Tuesday 31 December 2019

2019 Year in Review

Blog Posts

I posted 19 times on my Discover Genealogy blog and 17 times on my Mother Nature’s Tests blog. This activity was not quite as busy as in past years as time was taken up with research and writing of many other articles.

Published Articles

It was a busy year for writing articles for various magazines and journals. I had ten of them published in 2019:
·         Changing LandscapesDiscover Your Ancestors magazine – April, number 72
·         A Family Tragedy: The 1866 Pennine FloodGoing In-Depth magazine – July, volume 7, number 6
·         Finding Birth Parents: Success and Not-So-MuchCrossroads, the quarterly journal of the Utah Genealogical Association – Fall issue
·         Should you start a One-Name Study if there is no one to take it over?Journal of One-Name Studies, quarterly journal of the Guild of One-Name Studies – July-September, volume 13, number 7
·         The Great Frost & FamineFamily Tree (UK) magazine – Christmas issue, volume 36, number 3
·         The History of Old OccupationsFamily Tree (UK) magazine – March, volume 35, number 6
·         Losing the ‘a’: A reminder lesson surname spellingThe Devon Family Historian, the quarterly journal of the Devon Family History Society, February, number 169
·         Families in Peril: The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12 - Going In-Depth magazine – April, volume 7, number 3
·         Surname Search Limitations for a One-Name Study - Journal of One-Name Studies, quarterly journal of the Guild of One-Name Studies – October-December, volume 13, number 8
·         Memphis Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878Internet Genealogy magazine – December/January, volume 14, number 5

One of my 2018 articles for the Journal of One-Name Studies won a Guild Award of Excellence given in April 2019:
·         Surnames Origins – Why? When? Why then? – October-December 2018, volume 13, number 4

Presentation & Webinars Given

I presented the following talk to the English & Welsh Special Interest Group of the Alberta Family Histories Society in January and to a genealogy group of retired teachers in March. It was also the subject of a webinar for the Virtual Genealogical Association in July:
·         Using Parish and Other Records . . . to determine now natural phenomena affected people and communities in the past

Plans for 2020

I have submitted four articles for publication and have several others in various stages of research and writing.

I am scheduled to present talks to the Family Tree Live 2020 conference in London in April. And I will be giving a webinar as part of the Legacy Family Tree Webinars in May and another to the Virtual Genealogical Association Conference in November.

This on top of the hopefully more regular blog posts and my own family history research.

Thank You. . .

. . . to all me regular blog readers. I hope you have found at least some of the posts of interest and value. I look forward to contributing other useful information next year.

Friday 20 December 2019

Family Tree Live 2020 (London) Talks

I am going to London in April 2020 to attend and deliver three presentations at Family Tree Live, hosted by Family Tree magazine (UK) in partnership with the Family History Foundation. See their website for all the details.

My talks include:

·         Genealogy and the Little Ice Age: Information and perspective offered concerning studies of the families living during the prolonged harsh living conditions of the Little Ice Age (1300-1850AD), and

·         The Great Frost & Famine: The impact of the 1739-41 cold weather event on people and communities across Europe; a model for other similar events of the Little Ice Age.

I will also do a workshop about:

·         Natural Phenomena and their effects on the lives of our ancestors: Examples of how different types of natural phenomena significantly impacted lives and livelihoods in the past centuries and how people responded or adapted.

Tickets are now on sale for the event. I hope many of my readers here will be able to join me on April 17th and 18th, 2020, at historic Alexandra Palace.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Christmas Memories

At this time of year, most of us think about past Christmases, the times we were growing up or raising our own families. If we are lucky, we can relive those occasions with pictures. In this post I present highlights of seven decades of Christmas festivities in several photo compilations.

I can only go back to the 1950s in this selection. I do have hundreds of photos taken in previous decades, but, curiously, none were taken during the Christmas season. Maybe I will have to do a Summer pictorial later.

Common themes in these montages are Christmas trees, gifts and, of course, dinners. Many celebrations were also centred on children and grandchildren. I have lost count of the number of turkeys that were consumed, or the gallons of wine that were downed, not to mention the (probable) tons of fruits and vegetables and acres of pies that were part of the feasts.

But mostly the memories are about the people – both family and friends – who gathered to share the fun. Christmas was one of those times when families made a point of getting together, some occasionally travelling great distances to be part of the gatherings.

Many of those pictured are no longer with us, but we have these photos to remember them and the joyful times we shared.

The 1950s…

The 1960s…

The 1970s…

The 1980s…

The 1990s…

The 2000s…

The 2010s…

I hope all readers of Discover Genealogy have a wonderful Christmas and a very prosperous New Year.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

DNA: Reviewing our Tests

Wherever you turn you are seeing more information about the use of the DNA tool. There can be little doubt that it will continue to be a major part of family history research. All of the major testing companies now offer advanced analyses and comparisons to larger populations of tested results.

I have commented here before about DNA test results I have come across in my own research: Sometimes DNA Works (8 May 2018); New Found Family: A DNA, Ancestry, Facebook success story (17 July 2018); DNA? Don’t forget traditional genealogical research methods (27 November 2018).

Lately I have heard more about spedific family matching techniques being employed by the testing companies. Blaine Bettinger, genealogical DNA guru, gave two talks recently at the Virtual Genealogical Association conference: Identifying Your DNA Matches’ Secret Identity and Using DNA Shared Matching for Success that hit home with me. Most of us love to put things in chart form so we can visualize relationships. That is what a family tree is, isn’t it? So being able to make charts showing DNA connections is a great boon to using the data and understanding what those minute traces of shared DNA mean.

All companies are presently offering Thanksgiving Day (US) and Christmas sales to purchase and upgrade tests. Some of them are certainly worth considering.

My wife and I were tested (mtDNA) at 23andMe. I have 1,260 relatives shown on their list. My wife has 1,257. That is a lot of people to look at. It is important that we find ways of reducing or simplifying, at least right now, how we can compare details of the data and see how we can expand our knowledge of our family trees. We both found cousins on the match lists, some of whom were known to us but several that were not. The tests have thus proven useful so far.

23andMe allows you to compare actual segments so you can see in a picture how directly you match. DNA of one of my first cousins, Donald Miller, was also tested here, as were many of his children and grandchildren. We can now see exactly where our shared segments are and how they may relate to others on the connections list. Many other cousins also tested at 12andMe and the list is growing. We already have lots of data to review.

23and Me also offers a family tree built with DNA matches called Your Family Tree. (Below is one for my wife.) It is still in Beta (testing) form, but already is a useful way of showing relationships. We have found some cousins are not quite right (e.g. they show a 2nd cousin of my wife who is actually a 3rd cousin, once removed), but I am sure they will be rectified as more data is input by each of us in our respective trees. Links demonstrate what family lines people are connected through. If they all answer our requests for more information, we could have a very robust family tree overall and many other stories.

I sent our 23andMe results to MyHeritage to compare with what they have in their database. At present they show I have seven extended family and 9,013 distant relatives sharing DNA; my wife has two extended family and 10,423 distant relatives. That is a lot of people to try to contact or check family trees with!

MyHeritage has developed a system called Theory of Family Relativity which shows family connections. Cute name! I wondered how it might work and if it was going to be useful. Each person who has family tree information and a DNA test, can be compared directly. The common ancestor connections are rated in terms of confidence.

I had my same cousin, Donald Miller, and a brother-in-law test their Y-DNA at FamilyTreeDNA. We were interested in seeing if we could find family connections past the 2nd great-grandfathers of both me and my wife. We presently face brick walls for each of them and one possible way around the problem may be in finding a DNA connection. Both individuals are deceased now, so having had their DNA tests in hand I hope will be immensely helpful in the future.

My cousin presently has no matches at 37 markers but 17 names at 25 markers; my brother-in-law has one at 37 markers and 35 at 25 markers. Unfortunately, none of the people I have contacted know their family history back far enough to be helpful. I have upgraded both tests now to 67 markers. Hopefully we can find better connections than presently are indicated.

I also tested my own Y-DNA at FamilyTreeDNA. I have 286 matches at the 37-marker level and 7,001 at the 25-marker level. Two of the names are variants of my surname which one would hope was of value. None of the people I have contacted can point to any common ancestor, though. Only a few have provided a family tree that I can check, but none of the names of their earliest known ancestor are familiar to me. We still have a way to go to see if the data is going to be valuable.

Ethnicity estimate results from all sources are still under review and consideration. They do not hold a lot of interest to me in terms of finding family members but are curious to look at.

At the recent MyHeritage conference in Amsterdam, James Tanner reported, “DNA testing has become established as an integral part of the world-wide genealogical community and MyHeritage.com is making major technological advances extending DNA testing from its current position as a genealogical research tool by expanding their DNA Health program.” I have seen similar comments from many genealogical writers and bloggers.

I am unsure about the merits of doing the health reports. I know it is useful for some people who have specific health problems they want to know more about. But I am concerned that this kind of data could fall into the wrong hands.

What we don’t know yet is where such data will lead in terms of personal privacy or possible intrusions into the lives of people who have been or will be tested. Many presently worry about how law enforcement agencies may use the data or whether they will be able to access private files in their search for criminals or, more likely, the relatives of possible criminals.

Can we be confident that insurance companies will not try to look at this data in an attempt to reduce or modify coverage on their policy-holders. Something to ponder!

My Plan for 2020:

1.      Review in detail the Y-DNA upgrades for my cousin and brother-in-law on FamilyTreeDNA.
2.      Review all connections shown on the 23andMe and MyHeritage lists – although maybe not all the thousands of them right away.
3.      Get caught up on reading & listening – blogs, articles, webinars, tutorials – so that I can make more sense of the tests we have done.

Thursday 21 November 2019

My Latest Published Articles

I have two new articles published concerning Mother Nature's Tests and family history.

One is in the December-January issue of Internet Genealogy and titled Memphis Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878.

Over 20,000 people died between August and October of 1878 in dozens of areas along the Mississippi River. Memphis was one of the urban centres impacted, where over 17,000 cases were reported and over 5,000 people died. Thousands more left the city to escape the epidemic. In short order, the city was virtually emptied. The paper summarizes the history and the fate of some of the residents. 

A subscription to Internet Genealogy magazine can be obtained at https://internet-genealogy.com/

The second paper is in the Christmas issue of Family Tree (UK magazine). It is about The Great Frost & Famine of 1739-41.

Most genealogists will have read about the almost countless famines that occurred during the late Middle Ages. Stories of the experiences of ancestors and how they coped may have been incorporated into a few family histories, at least in terms of the times and places in which they happened. But is there a clear understanding of how such events came to occur? Or why they appear to have been more common during that time-period? Or how such events were so impactful? A close look at the event of 1739-40 gives us some answers.

A subscription for Family Tree, or a copy of the issue can be obtained at https://www.family-tree.co.uk/store/latest-issue/family-tree-magazine/

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Online Parish Clerks and GENUKI

I had occasion to post some comments to the Devon-L Rootsweb list this past week. And had some very good and a few very strange responses back. One of the posts was about the Online Parish Clerk OPC) program and how it seems to have died down in terms of people contacting OPCs for information. Here is part of my post:

In many recent email messages to Devon-L I have noticed that researchers are not as acquainted with the OPC program as they used to be. What is also apparent is that experienced genealogists and members of DFHS do not offer newbies and others any information about what data OPCs might have.

The rise of Internet sources has, of course, led to people finding their own way more often. That should allow them to find the OPCs as well, but it does not seem to be the case.

In my own parishes, the ones I look after as an OPC, I am very cognizant of the people and families that lived there for many generations. I am also aware that there have been many changes in the spelling of names over the centuries, as well as the births, deaths, marriages and migration of people. Only through transcribing all the parish registers and other documents, with the help of many volunteers I would add, have we been able to put together a significant database on families.

Yes, many of the registers are now online and you can pull up images of the various pages. That is, of course, if you search for the right name and spelling. I know, from my own experience that there are problems with indexing on most of the major databases. I also know that even though sites like
FindMyPast or Ancestry say they have all the records, there are still some missing from their library.

For Devon, not all parish registers can be found on FMP or Ancestry, or any other site. Many can be found on the DFHS
[Devon Family History Society] site, though, in the Members Only area. More importantly, the information may be available from OPCs who look after the parishes. Not all parishes are covered but there is still a good-sized group that are.

In the discussion and commentary from other list members, many people made the point that many family researchers do not take advantage of another quality source of information and advice – GENUKI (which stands for UK and Ireland Genealogy). https://www.genuki.org.uk/

We all agreed that this site, along with OPC information probably need more promotion in the genealogy world.

Many counties in England have OPC programs. You can find out which ones here. https://www.genuki.org.uk/search/site/online%20parish%20clerk I am most familiar with the Devon program https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/OPCproject as I look after four parishes in that county. https://www.cornwood-opc.com/ (Which reminds me that I really need to update my website pages.)

As I indicated in my Devon-L post, we get fewer queries these days than we used to. Not zero yet, but other Internet sites seem to pull researchers in different directions. Those people that do come to ask about my parishes all are pleased they did as I am usually able to provide information about their ancestors who lived in the areas, but also to give them some advice about other sources. I have even met a few cousins through my role as an OPC.

OPCs generally have a great deal of knowledge about, and expertise in the areas they administer and the people that lived there. They are a great resource for beginners and advanced genealogists alike.

I have written about the OPC program in a few journal and magazine articles. One of my first blog posts, back on 14 August 2013 was about The Online Parish Clerk (OPC) Program. Other people have also published pieces about OPCs. See the list below.

·         Shepheard, Wayne. (2012). The Future is Still in the Past: An introduction to Online Parish Clerks. Crossroads. 7(2). pp. 6-13.
·         Shepheard, Wayne. (2013). Experiences of an Online Parish Clerk: Examples of information gleaned from parish registers. Relatively Speaking, February issue, 41(1), pp. 14-19.
·         Shepheard, Wayne. (2013). Experiences of an Online Parish Clerk: A case study involving the use of information from parish registers and other sources. The Devon Family Historian, May issue, No. 146., pp. 24-29.
·         Shepheard, Wayne. (2017). The Role on Online Parish Clerks in the Search for Surnames. Journal of One-Name Studies, October-December issue, 12(12), pp. 9-10.
·         Stockdill, Roy. (2012). Online Parish Clerks. Family Tree, April issue, 28(7), pp. 38-41.
·         Shepheard, Wayne (2013). Discover Genealogy Blog Post, The Online Parish Clerk Program https://discovergenealogy.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-online-parish-clerk-opc-program.html

If you would like copies of any of these papers, you can email me at cornwood.opc at shaw dot ca.

GENUKI is an especially wonderful resource for finding what information is available, and where it can be found for areas throughout the UK and Ireland. Most of us who have looked through their pages agree it should be the first stop for genealogists who are beginning their research adventure or looking at a new area. It is constantly being updated with new data and sources so is a place where you can revisit frequently and find new information that may be relevant to your studies. As participants on the Devon-L list, we get monthly memos of what has been added from Brian Randell, the Devon GENUKI manager.

I highly recommend genealogists consult both GENUKI and an OPC, if there is one in the area of your study. Both are resources where I am confident you will find relevant information that will further your family history research. Let others know about your perusal of these sites, too.

By the way, both GENUKI and the OPC program are always looking for more volunteers to assist them in making those programs and websites even better.

Tuesday 22 October 2019

My Amazing Picture-Taking Machines

 I have a large collection of pictures taken by my family, including by my parents, children, cousins, aunts and uncles. As a family we have always been active in recording people and events as my many photo albums and home movies illustrate. I will have more to say about home movies in a future blog post.

What I also have are most of the picture-taking equipment used in our collective quest to preserve memories. Those have now become part of family memorabilia, as if I needed more things to store.

I have written here about our old photo albums and my re-making them once they started to fall apart. What will we do with future photos? I have also written about digitizing all our family albums and making the photos all available online for family to access anytime in the future. Digitizing Memories

We went digital in our picture-taking in 2002 with a Sony DX300 model although I continued to print photos for our albums. Everyone always still seemed to like to flip the pages to see our old family activities and how people changed over time.

I only stopped putting together print albums in 2014. Basically, I ran out of shelf room to put them on after downsizing to a condo. I do kind of miss how they looked all stacked together, though.

One of the problems I have run into is in finding a photo-finisher. The drugstores and electronic outlets where we used to take our films no longer do this. Even trying to get old negatives printed is a chore and very expensive. Establishments that deal in photographic reproduction want to scan the negatives first which is costly and where quality is lost. With digital we can at least print pictures from our computers but that is not always the best approach if you want large-scale prints.

Digital is so much easier as you can look at pictures immediately after they are snapped. And then you can transfer them to your computer for future reference and storage. The downside is that you end up with hundreds more photos that you really need or can use. And who among us actually deletes the ones that are not quite up to quality or expectation. Today we use our iPhone 6 and 7 models for almost all photo-taking. Our kids and grandkids use even more up-to-date devices.

It is interesting to look back on the cameras that I used and see how they changed. Each of them was the latest model and did the job I needed them to do. Some were simple point and shoot cameras which did not take any technical expertise. Other were more complex, with interchangeable lenses, adjustable speed and aperture dials and manual focussing. Most of them now rest in a special cabinet where visitors can be impressed. Over the years I have given away a few cameras, some of which are still in use (I think).

Along with the cameras are flash attachments, flash bulbs and cubes of all sizes, light bars, light meters, battery chargers, slide viewer and sorter, user manuals and photography books, and of course a movie projector.

Top shelf – left to right (with approximate manufacture dates): KIKU 16 Model II subminiature spy camera; Kodak Brownie Starmite (1960); iPhone 4; Fujifilm Discover 160 Tele 35/55 (1988); Zeiss Ikon Ikomatic CF (1968); Ricoh FF-70 (1985); Sony Cybershot DSC-T70 (2007); Sony DX3600 Zoom Digital (2001); Argus A ILEX Precise (1936-41); Kodak Brownie Twin 20 (1959-64)
Middle shelf – left to right: Nizo Heliomatic Trifo 8mm movie camera (1959); Sony Handycam DCR-HC85 miniDV camcorder (2004); Fujica Single 8 PI movie camera (1965); Bloex Paillard B8L 8mm move camera (1958); Bolex Paillard C8 move camera (1954)

Bottom Shelf – left to right: Sony flash unit; Kidak No. 3A Autographic Model C (1916-1926); Kodak N. 2A Brownie box camera (1930-36); Fujica ST 701 single lens reflex camera (1971)’ Rollei flash unit
I inherited a few cameras from my father, both still and movie types. The still cameras go back many decades and were used by family members during the 1920s and 1930s. I do not have all the cameras Dad owned as he traded in many for newer models over the years, or sold them. But the ones I do still own are now collectibles. I wrote about some of them in a 2015 post The Classic Family Photo.

Like family pictures, the amazing picture-taking machines that were used to record events are also valuable memorabilia. I will continue to display them and hope that they get passed along to my descendants.

Thursday 3 October 2019

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes Blog Posts

My newest post on my Mother Nature’s Test blog (Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 18: Comets & Meteorites) is a continuation of similarly-themed subjects started on this blog. They were and are meant to point out many of the natural phenomena that have impacted individuals and families and, in many instances, caused changes in lives and livelihoods.

Links are attached to the titles below for readers who wish to go back and read (or re-read) any of them.

Examples of how people endured natural and environmental changes will continue to be published on the Mother Nature’s Test blog in subsequent posts. There is no shortage of stories about how nature has affected the lives of people around the world and throughout history. Stay tuned.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Errors in Family-Provided Information

I am sure most genealogists have found mistakes in information passed along to them by other family members. Which is why we need to check everything. But I did not expect such a thing to happen so close in term of generations.

For years I have carried the name of one of my father’s deceased sisters on my family tree as Marion Elizabeth Shepheard, who apparently was born and died in 1919. The information about her birth date came from a write-up done by my dad for his family, published in KIK Country, the history book of the area in which they lived in southern Alberta.

It appears he either was misinformed or did not remember the facts. I do not know where the information about her name came from. It could have been from my parents or perhaps just a typo on my part.

The Edmonton Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society recently put together a new source of information called the Alberta Name Index. It contains the names of Alberta residents found in various documents including probates, local histories, obituaries, coroner records, land records, etc. As a matter of course and curiosity, I do searches for my surname on every index I find. I did so for this one as well and came up with two instances. Why there were not more I do not know but the index work is only in its infancy.

In this case there were two hits: one for my uncle and aunt whose names were included with a write-up about her family in another area history publication, the Hussar Heritage; and one was in a 1921 Coroner’s Report concerning the death of an infant by the name of Marion Margaret Shepheard. I thought the death details of the baby were curious, firstly because of the similarity of her name and since the date was so close to that of my dad’s sister.

I found the reference to the Hussar Heritage without too much trouble. While you can purchase copies of it on Amazon (it is quite expensive), the book was actually digitized and is available through the University of Calgary Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections. This and other collections are worth checking out.

I asked friends who live in Edmonton if they could check on the documents when they next had a chance to visit the Provincial Archives of Alberta, where birth, marriage and death records are kept. The Coroner’s Report recorded the cause of death was pneumonia. The death record showed she died in the village of Irricana, on 5 December 1921, at the age of four months, although it spelled her surname as Shepherd. Neither document named the baby’s parents so that left a question as to whether she was family.

Irricana was, of course, where my grandparents’ family lived which strongly suggested Marian Margaret was my aunt. That was further demonstrated on a newspaper clipping I have that referenced the death of Marian Margaret Shephard, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P. Shephard – more spelling problems. I thought the “Mr. and Mrs. P.” should have been Mr. and Mrs. J. P. The clipping is undated and there was no indication where it was published. So, it was not helpful in determining when and where the death occurred.

I spoke to my 84-year old aunt (she is still as sharp as a tack) about her deceased sisters. She did not know about the death record and coroner's report, but she did confirm the baby's name was Marian Margaret Shepheard. She also knew the infant had died of pneumonia at only a few months of age. She was under the impression the baby was born and died in 1919 as well, so the date of the records was news to her.

The documents my friends obtained were exceedingly helpful in unraveling this situation. I am still curious how we were able to get the death record when the infant does not appear in the death index on the provincial archives list. I have checked the list for the other baby who died, Evelyn Ethel Shepheard, apparently in 1926 (I will have to check further on that date now), but she does not appear on the list either. Both are still in the restricted window of 120 years for birth records. I did try to get the certificates before but was unsuccessful. Perhaps both birth dates were wrong.

I am trying to get information from the town of Irricana about the burials. I do have a plot map of the cemetery so am hoping there will be records of names and dates as well. Find A Grave has an entry for Marion Elizabeth Shepheard with birth and death years of 1919. I don’t know where the individual who posted the information got it, but it is wrong. Perhaps the cemetery records are too. The town has erected a plaque for many individuals “whose burial places in this cemetery are unknown” but it shows the two little girls as just "baby Shepheard" so it is not of great usel.

Many family records I have are coming together, even with all the spelling errors. Surprisingly (or perhaps not!), some containing information I thought were correct after all these years have been shown to contain errors. The lesson is that one should take nothing for granted, even the statements of very close relatives.