Monday 22 July 2024

My Favourite Photo (learning how to make images better for publication)

I am giving a presentation to the Family Tree Genealogy Gadgets Club in September about Creating Visuals for Publication. See the information at the end of this post to find how you can join in.

I use a lot of images in my blogs, published articles and presentations. Some are photos of people. Many are diagrams, graphs or copies of documents from parish registers, books and articles or websites.

All are useful in demonstrating the subject matter of my publications and talks. In my presentations, particularly, I like to have colour and images that attract attention and keep interest. Not to be too critical but slides with a lot of text, that presenters just read, leave me cold, even though those speaking are probably very knowledgeable in their areas.

With too much text on the screen, I suspect participants spend too much time trying to read the information (many likely cannot keep up), lose their place in the talk and mss important things the speaker is trying to impart. I confess I do read a lot of my text, mainly so that I don’t forget to say something, but I try not to put too many words on the slide.

Many images need to be cleaned up and put for publication, whether in a magazine, a book, a family summary or a presentation. I use MyHeritage a lot for this as I mentioned in previous posts: MyHeritage Photo Repair (26 May 2021) and Using MyHeritage’s Photo Improvement Processes (28 Feb 2022). Before I publish, I use my Adobe Photoshop software to put them in the best format.

One of the examples I am using in my talk is a photo taken of me and my mother in 1947. It is one of my favorite pictures. The original snapshot was a bit washed out and not framed as well as it could have been.

So, using Photoshop I used the brightness/contrast adjustment to improve it. Then I trimmed it and centred the people.

It was not bad but on closeup was still a bit fuzzy. So, I ran it through the Enhancement process at MyHeritage. The resultant image was much sharper.

Then I wondered, what might we have looked like if my dad had been using colour film? MyHeritage has software for that as well.

It was not the best result that I have obtained using this process, but it was still pretty neat to see it. It is now framed and on the bookshelf above my desk.

There are many tools you can use to produce informative and attention-getting visuals for your article, presentation or family history writeup. I encourage people to look at all the options. One drawback, of course, is that some will cost a bit of money for software programs or subscriptions to sites, like MyHeritage, that have processes to help modify images. I don’t know of a way around that unless you have a knowledgeable friend or relative, or a child or grandchild that can help.

Come and hear my presentation in September.

The session is available two ways:

  1. to those on a 7-day free trial to Family Tree Plus (to take a free trial see
  2. to members of Family Tree Plus (£7.99 a month for existing Family Tree subscribers; £9.99 a month for non-subscribers) - for details, see here.

If you have any queries about the presentation or about Family Tree Plus, please email

Sunday 7 July 2024

Genealogy and the Little Ice Age: The Poor Laws

I am giving a talk this week (11 July 2024) to the Society of Genealogists about Genealogy and the Little Ice Age. You can still register to hear the presentation here.

Among the many results of the climatic change from the bountiful times of the Medieval Warm Period was the widespread migration of people, in many cases to far-flung locations around the globe.

Because of the harsh physical conditions that existed during the ensuing colder Little Ice Age, employment in the agricultural sector was reduced. Large numbers of people, primarily the poor and laboring classes, ended up moving to neighbouring communities and into urban areas in search of new lives.

These shifts into towns and cities resulted in a whole new dynamic in those urban areas. The greater concentration of people with different backgrounds and experiences forced into a large social and cultural melting pot led to interpersonal conflicts, expanded political expression, property ownership changes, spread of diseases and all the other good and bad things that go with city life.

The timing of the Little Ice Age, with the downturn in living conditions and initial widespread death, was the catalyst for more government involvement, some of it to provide welfare for destitute citizens, some of it to control the populace.

Initial efforts through the 16th century were directed to protecting employers and landholders from the loss of labourers as destitution led to mass migration into towns. It would be decades and intense suffering through the cold period of the Little Ice Age before specific acts to assist the poor were formulated.

All the early Poor Laws attempted to restrict the movement of people and fix wages. They ended up being pretty much ineffective as people invariably went where work was available and employers who needed workers hired anyone they could find.

The Poor Acts of the 1550s were the first to formally address poverty but these laws merely downloaded the responsibility, creating collectors of alms in each parish. Local authorities and residents, primarily the churches, were obliged to request, record, and distribute charitable donations for poor relief.

Note that it was not until the early 16th century that parishes finally began keeping records of marriages, baptism and burials that could be used to keep track of people. The Poor Laws further provided that each parish would keep a register of all its “impotent, aged, and needy persons” and the aid they received. In all of this legislation, and in the parish lists, then, both to control as well as assist people, it was required that individuals could be identified which then stimulated the use of surnames begun in the 14th century.

Important Acts of the British Parliament:

·         1349 Ordinance of Labourers

·         1351 Statute of Labourers

·         1388 Statute of Cambridge

·         1494 Vagabonds & Beggars Act

·         1530 Vagabonds Act

·         1536 Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds & Beggars

·         1547 Vagabonds Act

·         1552 Poor Act

·         1555 Poor Act

·         1563 Act for Relief of the Poor

·         1572 Vagabonds Act

·         1576 Poor Act

·         1597 Act for Relief of the Poor

·         1601 Poor Relief Act

·         1662 Poor Relief Act

·         1722 Workhouse Test Act

·         1782 Gilbert’s Act

Get a copy of my book, Genealogy and the Little Ice Age. Information about it can be found on this website here.

Sunday 23 June 2024

Using all the Documents

I have recently been looking at information about a property that my ancestors owned in Cornwood parish, Devon, England. My curiosity was heightened when a friend introduced me to new owners who have spent a few years now in renovating and updating the house.

The property was called Notts, later renamed as Woodburn. Tracing its acquisition and use has become an obsession as it may impact greatly on our family’s history in the region, at least on assumptions I have made. (Genealogists should never make assumptions because they can delay or sideline needed research into family history.)

How do I know this property was so important to my family history and when did it come into the family in the first place? The answers, at least as near as I can determine, start to appear after a review of many different types of documents.

Things started to come together when I assembled a spreadsheet listing the documents I have found on indexes or obtained concerning the lands. (I do not know why I did not do this before as I use spreadsheets for everything!) The summary was organized by date. That allowed me to see what individuals were involved in the ownership and the timing of when my ancestors arrived on the scene.

The information that I have learned about the property, briefly summarized here, will be part of an article I am writing about Master Craftsmanship, which will detail the history of the original construction, modifications and renovations of the home over the centuries and the possible roles my ancestors played.


The oldest reference I have for Notts is a transcription of an abstract of an Inquisition Post Mortem (IPM), dated 25 September 1629 for William Shepheard, who I believe was my 9th great-grandfather. In addition to recording that he lived in Plympton St. Mary parish, is information that leases for Notts and another property in Yealmpton parish, were passed down to Nicholas Shepheard, his “son & heir, then aged 26.” Thi is the only document that indicates Nicholas, my 8th great-grandfather, was likely born in 1601. The IPM refers to Notts as having been “held of Ellis Hele, esq. of his manor of Fardell.”

The IPM affirms that the property was in possession of a family member by 28 January 1628 the date the document states William died. (That date may be wrong by a few days. According to the Plympton St. Mary church register, he was buried there on 27 January 1628.)

Nicholas’s will, proved in 1657, recorded that he gave all his land to his eldest son, John Shepheard (1633-bef 1685), my 7th great-grandfather, but does not name the properties. I had assumed they included a property name Rooke in Cornwood parish, but other documents I found demonstrate the lands were not acquired until probably the late 1750s. Following Nicholas’s death, his wife, Margerit (Lee) Shepheard (c1603-1685) was to share possession of the lands until her death. 

Land-related Documents

These types of contracts record ownership and tenant relationships, along with any information regarding financing and security. They name the parties involved at the time they were executed along with, in many cases, others who predated them as owners and are thus ripe sources for family history reconstruction.

A very important lease document dated 5 July 1759 recited all those in possesion of rights to Notts from Margerit Shepheard and her son, John Shepheard, down two more generations, through Nicholas Shepheard (1675-1756), my 6th great-grandfather, to Nicholas Shepheard (1716-1786), my 5th great-grandfather, and to his wife, Mary (Barrett) Shepheard (1736-1803).

Past that date, other lease and sale documents show the property was eventually in possession of William’s 3rd great-grandson, and Mary’s son, Nicholas Shepheard (1761-1820), my 4th great-granduncle, who sold it in 1806.

Tax Lists

I was aware from land tax lists that Notts (aka Knotts) was owned by my 5th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard from 1781 until his death in 1786 when it went to their oldest son, my 4th great-granduncle, Nicholas Shepheard, the last Shepheard owner.

Other lists over the years include: the 1642 Protestation Return which names Nicholas Shepheard (1601-1657); the 1674 Hearth Tax which names Margerit Shepheard (c1603-1685); and the Oath Rolls, which name Nicholas Shepheard (1675-1756). These documents do not identify the lands on which the individuals resided but do indicate they lived in Cornwood parish.

Parish Registers

We mostly follow families through baptism, marriage and burial entries in the parish registers. They are the basic references to people, at least as far back as the early 16th century.

One major problem that exists for Cornwood parish is that all the registers and many other lists were destroyed in a fire in 1685, so we have to depend on other material to find the family members.

From all documents we can surmise that William Shepheard (c1575-1628) lived in Plympton St Mary but never, apparently, in Cornwood. I connected the baptisms of nine other children of William Shepheard in Plympton St. Mary, between 1603 and about 1620. The register only goes back to 1603 so the record of the birth of Nicholas has not been preserved.

William’s son, Nicholas Shepheard (1601-1657) married Margerit Lee (c1603-1685) on 5 April 1630 in Plympton St. Mary parish. but all their children were baptized, and presumably born in Cornwood parish, beginning with John in 1633 and ending with Orindge about 1640. The growth of the family begs the question as to whether the original Notts longhouse might have undergone expansion during this period.

This information suggests they were the first Shepheard family to come to Cornwood. In addition, the 1759 document states Margerit was “formerly in the tenure or possession” of Notts, which we might read as living and raising her family there. She was buried in Cornwood on 14 July 1685.

Subsequent generations were almost all born, married and buried in Cornwood.


No single set of documents has enough information to completely assemble my family tree and confirm inter-generational relationships. With the combined documentation, though, we can get a much better understanding of how the individuals were related and where they may have resided.