Saturday 10 February 2024

My Writing Activity and Success

In recent years I have found myself more engaged in researching material for new articles rather than in writing new blog posts. When I started Discover Genealogy in 2013, I had lots of material from my experiences as an Online Parish Clerk, in collecting data and answering queries form people who wanted to learn about their ancestors in those areas of Devon, England that I looked after.

More data for family historians has come online since then on sites such as Ancestry, FindMyPast, TheGenealogist, MyHeritage and a host of societies, both local and international. That has reduced the number of people looking for information from Online Parish Clerks and other regional helpers.

Partly from my experience in blog writing, my own activity in writing more lengthy and informative pieces took off. Since 2010 I have had 31 articles published in family history society journals. Beginning in 2017, I had my first article published in a commercial magazine. All my articles are all listed on my blog page, Genealogy Related Publications.

Most of the early articles came from work as an Online Parish Clerk and stories I discovered when helping other family historians. Those in commercial publications have been much more intensive and involved considerable research. I will spend at least six months looking for information for these larger submissions and getting a draft finished. A few that had a great deal of work in them did not even make it past the editors’ first review and have gone back to the drawing board.

I have written two books, Surviving Mother Nature’s Tests (2018) and Genealogy and the Little Ices Age (2023) and co-written another one, The Wreck of the Bay of Panama: 10 March 1891 (2022).

I am currently working on four articles scheduled for publication in Family Tree magazine (UK), three for 2024 issues and one for 2025. Another has been submitted to two international genealogical society journals and I am waiting to hear whether either one is interested. The current and recent pieces involve subjects pertaining to my own ancestors as well as some general topics that have come out of previous research, particularly regarding my interests in Mother Nature and the Little Ice Age as they relate to family history.

On the list for publication in Family Tree magazine (UK) are:

·         Maps and Marriages (tentative title) – In looking for confirmation of who the parents of my 3rd great-grandparents were, I decided to take a different tack in searching for information about their families. I thought that looking at a variety of documents and, particularly, using maps to reference where events occurred and people lived, might help in narrowing down the searches for my people. In doing this summary I put together a map that showed where certain events took place – such as baptisms, marriages, burials – and what addresses were given for businesses or residences in apprenticeship agreements, directories, and land tax lists.

·         Master Craftsmen (tentative title) – The article will focus on craftsmen and tradesmen of the past, mainly but not restricted to the 19th century and earlier periods, even extending back into ancient history. It will list sources for information for family historians and methods for searches. It will have examples of buildings (focussed mainly on houses owned by my ancestors) and the ways in which they were constructed. Emphasis will be place on the people who built the structures were viewed by their families and by the community at large. It will have lots of photos and other images showing construction techniques and building styles over time.

·         Witchcraft and the Little Ice Age (tentative title) – This article will examine the history of witchcraft accusations in the context of environmental and climatic conditions. Pertinent references to old publications explaining the facts of witchcraft and to new publications offering commentary on the phenomena of witchcraft trials will be listed. Histories of witch hunts in Europe, the British Isles and North America will be outlined. Examples of specific cases, where documents can be found, will be presented with a few familial connections reviewed. Readers may be stimulated to see if there were any individuals in their family lines who may have been part of the witch hunts.

·         The Plague Years: More to the impacts on people than just disease – While examining occasions when large number of deaths occurred centuries ago, can we confidently conclude they were due to natural causes such as epidemics (of which plague was one), famine, both, or to some other type of event? The plague years, of course, have been recognized as being some of the most devasting for causing the deaths of millions of people. The Black Death alone, introduced to Europe in 1346, is thought to have killed at least a third of the population (25-35 million people). But other natural phenomena were also present that induced or exacerbated the spread and devastation of the disease in Europe.

Out for review with two groups is another piece:

·         Effects of Strife: How disruptive and historical events are reflected in parish register entries – Significant changes in the numbers of births/baptisms, marriages and deaths/burials (BMDs) from year-to-year, or decade-to-decade, can often be correlated to specific physical, political or social incidents, many of which directly affected lives and livelihoods. The effects of historical episodes such as wars, famines, epidemics, industrial developments, government policies and edicts, and migration are reflected in graphic plots of BMD totals. The data may suggest normal social development or occasions of strife that were imposed on residents.

As an adjunct to writing, I have compiled many of my ideas and information into presentations. Some worked the other way, though, with material from a few talks used for articles. Currently I have over a dozen active presentations in my inventory. Several more are being prepared. In 2024 I have six talks scheduled, a more manageable number from the peak during the COVID Pandemic years of 2021-22 when I gave 20 online presentations.

All these projects, of course, have kept me away from blog posts.

Thursday 18 January 2024

Not my 7th Great-Grandfather

In one of my earliest blog posts, on 3 December 2013 (Who was my 7th Great-grandfather?), I tentatively concluded that a Nicholas Shepheard, who was born about 1636 and died before 1685, was “rightly or wrongly, and until further information comes along” my 7th great-grandfather.

That conclusion was based upon analyses of a fraudulent will and a will of my 8th great-grandfather dated 1657. The interpretation was a bit complex and contained more than a few assumptions. On the face of it, though, it seemed logical.

Well, “further information” has come along. This week I obtained photos of a 1659 lease document for a property called Notts, now Woodburn, in Cornwood Parish, Devon, England. This and other documents are being analyzed to determine when this property came into the possession of members of my family as part of a review of the construction of the main residence.

I am writing an article on Master Craftsmen and the house at Woodburn offers an excellent example of many different building styles in use over the past several hundred years. But I digress.

The first document I have transcribed pertains to a lease for certain lands in Cornwood to two local gentlemen, one of them being the property named Notts. A section of the lease in part describes the “…Messuage and Tenement commonly called or known by the name of Notts Scituate lying and being in the Parish of Cornwood aforesaid formerly in the Tenure or Possession of one Margaret Shepheard and John Shepheard the Grandfather of him the Said Nicholas Shepheard or one of them Afterwards of Nicholas Shepheard Father of the Said Nicholas Shepheard…”

The Nicholas Shepheard named as a party to the agreement was my 4th great-grandfather. Parish records are clear that he was born in 1716 and died in 1786 and was my direct ancestor. It is equally clear that his father was also Nicholas Shepheard, born around 1675 and died in 1756. His burial record confirms the year of his death. His birth year cannot be entirely defined as the parish records older than 1685 were destroyed in a fire that year. He appears to be the individual named in a 1685 legal case involving a fraudulent will, at which time he was a minor child.

Margaret Shepheard was the widow of my 8th great-grandfather, another Nicholas Shepheard. They had sons John, Nicholas, Samson, Thomas and William. The lease document just obtained states that it was John who was the direct ancestor.

Serendipity smiled on me again.

Through circumstance and a new look at certain lands in Cornwood parish, I can now be confident that my Shepheard line is better defined.

I would also note that the spelling of our surname has been constant since at least the early 17th century, notwithstanding that other members of the family have changed their names on occasion over the decades.

The next challenge is to discover who John’s wife was. There are some possibilities as recorded in the parish registers: one being a Cathren Shipperd [sic] buried in 1685. By all accounts John died before the “fire” year of 1685 and was thus certainly married before that time as well. We do have his baptism record as shown on the Bishops Transcripts for Cornwood as being 20 June 1633.

The Notts or Woodburn property stayed in the family until 1806 when it was sold by my 4th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard (yes, another one!). The documents demonstrate that the lands, along with other properties at Rooke, Cornwood (the “family estate”) were in possession of family members for likely at least 200 years. In the case of Rooke it was over 300 years.

This example does show the importance of land records and wills, especially when BMD data is not available. These types of old documents often have information about lineage, at times when title records were not kept.

It also shows that persistence, patience and luck are important in reconstructing family histories.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Migration Talk at Society of Genealogists


I am giving a talk about Mother Nature’s Impact on Family Migration & Relocation for the Society of Genealogists on 4 January 2024.

People have migrated away from their places of birth for eons. Within recorded history we can trace the dislocation of families, indeed whole communities, because of war, politics, religious persecution, racial and cultural intolerance, employment or lifestyle prospects, and any of a number of other societal-related reasons.

But there were many circumstances where Mother Nature had an important impact on the decisions people made to pick up and leave. Among these are:

·         long-term changes to the environment through climate change,

·         gradual alteration of habitat through natural processes, and

·         loss of homes, businesses or family members from disasters.

Sometimes the moves were relatively local – across a parish or county; sometimes they were across the country; sometimes people moved from rural to urban settings; sometimes moves involved travel to other parts of the globe.

Throughout most of their existence, humans have been preoccupied by the need to obtain food. And for at least the last 100 centuries that involved primarily first-hand production in agricultural settings. Because of that, the condition and quality of the land being cultivated has been of paramount importance. When natural phenomena prevailed to impede the capability of producing food – through such events as drought, floods, land erosion, weather, or other disasters – many people elected to seek out better conditions elsewhere.

Tune in to learn more about whether Mother Nature played a role in your own ancestors’ lives. The presentation is aimed at everyone curious about reasons their ancestors moved.