How much does it cost to research family history?

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There are several short answers to this, from nothing to as much as you want to spend, but maybe that is not so helpful.

A lot will depend on your ultimate aim, do you want to find out for just yourself, or your close family or do you want to present your findings to the world at large as a properly researched scientific work.

Most people start off small, just trying to find some recent history for their own pleasure or to satisfy curiosity of family members. Most research can be done by talking to family members, collating their recollections and collecting copies of any paper documents they have. All it will cost is your time and maybe travel expenses or telephone calls. Storing the data so you can get it back later is either handwritten notes and files, or use a computer to store word processor documents or you could get a dedicated genealogy programme.

The software option is where many people make the mistake of buying something that locks them into that system. I would recommend something like Gramps, it is free open source software that is easy enough for a beginner but has advanced features for professional use. If you do not like it or drop the research then it has cost you nothing.

The next step on your journey will take you places where there are multiple options and increasing price tags. Research outside your relatives memory will, these days, take you to online genealogy search sites. My recommendation is do not pay to access any site until you know what you are doing and how to do it. It may seem easier to join something like Ancestry but you could trap yourself. You will not be able to download everything you upload, if you stop paying the subscription you will not have access to your data, and there are other problems. Similar stories can be applied to other sites.

Initially you can get a long way with family search, which is free to search and does have many full records you can see, some will link to another pay sites but at least you know there is a record to find. Another advantage is that family search covers many countries.

If you need data for a specific country then there are many free search sites that can be found. For the UK there is freebmd and sister sites covering census pages and parish records. For Nederland try wiewaswie (who was who) which might also help with S. African records. Cyndies list is the place to go to find more reseaech aids.

Once you have researched as far as you can easily then it might be time to consider paying to access more data, but now you might have some idea where to look and be able to judge the value for money in your case.

As a guide, my own tree had 2500 people on it back to the 1500’s on 5 continents before I considered subscribing to a site, the determining factor was the missing citations of sources. I had made notes which allowed me to find the unseen records but to prove my research I needed to see the original records.

So to answer my question, you can do a lot at no cost, but if you want to call yourself a genealogist then you will need to pay something to do the job correctly. It could be that one site does not cover all the areas you need but expect to pay around 100 $, euro or pounds a year per site, take advantage of special offers which appear very often, often let your subscription lapse at the end of the year and a month or so later you may get a 50% discount to rejoin.

Not working harder, working smarter

With the end of December and beginning of January being the most depressing time of the year I decided to cheer myself up by updating most of my 1881 census people. This is a lot of work, checking everyone has sources and the family details are correct, this is where working smarter comes in. It is a case of adding any that I missed to the Lost Cousins website which gives me a chance to find more cousins who have researched the direct lines of theirs which are only cousin lines of mine.

To start with I used Gramps, the only software that I use daily, to filter my database to only show people born before 1881 and people who died after 1881, this then only shows me people alive in 1881, who will be in the UK 1881 census if they were in Britain. I still had about 1400 people listed, a lot more than the 100 or so I had already added to Lost Cousins, but at least half were from Germany, Nederland and even South Africa or Italy.

The first thing I noticed was half a dozen women with no family name, these were women who married into my tree but I have not found their definitive marriage yet. The new GRO birth search form helps here, as it now lists the maiden name of mothers back to 1837, checking all the children born will confirm the birth records of each child and the mothers name so I could add the birth reference’s that were missing for any children, check I had all the census data added and add them to Lost Cousins if they were not already there and update her maiden name. Knowing the mothers birth name gave a chance to find the marriage record and perhaps census records for her before marriage and so add her parents and siblings.

If I find her or her family in 1841 I can add them to Lost Cousins as well, more chance of finding cousins, it is also possible to find her siblings in 1881 and add them, men of course are easier to find, but that is life.

What made it even better to do this was that Lost Cousins have a contest running the rest of this month, adding people enter you in a draw with things like DNA tests and year subscriptions as prizes, check their newsletter for details. If you are not already a member, why not? It is free and informative.

Lance Corporal Arthur Ellis Davies

In their infinite wisdom and generosity the UK government send me a couple of hundred quid a year as winter fuel allowance, makes up the the woeful pittance they pay me as a pension. My fuel costs for the last 10 years have not added up to the amount they pay me each year so I use it for something useful. This year I ordered a copy of my fathers military records, despite the hassle of them only accepting cheques or bankers drafts for payment, which European banks have not used for 20 years or more, I got a big envelope this week.

Five A3 pages, 13 A4 pages, a covering letter with research tips and a translation guide to the abbreviations used.

So I have been busy with him this week, Arthur Davies, the British records do not cover the year long period he was part of the Allied Forces in Italy, presumably the were kept by the US as they were in charge of the campaign. This means I have no official record of him being wounded while invading Italy or where he was for the next year, but as I visited the places he was, with him, in 1963 and met several people he worked with I ‘know’ these facts, but I will need to find some documents to prove the facts.

I also found out he was based in Oxford a short while after returning from Italy, my mother was based in Oxford, near Bicester. They must have met there as they married a month after he left the army.

Free online genealogy course

A free online genealogy course is due to start in January.

The free FutureLearn course Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree is being presented by Tahitia McCabe of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

You can find out more and sign-up here – it really is free, no matter who you are or where you live.


Lydia Helen Rush

Lydia is my third cousin, twice removed and something of an enigma.

I have quite a lot of details of her early life in London before 1900, I know of a mistake with her grandparents, they were possibly brother and sister in law of her grandparents.

I also have a lot of details of her life in California after 1910, it is the bit in the middle that is causing a headache.

Most US census entries give her date of immigration as 1899 or 1900 although I have not found her on any 1900 census and more confusing was her inclusion on the census entry from 31 March 1901 with her parents, in London. She married in 1906 in San Jose, so why was she in England in 1901?

There were several ideas that I had including her parents adding her name to the census as they hoped she would return, or she did return to try and convince some of her family to emigrate as well. No facts have been found to support any ideas I had and no definite names on ships manifests either.

I then came across a message on a forum from my fifth cousin Margie, a direct descendant of Lydia, who proposed that Lydia had been married around 1899 and had a child but both husband and child died in an influenza epidemic, this might well explain her return to England and why she is not on any 1900 US census, she would have been listed under her married name and possibly the same name was used on the second manifest when she returned to the US. It is also possible that she was married, or claimed to be married on her first emigration, no definite British marriage records have been found and searching for a baby and father that died somewhere in the US about 1900 is not easy with no names.

This looks like another question that will not be answered until I get a time machine.

Cousins, why bother?

Not much in the of updates this week, a few brickwalls moved a step back with the new GRO search engine, for light relief traced some Australian, New Zealand and Newfoundland lines, about 25 people added and 30 edited.

Of more interest were cousins. I came across 2 colonist cousins who seem to have copied  a lot of my research, except the sources and with one the dates, and put them on their own tree sites. Without sources or dates it has no point and without researching the 2 – 300 people they have I cannot add anything from their trees to mine. Luckily I do have some cousins who collaborate on our joint trees.

Whist muttering to myself about the stupidity of some people I came across a site new to me. Lost Cousins which looks like a great site for new researchers, lots of tips and advice and a major tool to kickstart your research, there are also benefits for more experienced researchers.

The basic helpful tool will match your known ancestors with other peoples and link you to cousins. Many online sites will of course match ancestors for you, some will charge you to upload data, some will charge you for matching or otherwise limit you use of the links as a cash flow for their company. Joining and adding your data is free with Lost Cousins.

Other sites seem to like to give you hundreds or thousands of matches, most being incorrect but Lost Cousins works on a specific format to produce exact matches only and as the data matched has been added by a researcher in your family you are certain of finding cousins. You enter ancestors from specific sets of census data and your relationship to them and see if anyone else has added them. It takes less than 5 minutes to add complete families and I found a new cousin after entering about 60 people, two relatives of mine were direct line ancestors of theirs, a short while later another cousin popped up with four matches, a day later a third cousin was listed but I already knew her.

The main reason this site will help new researchers is many of the census collections are free to view on several sites, once you have people from 1940 US or 1881 UK you can add them and cousins will help your tree grow. If you think you have these people fully researched you may find your cousins have information that you were not aware of.

Once you have added enough people to the site you are invited to join the forum, which is another fun place to visit and learn from.

Only drawbacks to the site is you need to be a member to be able to contact cousins, but that costs less than a couple of cups of coffee a year. The other drawback you might find is the sponsored links, subscription is low as the owner covers costs by referral links, if you are thinking of buying something it will not cost you more to buy through his link, but if you really object to the low key links an adblocker will help you.

In any case it is worth joining for just the newsletter.

Congratulations to the UK goverment

Specifically to the General Register Office (GRO) who have finally dragged themselves into the late 20th century. Not the 21st century yet but still better than the archaic system they have had for 150 years.

There are two important changes, first they have reindexed the registers, using digital images from the abandoned digitisation project and from the original documents, this means less transcription errors, or at least different errors. The GRO site has a new search engine that includes things not seen before, like mothers maiden names going back to 1837 instead of not being available before 1912, also age at death is given for deaths before 1860.

You now have more chance of breaking brickwalls or finding infants that were missing on census entries. I moved several lines back to the 1700’s after decades of being stuck.

The search process is a bit clunky, you need a family name, a gender and a year as minimum requirements, it also helps to have an intimate knowledge of registration districts. I was reinvestigating Edward Davies the family lived in two counties in England and two in Wales in 5 towns at least. Liverpool has more than one registration district, Chester is a registration district but not at that time, it was the Great Boughton and Birkenhead as in Wirral. But I found his wife’s name and confirmed most children, the first two were not born in Liverpool as every census shows, one was baptised there but born in Holywell, the first child is still proving to be a problem.

The second improvement the GRO have introduced is pdf copies of registration details by email. The first bonus is they are cheaper, though they still cost more than paper certificates did a couple of years ago. The second advantage should be speed, instead of the usual three or four weeks they expect to send an email within five days. I got my first pdf on Sunday afternoon 3 days after ordering, there were two people with the same name on the index page and I got two pdf’s, the first was the wrong one so I assumed they had sent two different pdf’s but no they were both the wrong one, so that means another email with 5 day turn around to sort it out.

The pdf by email is only a trial at the moment so it is important to fill in the feedback forms to get the service extended, improved and cheaper. I certainly will not be ordering the 300+ certificates I need at the price they have set now.

Hope in Wallsend

Wallsend is an old place and the clue about it is in the name, it is at the end of the wall. When I was last there, some 50 years ago, there was no clue about the wall visible, lots of walls around shipyards and industry but now archaeology has turned up with a Roman fort and bath house that was at the East end of Hadrian’s wall, one of several attempts the Romans tried to protect their northern border. Hadrian’s wall was the most successful, enduring and still mostly visible.
wallsendI am not saying I have traced my ancestors back to Roman times, although with the amount of sex that has occurred in the last 2000 years most British people will have some DNA from Roman soldiers.

I was looking at my 4th cousin 3 times removed, Eleanor Cuthbertson a beneficiary of the Potts Trust. She married Tysick Hope who was born and lived in Wallsend, and he mirrors the industrial revolution.

In the 18th century, and probably earlier, his ancestors were peasants, agricultural labourers in the wilds of Northumberland. Probably 70% of British people were similar for centuries before, the only respite from the daily drudge of surviving was when the local Lord or King decided to play war and marched them off to fight.

In the 1800’s Tysick’s father Thomas moved his family south towards the industrial centre of Newcastle, Tysick learnt a trade and worked as an iron driller, probably in a shipyard, drilling holes so sheets of iron could be riveted together into great ships. He was still basically a peasant, but had a regular income, his wife would buy food in shops instead of gathering what she could. The beginnings of modern decadent lifestyles. He also illustrated another feature of modern people, lower fertility. The couple had no children, so there was hope in Wallsend but only for one generation.

John Davies, tobacconist and hairdresser

John Davies first popped up in my research a couple of years ago, an odd combination of hairdresser and tobacconist. I was researchinghair-tab some of my grandfathers siblings and found a sister, Jesse Violet, was living with John in 1901, she worked for him as a tobacconist and was listed as his niece.

My immediate thought was he was an unknown brother of my great grandfather, but there was no obvious connection and being a genealogical butterfly I got distracted by a new source book on Ostpreußen lines.

Last month I was furtling around in the Davies line again, I found my great grandmother living with her daughter Jesse Violet, now named Jones and with two children, no mention of a husband. Knowing she was single in 1901 and the oldest child was born in Oswestry in 1905 there were only a few years to search for her marriage in Oswestry or Wrexham – nothing found. A more general search did throw up a marriage to James Bushnell Jones in West Derby in 1903, this seemed a long way away but there were some relatives who lived there so , perhaps this was good.

Further research showed James was born just south of Oswestry, so they may have met when he got his hair cut, but the real gem was I found Violet J Jones with two sons emigrated in November 1911 to the United States, final destination was with her husband J. B. Jones in Indiana. Violets mother died a few years later in a village near where James was born, perhaps she was living with relatives of his.

In the meantime I had gathered a lot more information on John Davies, including another niece Louisa Georgina Davies was living with and working for him in 1891, also a niece from Wrexham, but unknown to me. I found her birth in 1870 and a census record a year later, living with her mother and her mothers parents, no husband again! But they lived at 16 Eagle Street, Edward Davies and family lived at number 15 for many years, I soon found a marriage of my great grandfathers brother Edward to Elizabeth Mumford, but this did not help with who John was.

Out of the blue I got an email from New Zealand, the senders husband was the grandson of  Lillie May, Johns daughter who had emigrated to New Zealand. The tree she has contains lots of information but unfortunately no sources, it does however show Johns wife as being my great grandfathers oldest sister, so John Davies married  Louisa Charlotte Davies, I had not considered two Davies’ getting married, Findmypast did not have the record, as usual they seem to have misstranscribed it, I found it on freebmd, I will need to see a certificate to confirm the marriage but that will also give me Johns father, there are about 40 baptism records for John Davies in Chester around the time he was born and I might get the exact one once I know his fathers name