I don’t have a family tree on Ancestry but I use the website, and the trees there to find information. As I pointed out in my post about my experience with MyHeritage, there is lots to be gained from having your family tree on a public website, although I have just not got around to doing it myself yet.
Lots of trees have unsupported information and many are just exercises in adding names without firm or even reasonable connections with families. I complained about this in another post about looking for my great-grandfather, Asa McDaniel.
Notwithstanding the problems of online trees it is often possible to make connections with real family members. I was fortunate last year in doing just that through my Ancestry searches.
I regularly look for Shepheard families in hope of finding new information on my English roots and to meet cousins who are also looking at the same people. Many of the people I end up contacting are only indirectly related to my family, mainly having direct ancestors who may have married into the Shepheard line. That’s not a bad thing because, in looking at those other branches, they may have different sources of data and different expertise.
One such gentleman I contacted on Ancestry (I won’t use last names here as many people I will mention are still living and their privacy is important) was looking at information about the families of his wife’s ancestors, including one person that had married a Shepheard. In this case, a daughter of the 4th great-grandfather of John’s wife was herself the 2nd great-grandmother of the man, Leslie, who had married Margery Teresa, the daughter of my great-grandfather’s brother, John. Margery was my 1st cousin, twice removed. OK, so that’s really very confusing. But the important part is that this researcher knew a bit more about Leslie's family and that offered another avenue into information about my direct line.
John had found that Leslie and Margery had three sons, Roger, David and Peter. I, too, had figured that out from birth records on FreeBMD. The index for this time period is very helpful as it shows the maiden name of the mother. I knew that Margery had two brothers, Alfred Harry and Wilfrid Jack, and that Wilfrid had a daughter named Pauline. I had traced the parents of these individuals, who all lived in the London region, from our common ancestors in Devon. I had a few photos of some of them that had belonged to my great-grandfather, although I was not entirely sure of who was who in the pictures because not all of the notes on them were complete.
I knew quite a bit about my 1st cousins (twice removed) but really wanted to find their children and grandchildren, if there were any, especially any that might still be alive. But I was stymied at this point as I could not trace them past the 1911 England census and likely marriages and deaths for them, again found on FreeBMD. John and I thought there was a reasonable chance that children of Alfred Harry, Wilfrid Jack and Margery Teresa could still be alive as they were all born in the 1930s.
Both John and I had tried to contact one of the Ancestry tree-owners in 2013, who we believed was related to Leslie and Margery but neither of us got a response. After comparing notes we both thought this individual might be Margery's son, David.
John had found who he thought were David and his wife on a UK electoral register list for 2002-2013 (also on Ancestry), living in Kent. All of the names for the family shown on the list appeared to match information we had found from other sources so we thought this lead was worth pursuing. I decided to write to the Kent address and see. The only thing I could lose would be the cost of postage if this was not the right family.
The letter went off in August 2014. I included information about who I was and how I thought we were related. I put my full postal address and my email address in the letter to make any response easier. In September I received an email from David’s wife, Marian. She confirmed that David was indeed Margery’s son, my 2nd cousin, once removed. David had passed away around 2009 which explains why we had not been able to make any contact with the Ancestry tree-owner, even though the tree was still visible online. His two brothers had died some time earlier so there were now fewer direct-line cousins that I could meet.
Pauline, however, is still around. She married in 1959 and is living in Derbyshire. Marian contacted her by telephone and asked if she would mind hearing from me. Pauline was very surprised to hear from a Canadian cousin and very open to corresponding. She is not “connected” so I sent another letter off to her right away. Shortly afterward, I also had an email from the widow (Liz) of one of David’s brothers, Peter. Peter had passed away as well, in 2000. Marian has also called Liz to let her know of my interest. Marian and Liz were able to provide me with quite a bit of information on both their families and on Pauline. All of a sudden I had the names and addresses of several more family members and an opportunity to learn more about the branch that had moved from Devon to London around 1900.
After a number of years of searching for and wondering about them, I could now correspond directly with cousins who share the same ancestry as me. I sent Pauline copies of the photos that had come down to me from my great-grandfather. As it happened the names I had on some of them were wrong and she was able to set me straight. One of them is shown below, taken at the 1928 wedding of Margery and Leslie. The family called her Midge which I was delighted to hear because I had another photo in the collection with only the name Midge written on the back. Thanks to Pauline I now had that one identified.
1928 wedding photo for Leslie and Margery Teresa. Margery’s brother, Wiflrid, second from left, was the best man. Her parents are immediately to the right of her, both wearing glasses.
My great-grandfather stayed in touch with his family back in England after he emigrated to Canada in1913. He had photos of many of them taken right up into the mid-1930s. Thanks to a family tree posted on Ancestry and some sleuthing of mine and of John’s I was able to track down my cousins and begin to catch up on our own family histories. It was especially delightful to finally meet, at least by letter, the little girl in the photo below that I had wondered about for so long.
Photo of my cousins taken about 1935: Alfred Harry and Wilfrid Jack; Wilfrid’s wife, Florence;
and little Pauline