Monday 10 June 2024

The Confusion of Similar Names

 In our family research, we have all run up against situations where we have two or more individuals with the same or similar names, born about the same time and living in the same area, any of whom could be our ancestor. Sometimes you can only guess which is the one that fits your family the best.

I was corresponding with a cousin last week about the common ancestors we have in Cornwood, Devon, England. In my years as an Online Parish Clerk, I have acquired and transcribed thousands of entries in the baptism marriage and burial registers and on the multiple census records for the area.

Anyway, we were discussing a Mary Maddock who was our common ancestral connection. In Cornwood, there were two children baptized with that name, one in 1699, to parents Robert and Sarah (James) Maddock, and the other in 1701, to parents Richard and Elizabeth (Heard) Maddock. There were a couple of others born around the same time in neighbouring areas, but we thought one from Cornwood would be a better bet since both our families had connections to that parish and the descendants of our Mary Maddock lived in that area.

One married James Collins/Collings, on 6 January 1725-26, in Plympton St. Mary parish, next door. My cousin and I both share ancestors with the Collins family. James and Mary (Maddock) Collins had three children born in Plympton St. Mary and then three more in Cornwood. One daughter, Mary Collins (1735-1797), married Richard Shepheard (1726-1803) in Cornwood in 1761. They are my 5th great-grandparents. Another daughter, Susannah, married Stephen Sandover and they are my cousin’s 5th great-grandparents.

The other Mary Maddock married John Edwards, also in Cornwood, on 11 May 1727. The Edwards family are ancestral to my Crispin line. Mary Crispin (1800-1884) married William Carpenter (1796-1877) in 1796. Their daughter, Mary Crispin Carpenter (1830-1890) married John Shepheard (1830-1901) and are my 2nd great-grandparents. John was also the great-grandson of Richard and Mary (Collins) Shepheard.

Our main problem is we cannot confirm which Mary Maddock married James Collins and which married John Edwards. The baptism, burial and marriage registers have no details that would indicate who their parents were or what age they were when they married and died. But, as it turns out, both couples are my 6th great-grandparents.

As a solution, rightly or wrongly, I decided that the oldest Mary Maddock would have married first and the younger one married later. Thus, my tree has the Mary born in 1699 as the wife of James Collins and the one born in 1701 as the wife of John Edwards.

It does not get any easier fleshing out the families. We think that both James and John were not born in Cornwood but can find no record that is a definitive match. We have only tentative burial dates for all four people but, again, cannot confirm them. And common forenames like John and James don’t give us a narrow list of possible candidates. More confusion!

One aspect in support of my decision about which Mary married which man was in looking at the names of their children. John and Mary Edwards had children named Elizabeth and Richard, which were also the parents’ names for the Mary Maddock born in 1701. That seemed to connect these families.

Given the dates we are looking at – late 17th century – it will be difficult to trace either of the Maddock families much further back in Cornwood. All the parish registers compiled before 1685 were destroyed in a fire in the Churchwarden’s home in that year.

Sometimes you have limited data that will confirm relationships. In these cases, you have to make what may be reasoned guesses. I think I have done this for my two Mary Maddocks, based on age, marriage date and children’s names. Perhaps one day blood connections through DNA tests may help narrow down the options.

Monday 27 May 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 7: Preserving Memorabilia

In the first blog post about this subject, I mentioned preserving memorabilia (4 March 2024 – Organizing Your Information). I have written before about photos and photo albums (What will we do with future photos, Prized Old Photos, Digitizing Memories, My amazing picture-taking machines), home movies (Preserving Home Movies), family memorabilia (Memorabilia, Old Heirloom Watches), school records (My Mother’s Scrapbook), furniture and antiques (The Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me).

I am a collector of old family stuff: photos (of course), antiques and furniture, drawings, woodworking projects, souvenirs, brochures, bibles, area history publications, family correspondence, cards (birthday, anniversary, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day), tape and video recordings, phonograph records, tools, farm implements, toys, musical instruments, cameras, various types of collections, artwork (both professional and pieces done by children and grandchildren) and assorted mementoes of family activities, events, workplaces and life milestones.

I still have all the report cards and many of the projects our children brought home from school. These have been digitized so their families can see them easily (and in case they get lost, damaged or thrown out).

And, as I have written about before, all the old original family documents are secured in binders or in my safe.

My family laughs at me for keeping it all but, to my mind these things represent family history. They were important to people who owned and used them.

As much as I have, I am still surprised and annoyed with myself for having given away or discarded many items.

We have given (or will give) a few things to children and grandchildren. By doing so we at least keep them in the family and imbue the recipients with some sense of their ancestral history.

Now that we are in our probable last home, I have made a point of bringing many things out of their storage boxes to display them. A lot of comments are made by preservationists about keeping material in archive-like containers to prevent their deterioration. That is a good idea for many things but putting them out on shelves or hanging them on walls so that people, especially family members, can see them is also important. Stories and memories can be easily forgotten if the tangible pieces that go with them kept are out-of-sight.

One of my projects is to photograph and document all the old stuff that is still kicking around here. That will includes making displays of small but bulky pieces is shadow boxes.

Whatever you choose to keep, make a record of what it is, where is came from, who it belonged to and what dates it was both produced and acquired. Without that information, your descendants and family will not have any knowledge of its importance or provenance.
1-Grandma Miller's irons, 2-Dad's home made chess set, 3-Dad's carving 1934 contest entry made with coping saw, 4-great-grandfather James Shepheard's pocket watch, 5-custom made stained glass window, 6-old family rocking chair, 7-Wayne's 70-year old toy cap guns, 8-Grandpa Miller's farm fork, 9-Wayne's safety matchbook collection

Monday 13 May 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 6: Publishing Your Stories

An important part of family history research is putting the information you find into a form that other people can see. You have spent countless hours, or years finding ancestors and learning about their lives and livelihoods.

When you are gone, though, what will happen to all that knowledge?

While you are able, it is important to write down what stories you have discovered, along with the data you have assembled about past family members. That does not mean publishing them in genealogical magazines or writing books, necessarily, although those are not bad objectives.

An important part of family history research is allowing other family members to see it. You may have uncovered stories about certain ancestors that are interesting: they may have been newsworthy; they may have been part of important historical events; they may have been romantic interludes; they may have been associated with life and death circumstances; they may have been about travel, to exotic places or to new homes in search of a better life.

If they are direct ancestors they will, of course, had children and some of those children will have had children, and so on down the years. Each of those families will have had unique histories that added to the overall family narrative. Their individual stories may just have been about normal life passages of growing up, finding a career and having a family of their own, like your own experiences, but no less important.

How you choose to record your family’s history is up to you. If you are just beginning to consider the idea, it is important to not try to bite off more than you can chew. You should also decide beforehand who your audience will be as that may dictate where you publish your information.

Any type of medium or format is fine to consider. Perhaps, as a starting point, it is easier and more palatable to look at picking a single interesting event or person and telling others about it or them. Then add more stories and data to produce a more comprehensive piece about an entire family line.

You have probably already assembled a family tree and have it stored on your computer or online. I posted some ideas about that earlier in this series (Genealogy Software). Within each individual profile you may have recorded information about the people and their families. This may be a good place to incorporate that information into a summary that might form the basis for a future blog post or article, or a chapter in a book if you get that far.

Being a blogger, I always suggest this as a great place to put short stories about ancestors. In this blogsite, I have written 109 posts (of the over 400 on the site) about family members. Some of them were expanded to be part of published articles. Your blog might be public, like mine, or set up just for family with a controlled distribution list. Making it public offers a chance that it will be seen by cousins or other researchers you did not know about but may have information about your family.

Other avenues you might want to investigate include:

·         Local family history society newsletters and journals – These groups ae always looking for articles – short and detailed – that will show examples of past family activities and methods of research.

·         Presentations – Again, local societies might be interested in hearing your stories. And in doing so, you would produce a written script that could be published or distributed later.

·         Social media – There are many sites where you may have a personal page, or a family page where you might contribute a story about a past family member.

·         Commercial publications – These publications also have an interest in seeing new articles that present historical events and ideas about family history research. These types of pieces may require some higher calibre of writing expertise thus they may be something to look at after you have practiced with contributions to other venues.

If you are looking for information on how to start writing, here are a few sources for inspiration and advice:

·         Cyndi’s List – Writing Your Family History: General Resources.

·         Family Tree (UK) How to guides – How to write up your family history.

·         Family Tree Magazine (USA): 9 tips for getting started on writing your family history.

·         FindMyPast – Preserving the story of your ancestry: our expert guide to writing your family history.

·         Genealogy Stories – Curious Descendants Club: How to go from boring to brilliant family history writing.

·         FamilySearch Blog – 18 Writing Tips: Tell Family Stories with Confidence

·         Gil Blanchard. (2014). Writing Your Family History: A guide for family historians. Pen & Sword, 228 pp.

Writing stories is a major part of preserving family history and should become a regular task whether they are short summaries of a few hundred words or a comprehensive project like a book.

Start small and practice.