Thursday, 30 December 2021

Living with a pandemic 53

This Christmas we took a trip to Germany. Our youngest son and his family live there now. It was going to be an opportunity to see them and their family. Our daughter and her family, who live in Vancouver, were also going to make the trip.

It would be the first time in two years that we would be able to see our children and grandchildren in person and, despite the risks associated with COVID-19, we thought it important to do everything we could to get together.

Sometimes, just to preserve your emotional and mental well-being, you have to make plans that may go against the advice or caution of others.

This was one of those times.

You can read the whole post on my Mother Nature's Tests Blogsite.

The Shepheard Family at the Waldhotel, Stuttgart, Germany on Christmas Day

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole

After my last post about my Miller ancestors (More progress with the Millers), just a couple of weeks ago, I thought I was finally on the right track to find more about my 2nd great-grandfather, John Conrad Miller (as he was known to my family). I had a birth date that looked right (1808). I found an area (Großbottwar, Württemberg, Germany) where he might have been born near to the ancestral home of another Miller family (that of Richard Miller whose Y-DNA so closely matched that of my cousin Donald) and for which I was able to trace their ancestry. I had a document that said he left Württemberg about the time I thought my own ancestor had done so (1834). Everything seemed to be working the way it should.

The one thing I was apprehensive about was that the emigration record said the Johann Conrad Müller I was interested in was planning to go to Vienna not America. I thought, “Well, he may have just taken a detour.”

Not so, as it turned out. A friend put me in contact with Max, a genealogist in Stuttgart, who I hoped might be able to sort out some things for me and help establish whether this Johann Conrad was mine. Max right away found a family record I had missed. I had found almost all the birth, marriage and death entries for this particular family line.

The family record, though, not only shows the parents and all of the children, but also notes that indicated Johann Conard and his brother, Adam Friderich, who had also immigrated to Austria, both married there.

Details on the family record for Johann Conrad not shown on his baptism entry, were that his Lutheran confirmation was in 1822 and then "in Wien verh[eiratet] 1833", which means "married in Vienna in 1833".

I thought (hoped), “Well, maybe Johann’s wife died and he went on to move to America.” Not so!

To further confirm this was not my Johann Conrad, Max also found the actual 1833 marriage entry and a baptism record for their youngest child born in 1848, both in Vienna registers. It was clear this was not my ancestor since we believe he was dead and buried in Cincinnati, Ohio by then.

I had chased this Johann Conrad down a rabbit hole. He was not who I thought or, more to the point, WANTED him to be. The emigration record indicating he was moving to Vienna was right after all; he did not later travel to America.

What I did get was some reminders in doing genealogical research: always seek out more than one source of information and do not make assumptions without good evidence. Relying on only partial information might have convinced me this individual was related and I could well have included him and his whole line in my family tree.

We are back to the drawing board again. I am hoping (that word again) we will get more out of the Big Y-DNA tests and learn where my and Richard’s branches of the Müller diverged. If it not impossible perhaps we can figure out where and when the Müller families branched off and where my Johann Conrad Müller was born.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Elizabeth Cooper Found

 One of the things to do and find in my family history research was the last resting place of my wife’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Cooper. I first posted about her in August 2014 (Sometimes Those Family Stories Have a Grain of Truth). In that post I wrote about the various stories we looked at that might give us clues about where to find Elizabeth and her son Alexander.

I had summarized what we had discovered in two articles published in 2010 (see below). Through various BMD, census and other documents, I was able to trace the family from the Shetlands to Glasgow. The trail stopped at the whereabouts of the grave of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was married twice, fairly late in life. He second husband was James Ross, a blind, straw mattress maker. They were married in April 1892 when she was 58 years of age. The union only lasted 3 ½ years. James died in December 1895. They were both living in Govan when they married but relocated to Mason Street in Glasgow shortly after.

Elizabeth appears to have continued to live at the home on Mason Street. She is listed there on the 1901 census. She died in April 1904 at 808 New City Road, a location we have no knowledge about. The informant for her death record was her nephew, George Jackson, of Govan.

And that is where our information ended.

Over the years I have contacted various archives and historical societies to see what they could tell me about cemeteries and how to find particular graves. Many people looked through their files but were not able to find her.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped these past couple of years as most government offices have been closed and there have been few people who assist in doing record searches.

Recently I joined the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society. It was not to specifically get help in finding Elizabeth but I thought the association might be one that could assist in my general research of Scottish families. I was also looking at their journal as being a place I might publish Scotland related articles.

Anyway, this week I decided to ask them directly about cemeteries and the best way to find the grave of Elizabeth. Unfortunately, as their website states, their research group is not active at present. COVID and reductions in the number of active members have combined to limit their resources. Following my research request, a note came up suggesting I pose the question on their Facebook page to see if anyone could help.

I wrote a post on November 16th at 4:17 pm my time. Before a day was up, I had several helpful suggestions. One lady, though, Leanne Pirie, not only found the information, but she added a jpeg image that showed who was buried in the Lair at Craigton Cemetery, Glasgow (it is in Govan) where Elizabeth was interred.

Leanne also looked up the burial place of Elizabeth’s husband, James Ross, finding him in the Eastern Necropolis, Glasgow.

Curiously, one of the archivists I contacted indicated she has searched the records of this cemetery but did not find Elizabeth.

Now, not only did I have her burial record, but also that of her sister, Annie Jackson (d. 1897); her brother-in-law, James Jackson (d. 1907); her niece, Elizabeth (Jackson) Halbert (d. 1913); and her grandniece, Georgina Kinnear (d. 1908). All of them were buried in the same plot, at different depths.

Lair 192 was owned by the same George Jackson who provided the information on Elizabeth’s death record. He was also the informant for his mother’s and father’s death records. He never married and died in 1930 in Govan. He is probably buried in another Lair in the Craigton Cemetery.

I am sure George was the one that “brought her home” to the family.

Yea, Leanne! Yea, GWSFHS! and Yea, Facebook!

Articles about Elizabeth:

Shepheard, Wayne. (2010). Finding Elizabeth Couper. Cootin Kin, number 75, pp. 6-15.

Shepheard, Wayne. (2010). Twists and Turns in Search of Elizabeth Cooper. Chinook, 31/1, pp. 16-22.

Monday, 15 November 2021

More progress with the Millers

 In a previous post (Miller Y-DNA: A minor break-through?) on 14 June 2021, I commented about information I have about my Miller ancestors, particularly dealing with Y-DNA tests.

In a second post (What’s new with the Millers?), on 26 October 2021, I described how I had traced back the ancestors of the only good match with my cousin Donald Miller to a place called Ilsfeld in Württemberg, Germany. The town of Ilsfeld is about 20 miles north of Stuttgart where, coincidentally, my son and his family now live.

I am confident I have found individuals back to the 7th great-grandfather of Richard Miller, whose Y-DNA so closely matched Don’s. I still had a problem, though, with where the 2nd great-grandfather of Donald and me fit in. I was hopeful that we might see where the two lines branched off, among the Ilsfeld families, but there was no obvious connection. It seemed like we would have to go back further.

Emigration Information

I recently found a reference to the Württemberg Emigration Index. This publication lists the thousands of German and Prussian people that left Germany from the late 18th century to 1900. Approximately 60,000 people applied to leave the country during that period. The collection of records includes their names, date and place of birth, their residence at the time of their application and the application date. The application dates may have been close to the time they left. At the same time, I found many notes in baptism registers that show when people emigrated and the dates match those listed in the index.

The index was constructed and published in eight volumes, in 1986, by Trudy Shenk, Ruth Froelke and Inge Bork from the original German government records. As described on Ancestry, “these records are not alphabetized nor are the pages numbered, which makes a search through them complicated and time consuming. In many cases, as many as eight pages were written on one person, including a birth certificate or a family record, military release, and renunciation of citizenship rights.” The book was microfilmed by the LDS Church but can be searched on Ancestry.

Only one individual with the same name as my 2nd great-grandfather and of the right age was recorded. He is shown as Conradt Mueller, born in Großbottwar, Württemberg in 1808. His destination was listed as Vienna, but it is entirely possible that he later decided to travel to America, either directly from Germany or from Vienna.

I looked at the baptism record for Großbottwar and found him shown as Johann Conrad Müller. Seeing his full name was even more exciting and gave me confidence I was on the right track.

1808 birth/baptism record for Johann Conrad Müller

There is a slight discrepancy with the birth dates shown on the two records, but they are close enough to suggest the emigration entry might have been mis-transcribed. The baptism entry says he was born on February 4th and baptized on the 5th. His forename likely did not contain a ‘t’. The transcription is probably in error in that regard as well.

Großbottwar is only about four miles from Ilsfeld, the home of Richard Miller’s ancestors. It is not out of the realm of possibilities that the families were spread across neighbouring parishes.

Johann Conrad Müller’s Ancestral Line

Johann Conrad’s father was Johann Adam Müller and his mother was Loisa Dorothea Weiglin. Johann Adam’s occupation was zimmermann, or house carpenter, as were most of Johann Conrad’s forebears. From other records, Loisa Dorothea’s father was found to be Johann Conrad, so the child may have been named for his grandfather.

Assuming I had the right family, I went ahead to trace back Johann Conrad’s predecessors, starting in Großbottwar.

Johann Adam Müller (1770-1821) and Loisa Dorothea (1773-1828) Weiglin were married in Großbottwar on 27 September 1796. They had 15 children, however only four reached adulthood. Johann Conrad was the seventh child. A previous child was also named Johann Conrad. He was born on 10 January 1799 and died on 16 May 1800. The high rate of deaths of children was observed for many families in both the Ilsfeld and Großbottwar areas suggesting living conditions in the region were poor.

Their marriage record shows their marriage date, birth dates and their fathers’ names. Johann Adam’s death record shows his birth date, his parents’ names (including his mother’s maiden name), his spouse’s name (including her maiden name) and his father’s occupation. All this data, of course, helped in identifying the next generation upstream.

1796 marriage record for Johann Adam Müller & Loise Dorothea Weiglin

1821 death record for Johann Adam Müller (aged 50 years, 5 months, 24 days)

Johann Adam’s parents were Adam Müller (1734-1807) and Catharina Magdalena Riegertin (1731-1804). They were married in Großbottwar on 14 February 1764 and had five children there. Only three lived past toddlerhood.

Their marriage record shows their marriage date, father’s names and even Catharina’s death date. Adam’s death record shows his death date, his occupation, and his age at death (years, months, days). Catharina’s death record showed similar information. This data allowed me to tie Adam to the next generation.

1764 marriage record for Adam Müller & Catharina Magdalena Riegertin

1807 death record for Adam Müller (aged 73 years, 3 months, 15 days)

Adam Müller’s parents were Johann Jacob Müller (1702-1747) and Maria Barbara Fincken (1705-1783). They were married in Großbottwar on 12 February 1726 and had eight children. I have not yet found Adam’s death record or the birth and death records for Maria Barbara. They may have left the area after the birth of their last child.

Their marriage record shows their marriage date, fathers’ names, Johann Jacob’s occupation as well as the dates of Maria Barbara’s second marriage and her death.

1726 marriage record for Johann Jacob Müller & Maria Barbara Fincken

1747 death record for Johann Jacob Müller (aged 44 years, 6 months)

Johann Jacob’s parents were Hans or Johann Jacob Müller (1676-1737) and Maria Catharina Schleicher. They were married in Oberstenfeld on 13 February 1700. Baptism records show they had three children. Birth and death data for Maria Catharina has not yet been found.

1700 marriage record for Hans Jacob Müller & Maria Catharina Schleicher

1737 death record for Johann Jacob Müller

The marriage record for Hans Jacob and Maria Catharine shows his father as Hans Martin and her father as Claus. Neither have been found in the Großbottwar registers yet. It is certainly possible they migrated into the area.

The familial relationships were interpreted from information in the BMD registers. Birth/baptism entries often have death information if the individual stayed in the area. Marriage entries commonly have the names of parents as well as the dates of births of the bride and groom. Some death records also record the parents’ and spouses’ names as well as birth dates. Within a parish it is thus possible to reconstruct families over several generations.

Müller families can be found in many areas around Ilsfeld and Großbottwar, although those two appear to have had the largest concentration. I have been through the registers for several of them, looking for interfamilial relationships. The families may well be related or at least derive from some common ancestors, however that cannot be, or at least has not yet been demonstrated. I did find that Müller men often married women from other parishes. And there is some reason to believe that some families moved around, not just to foreign lands.

Even with the complete BMD entries back to the turn of the 18th century, I have not been able to tie together the ancestral lines of Donald (and me) and Richard.

The comparison of ancestral lines now looks like this…

Additional DNA Analyses

Richard and I (for Donald’s sample) are both having a fuller analysis of the Y-DNA done – the “Big Y”.

As Family Tree DNA states, the Big Y analysis is meant to “explore deep ancestral links on our common paternal tree. This test examines thousands of known branch markers as well as millions of places where there may be new branch markers. The Big Y test is intended for users with an interest in advancing science. It may also be of great interest to genealogy researchers of a specific lineage.” I am hoping that we might be able to find out how far back the mutations happened and give us a better idea of who our common ancestor might have been

More to come…

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

The Register of Qualified Genealogists and Other Professional Organizations

Recently I came across a reference to The Journal of Genealogy and Family History. It is published online by the Register of Qualified Genealogists, headquartered in East Sussex, England but with members from around the world. Basically, the organization “provides, and makes public, a record of those genealogists who hold a recognised qualification in the field of genealogy and associated practices, and who may be willing to provide professional services in that field.”

The RQG’s journal provides “a platform for researchers in all fields related to genealogy and family history where new, interesting and challenging work can be published” and serves “as a touchstone for current thinking and practice and an outlet for theoretical and speculative ideas.” Issues of the journal are available only online, but anyone can access them. People interested in receiving email notifications of new articles and issues can register by sending a message to the Editor. The latest, 2021 volume has articles about record sources, notable people, regional family histories and important events in the history of families.

One of my associates highly recommended the group saying they “are a fantastic organisation. Dynamic, enthusiastic and thoroughly professional.” If you need the services of a qualified and experienced professional genealogist, the RQG list appears to be a great place to start looking.

Inclusion on the list requires some rigorous background and education. Members currently must have either a Diploma in Genealogy from the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, a Postgraduate Diploma in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee or Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies from the University of Strathclyde.

There are a number of groups worldwide whose purpose is to certify professional genealogists. Among them are:

·         the Association of Genealogists & Researchers in Archives (AGRA), “the professional organisation promoting high professional standards in the field of genealogy and historical research in England and Wales.”

·         the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (ASGRA) is the “accrediting body for professional genealogists in Scotland.)

·         the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), that administers “a program that provides valid skill assessment, respected credentials, and consumer protection.”

·         the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), “help members of the public locate and connect with professional genealogists around the world” by “evaluating the experience, knowledge, and skills of the listed genealogists our members’ profiles can assist in selecting the right person for your project.”

·         The Australasian Association of Genealogists and Records Agents Inc (AAGRA), which “aims to offer the services of reliable and competent genealogists and record agents to those wanting professional family history and genealogy services and general record searching.”

·         the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), is “a professional credentialing organization dedicated to testing an individual's competence in genealogical research.”

These groups are, of course, in addition to the hundreds of local and national family history societies where research assistance and information about professional genealogist may be obtained.

It’s never a bad idea to consult with professionals in any discipline. For some, like engineering and geology (I belong to the group in Alberta, Canada: Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta), it is mandatory for employees of companies that are involved in projects involving the public. Think building bridges or exploring for minerals!

I do not have the educational qualifications to belong to most of the professional genealogical associations listed here. My post-graduate degrees and experience are in the sciences. But I have used the services of a few professional genealogists and found their advice and knowledge of great help in my own family history research pursuits.

Check out all the groups to see who might help you or whether you would like to join their ranks.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

What’s new with the Millers?

 In a previous post, on 14 June 2021 (Miller Y-DNA: A minor break-through?), I discussed the results of Y-DNA tests and how they hopefully would lead to a breakthrough in finding where and when my 2nd great-grandfather, John Conrad Miller, originated and emigrated from Germany.

Since that post I have spent a great deal of time tracing back the ancestors of Richard Miller, whose DNA test matched Don’s in significant detail. I also took a Y-DNA course from Diahan Southard, at Your DNA Guide, that gave me a much better understanding of how to use these tests.

I have also made contact with members of the Association for Family Studies in Baden-Württemberg from who I hope to get some additional help in finding my direct ancestors.

To carry on from my last post about the Millers, here is what I know (or suspect) now.

DNA Testing

Because I descend through a female, my Y-DNA test will not provide any results that can be correlated with John Conrad. So far, my atDNA tests have not shown any potential German roots that I can identify with him either.

As I indicated previously, I had the Y-DNA of a cousin, Donald Miller, a direct male descendent of John Conrad, tested a few years ago. There was only one match to my cousin Donald, a man named Richard Miller. They have a very close Y-DNA profile, so I am confident we are all related.

Both individuals also had atDNA tests, but there are no matches to each other on these results. I suspect that is because they are, at best, 5th cousins and that is too far apart to generally show familial connections using that type of DNA.

Richard had assembled some good information on his ancestors, at least as far back as his 3rd great-grandfather, David Műller, who emigrated from Germany with his family in 1831. Using that data, along with other information I have found on, I have been able to piece together Richard’s ancestral roots with some confidence.

Richard and Donald, unfortunately, are the only two individuals that matched. It would really help if we could find other Műller/Miller descendants to do Y-DNA tests to see if, between them, we could narrow down the ancestral lines.

The two, family lines must connect through males as confirmed by the Y-DNA tests. The family line comparison chart (below) shows what we now know about our respective Műller/Miller male ancestors and how they may connect.

Műller Families in Germany

Some information about David Műller, his wife and his children on Ancestry trees is suspect or just wrong, but I did manage to correlate the names and dates with records from church records in Germany. The family were all born in Ilsfeld, Baden-Württemberg, which is about 20 miles north of Stuttgart. That fits nicely with the limited information I have on my John Conrad Miller.

Ancestry has an extensive collection of birth, marriage and death records from Ilsfeld, so I was able to find David’s family and trace his ancestry. I am unsure about the names or spelling of some of the women who married into the Műller line. Better interpretations of those names may help in establishing the complete family story.

The church records appear to be good for correlating events, with baptism entries having, in many cases, death information, death records having information about birth dates and marriages and marriage records having information about parents. Using a coordinated approach, I have put together what I think is a reliable family tree back to the early 1700s.

The baptism entries of David’s children all indicate that they emigrated to “Amerika” in 1831. Below is part of the baptism record, with the note about emigration, for their oldest living child, Christian Friederich, who was born in 1821.

1821 birth record for Christian Friederich Műller with a note: “ausgewandert nach Amerika 1831” which translated means “emigrated to America 1831”

I did find a passenger list that appears to show them and confirms the date. The ages of the children and the order of their births does not quite fit with what the church records show, but that could be a problem of those in charge in putting together the passenger manifest.

1831 passenger record for David Műller family aboard the French brig Amelia

David and Dorothea had five children according to the Ilsfeld birth register. Their first son died at five months of age. The other four accompanied David and Dora to the United States. Their daughter, however, died on board ship during the voyage. The three remaining sons all married and had families after they settled in Illinois.

David’s parents were Christian Műller (1758-1820) and Regina Margaretha Weissbrod (1757-1810). They married in 1784 in Ilsfeld. Six children were born to them between 1786 and 1798, although only four reached adulthood and, of those, only one son, David. So, while David’s children were of a similar age to my John Conrad, they were not first cousins.

Christian’s parents were Johann Conrad Műller (1725-1770) and Christina Dorothea Ehrenfeld (1722-1788), who married in Ilsfeld in 1748. Both were born there as well. They had four children between 1751 and 1758. One of Christian’s brothers, Johann Adam, also married and had a family in Ilsfeld, including three sons. Only one of his sons, also named Johann Adam, reached adulthood. Johann Adam Junior’s sons were named Johann Michael (b. 1809) and Johann David (b. 1814). Johann David immigrated to the US but not until 1839, according to the note on his baptism record. It does not appear he had any other sons so they are not close cousins to my John Conrad.

Johann Conrad’s parents appear to have been Johann Michael Műller (1671-1729) and Anna Elisabetha Luz (1700-0759). I have not found information yet for the birth of Johann Michael Műller. There is a marriage of a Johann Michael Műller and Anna Elisabetha Luz in 1725 in Ilsfeld, but it occurred in October, the month after the birth of their son, Johann Conrad, which would make it an unusual timing. The groom’s father’s name is not shown on the record, at least what I can interpret, but Johann Michael was noted as being a widower.

There is a death record for a Johann Michael in Ilsfeld in 1753 that also stated he was 82 years and three months old. From that information I found what I think was his birth record in 1671. That is partly confirmed as the date of his death in recorded with the birth entry.

1671 birth record for Hans (Johann) Michael Műller in Ilsfeld

1725 marriage record for Johann Michael Műller and Anna Elisabetha Luz on Ilsfeld

Death record for Johann Michael Műller in Ilsfeld

Johann Michael had married another woman prior to Anna Elisabetha. The first wife would have died before 1725, probably in Ilsfeld.

Johann Michael’s parents were Leonhard Műller (1645-1718) and Kunigunda [name unknown] (1645-1724). They had ten children in Ilsfeld.


It appears we have to go back to at least Johann Michael Műller to find the connection and the split of family lines. There appears to be no birth register for Ilsfeld for years prior to 1660, and no marriage or death registers for years prior to 1716. That makes tracing families in the area more difficult.

It may be that a son from Johann Michael’s first marriage or a brother (son of Leonhard) is a direct ancestor of my 2nd great-grandfather.

There is no Johann Conrad Műller baptized, or at least whose baptism is registered in Ilsfeld between 1810 and 1820 which suggests he may have been born in another parish.

I think we are close to finding John Conrad’s direct ancestors but there is still work to be done.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

All About Snow

We are finally into Fall here. It took a while. We enjoyed a nice summer with flowers still blooming right through last week. The forecast now is for negative temperatures every night. My planters have been cleaned out. The outside water taps in the condo complex will be shut off next week. And soon there will be snow.

We don’t get a lot of snow here, compared to many areas in eastern Canada or the northeast US. Our climate is dry, bordering on semi-desert so there is not as much moisture in the air to turn into the hard stuff.

There are good things and bad things about snow, although you would not convince our friends who live in the southern US or Australia that anything positive could come from having a white blanket fall on you.

Snowfall Around the World

In Calgary we average 129 cm (51 in) of snow per year. Montreal gets 210 cm (83 in). Our nation’s capital, Ottawa, receives 175 cm (69 in) and Toronto gets 122 cm (48 in). St. John’s, Newfoundland, gets a whopping 335 cm (132 in).

Notable places around the world include Buffalo, New York, with 241 cm (95 in) and New York City with only 64 cm (25 in). Moscow, Russia, averages 152 cm (60 in). Sapporo, Japan, despite being very warm in the summer, averages 485 cm (191 in) of snow per year.

We are used to a bit of snow, though, and rarely let it stop us from doing what we want. Take the photo shown here yesterday of ardent golfers braving the elements. 

Snow in Inuit communities

One of the things that has stuck with me over the years is something I read about the different kinds of snow as described by northern societies, the Inuit. I think it was either in the book, My Life With the Eskimo, by Vihjalmur Stefansson, first published in 1913, or in People of the Deer by Farley Mowat, published in 1952. Both are worth reading by the way.

Anyway, it has been said, and written, by many people that there were over 50 words for snow, depending on its quality, moisture content, usefulness in building igloos, etc. Part of that idea is myth; part of it is in how different conditions in which snow is found are described and what that might mean to daily living or hunting. That can be important because, for many months of year, northern communities lived every day with snow.

The idea about there being many words for snow may come from how snow or snow conditions are described, much as we southerners might use different phrases. For example, some of the Eskimo-Aleut lexemes for snow include:

·         qanuk: snowflake

·         kaneq: frost

·         kanevvluk: fine snow

·         qanikcaq: snow on ground

·         muruaneq: soft deep snow

·         nutaryuk: fresh snow

·         pirta: blizzard

·         qengaruk: snowbank


Photo of people in a northern community from My Life With the Eskimo (Stefansson, 1912)

Snow Superstitions

A lot of superstitions have spring up over the centuries concerning snow. (possibly by many who wished it would go away?)

Did you know that if you throw a shovelful of the first snow over your head you will not be cold all winter? Apparently if snow falls on your head from a pine tree, that means good luck.

It was also believed that seeing bloodstains on snow meant good luck, but if the stains were partly obliterated, it would be bad luck to come across them.

If kids want a snow day, to keep schools, closed, they should put a spoon under their pillow, or flush ice cubes down the toilet, or put their pyjamas on inside out, or do some combination of the three.

One of the oldest tales involves the wooly caterpillar, or tiger moth larvae. If the brown bands are narrow, then a harsh winter with lots of snow is coming.

There is an old poem about Candlemas Day, or as we think of it, Groundhog Day, that has to do with snow – this one a New England version:

As far as the sun shines in on Candlemas Day,
So far the snow blows in before May Day.
If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will take another flight;
If chance to fall a shower of rain,
Winter will not come again.

If Candlemas Day be bright and clear,
Be sure you will have two winters that year.

The Little Ice Age

One of my favourite subjects to write about is the Little Ice Age. It was a period when lives and lifestyles were significantly altered due to the persistent cold and bad weather – including snow.

Snow was almost everywhere! Regions from the Arctic to southern Europe experienced snowstorms. There was more of it and it stayed on the ground for months longer than it does today.

Between 1560 and 1630, during the coldest part of the period, poor and erratic weather was common with frequent and unseasonal snowstorms across Europe. Artwork from those times reflect the wintery conditions commonly experienced.

Harvests were impacted by the bad weather, often by snow and frost, resulting in famine conditions. In Manchuria, for example, there were several years between 1573 and 1620 when there was extreme snowfall which a negative effect on agricultural production and livestock populations.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow, painted in 1565

Enjoying the Snow

Yes, you can!

Where we live, families take the time to enjoy the snow, skiing, tobogganing, snowball fights, making snowmen, snow forts or snow angels. Or just bury yourself in it! If you can get to the countryside you might enjoy a sleigh ride.

There are, of course, lots of songs that celebrate snow as well. Some of the classics are I’ve got My Love to Keep Me Warm (Billie Holiday), Snowbird (Anne Murray), White Christmas (Bing Crosby), Sleigh Ride (Andrews sisters), Frosty the Snowman (Gene Autry), Let it Snow (Rosemary Clooney)

Shoveling snow off sidewalks and driveways is not fun, but we do get our exercise, and it’s a way to entertain the grandchildren.

Whatever you may think about snow, I hope you get a chance to enjoy this winter with your family, with or without the white stuff. We intend to after having missed being able to do it for the last couple of plague-filled years.

Also enjoy this recitation of a famous poem by Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

THE Genealogy Show: Winter Event

 I am pleased to announce that I will have two presentation at THE Genealogy Show to be held December 3rd to 5th 2021, with an additional 30-days of free access to all talks and content. The event is entirely online so you can tune in from anywhere.

On the Main Stage I will present Famine & Family History

In this presentation, we will look at the parameters of famine, the stages through which famine conditions progress, how to recognize whether famine conditions existed in areas where our ancestors lived and what the direct impact of famine was on communities and families.

In the On Demand area will be a talk about Natural Phenomena and their effects on the lives of our ancestors

This presentation will offer a perspective on how natural events and conditions of the physical environment controlled the lives and livelihoods of people in the past.

Tickets will be only £20 per person – or if you’re a student just £10! For more information go to THE Genealogy Show website at

Monday, 27 September 2021

Be careful what you wish for . . .

 A friend of mine, Greg, wanted me to look into his ancestral lines recently. He knew that the spelling of his surname had a history of changes, and one of the questions we wanted to uncover was when and where those changes happened.

We accomplished that goal discovering that the current version of his last name only came into use in the early 20th century, but for what reason we still do not know. The change did not seem to be because one person stepped out just to be different. A whole generation made the shift.

I think we are all interested in finding characters in our family trees, people who are just a little bit different or just plain outrageous. They spice up what might be bland, unexciting stories.

In this case, after a brief update on my progress, Greg responded, “Wow, you are on a journey! Awesome work. Still waiting for a horse thief or some nobility. 🤔 🤔 🤔”

Of course, it was not long until I was able to oblige him, not quite with a horse thief or an Earl, or a skeleton in the closet, though. It turned out he had a 2nd great-grandfather, Albert Penberthy, who appeared to be a bit of a rogue. I thought it might one of those cases of “Be careful what you wish for…”

One source of research I have begun to use more is newspapers. When you lose someone, that is you cannot find them in a census or other record where most of the family are listed, a search of newspaper reports of the time can be helpful. That’s what I did for this individual.

I found the name of Albert Conybeare Penberthy in a 1903 court record from Surrey, on, in which he was charged with bigamy. The name fit with what I knew about his family, his mother’s maiden name being Conybeare, but I knew the family was from Swansea, Wales. Surrey, England, seemed a bit out of the way. I went to The British Newspaper Archive to see what else could be learned and in their files found several reports of the charges along with his explanation of events. The articles confirmed this was Greg’s ancestor.

On 13 March 1903 Albert was found guilty of "Feloniously marrying Mary Ann Bullard, at Croydon, on 2nd December 1900, his wife Elizabeth Ann, to who he was married at Swansea, on 16th January 1877, being then alive." He was sentenced to 3 days (without hard labour) at Wandsworth Prison. In court Albert claimed his wife had left him and his children and described her as a “vile drunken woman.” He said he believed she was dead when he married Bullard.

On the face of this report, and the fact that, according to census records, Elizabeth was still living with her children, it might be easy to think Albert was the partner in the wrong and was the person who had left his wife and children, as the news item stated.

As I delved into the story of the family, however, I found there were a lot of dynamics at play that may have led to discord and an eventual split. There is some information, including a daughter’s marriage record, that shows Albert worked for a time as a travelling salesman. If it was true, that separation from his wife and family may have led to a rift. But he had not always done this kind of work, so that could not have been the whole explanation.

On the 1877 marriage record for Albert and Elizabeth Ann Bowden, he was recorded as a grocer, living at 2 Paxton Road, Swansea.

The 1877 birth record for their first child, Charles Henry, showed Albert to be a salesman, the specifics of which were not stated. On the 1878 birth of their first daughter, Mary Edith, he was shown as a draper’s assistant. That was an occupation he had apprenticed. The birth records for their other six children – Hilda in 1881, (a second) Hilda in 1882, Minnie in 1883, Ernest James in 1884, Thomas in 1887 and Annie Eleanor in 1893 – show Albert’s occupation as grocer.

Albert apparently joined his father in the grocery retail business shortly before his marriage. The 1881 census has Albert and his family living with his parents, Thomas and Elizabeth, at 2 Paxton Street, with both he and Thomas working as grocers. One might expect the store was at the same address. Albert’s parents both died in 1884 (Elizabeth in February and Thomas in December) apparently leaving Albert in charge of the grocery business. As noted, birth information for his last two children in 1887 and 1893 still show him as a grocer.

Curiously, neither Albert nor Elizabeth Ann can be found on the 1891 census residing at 2 Paxton Street, even though the 1893 birth record for Annie Eleanor says she was born there. The electoral registers for 1892-93 and 1893-94 list Albert as living at 34 Recorder Street which was just a few doors from 2 Paxton Street. The 1891 census records for most of Recorder Street are missing, though, so it may be possible that the whole family was living there or in the process of moving to that address.

The family suffered through tragedies of having four children die, (the first) Hilda in 1881 (at 11 months of age), Minnie in 1883 (at 3 months), Ernest James in 1895 (at 11 months) and Thomas in 1887 (at 3 months). It seems clear that these events took their toll on the marriage. Probably by 1893, after the birth of their last child, Albert and Elizabeth Ann were at odds with one-another and may have separated.

In 1899 Albert was named as a debtor on court records in Swansea and sentenced to 28 days in jail and a fine of £8/16s/11d. It would have been shortly after this offence that he would move to the London area.

By 1901, Albert was living in Croydon, near London, with Mary Ann, then shown as his wife. Elizabeth Ann was still in Swansea, living with her daughter Mary Edith on William Street, just up the block from the old residence on Paxton.

In 1911, Albert and Mary Ann were still together although she had reverted to her previous name of Bullard. The record shows the information about their marriages to others, although his children were miscounted. There were eight of them and four died, not seven children of whom three died as shown. Mary Ann also had two children die as infants. Maybe that is a common element that brought them together after her husband died in 1899.

The couple appear to have lived together until their deaths, Mary Ann in 1932 and Albert in 1933. Perhaps, to preserve appearances, Mary Ann was shown as Albert’s housekeeper on the 1911 census. Her burial record also states she was the widow of James Bullard, not the partner of Albert.

Notwithstanding their estrangement, Albert left his estate to his wife, Elizabeth Ann, valued at £214/11s/8d. We don’t know how Elizabeth Ann felt about accepting this final offering. She died in 1935.

Perhaps Albert was not the rogue the newspaper report made him appear to be. As the pieces of the family history puzzle came together, it looks more like heartbreaking events overtook them, resulting in a final breakup and estrangement. We do not know if any of the surviving children had any communication with Albert and it is sad to think they did not.