Thursday 16 April 2020

Family Tree (Virtually) Live 2020

Today, I was supposed to be arriving at the Roseview Alexandra Place Hotel in London, ahead of the Family Tree Live 2020 conference. I was scheduled to deliver two talks and one workshop on the weekend of April 17th and 18th.

Well, of course we all know how that trip and conference has turned out!

Undaunted, the Family Tree magazine publisher in partnership with the Family History Federation have made some different arrangements to at least partly satisfy those that wanted to attend the conference in person. As they say in their latest newsletter:  

The Family Tree virtually Live event will be held on 17 and 18 April right here on the FT website, bringing you a range of video tutorials and special offers. We're not letting the current situation stop us, and whilst we're unable to meet up at Alexandra Palace for Family Tree Live 2020, we're still bringing elements of the show to you here on the website.

I recorded my two talks and they will now be put online with many others for the general public to view under the following rules:

The videos will be freely available to watch until 24 April, after which they will only be available to Family Tree magazine subscribers.

If you do not subscribe to Family Tree you can now do so only £3 (for UK residents), usually £15.75. The overseas digital subscription is £16.99 (under $30 Canadian or half price). A subscription will give you access to the full, growing library of videos, as well as, of course, the great magazine. (I have an article in the current May issue.)

Come and see what it is all about.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

War Diaries and Trench Maps from WWI

I watched a video the other day by Max Dutton as he described information about the Battle of the Somme. He described many different resources one might look at for information on WWI veterans. Part of his presentation was in looking at maps available through the National Library of Scotland where one can look at overlays of maps showing the trenches with modern satellite maps. 

The combination is very illuminating as one can see directly how and where the trenches were located relative to present-day geographic features. Events and locations are put in context in terms of where they happened and what conditions were like for the front-line troops.
Overlay of portion of map Belgium/France, WW1 Trench map: 36C.SW, 23 November 1917 on modern satellite image (retrieved 11 April 2020 from; showing area of battles fought by 5th Battalion, Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) near Cuinchy, France

Max also reminded us about the war diaries that are available on the Ancestry website.

I took the opportunity to review the circumstances under which my wife’s half-uncle died in 1916. He was part of the 5th Battalion of Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) and died on 3 April 1916 from wounds received near Auchy, France. His body is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery. I wrote about him and other family members in a post titled Cooper Family Soldiers, on 11 November 2018, and in another post about A Visit to Vimy, on 21 May 2029.

The diary entry for 3 April 1916, the date of Alexander’s death, does not mention any engagements with the enemy. On 24 March, however, there is an entry that says, “The left Company B was much troubled with rifle grenades which landed very accurately and caused some casualties." Company B may have been the 2nd company, to which Alexander belonged. So, it is likely he was wounded on March 24th and then succumbed in hospital in Bethune, on April 3rd.
Entries in war diary of 5th Battalion, Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) for 1-5 April 1916. (retrieved 11 April 2020 from
Entry in war diary of 5th Battalion, Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) for 24 March 1916 in which engagement with Germans and casualties reported. (retrieved 11 April 2020 from
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has details of almost every soldier who died in Europe and is buried there. The data for Alexander Cooper included his company, battalion, parents’ names, grave location and, of course, date of death. They also have documents that have the information.

These sites are among the many valuable sources of information about past conflicts, but particularly WWI. Especially check out the diaries to get a real feel for what conditions soldiers had to endure on the front lines.