Lots of updates

Following a recent trip to the UK to meet with family I had not seen for 40 years there are lots of updates to the tree.

Conversations and memories started of a lot of discussions, solving some problems with my memory and opening up new lines of enquiry. There were also a few errors I needed to correct, mostly spelling mistakes in place names which made finding places on the site harder.

With the information exchange came lots of photographs, some have taken time to research who was in the picture and when it was taken. In addition I took several hundred photographs myself, mainly of places ancestors lived and there were several hundred more gravestone photographs which still need to be sorted.

Lots of new family lines are being added, many photographs are also getting added to people and places, maps are one of the biggest updates. I have also got an update to Gramps pushed for the next update that will show more than just BMD data on maps. Gravestones have not been processed yet but will be added as they are deciphered.

Online tree updates are occurring at least twice a week currently, this should reduce to once every week or two by the end of the year.

Cousin relationships

For some reason there is often a problem in describing cousin relationships, at times I manage to confuse myself when trying to explain these relationships to others.

In essence relationships are easy to describe in words but do get more confusing the further away they are. Let us start at the beginning with someone you know – yourself.

Everyone has two parents, no more and no less. Current research may make this fact obsolete as it may be possible, in the future, for someone to have three parents, and of course I am only referring to biological parents.

These two parents may have brothers and sisters, these are your aunts and uncles. Any children of your parents siblings are usually called your cousins, technically they are your first cousins, and you all share the same grandparents. These grandparents are known as your most recent common ancestors (MRCA). Your mothers parents are the MRCA of you and your mothers siblings children, you have a different MRCA with your fathers side of the family.All of your Grandparents may have had siblings, they are your Great Aunts and Great Uncles, their children are first cousins of your parents and their siblings, any children of the first cousins of your parents are your second cousins, with one of your sets of Great Grandparents as MRCA. Perhaps better explained with a picture.

It does go on the same way for more generations, as seen here. The MRCA of any cousins are the parents of the first siblings you get to.

So that is the easy bit, where people often have more problems is in generation differences, the removed references. So lets look at these, if you have a first cousin then you have a set of Grandparents in common, but what of your cousins children? They have the same couple as common ancestors with you but for them they are Great Grandparents, you cannot be first cousins as the MRCA are not Grandparents for both of you, and the same logic excludes them from being second cousins, you are in fact first cousins once removed, there is one generation step extra in one of the lines. Similarly when they have children they will be your first cousins twice removed as they have two generation steps more than you to get to the MRCA. It is all really quite simple.

The important first step is finding the MRCA for the two people. If the MCRA are parents then the people are siblings, if only one parent is common then they are half siblings. If Grandparents are the MRCA then they are first cousins, Great Grandparents gives 2nd cousins and so on, the cousin number is the number of Greats plus one. So if you have a 6 times Great Grandparent in common with someone then you are 7th cousins. The person with the shortest number of steps to the MRCA determines the cousin number and the difference in number of steps determines the number of removes.

Understanding cousin relationships becomes more important with DNA research, often relationship matches are listed in the form of 2nd Cousin Once Removed to 2nd Cousin Twice Removed. This tells you the DNA match is possibly with your or his Great Grandparents but there is a one or two generation step in one of the lines, so my Grandparents, their parents of Grandparents should be the MRCA. All my lines around that time are fully researched in the same area as his family lived so all he needs to do is find his ancestors back to 2 X Great Grandparents and we will have a match on paper as well as DNA. So far this has produced no matches in eight months of research mainly due to undocumented illegitimate births and cuckolded fathers.

DNA Part 2

In DNA which was a long time ago, I said I was going to do some DNA tests so I could comment on DNA testing for genealogy with some facts.

The first problem is the inordinate amount of time it takes to get things done, mostly caused by the DNA testing company being unorganised and not having enough capacity to cope with their sales and also by postal services who seem to think it is normal for small packets to take a month to deliver.

So after 3 months I got my first results from an autosomal test, and initially it looked like good news with 1800 matches. It did not take long for disappointment to arrive.

The matches list was sorted by size of matches but could be reordered by closeness of relationships. The best results were 20 people who matched as 2nd to 4th cousins, so that seemed the best place to start, they should be easier to find than 6th cousins, and with the size of my tree the links might already be partly in place.  The problem noted first was that 60% of the matches had not uploaded any tree for me to compare mine to, some just had two or three people marked private, some had a few 20th century ancestors but often with no places mentioned. I assume these people have done a DNA test so that someone will do the research for them, being to stupid or lazy to do the research themselves. I emailed most of these prospective matches and half have not replied, so not a lot of help there.

The next thing you notice is the relationship calculator is very ambitious, I find it very improbable that a family line that has been exclusively US based for 300 years is going to have a second cousin relationship to my line which has been British for the same period and more.

Uploading my data to gedmatch seemed to produce better results, relationships seemed better estimated comparing gedcom files was a useful start to narrowing results, but once again many people did not have a gedcom to check with and a high number do not respond to questions.

So far I have narrowed my search to two potential matches, in both cases we have numerous family names in common, in the right region at the same time but no obvious common ancestor yet. For the most likely match I have added about 300 people to descendant lines of my direct ancestors, found two marriages with his paternal line that were not connected to him yet.

So are there any conclusions to be drawn yet?

The first conclusion is that you cannot expect to take any DNA test and have your ancestry mapped out for you, you are more likely to match with some other idiot doing the same thing and both of you will get nowhere.

The second point is that to get anything from a DNA test you need to have done a lot of research first, and preferably properly sourced research where you give citations. In my mind if you have done this then DNA will not add anything, except maybe some certainty over some dubious history.

The third conclusion is that testing methods of totally inaccurate and dubious. I studied DNA at university and know that the cheap tests on offer are not good enough for accurate results, evidence for this is I have no matches with known cousins who tested with the same company and the hundreds of matches that cannot be correct. Note that by cheap I mean comparatively cheap, a proper, accurate test would cost about 10 times what the rip off merchants charge, and for what the offer they are really overpriced.

At the moment I cannot recommend or even suggest that anyone buys a DNA test of any sort. If someone really thinks they should test then I would advise them to not test with familytreeDNA, they are incompetent and rude as well as inefficient.

I am still waiting for more test results so I may revisit this and update my opinions, and it could just be that my results are so poor as I am only half human. Surely there is someone who has good results from DNA testing.

The Chester triangle

Something like the Bermuda one but around Chester, UK.

I wrote some weeks ago about Edward Davies, a brickwall and Great Great Grandfather who is involved in the Chester triangle.

Boarders between many countries are clearly defined and generally stable, the boarder between the USA and Europe is the Atlantic, there could be disputes on where the boarder is in the sea exactly but who the land belongs to is definitely known. Some land boarders are very fluid, like Belgium for example, parts of it were in Spanish Nederland, many towns have German, Nederland and French names as they belonged to different countries at different times.

It might be imagined that Britain has clearly defined boarders, being islands but that is not so. The boarder with Scotland has moved by a hundred miles over the last 2000 years, I think Berwick on Tweed is still officially at war with Germany. Ireland was stolen 500 years ago and most was given back 100 years ago, the rest may follow soon. The whole Welsh boarder has be moving around for centuries and Edwards family highlight some of the problems created.

From 1851 to his death census records are consistent that he was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire although Birkenhead has changed counties since and been in several different registration districts. As he was born before civil registration we would only be concerned with parish records which would probably come under the Bishop of Chester. Of course he may not have been born there but thought he was born there or near by. In any case no reliable records have been found for birth or baptism.

His wife was initially only know as Elizabeth from census records, her birth name was never mentioned, but her place of birth was consistently given as Hanmer, Flintshire in Wales. Hanmer is a problem for several reasons, firstly being a parish consisting of a collection of villages and hamlets together with individual farms, it had no central town and in fact the county it was in was divided in two so it had no direct connection the the county town. Secondly parish records from the time of her birth are probably also under the Bishop of Chester but could be under Wrexham in Denbighshire or Whitchurch or Oswestry in Shropshire, which confuses foreigners by being called Salop. Being from Wales there is also a chance that her family were dissenters and so we need to look under non conformist records in Wales as well. None of this is much use without a family name though.

From the birth record of my Great Grandfather I found her maiden name was Williams, as much use a a chocolate teapot, hundreds of possibilities. Their marriage record might prove helpful, it may give their age but more likely just give over 21, but it should give their address and their fathers name and occupation which might tie the baptism records together. What can we deduce from the census records to determine the approximate date and place of marriage?

The 1841 census gives them living in Liverpool with two young sons born in Lancashire, Henry 2 years and Edward 2 months. This should be simple, but no. There were only two Edward Davies’ born in the first half of 1841, one a long way away, south of Shrewsbury and one in Holywell, in the Chester triangle. The certificate from Holywell gives the mother as Elizabeth Williams. There are no records for a Henry being born within 150 miles or two years of 1839 but I have found a baptism record for Edward in Liverpool in 1842, he died shortly afterwards. Henry is listed as being born in Liverpool on later census records, all the other children were born in Wrexham.

Assuming Henry was officially registered under a different name and he was born June 1838 to June 1839 the parents may have married in 1837 and in the third quarter of 1837 there is a record that has Edward Davies and Elizabeth Williams in Holywell, this looks promising, certificate ordered.

Bad news followed, my fee was refunded as, though both names were on the registration record they did not marry each other but did marry someone else on the page. The Chester triangle swallowed another lead. There are other possible marriages but ordering certificates for them by trial and error will get expensive and if they married before 1 July 1837 there is no civil record anyway. Finding if Henry had another name might help, but there are 250 registrations to check so it is back to waiting for DNA results and hope.



Do Not Ask

or Deoxyribonucleic acid if you prefer.

I have not yet been convinced of the value of DNA testing for genealogy, but working in a vacuum of facts does nothing so I bit the bullet and ordered a DNA test.

I avoided the Ancestry test as it seems a confidence trick, you have to subscribe to Ancestry to start with. FamilytreeDNA seemed the most recommended and perhaps versatile.

So far I have been severely underwhelmed by the process. The website seems fairly useless  adding a family tree using the ‘Spawn of Satan’ gedcom system worked reasonably well, viewing the tree was problematic, I am constantly reminded to add my parents although they are shown on the page, I am hoping this is to do with not having the results on the site yet.

The test itself was a simple affair once I had it, getting it was the problem. Two weeks after ordering online the address label was printed and I got a tracking number which showed it took three days to get into the postal system, the package travelled around Texas for 24 hours and three days later appeared in Chicago, it travelled around several locations in Chicago over the next 24 hours before an entry was added, departed Chicago. In my innocence I assumed it was now flying to Europe, but no, the next entry was it back in Texas, it departed there 25 December then 3 days later it departed Frankfurt and took a week longer to get here as it sat around the customs check over the weekend and feast days.

Now it is making the return trip and I expect the results sometime before the new year

How much does it cost to research family history?

Image courtesy of Natara at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.


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.