending time poring over it to get the wording just right – but it might suit you. My husband has used Popsa and tells me it’s very easy to use.

Digital scrapbooking
There are various options for digital scrapbooking, from a free basic online programme called Smilebook to highly customizable software costing around £60-100, and all levels in between. These are expensive to make if you intend to print off the pages, but for circulating as digital creations, once you’ve chosen your programme, the only cost is your time. Here’s a review of the best digital scrapbooking software for 2021. As a result of exploring all this I’ve bought some digital scrapbooking papers and embelllishments and have been creating digital scrapbook pages using the Photoshop Elements programme I already use for photo editing. The results have been quite impressive and – wait for it! – I’ve had interest in them and the stories behind them from two nephews!

DIY Options
To keep costs down, here are some ideas for creating something yourself on your home computer. If you’re going to circulate to family members via email or Dropbox there’s no need to print these off, so no additional ink costs.

Finding Guide
This first idea is simply administrative and I’ve already created my own. It includes a list of my digital folders, where they’re to be found (PC and remote storage), dates covered and some thumbnail examples of the photos in each. Having put so much effort into my digital photo archives I feel confident that the folders themselves won’t change much, so it’s simply a question of keeping them up to date and updating the finding guide as technology and remote storage changes. I don’t need this: I know my archives system inside out; but our grown-up children can access our remote storage. They will now be able to find old photos, including the monochrome ones but also their own childhood photos, any time they want to.

Stories with photos
You could create a series of stories and recollections in a Microsoft Word document, each page starting with an image and followed by the text, like I did above. Other than a single photo followed by a body of text though, Word isn’t ideal for lots of images and wrap-around text.

Creating a Timeline using Word
Here’s a ‘Quick and Easy How To Tutorial’ for creating a family history timeline using Microsoft Word. I haven’t put it to the test, but the instructions seems clear enough.

*****

Well, they are my ideas and I hope the above has provided some useful information for you. If you have any experience with any of these photo-plus-story presentation options please let us know about it in the comments. The process of working through all this has certainly helped me to plan my next stages, and I’ll be reporting back on some of these options when I’ve had a chance to really explore them.

Leaving a family history legacy for future generations

I’ve been thinking about what we can do to plan for passing on our research, photos and family history legacy to future generations – whether this means to our own families or to others interested more generally in our findings. All this has been weighing on my mind for two reasons. First, I’ve spent a lot of time recently reorganising and refining my photographic archives. More about that in the next two posts. Second… well, to be honest, my grown-up children are not particularly interested in their ancestry, and I suspect this is the reality for many keen genealogists. I have even featured in a video sketch made by one of their friends, in which I turn every topic into an ancestral story… In the video my leaping off point was an onion! It’s perfectly understandable really: I wasn’t interested in my Dad’s stamp collection, and I have no right to expect my family to be fascinated by the events surrounding 3xG Uncle Anthony’s transportation to Australia. I just wish they were – it’s a truly fascinating story! 😀

So this post is written from the personal starting point of trying to work out what we can do to interest family members in our research… The next two posts will be about organising digital photos and making them more accessible and interesting, but in this first post we’ll look at ‘genealogy wills’ and a few other ideas for trying to engage our children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces…. anyone! – in their family legacy.

Make a ‘Genealogy Will’
First, the serious stuff… The idea is that you leave a genealogy-specific Will along with your regular one to be dealt with by your executors. The aim is to do what we can to ensure our research doesn’t just get wiped or go in the bin when we’re no longer around. RootsWeb published an outline ‘Genealogy Will’ that you can download and fill in the gaps or use as the basis for writing your own. It includes listing people who might be interested in taking custody of and responsibility for maintaining your work, and failing that, organisations you think might be interested in receiving it. FamilyTree.com write about how you might plan for this in their blogpost Create a Genealogical Will, although it’s aimed at readers in the United States. It makes sense, if possible, that rather than leave this to our executors, we identify for ourselves a family member who is prepared to be the custodian of our work, and show them the ropes. I hope all this is well into the future for us all, and I don’t feel inclined to write one just yet. For a start, absolutely no one springs to mind who would want to take it on. And who knows what the technology will look like by then or what online companies and local history societies will have survived? But when I do write it I intend to include websites and passwords, and to review it from time to time.

Creative ideas for passing on a family history legacy
There are lots of articles online that focus on leaving a family history legacy for your family. Obviously, different ideas will appeal to different people. Mostly, they involve creative activity, either for you alone, or with children. Some of them are about treasuring memories made together and having them to pass on, rather than specifically about our ancestry.

  • If you enjoy doing crafty things with the children or grandchildren, working together on a family scrapbook might appeal.
  • A Google search for ‘children’s family tree book’ turns up lots of books to get children interested: some stories, some for recording information.
  • Older children or teenagers with an interest might like to help collate and chronicle old family records, letters and heirlooms.
  • Keen cooks might enjoy writing up a collection of family recipes to be passed on. I like the idea of that, but to be honest my Mum viewed cooking as a chore and I only have two genuine heirloom family recipes, which is a bit limited as the basis for a family recipe book. Even this lack of recipes could reflect social history: I remember watching a TV history programme in which it was suggested that girls growing up during the war, particularly in cities, didn’t learn to cook from their mothers because their mothers were just making do with what they could get. I know, for example, that my Grandma stopped making bread and all they had was the ‘utility loaf‘.
  • If your kids have so far resisted the call of family history but you fancy enlisting the grandchildren by stealth, a shelf of family treasures is suggested, the idea being that you use them as visual aids while you tell stories about who they belonged to.
  • Needleworkers might enjoy putting together a quilt using fabric pieces from old clothes. I enjoy embroidery and have made a number of items for family members, such as Christmas stockings, each dedicated to the recipient. I know these are/will be treasured and passed on as heirlooms, but that’s a story that starts with them and me. It doesn’t bring in the older family legacy.
  • Making a video or audio recording, perhaps at a family gathering, might be more your thing. StoryCorps, whose mission is ‘to preserve the stories of our time in America’ have published lists of starter questions to get people talking.
  • If you’re a musical family you might like to make a recording of a song or musical piece. We produced a ‘singing Christmas card’ in 2002 – a CD of us singing ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’. Obviously we didn’t send it to everyone on our list, but those who got it appreciated it; and I still enjoy it every year at Christmas.
  • If you always wondered if you had a book inside you, you might try your hand at an autobiography or even a larger history of the family based on your research. In her video How to Write and Self Publish Your Family History Book, Lisa Louise Cooke interviews J.M. Phillips, self-published author of Lamlash Street: A Portrait of 1960’s Post-War London Through One Family’s Story. In the video the author shares her story together with some hints at getting started and seeing it through to the end. Of course, you don’t have to publish your work; you might just write down memories and stories in an exercise book. I was passed just such a personal account by a distant cousin, and it provided a rather gossipy insight into the family life of my great grandfather.
  • Another idea I’ve seen is to bury a time capsule. I find it quite difficult to think through the logistics of that, unless you have a settled country pile that’s likely to remain in the family – but if you have such a residence then this might be the idea for you! Safe.co.uk published How to do your own time capsule and keep your memories safe, aimed broadly at people with our interests. Another blogpost aimed more at getting children to bury time capsules was published by the Museum of Wales: Bury a Time Capsule. You can even buy special time capsules guaranteed to keep the contents safe for a certain number of years.

Perhaps there’s something there to interest you. If you have any other ideas, or if you’ve already managed to interest family members in your family history, please do share the secrets of your success in the comments. In the next post we’ll move onto photographs.

Cousin Calculator

Cartoon by Vic Lee (2015) showing Einstein struggling to work out genealogical relationships

The difference between ‘second cousin’ and ‘first cousin once removed’ is not difficult to grasp.  The former is someone who shares the same great grandparents as you, whereas the latter is EITHER the child of your cousin OR you are the child of their cousin.  But in non-genealogy circles it’s surprising how many people get this muddled.  In fact I remember, myself, referring to my cousin’s children as my second cousins.  So this week here’s a little something for less experienced genealogists – or indeed for anyone having trouble calculating cousin relationships.  This becomes all the more important if you start to work with DNA and need to place likely matches, but there’s a DNA-specific cousin calculator to help with that aspect.  Today’s post is all about understanding how and why our cousins are ‘removed’.

The following ‘Cousin Calculator’ chart is really quick and easy to use (instructions down the right side).  It’s available from FamilySearch.  Click the link to download a higher resolution copy for your own use.

Grid enabling quick calculations of cousin relationships

This is really helpful in pointing you to the answer, but it still doesn’t explain why and how these people are so many times ‘removed’; and understanding this seems to me to be the main difficulty for many people.  I hope the following explanation will help.

It’s all about different generational ‘levels’
We know that these cousins are on two distinct, direct lines of descent from the ancestors they both have in common.  As set out on the above chart, first cousins share the same grandparents, second cousins share the same great grandparents, third cousins share the same GG grandparents, and so on….  However, the above only holds good when there is no generational difference between the two cousins.  We talk about cousins being ‘removed’ when there is a generational difference between them.  First cousin once removed, second cousin three times removed, and so on.

In fact, as an old hand now, dealing with this, I don’t use a chart to identify cousin relationships.  I find it quicker to look at those two individual lines of descent and do a couple of quick calculations:

  • First, I identify the Most Recent Common Ancestor(s)
  • Then I count how many generations down from them to my ‘cousin’ in the other line.  This gives us the ‘2nd cousin’, ‘3rd cousin’, (or whatever) part of the relationship.
  • Next, if they are older than (more accurately, ‘on a generational level above’) me, I look to see who is their ‘opposite number’ in my line.  That is, which of my ancestors is on the same generational level?
  • And finally I count down how many additional generations from that ancestor to me.  The number of additional generations is how many times ‘removed’ we are.
  • If my ‘cousin’ on the other line is on a generational level below me, then I look for my own ‘opposite number’ in their line, and count down how many additional generations to them, to get the number of times ‘removed’.
Family tree showing two lines of descent

This little family tree shows two lines of descent from my 3xG grandparents, George and Mary.  I’m descended from their daughter Annie Elizabeth.  The other line is descended from their daughter Martha.  A couple of years ago I made contact with Martha’s great grandson, called [Son] on the tree, to ask if he had any photos of Martha and Annie Elizabeth that he might share with me.  He didn’t, but he did have a little ‘family history’ that his aunt [Amy] had written sometime during the 1950s.  What a find!  There were some inaccuracies in it, but it gave a real insight into my great grandfather George’s life – information I couldn’t have got from anywhere else and which really helped me to understand the family dynamics.

So – the key people in that little story are [Son], his aunt [Amy] and [Me]. 

Amy is the same generational level as my granddad John.   The two of them are three generations below their Most Recent Common Ancestors (MRCA), George & Mary.  In other words, George & Mary are their great grandparents, making John and Amy second cousins (2C)

To calculate my relationship to [Amy] I need to count down from John to myself – that’s two generations.  So [Amy] is my second cousin twice removed (2C2R)

However, if I want to calculate my relationship to [Son], I don’t use my granddad John as the benchmark, because [Son] is on the same generational level as my Dad.  The two of them are four generations below their MRCA couple, their 2xG grandparents (George & Mary), making my Dad and [Son] third cousins.  I am one generation below [Son’s] third cousin (my Dad), so [Son] and I are third cousins once removed (3C1R), and my children are [Son’s] third cousins twice removed (3C2R).

Half cousins
Sometimes we see the term ‘half cousin’ or even something like ‘half third cousin twice removed’.  Wow – Scary! 😀 

The important thing to remember here is that the ‘half’ relates to the MRCA couple.  One of the ancestral couple married twice.  One of these half cousins is descended from the first spouse and the other from the second.  The rest of the calculation is exactly as above.  If the ancestor had married more than twice the same would apply – all descendents from that ancestor but with different spouses would always be ‘half’ plus something: half 4C, half 3C3R, etc.

I don’t know if this helps, or if any of my experienced readers have another way, but that’s how I do it.  Either way, if you didn’t understand why some cousins are ‘half’ or ‘removed’, I hope you do now.

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.