Tuesday 18 December 2018

Webinars: Are they the future?

I have noticed that more family history societies and other genealogical organizations are offering webinars as a way of disseminating information and, I presume, attracting new members. Such talks are usually free to view on the day they are given. The presentations are recorded and stored for future viewing, some free, some for a small fee and some only for the members of the societies who sponsored the talks. Over time, many groups have assembled libraries of webinars.

Conferences, both large and small, are also regularly recording presentations for later viewing. In some cases, they are live-streamed.

This past September I presented one of my favourite talks, Genealogy and the Little Ice Age, at a one-day conference in Seattle, Washington, put on by Unlock the Past. It was scheduled in advance of their Unlock the Past Cruise to Alaska. All of the talks were recorded by Legacy Family Tree Webinars. They are now up on the Legacy website, including mine. That was a first for me and I am delighted that the talk has been viewed by a several people since it was made available. A family history group in Washington even approached me to ask permission to show the webinar at their meeting in January. Of course, I said yes!

I have offered other talks to Legacy for their series. Next year is already full, so mine, if they are accepted will not likely be available until 2020. I have signed up with the Virtual Genealogical Association to present a talk about Using Parish & Other Records to determine how natural phenomena affected people & communities. It is scheduled for 20 July 2019.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars now has 828 presentations in their library. https://familytreewebinars.com/ You can take out a membership – it is really inexpensive – and watch what you want, any time you want. One of their most exciting developments, described in a recent press release, is in offering closed captioning for recordings released since 1 May 2018, as well as its most popular 50 webinars. Legacy is spreading its wings around the world with featured subjects and regions, such as the 2019 lineup for their “Down Under Series” especially for genealogist in Australia and New Zealand. https://familytreewebinars.com/downunder

In various blog posts, as well as society newsletters, I have become aware of many more webinars now available for the general genealogical community. Many groups have now scheduled presentations for the entire coming year.

Following is just a small list of other webinar sources that have recently come to my attention. This does not include podcasts or online courses – perhaps subjects for a future post here.

Virtual Genealogical Association: 2019 program has 40 presentations scheduled for paid members only. https://virtualgenealogy.org/programs/ They are also organizing a virtual conference for 1-3 November 2019 that has some notable experts in various subjects.

Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library: 2019 Jamboree Webinar Extension Series will have 22 presentations. https://scgsgenealogy.blogspot.com/2018/12/ca-scgs-announcing-2019-jamboree.html

MyHeritage LIVE 2018: talks given at a conference held this past November are now available for viewing by the public. https://live2018.myheritage.com/

Ontario Genealogical Society: live, monthly presentations are available for free to the general public. Recordings of past talks can be viewed only by society members. Their 2019 schedule should be out soon. https://ogs.on.ca/webinars/

Rootstech: sessions from their last four conferences are available. You can find information about future meetings on their general webpages. https://www.rootstech.org/video-archive The live stream schedule for the 2019 event has already been set. https://www.rootstech.org/salt-lake/live-stream-schedule?fbclid=IwAR0RD1mlEQgUcAajBSk3Lnu11bXtIGYHbzE4f679t49mFD1bgJiYYGtPRPY

FamilySearch: has an extensive library of webinars and classes available for viewing for free https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Family_History_Library_Classes_and_Webinars#Past_Webinars_.26_Handouts

New England Historic Genealogical Society: American Ancestors: offers a free webinar guest account to watch a selection of 23 webinars they have online or you can join the society for even more. https://www.americanancestors.org/guest-user-resources

YouTube: a search of the Internet for “genealogy on youtube” brings up a staggering 27,000,000 hits. No-one will have time to even go through the list, but up front are many webinar-type presentations from many professional genealogists on a wide variety of topics. One probably needs to narrow down the search to specific subjects so as not to be overwhelmed. For example, searching for “dna genealogy on youtube” gets only 1,890,000 hits, although “england genealogy on youtube” gets 4,470,000. Still too many to look at, but you get the drift.

However you look at genealogy webinars, and wherever you look for presentations, there is a lot of stuff out there, much more than shown above. (Readers of this post may wish to add to the list of sources.) Most of the presentations are free to view and you don’t have to travel to a faraway place to listen and watch.

Progressive societies and organizations, including commercial enterprises, are increasingly offering webinars focused on genealogical research. Is this the way of the future for genealogical societies, education and publication?

The only problem I can see is that none of us have enough time to watch them all.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Local Genealogical Society Projects: AGS Medicine Hat Branch

Most family history societies have ongoing projects having to do with finding, compiling and publishing information about people in their region. Cemetery lists, with that all-important death information, are one of the most popular subjects many organizations work on. These days, the results of many of them are being put online where we can easily search them.

But there are many other subjects concerning the records of people in the past that societies find opportunities to get involved with. One I just found is an ongoing project being done by members of the Medicine Hat and District Genealogical Society, a branch the Alberta Genealogical Society. They are in the process of digitizing past Alberta Government Telephone books. These are the old printed books distributed before the era of the Internet and before the company was privatized and became Telus.

This is a description of the project on their website: https://mhdgs.ca/phonebooks.html

Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) was the telephone provider in most of Alberta from 1906 to 1991. It was formed by the Liberal government of Alexander Cameron Rutherford in 1906 following the acquisitions by the government of several independent telephone companies. In 1908, AGT acquired the Bell Telephone Company's Alberta operations for $675,000. It eventually served almost all telephone customers in Alberta outside of the Edmonton area, where telephone service was operated by the Edmonton municipal government.

       Alberta Government Telephones was directly managed by the province's Department of Public Works as a public utility until 1958, when it was transformed into the Alberta Government Telephones Commission, a crown corporation. From 1945 until 1960, AGT operated the province's educational radio station, CKUA.

      In 1969, AGT built what was then Edmonton's tallest skyscraper as its new headquarters, joined by a second tower in 1971; they are now called TELUShouse at ATB Place.

      In 1990, the Alberta government began the process of privatizing AGT, and formed Telus Communications as a holding company to facilitate the transfer. In 1991, the province of Alberta sold its remaining ownership interest in AGT to Telus for $870 million. Telus acquired Edmonton Telephones Corporation (Ed Tel) from the city of Edmonton in 1995; Ed Tel had been created only five years earlier. In 1996, the AGT and Ed Tel brands were retired in favour of the Telus name. Telus merged with BC Tel in 1999 to form the present-day Telus Corporation.

      Telus Yellow Pages were downsizing and 10 decades of old Alberta telephone books were given to the volunteer group Medicine Hat Telus Community Ambassators. The Ambassitors in turn donated the phone books and their shelving units to the Medicine Hat Genealogical Society to be scanned and stored as one unit. The project will be ongoing until complete.”

I recall when they started the work back in 2015, but had not followed up on the project to see what progress was being made. Clark Lang, the society member in charge of the project, informed me last month that they were now on phase 4 of the project. Phase 1 was the scanning of all Southern Alberta books to 1950. Phases 2 and 3 involved scanning through to 2001. They completed these much sooner than anticipated. Phase 4 is indexing the scanned images which is well along. They are currently receiving 400 to 500 hits on their website.
Clark Lang busy indexing images; Scanner at work on phone book
I was delighted to find the information online when I went looking for phone numbers of some family members. It was easy to access.

It is a great project and I am sure will be of interest to anyone looking for information about families in Alberta back to the early part of the 1900s.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Populations Past – Atlas of Victorian and Edwardian Population

The Populations Past – Atlas of Victorian and Edwardian Population website and data came to my attention in a blog post by John Reid (Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections) on 29 November 2018. Thanks John!

What struck me in particular was that the host of the site and source of some of the data used is CAMPOP, the University of Cambridge project, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. I have just completed an article about the History of Occupations, using information from several Cambridge Group studies. It will be published in Family Tree (UK) magazine next year. So, I was delighted and intrigued to find even more depth to their website.

As John indicated, and as described in the Population Past overview, the “website allows users to create and view maps of different demographic measures and related socio-economic indicators every 10 years between 1851 and 1911. These include fertility, childhood mortality, marriage, migration status, household compositions, age-structure, occupational status and population density.” These are powerful data that will greatly assist in unravelling family histories during the second half of the 19th century. The analyses also show other aspects of using such census data that many of us may not have thought about.

Of importance in this time period, “The second half of the nineteenth century . . . was a time of transformation from a relatively 'high pressure' demographic regime characterised by medium to high birth and death rates to a 'low pressure' regime of low birth and death rates, a transformation known as the 'demographic transition'.” We are fortunate, in terms of British family history, to have such detailed data from censuses and civil registration files for births, deaths and marriages. As genealogists, we are also lucky to have access to studies such as those done and published by the Cambridge Group researchers.

The work is still in progress but there are some interesting results and trends already available, especially the data from employment. One can review information about workers by socio-economic status, skilled versus unskilled occupations of men and employment of women and children.

I had a look at all the data from Plympton St. Mary Registration District in Devon. This is the area from which my Shepheard ancestors came, so it presented an opportunity to look at the censuses from a different perspective.

The region is defined as agricultural, based on its occupational structure and population density. Between 1851 and 1911, it did not change much in character, having its lowest density of 0.21 persons per acre in 1851 and its highest in 1911 at 0.30 persons per acre. There was never much in the way of manufacturing industry. Most of the occupations are related to farming, including tradesmen and labourers. Farm labourers and other unskilled workers, did drop from about 48% of all working-age men in 1851 to 40% in 1911. Skilled and semi-skilled workers rose from 29% of the male workforce to 35% in the same time period. Professionals and non-manual skilled workmen stayed about the same, between 20% and 23%. Those numbers are consistent with what I have uncovered through examinations of parish registers.

In terms of working women, the region was probably not unlike many others in England and Wales. Almost half of working-age women were employed as domestic servants throughout the record period; 60% of all single women worked for wages. In 1851, 38% of widows were employed, dropping to 28% by 1911 – not a large difference.

Child employment was high, not unexpectedly. More than 40% of boys and 21% of girls aged 14 to 18 were recorded as full-time workers on every census. In 1851, 17% of boys and 6% of girls between 10 and 13 were employed. That dropped to 3% and 1%, respectively by 1911.

Mortality was very high for infants and young children: well over 10% failed to reach their first birthday and another 7% did not attain the age of five years. Those numbers were fairly consistent from 1851 to 1911. Nationally, the death rates were around 15% for infants. Young children fared better, dropping from 15% to about 7% between 1851 and 1911.

There is a lot of other information to be discovered about family structure, fertility and households, all broken down by registration district across England and Wales and accessible using an indexed map. It is not impossible to spend hours reviewing data from parishes in which ancestors lived.

Anyone with British ancestors is well-advised to have a look at the website.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

DNA? Don’t forget traditional genealogical research methods.

It seems that lately almost every genealogical newsletter, journal, magazine and blog post I read has a feature on DNA testing. And every email discussion list has daily comments about the use of DNA in finding ancestors or tracing ancestral lines.

That’s all well and good, I guess. DNA can be a valuable tool in determining familial relationships. I have found a few cousins myself through DNA databases. None that we have had contact with, or recognize as being part of our families, have been further distant than third cousins, though. I am not sure why that is. We have tried to contact them through the DNA websites and email but have had no responses. One wonders why they tested if they don’t want to hear from any potential family members.

I am trying to get basic data shared with all “DNA relatives” and get other family members, close and distant, to get a test done, but have just not found the time to really dedicate myself to the pursuit. There is a resistance, or perhaps non-interest, in doing so. But that’s a subject for another post.

What is, or might be a concern is that the idea of DNA testing is or will be the end-all and be-all of future genealogical research. More and more, especially during holiday seasons and special commemorative dates we are bombarded (and I use that term intentionally) with promotions and advertisements for DNA tests or upgrades. Blog posts and newsletters repeat these ads.

It almost seems as if the commercial database companies are intent on finding a new profit-centre as the numbers of new digitized collections of documents are falling and customers are no longer flocking to take out subscriptions. Family history societies, too, are trying to cash in on DNA, using it as a headline subject for seminars and conferences.

James Tanner, in his blog Genealogy’s Star, often laments the fact that the future of research is threatened by family historians (Ten Threats to the Future of Genealogical Research – 7 November 2018) who are increasingly focused on the Internet for their data. The shift to online sources, I believe, is also tied to the use of the tool of DNA tests. As James says, both are beneficial, but not attending to the vast storage of undigitized documents in record offices and archives will leave family stories and ancestral history lacking in fact and detail.

There is no substitute for well-documented genealogical research, based on real records that confirm relationships. Even DNA gurus like Blaine Bettinger say that any relationship indicated by DNA results still needs to be confirmed with actual BMD or other records showing how the people are related. Shared DNA can certainly bring people together and indicate they are part of the same familial line, but in order to put them into a family tree, more definitive information is required. And the only way to get that information is to look at historical records and documents.

As the editor of the journal of a family history society, I dedicated an entire issue to the subject of DNA back in 2012. The subject had just started to receive more attention. One result was that the society started up a Special Interest Group for those interested in DNA testing and analyses. That was exciting and I felt that I had some small contribution to the cause. In the intervening years the subject has exploded with opportunities to test and make contact with others who have tested.

There is the rub, of course. I still have a brick wall or two that I hope might be broken down by finding distant cousins through DNA testing. The lack of documents for these family members and the commonality of their names make a genetic connection probably the only way we might ever learn who that line of ancestors is.

In the meantime, don’t forget to follow the traditional genealogical research methods or let your attention to finding actual documents wane. They are still the most important part of demonstrating family relationships.

Tuesday 20 November 2018


Occasionally the day you write a regular blog post happens to fall on someone’s birthday, in this case, mine. So, it can be a day of reflection about how you got here and what is the meaning of life.

None of us may be able to fully explain the second statement adequately, but I do know how I got here.

In 1945, my father was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. From 1943 to 1946 he was posted to a number of air bases in Canada. But, between 21 January 1945 and 10 April 1945, he was in Calgary, having come home from Mount Hope, Ontario. In April he was sent to Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. While he was home, there is no doubt that he and my mother enjoyed each other’s company, in every sense. I am evidence of some of the fun they had together.

Dad was not home for my birth; in fact, he did not get here until over three months later, which is close to when the photo with him below was taken. The one of me with Mom (aged about two)  is one of very favourite pictures.

The meaning of life seems unclear to many, although I don’t think it’s complex. Simply put, two people in love want to raise a family together. I am convinced that is meaning enough.

The same explanation was true for my parents. They were here because their parents fell in love, got married and wanted children. And so on, and so on…

We can speculate all we want about the existential question, but it really just comes down to families. The timing of children may be accidental in most cases, but their existence has meaning primarily for the parents.

Genealogical research is just trying to put the pieces together about all the loving couples in past generations.

I can confirm that the days lately keep piling up more quickly it seems. At this advanced age (our children would call it that) I am just as busy as I have ever been, although I no longer have to do yard work. Climbing a ladder to get a box down from a high shelf is the most exertion I might experience most days. The alternative to growing older, however, is less than desirable.

We do tend to watch movies and TV programs that feature older people – well, at least people our age – as they reflect the experiences and pains we can associate with. More emails containing jokes about aging seem to be arriving these days, too.

Anyway, it’s good to have birthdays. And especially good to be able to celebrate the birthdays of children and grandchildren.

It gives meaning to life!

Thanks Mom and Dad.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Cooper Family Soldiers

I have not found any of my direct family line, outside of my father, who had involvement with the military. There were several uncles, aunts and cousins who served during some various war periods between the 18th and 20th centuries, in Canada, the United States and Britain, though. Their records have not all been found, or available for inspection yet.

My father joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and served until 1946. My wife, Linda’s father joined the Canadian Army in 1941 and was discharged in 1945. Neither saw direct action in theatres of war, perhaps fortunately for us.

Linda’s maternal grandfather, Alexander Cooper, was a career army man with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). I wrote about him in my blog post last November (Alexander Cooper – Colour Sergeant, Cameronians, Scottish Rifles). He served in Scotland, England, India and South Africa during a 23-year career, retiring from service in 1908. Two of Alexander’s sons also served in the Cameronians, one in the Great War and one in World War II. Alexander died in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1927.

Alexander Cooper Jr., born in 1895 in Lossiemouth, Morayshire, Scotland, joined the Cameronians in November 1914 and was assigned to the 5th Battalion.  He may have seen action in the Second Battle of Ypres and/or at the Battle of Loos in 1915. His full record does not appear to have been preserved. Alexander certainly fought on the front lines. He died of wounds received in action in France on 4 April 1916 and is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery, France.

Harry Hilsdon Cooper, born in 1914 in Glasgow, Scotland we believe joined the army when he was about 14 years old, possibly as part of the Cameronians Band; he was a trumpet player. We do not have information from his military service record yet so cannot confirm dates and postings. We do know he served with the 1st Battalion in Burma during WWII. The battalion saw heavy fighting in the Burma retreat of 1942, and later as part of the famous Chindit campaign in 1944. He did come home safe and uninjured. Harry married in 1945 and with his wife raised a family of five. He died in Liverpool, England, in 1996.

Another of Alexander Sr.’s sons, John Walker Cooper, served with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals during WWII. His rank was Signalman as shown on his 1941 marriage record when he was posted in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. We do not yet know any details of his service record. John and his wife had three children. He died in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1987.

Alexander Cooper Jackson, was born in Govan, Scotland, in 1898. In spite of the similarity in his name to Linda’s grandfather, he was only a first (once removed) cousin of the man. Alexander Cooper Jackson came to Canada in 1912, aged 14, to live with an aunt in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Alexander joined the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force in July 1915. He was part of the 78th Battalion Canadian Infantry, 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers, and shipped out to France in May 1916. He was in France on 8 August 1918 when he was killed. The circumstances stated on his service record indicate “He was with his battalion following up the general advance on the morning of August 8th, 1918. On reaching the village of Hangard the enemy dropped a barrage of heavy shells instantly killing Private Jackson and six others.” He was buried in the Caix British Cemetery, France.

Today we remember and appreciate all those who served and sacrificed.

Bethune Town Cemetery and Caix British Cemetery, France

Saturday 10 November 2018

Comments to my Past Posts

It seems I have been neglectful in reviewing the many kind comments to past posts.

Today I will go through and publish them. And I resolve to keep regular track of any that come in from now on. I will reply to those that have left an email address.

For whatever reason, I have not been receiving notification from Blogger that people offered feedback. Must have some box unticked.

Thanks to all my readers who responded.


Tuesday 6 November 2018

Genealogical Expectations

Definitions of genealogy:

Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd Edition): 1a A line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor, 1b an account or exposition of this. 2 the study and investigation of lines of descent. 3 a plant’s or animal’s line of development from earlier forms.

Encyclopaedia Britannica: the study of family origins and history. The word genealogy comes from two Greek words—one meaning “race” or “family” and the other “theory” or “science.” Thus is derived “to trace ancestry,” the science of studying family history.

Wikipedia: (from Greekγενεαλογία genealogia from γενεάgenea, "generation" and λόγος logos, "knowledge"), also known as family history, is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has been instrumental in finding and making available documents from past centuries for the purpose of tracing ancestors. They are still the central focus, through their facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, for the collection and preservation of material from all over the world. The purpose in doing so was well-defined in a 2017 blog post (Why Mormons do Genealogy? by Mette Ivie Harrison), provided to me by a friend, explaining what their beliefs entail: “In Mormonism, family history is basically a requirement for getting to heaven, where you will meet all your ancestors and be part of one giant, eternally bound family. . . Mormons believe that families are eternally sealed to each other in heaven, which means not only our nuclear families, but generations in the past and descendants in the future. Mormons also believe that certain rites are necessary for entry into heaven and that the dead wait for this work to be done so that they can pass from spirit prison to spirit paradise, both of which are places souls wait to be resurrected after this life.”

So those are the basic meanings of what genealogy is. But what is its purpose for family historians in general? And what are the expectations of those who are involved in such studies?

For most of us, the reasons Mormons state for their work that has and is being done is not important, it is the fact that the information and knowledge of past generations is available to us that is the most significant.

Most of us family historians are primarily curious about:
·         who our ancestors were;
·         where they lived;
·         what they did for a living; and,
·         whether any of them were famous or had any notable attributes

We trace records as far back in time as we can in order to unearth the details of their existence. Some genealogists particularly look for, and delight in finding connections with powerful people of the past, including royal families.

There are now hundreds, if not thousands of websites dedicated to genealogical studies: providing data; dispensing advice; relating stories; and putting people together with others who share specific interests or familial connections. It’s overwhelming at times! Judging by the number of commercial ventures and conferences, family history has become a major industry with many companies and people engaged in providing information and expertise.

I noted that conclusion in an article in the Journal of One-Name Studies (October-December 2018 issue, titled, Surname Origins – Why? When? Why then?): When the climate cooled [during the little Ice Age], weather became unstable, growing conditions deteriorated and famine was common. Large parts of the population of Europe required the assistance of local parishes and governments. “Relief for the poor was organized or expanded through government legislation and Church policies. In order to pay for these plans and distribute aid, authorities needed to know who had money and who needed it. . . what may have spurred [surname] introduction was the need to identify people on tax and welfare rolls by more than their first or only names. Populations had increased significantly during the Medieval Warm Period, so references to occupations, residences or family associations - or surnames - came to be added to single out specific individuals. In any case, naming patterns became more complex and unique across the social strata almost overnight.”

My thesis is that surnames only became more common during the period of the Little Ice Age (from 1300 AD). The article was based on a review of the names written into a Medieval document, the Durham Liber Vitae which can be seen on the British Library website. It contains over 11,000 names of royalty, landowners and members of religious communities, along with other historical comments from scribes or church leaders at various times. The pattern of the timing and use of surnames in this document is very revealing.

The upshot, in my opinion, as I expressed in my last blog, is that we should not expect to be able to confirm who our ancestors were further back than the late Middle Ages. That would certainly be the case using surnames, which unfortunately most of genealogical studies are based on.

Tree of Jesse, oil on oak panel, painted ca 1500 (attributed to Jan Mostaert (ca 1475-1552); in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam): While he is sleeping a tree is growing from Jesse's body, on it depicted the twelve Kings of Judah, the ancestors of Christ, and Mary with the Christ child in the top. The kings are: David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. On either side of Jesse two prophets are standing, probably Isaiah and Jeremiah. To the left a nun in a white habit, probably from the Order of St.Mary Magdalene, is kneeling. She is the donor of the painting. The metaphorical picture originates in a passage in the biblical Book of Isaiah.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Genealogical Studies are a Euro-Centric Activity

By and large, most family history research is directed primarily at uncovering European roots.

I guess that should not be surprising since much of the early work in reviewing and copying records began with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), whose founders were of British stock. Many of the early researchers were from North America and the British Isles which emphasized studies into English and Scottish roots.

A local family history society did a survey of members’ interests several years ago. They found that of 3,388 submissions concerning the locations of surname interests, 1,758 (52%) were for the United Kingdom, 852 (25%) were for Canada, 380 (11%) were for the United States and 353 (9%) were for continental Europe. Only 3% of family historians were interested in the whole rest of the world. I suspect that most other societies show a similar pattern.

The major databases of ancestral information are concentrated in English-speaking regions: FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast, MyHeritage and a few others. Their collections are also geographically most heavily weighted to English-speaking countries as the table below indicates.

Total Collections
United States
United Kingdom
Continental Europe & Ireland
of the World

This weighting may be due to:
·         the number of records that were originally created
·         the number of records that have been preserved
·         the number of records that have been digitized and available to view online
·         the number and location of interested family researchers

Information about Asian countries is gradually making its way online although the number of collections is only a fraction of what is available for North America and Europe. Whether it can be integrated with the large volume of records from “Western” nations is unknown. A FamilySearch Wiki describes some of the material that can be searched.

If you are a student of history, or have read about any historical events, you will have learned about the expansion of European societies to the far corners of the world, primarily beginning in the 15th century.
The Cantino planisphere, completed by an unknown Portuguese cartographer in 1502, is one of the most precious cartographic documents of all times. It depicts the world, as it became known to the Europeans after the great exploration voyages at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century to the Americas, Africa and India. It is now kept in the Biblioteca Universitaria Estense, Modena, Italy
What you will also have realized is that, in addition to the expansion of trade and opening up of new regions where people from all corners of Europe could relocate, there was also a terrible toll on the people who already lived in those regions. What was done by exploring nations, much of it in the name of Christianity, was the wholesale slaughter of indigenous peoples, to start with, and the subjugation of established societies that continued for centuries. Thousands of families, along with information about the survivors, were lost in this global expansion by Europeans.

Practically, we can only trace our families back about 600 years. The lack of records that describe people, in particular with respect to surnames, are lacking prior to the 14th century.

Genealogy then has a very limited reference period, both in terms of time and geography. Is that important to most of us? Well, there are a lot of records available (and more becoming available every day) that cover the last few centuries, so we have lots to keep us busy. The complexity of family dynamics also challenges us to define our true ancestral lines which should modify expectations of any study.

When you add in the impossibility of finding information about people in other that European-based societies (Oriental, African tribes, New World indigenous, etc.) because of the absence of written records of any kind or the difficulty of reading what material there may be, the construction of a World Family Tree, even utilizing DNA analyses, becomes a fantasy.

At least the business part of family history research is. Because the written record is concentrated in European centres and part of European history, that is where the focus will likely remain.

Monday 15 October 2018

Tess (2005-2018)

For the second time in a week we lost a dear little companion.

We were surprised and shocked when Tess developed some very serious health problems in the last few months. While we hoped we would be able to deal with them, recent deterioration in her well-being led us to conclude that we needed to spare her any unnecessary discomfort. We believed it was going to be an uphill battle for her to regain a quality of life she needed and deserved in order to go on. She died peacefully in our arms at the vet clinic on 13 October 2018.

Some readers may find it strange to talk about dogs in a genealogical-related blog. My view is that “family” often goes beyond just parents, children, grandparents or siblings – or even human beings. Those warm, loving little animals we choose to share our homes and lives with are also family. And their passing brings heartache!

Tess was born 18 March 2005: mother, Ellie; sire, Draco. She came home with us on 15 May 2005 and was immediately adopted by Robbie – the West Highland White Terrier that we lost earlier last week – the two becoming life-long friends. And family, of course.

She was a sweet dog, prone to friendly licking of anyone who came within tongue distance – which made children giggle and adults squirm. From the start she was an energetic dog – in so being, energizing the rest of us. She never had a litter of her own but she did her best to mother Robbie, regularly grooming his coat and cleaning his ears. Tess could also be fierce at times, especially if any other dog looked crosswise at Robbie.

Tess was a brindle Cairn Terrier, with white, gray and brown in her mostly black coat. We liked to tell people that she was a look-a-like to the original Toto of Wizard of Oz fame, also a brindle Cairn. She was not a registered purebred dog but that was not of concern to us. Our grandson did think she deserved a bigger name, though, and decided she should be called Contessa Licksalot in recognition of her overbearingly-friendly demeaner.

In people years, Tess would have been close to 70, not a bad age for a terrier, although we certainly would have wished for more time with her, as well as with Robbie.

It is difficult to convey in a few words what a lifetime of joy these pets gave us. If electronic messages could be tear-stained in the way hand-written notes can be, this would be one of them.

Robbie and Tess had an enormous impact on our lives and will be lovingly remembered.

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Robbie (2003-2018)

We lost a very dear pet this week. Robbie’s health had failed considerably over the past several months. We knew it was his time and that we had to give him relief from his daily struggles. He died very peacefully in my arms at the vet clinic on 7 October 2018.

Losing a pet is not the same as losing a parent, sibling or child. Nonetheless they become very important members of our families and I think they also deserve eulogies. Pets give us great joy and companionship. The fact that we elect euthanasia to end their stress or sickness does not take away our pain or sense of loss.

Robbie was born 29 November 2003. His registered name was Brynmill Billy Barkwell: sire, Brynmill Bobbie Burns; mother, Banffshire Chloe. That did not mean much to us, really. He was just Robbie! We brought him home on 24 January 2004.

This is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. And while it has turned out to be a very sad time, we are thankful for having had Robbie in our lives for so many years.

Robbie was a very good dog for us. He was gentle; he loved people, especially children; the kennel where he used to visit put him in with the puppies staying there because he was so friendly and liked to play with them. He was also a curious dog, and his adventuresome nature occasionally got him into trouble when he was able to get through an open gate into the wide open neighbourhood. He did not bark much, in spite of his name, except when unauthorized cats or rabbits invaded his yard. He also had a thing about cube vans and made a scene until they drove away.

As one gets older I think the loss of a pet becomes somewhat more distressing, perhaps because we see the end of their life span in terms more relative to our own. In people years, Robbie was just a little older than me – a septuagenarian – so in that respect we can say he lived a full life.

Robbie captivated our hearts. And those hearts have broken a little with him now gone. He will always be in our memories, aided by the dozens if pictures we have of him in our family albums.

The last comment the attending veterinarian said to us was that she thought we had given him a very good life. My response was “and vice versa!” He gave us a great deal of happiness in return.

Thursday 4 October 2018

The Shepheard One-Name Study

Having finally decided to embark on a one-name study of the name Shepheard I now have to formulate what the limits might be in terms of variants. In an article in volume 12 Issue 4 of the Journal of One-Name Studies, (October-December 2015), titled The Shepheard Surname: An Unlikely Name for an ONS?, I indicated that I thought there was merit in such a study, but only for the specific spelling of my name.

So, that is what we will do! I say “we” because I intend to enlist my daughter to assist in the recording of data and organizing of a website. That will reduce my work-load (Yeah, right!) but mainly it will ensure that there is someone to take over when I am gone. There is no rush there.

In the study, I will consider including other individuals with variants in spelling, but only if it can “be demonstrated that individuals with those different names had ancestors or a significant number of other family members who spelled their name as Shepheard.” One example in my family was first cousin, five times removed, John Shepheard (pictured below), who I like to say was born with an ‘a’ and died without it. I wrote about him the in the JOONS article.
Baptism, marriage and burial records for John Shepheard (1815-1898) of Cornwood parish, Devon
The next matter is to decide where to start; that is, what geographic region will be reviewed first. The natural place is Devon, England, where my direct line originated and where I have data back to the early 17th century. As I demonstrated in my 2015 article, the county represents the highest concentration of people with our version of the surname into the 19th century. Censuses from 1841 to 1871 showed the largest number of Shepheards of any county in England. That turned over in 1881 when Middlesex took over as number one.

Records for many Devon parishes only go back into the 1600s. Only three parishes have information further back than 1550, so our data for early families is limited. In Cornwood parish, where my ancestors lived for several hundred years, almost all records kept in the parish were destroyed in a fire in the churchwarden’s house in 1685, resulting in virtually nothing past that year.

By far the greatest proportion of Devon Shepheards were born in Modbury parish. Baptism records there go back to 1601. Between then and 1730, there were 265 Shepheard baptisms listed (2.04 per year). During that period there were also 102 marriages of Shepheard family members, 56 men and 46 women. There are several variants of the surname in the parish but they are intertwined and I have assumed that, because of the small size of the parish and the concentration of individuals, they are all related and members of the Shepheard family. From 1720 to 1820, there were only 83 Shepheard babies baptized in the parish (0.83 per year). I do not yet know why the numbers were falling off.

I have been going through English census records, surveying the lists by county and year. I am in the process of downloading images of the census pages that show Shepheard individuals from which I can start to construct families. I am also obtaining the pages from baptism, marriage and burial registers across England that list every individual Shepheard, as far back in time as there may be available.

With even just one spelling variation, there is an enormous amount of information available. The first year (few years?) of this study will likely be just identifying sources of information and compiling the records that show where individuals and families lived. As well as where they are now.

I am sure this is going to be both interesting and frustrating. The main goals are to find Shepheard families as far back in time and possible and, hopefully, determine how or if they are connected.

Wish us luck!