Monday 5 December 2022

Folklore and Family History

 I came across several websites and articles about folklore recently in my continuing search for information about how people were impacted by natural and socio-economic conditions of the past.

Both weather and politics have often played important roles in the development of or changes to culture and traditions. Among these are the stories, music, myths, fairy tales and education of children that reflected the living conditions of past times. But there were also changes to material culture such as building styles or handmade toys and to the celebration of events like Christmas, weddings and other social gatherings.

Weather and climate, such as the shift to the cold period of the Little Ice Age would certainly have resulted in different activities, with historical information about the balmy weather of the Medieval Warm Period later told in stories, poetry or music. Many of the old fairy tales, proverbs and idioms, expressed in written work as well as in artwork, carry folklore messages and may have resulted from the experiences of the authors during hard times, and passed down in creative ways.

Programs for folklore studies, or folkloristics, are available in many countries and institutions. There is a good summary and reference information on Folklore studies on Wikimedia. As stated on the webpage, “The importance of folklore and folklore studies was recognized globally in 1982 in the UNESCO document "Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore."

The Folklore Society, based in London, “is a learned society, based in London, devoted to the study of all aspects of folklore and tradition, including: ballads, folktales, fairy tales, myths, legends, traditional song and dance, folk plays, games, seasonal events, calendar customs, childlore and children's folklore, folk arts and crafts, popular belief, folk religion, material culture, vernacular language, sayings, proverbs and nursery rhymes, folk medicine, plantlore and weather lore.”

Other countries and regions also have similar organizations and research groups, some national in scope and others representing regions: American Folklore Society, groups in Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, and other parts of the world.

There are many books and articles about folklore available. Many were written decades ago but are now available again through reprinting or digitization. Check out the general inventory or the special webpages of “The Open Folklore Web Archive is a growing curated collection of websites relevant to the study of folklore to ensure that dependable website information about folklore will always be available. Our collection emphasizes the websites of academic folklore departments and programs, and of public-sector and independent folklore organizations.”

One of my blog colleagues, James Tanner, wrote about the subject back in 2015 with regard to genealogical studies (Folklore, Oral Tradition and Genealogy, 9 February 2015). He pointed out that sometimes “oral traditions get started from a particularly dramatic or traumatic event in an ancestor's life. On occasion, the oral tradition may arise as a result of a particularly important event that happened at the time your ancestor lived and the ancestor becomes associated with the event through a process of transference, i.e. the ancestor lived at the time of the event therefore the ancestor must have been a participant in the event. This type of situation is particularly prone to occur when participation in the event carries some sort of notoriety.

Is there an overlap with genealogical studies? Stories told by or about ancestors may have originated or come down to us as folklore tales, some true and some only loosely based on facts. It may be instructive to sort them out and see what truth actually resides in the yarns or legends.

Thursday 17 November 2022

MyHeritage Releases AI Time Machine

MyHeritage, the leading global service for discovering your past and empowering your future, announced today the release of AI Time Machine™, a cutting-edge, fun feature that creates images of a person in different time periods throughout history using text-to-image AI technology. The stunning, hyper-realistic results can easily be shared on social media and used as profile photos to amaze friends and family.

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time? While we haven’t perfected time travel, we’ve done the next best thing: on MyHeritage you can now see how you might’ve looked as a historical figure throughout the ages!

We’re excited to announce the release of AI Time Machine™, a groundbreaking and fun new feature that enables you to transform everyday personal photos into hyper-realistic images of yourself as a historical figure.

Read more about it here.

Tuesday 8 November 2022

THE Genealogy Show – Winter 2022

 THE Genealogy Show, Winter 2022 version promises to be even bigger and even better!

With 48 main stage speakers plus a plethora of On Demand lectures to boot, the Show is supported by experts, sponsors and exhibitors from all over the world.

The LIVE event opens at 12 noon GMT on Friday 2nd December and continues for 48 hours, with the cabin doors closing at 12 noon GMT on Sunday 4th December AND all the content is available on demand for 30 days.

You can get your tickets here.

I will be presenting a talk on Mother Nature's Impact on Family Migration & Relocation on the Main Stage at 5:00 pm GMT. Come and listen to all the talks.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Information About the Past from Melting Glaciers

During the past few decades melting glaciers have provided a window into the past, revealing habitations long lost under ice. What is also coming to light is that climatic conditions existed over a thousand years ago that produced temperatures at least as warm as present day. Of course, during that Medieval Warm Period, there was no human activity producing carbon dioxide that could have contributed to any warming or the cooling during the Little Ice Age that followed.

Retreating glaciers have yielded many sites of human activity, even the remains of humans themselves that had lived and died before the glaciers formed.


Ötzi the Iceman

One of the most impressive finds was the mummified body of Ötzi the Iceman, whose remains were discovered in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. He is believed to have lived more than 5,000 years ago. An arrowhead buried in his shoulder, together with other wounds and blood stains from other humans on his clothing, have led to the interpretation that his death was a result of a fight.

Ötzi’s DNA indicates he may have been part of the migration of early European farmers who migrated from Anatolia to southern Europe in large numbers during the 7th millennium BC.

For more information see Otzi the Iceman from the Alps.

Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska

One of the most important things that are revealed by melting glaciers is the evidence of a warmer climate that predated the buildup of ice that formed the glaciers. These environments were present within the time frame of genealogical research. There recent exposure allows us to see what living conditions were like prior to the advance of glaciers during the Little Ice Age.

Beneath the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska are the remains of a verdant forest, with trees dated between 1,200 and 2,350 years in the past. It won’t be surprising to learn that the area basked in a much warmer climate centuries ago and would have been prime hunting territory for indigenous peoples. The find is not unlike other similar discoveries under other melting glaciers around the world. In this case these trees in growth position were encased in gravel protecting them from the scouring effects of the advancing glacier.

For more information see Ancient forest thaws from melting glacial tomb.

Zeleny Yar, Siberia

Mummified remains found in graves in the Zeleny Yar area in Siberia attest to a civilization that existed there between the 12th and 13th centuries. The bodies were wrapped in thick textiles, fur and tree bark and encased in copper plates. The wrapping and subsequent permafrost that formed during the Little Ice Age preserved the remains.

What we are witnessing is not the only time that mountain glaciers have expanded and then melted. Throughout much of the Dark Ages Cold Period (400-900AD) mountain glaciers and northern ice packs grew substantially. Then during the Medieval Warm Period they contracted, leading to the establishment of new societies such as those that lived in Zeleny Yar.

Materials and artifacts found with the human remains will eventually tell us more about the early society. Analyses of DNA extracted from the bodies will tell us where they may have originated.

For more information see Medieval mummies of Zeleny Yar burial ground.

Lendbreen Pass, Norway

Lendbreen Pass is just one of dozens of locations in Norway where artifacts, and even an abandoned settlement have been discovered that demonstrate how people lived in the region during the centuries prior to the Little Ice Age. This and other passes were open to traffic during both the Roman Climate Optimum (250BC-400AD) and Medieval Warm Period (900-1300AD), as it is becoming so today.

The pass was used between 1,300 and 1,700 years ago (Roman Climate Optimum) and again around 1000 AD (Medieval Warm Period), at a time when trade was active across Scandinavia and Europe. It is also possible that local farmers used the pass to get to high pastures during the summer months.

For more information see Crossing the ice.

Revealing the Past

What these and many other examples demonstrate is that glaciers are ephemeral in relation to the history of the Earth. What we can observe today is a transition from a cold climatic period to a warm one. During the last 10,000 years, that kind of change has happened at least a half-dozen times. And, in the ancient past, humans often lived in much warmer times that we do now.

During the Little Ice Age, glaciers advanced in every mountain rage in the world. It should not be a surprise that they are now retreating as the Earth’s climatic cycle once again turns to warmer temperatures.

For genealogists, the importance of glaciers is not where they are today, that interest tourists, but where they were during the Little Ice Age when our ancestors lived, as they are direct indicators of climatic conditions.

Thursday 27 October 2022

New and Improved Family Statistics on MyHeritage

Ever wondered which of your relatives lived the longest, the average age of your relatives at marriage, or which first names are the most common in your family? Did you know that there’s a handy section of the MyHeritage website that can tell you all of this and much more? We’re delighted to announce that our useful Family Statistics feature has just received a major upgrade! Family Statistics is a totally FREE feature that provides dozens of enlightening and fun insights about your family. If you love spotting trends and analyzing data, you won’t want to miss it.


Family Statistics shows you dozens of different analytics for your family tree. Using the metrics on the page, you can better understand your family history across several categories: places, ages, births, marriages, children, divorces, and now, relationships.

Among the many interesting facts that are showcased, you’ll learn which couple was married the longest and which pair of siblings had the largest age gap. You’ll also discover who had the most children, who was married the most times, and even find out the most common birth months in your family. Think you know your family tree inside and out? Family Statistics may give you a few surprises.

What’s New

The current update includes a facelift of the design for a more contemporary look. The display is larger, making the page easier to read. In this update, we’ve also added new insights and made the overall user experience on the page more enjoyable.

Check out the improvements on the MyHeritage blog post here.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

The REALLY USEFUL Family History Show – Fall 2022

 It’s back! The REALLY USEFUL Family History Show is scheduled for November 10-12, 2022. Get details at

I have another presentation set for this event, this one about the Industrious Revolution…and its effects on families.

If you are wondering what that is all about, it was the period from the mid-17th to the mid-18th centuries, leading up to the more well-known Industrial Revolution which encompassed a change from an economy focused on agriculture and handcraft production to one dominated by powered machinery and centralized, mass production industries.

In a book titled The Industrious Revolution, published in 2008, author Jan de Vries took the view that “[i]n a specific historical period in a specific geographical zone, a new form of household economic behavior became increasingly influential, increasing simultaneously the supply of market-oriented production and the demand for a broad but not indiscriminate range of consumer goods.”

The consumption-driven family household, then, would be considered as a unique economic unit that contributed to goods-purchasing behaviors in society. The system was primarily evident in northwestern Europe (England, the Low countries and parts of France and Germany) and the North American colonies.

The presentation will look at what defines the Industrious Revolution, its timing with respect to the Little Ice Age and the following Industrial Revolution.

There are a host of other great talks and some useful workshops, too. Come and have a listen.

Friday 21 October 2022

The Great Deluge

As part of my talk about Stormy Weather, I mention one of the earliest tempests to be recorded, that being the Great Deluge. This is the story of Noah and the presumed flood brought by God as punishment for man’s sins and one of the earliest records of mass migration of people caused by natural events

Myths have fed the imaginations of humans for thousands of years even though most of these tales are just unverified stories people have handed down through the ages. But a few may have roots in real natural events of the past. Among the most famous, perhaps, is the story of Noah and the Great Flood.

Similar versions of the story have been found in many parts of the world and recorded by people of many societies. There may be a reason for that.

The event was first noted in Genesis, chapter 7, verses 11-12:

. . . the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. . . And the flood was forty days upon the earth. . .

Such a flood did occur around 7,600 years ago in the region of Euxine Lake, the predecessor of the Black Sea. The flood history is documented in the 1998 book Noah’s Flood, by earth scientists, William Ryan and Walter Pitman.

The lake had existed for millennia since the end of last ice Age having been filled by the outflow of water from the melting northern ice cap. For many hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before the event people had populated its shorelines and the fertile valleys along its margins, before civilizations prospered in Mesopotamia.

The region was flooded by water pouring in through the Bosporus Strait at Istanbul, which had been opened into the Mediterranean Sea. Scientists have estimated that during the flood the water level rose about six inches per day. Along the flatter areas of the shoreline, the edge of the lake would have advanced about a quarter of a mile per day. Over 60,000 square miles were swallowed in less than a year. The result was the ultimate formation of the Black Sea.

The inhabitants were forced away from their homes and scattered across the Middle East, Eastern Asia and Europe. Refugees from Euxine Lake took with them the story of the Great Flood. Some of them went south to the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers where new civilizations were being established: the Ubaid period about 5500 BCE (shortly after the flood); and the Sumer period around 4500 BCE.

The final breaking of the barrier on the eastern edge of the Sea of Marmora may have been the result of surging water and waves from major storms – so parts of the myth prevail in accounts of rain and flooding. The story of the Deluge has been passed down over generations in several cultures and religions, especially those whose history is linked to the Black Sea region.

One of the first modern publications about the Great Flood comes from the translation of 2nd millennium Mesopotamian clay tablets. George Smith, a British Archaeologist and Assyeriologist, published an English version in 1876, as The Chaldean Account of Genesis. It can be downloaded from

Genealogists who use DNA in their ancestral searches may see some parallels in the dating of branches that originated or passed through the Black Sea region around the time of the Great Flood. Who knows – perhaps some of them were related to Noah!

Saturday 1 October 2022

Stormy Weather

 People around the world have been unkindly treated to several major tempests recently, the latest attacking the western Pacific (Nanmadol), the Caribbean and eastern Canada (Hurricane Fiona) and the southeast US (Hurricane Ian). All have resulted in significant damage, death and evacuation of tens of thousands.

2022 Tropical Cyclone Summary Map
Storms of this magnitude are annual events, with some years worse than others in terms of their numbers, level of destruction and costs. But they are not unique to recent times. People and communities have been tested by such pieces of Mother Nature’s arsenal for hundreds of thousands of years. We can find records of major storms in documents going back millennia, to the story of Noah and the Great Flood.

I am giving a presentation titled, Stormy Weather…events that changed the fortunes of our ancestors on Saturday, October 8th for the Virtual Genealogical Association (11:00 am eastern time). You must be a member of the VGA to listen, but the cost (just US$20) of membership is very reasonable considering the number of talks (24 in 2022) offered by the society every year. I recommend joining. Go to their website to find out more about the benefits.

In the talk, I again emphasize the point that natural phenomena affecting people and communities occur everywhere and have done so throughout history. Major storms have been one element of nature but in most parts of the world had enormous impact on lives and livelihoods due to their potential for destruction.

Present day storms are not increasing in frequency or intensity, although we may think that is the case by looking at the news coverage they are given, the numbers of people impacted, or the costs associated with damage. What is true is that as populated areas have grown and infrastructure has expanded, the level of destruction has risen.

Not all major storms are tropical cyclones, of course. We have seen carnage from storms that attacked communities in the central regions of every continent as well as along their margins, among them tornadoes, supercell thunderstorms, atmospheric rivers, derechos, blizzards and hailstorms. In my talk, I comment on a few historical events that may interest genealogists as they, or storms like them, could well have been experienced by their ancestors resulting in injury, death or, at least, economic hardship.

For example, one storm many people may not be familiar with was the St. Mary Magdalene Flood that occurred in July 1342. It was one of the greatest European floods in a millennium, the consequence of a massive rainstorm that swept across the German states. The rain fell in torrents for eight days in an area of over 12,000 square miles. All rivers overflowed their banks floodwaters destroying buildings and farmland in their paths. Over 10,000 people lost their lives, mainly from drowning during flash floods.

Come and listen to the talk, or if you cannot make it that day, join the VGA and listen at your leisure as the presentation will be available to members online for the next six months.

Tuesday 13 September 2022

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

As the last several decades have unfolded, many of us wondered if we would ever hear those words. Especially those of us who have lived through the entire reign of Elizabeth II.

I was one of those who watched the broadcast of her coronation live on television. Our household was one of the few in our neighbourhood that had a TV, mostly because my father was in the business of selling and servicing them.

In the next few days and weeks, we will hear commentators and others proclaim the attributes of this monarch who served (not a word to be spoken or taken lightly) with grace and dignity and with the highest sense of duty, to her country and to the world of the Commonwealth of which she was the head.

She did not have the luxury of choice in her career. She was also not born into it but was elevated to the role on the death of her own father. And at a very young age for the responsibility the position would entail. She did her job, though, with a gentle but unswerving strength that has enthralled millions around the world. Few praises will do justice to her dedication and success.

In hearing and seeing the tributes from her family, though, it struck me more about how they had lost a mother and a grandmother. For those outside of her immediate family many of us will feel we have lost someone special as well.

And we will remember how we felt when we lost our mothers: the sadness, the emptiness, the knowledge we would no longer have that important person to share our lives with. We have memories though, for the time they were with us, as will Queen Elizabeth’s family.

My wife’s mother almost reached 90 years of age so our children well remember her and the things they did with her. My mother did not reach even 60 years. My sisters and I have fond memories growing up but our children did not get to know her.

You never know how long your mother will be around. The Queen’s family is fortunate to have had her in their lives for as long as they did. As are her siblings and their families. Their family photo is certainly more regal looking than ours, but in the end, it is still a picture of a family with its unique persons and personalities, all joined by a bond similar to all families. 

Thursday 8 September 2022

FHDU 2022 Conference

 I am pleased to announce that I will have two presentations at the upcoming FHDU 2022 conference. That’s Family History Down Under for those who are not familiar with what is happening on the other side of the globe.

Both my talks have been pre-recorded since it is too far for me to travel these days. The conference organizers were supportive of having my contributions online. One is actually already available to attendees.

My presentations:

Natural Phenomena and Their Effects on Our Ancestors – The 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.

Using Parish & Other Records…to determine what and how certain natural events affected people and communities in the past – The presentation will involve a discussion of what types of information are available that show how natural phenomena impacted lives and livelihoods using specific examples of records and areas.

Here is the latest release from the conference about the program and the event.


A world-class family history conference with in-person and virtual options

Adelaide, South Australia, 8 September 2022
Unlock the Past is delighted to announce that Family History Down Under 2022 (FHDU 2022) is now just two months away. The 4-day in-person conference will be held 8-11 November 2022 at Castle Hill, near Sydney. Two virtual options bring FHDU 2022 within reach of anyone, wherever they are, who cannot join us at Castle Hill.
There will be four main themes or tracks – DNA; Researching Abroad; Australia & New Zealand; Methodology & General. Choose from 70+ presentations from 35 presenters from seven countries, plus 11 workshops and two conference dinners. The exhibition, which is both in-person and virtual, offers big savings from sponsors and exhibitors. And around AU$12,000 in prizes will be up for grabs. The FHDU 2022 Community (a private Facebook chat group) will be available for interaction between attendees, speakers and sponsors. All presentations, except workshops and conference dinner talks, will be available for all attendees (in-person and virtual) to view until 28 February 2023.

Castle Hill RSL Club is a fantastic venue. It is close to Sydney, Australia’s largest city, with access via Sydney Metro Northwest rail, onsite parking and plenty of accommodation nearby. It has multiple large capacity conference rooms and multiple lounges, bars and dining choices for these who would like to gather after each day’s program.

Unlock the Past / Family History Down Under
Unlock the Past is the event and publishing division of Gould Genealogy & History (established 1976). It is a collaborative venture involving an international team of expert speakers, writers, organisations and commercial partners to promote history and genealogy through innovative major events and publications. Recent events have been DNA Down Under and Family History Down Under 2021.

Family History Down Under 2022 — our final event
It is now time to call it a day!  Since 2003 we have organised around 150 events — expos, conferences, roadshows, 17 genealogy cruises, Australia’s first significant battlefield tour, seminars and more. FHDU 2022 will be our final event.

I hope you will join us at Castle Hill, or virtually, for one last farewell event in November 2022. Find out more at

Monday 18 July 2022

More About River Erosion & Sinking Coastlines: Jamestown Colony Site

In a post on my blogsite, Mother Nature’s Tests, I wrote about the Drought During the Establishment of Early American Colonies. Well, those sites have a new problem caused by Mother Nature. They are in danger of erosion by the James River and flooding by the shift in sea level.

Many people would have us believe that climate change is causing ice caps to melt and sea level to rise. That may be partly true but what is really happening on the east coast region of the United States, and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere in regions next to where the Pleistocene ice cap existed, is that the land is sinking, making it appear as if the sea is rising.

During the last ice age, thick accumulations of ice depressed the Earth’s crust causing it to sink into the mantle on which it is “floating” to maintain static equilibrium (isostasy). That resulted in the viscous mantle being forced away from the ice sheet resulting in lands along the perimeter of the glaciers to rise. When the ice sheets melted, the reverse processes occurred with the mantle material adjusting to its pre-glacial state: the lands under the glaciers rose (isostatic or post-glacial rebound) and the lands adjacent started to sink. This is shown on the diagram below.

The coastal region from Newfoundland in the north to North Carolina in the south and then west to the Pacific Ocean is currently still sinking as the mantle flows back toward Canada. The rate of downward vertical movement is up to mm per year.

One can see the results of rebound in the Canadian Artic region. It is clearly indicated in areas where beaches such as those along Bathurst Inlet (below) march toward the ocean, each getting younger.

Along the eastern seaboard of the United States the shoreline is advancing landward as the relative sea level rises. The sedimentary strata, for those interested in the geological conditions, shows a vertical sequence of marine sediments overlying shoreline deposits which in turn overlie nonmarine deposits. This is called a transgressive sequence.

A significant effect of the landward migration of the shoreline is observed in the destruction of infrastructure when major storms attack the coastal areas. Houses that were at one time well inland now find themselves nearer to the ocean and are destroyed by hurricanes that make landfall nearby. The aerial photo below shows the damage inflicted on a row of homes (outlined in red) at Nags Head, North Carolina, by a 2009 storm. The position of the shoreline back to 1849 are indicated. The shore will continue to move inland as the land continues to sink.

When the Jamestown colony was established in 1607, the region was in the middle of the worst drought in over 700 years. The conditions resulted in poor to non-existent crops over the next few years. By 1610 it had been abandoned.

Today the sea is relentlessly advancing on the area where the colony was located. The water of the Chesapeake Bay region has risen about 1 ½ feet over the past 100 years. Jamestown Island in less than three feet above the waters of the James River. Eventually, the site on Jamestown Island will be taken over by the river and the rising groundwater.

Thursday 7 July 2022

Seeing the Present, Reliving the Past

There is a tenet of geology called uniformitarianism, also known as the doctrine of uniformity: that the Earth’s geologic processes have acted in the same manner and with essentially the same intensity in the past as they do in the present and that such uniformity is sufficient to account for all geologic change.

To turn it to genealogy, I think that every generation has reacted in the same way as we do today. The love and pride and awe that we feel toward our children and grandchildren must have been the same feelings our ancestors had in their children and grandchildren. The guidance and help that they gave to their families was no different than we strive to give to our families.

As our grandchildren are reaching their adulthood, we are now seeing how their interests, talents and abilities are now showing in their academic achievements and their choices of careers. I think we are gaining quite different ideas of them as people. They are no longer the cuddly infants we were so happy to see take their first breath or the happy faces they had at birthday parties. We are realizing that they have dreams and aspirations as we did and are entering that time of life when they can take charge of their own lives.

We went past the times when our children moved into the world on their own with a sense of pride but also of worry. You never stop being concerned about the welfare of your children. Being one more step removed is a happier place as it is your children that can keep the fearfulness and let you just enjoy the pleasurable moments.

Our family photo albums are filled with pictures of us with our children, occasionally also including grandparents. Rarely, though do we have photos depicting more than three generations.

I know that my grandparents were proud of their children and their grandchildren. I heard those sentiments directly. I can’t help but think my 8th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard – he is as far back as I can get at present – might have had the same feelings about his children. Unfortunately, he did not live to see any of his grandchildren. In fact, neither did any of my 7th or 6th great-grandfathers (or their wives) in my Shepheard line live to see grandchildren.

The first of my Shepheard ancestors to know his grandchildren was Richard Shepheard (1726-1803), a 5th great-grandfather. He and his wife, Mary Collins, had seven children in Cornwood, Devon, England. All of them married, six of them also in Cornwood, and had children. There were 53 grandchildren spread across the seven families, all but seven of them also born in Cornwood. Of those 28 were born before the death of Richard and he would have known them all.

The number of people in a family and, thus, the number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren one might have today is much smaller. People also marry a bit later in life than they did several hundred years ago. Still, we have a few families where several generations co-exist.

My Aunt Ethel, who is still with us, had four children, 11 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, three step-great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. Her family may not be through yet giving her descendants while she is alive, either.

Aunt Ethel’s family in 1997 (along with my wife and daughter); not all of Ethel’s family could be there that day.

My oldest sister had four children, all of them married although only three had children of their own. She had nine grandchildren and three step-grandchildren, all of whom were born before she died. And she had three great-grandchildren while she was still with us.

Lynn’s family in 2003 – three generations present

My next oldest sister, Sharon, has two daughters, five grandchildren and now two great-granddaughters. We are not beating the Shepheard record books but four generations alive at the same time is still impressive.

Sharon with one of her daughters, two of her granddaughters and her two great-granddaughters in 2021

My youngest sister, Janice, understandably has a younger family. She is just getting to know who her grandchildren might become but is a long way away from the next generation.

Janice’s family in 2019 with all but one of her grandchildren

It’s a pattern that repeated itself in future generation as most of the Shepheard families stayed in the area until my 2nd great-grandfather. Because of their connection of all the families to the parish, we might surmise that they had a closeness between them as well.

That might not have always been the case with every individual. If you look at your own families you may well find that people grow apart as well as move apart. But there is no reason to think that relationships within individual families or between cousins who lived in the same area were any different that similarly related families today. They may even have been closer than we are, as many probably attended schools together, married in the same church, and worked in similar or related occupations.

We cannot know for sure how our ancestors got along or whether they fully supported each other, but I would suggest that they had at least the same loving relationships as we see in families today. Not that there would not have been disagreements or the odd falling out. They were just as human as we are in that regard.

In most respects I think we can see what the past was like by looking at our families today. Call it the genealogical theory of uniformitarianism.

In our family we are still only at the grandchildren level. But as I started off saying here, we are seeing them rapidly reaching their adulthood and looking to take charge of their own lives. It’s fun to see that and rewarding as well to realize that we must have done something right for our children to succeed and for their children to be on the cusp on doing as well with their endeavors.

Wayne and Linda with their children (except for one who could not be there) and grandchildren

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Old Musical Instruments

Did your ancestors play music? What kinds of instruments did they learn? Have you carried on these traditions?

I am a horn player, in particular a brass horn. I wrote about that in a blog post in April 2017 titled Music is in Our Blood. I took lessons from the age of about eight. For years in high school and after university graduation I play a valve trombone. I acquired it from my old music teacher and is a prized possession. Maybe one day I will get back to playing it.

But I have always been interested in antique instruments and how and when music was first played.

My daughter-in-law sent this link to me about a Glass Harmonica or Armonica (thank you Alice). I had not seen or heard one before. This YouTube video shows expert Dennis James demonstrating the instrument. Glass Armonica (spinning glass bowls... that break) - YouTube

They are amazing instruments that I learned go back hundreds of years. It was apparently invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Musical tones are produced by friction from fingers sliding along the edges of glass bowls of different sizes and they spin. The instrument type is called a friction idiophone.

You can get the same effect using glass goblets partially filled with water to tune them.

Special music was written for these instruments, including by the world’s great composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (in 1791) and Ludvig van Beethoven (in 1814).

Glass armonicas were produced for public use through the 19th and 20th centuries, although not in great quantities. They still are produced commercially by G. Finkbeiner Inc. of Waltham, MA, a maker of glass lab ware. GFI Scientific glass blowing products and services (

Here is a video of Dennis James in concert: Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K 356, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) - YouTube

Musical instruments, of course, go back thousands of years. Every society and culture have had their own traditional types and styles.

·         Trumpets were found in Tutankhamun’s crypt (about 3,340 years old).

·         Flutes, made from bones may have been the earliest instruments used by humans specifically used to make musical sounds. Some found in China may be 9,000 years old. Other found in Europe go back 35,000 years. One found in Germany probably dates to 40,000 years and another in Slovenia is estimated at over 43,000 years.

·         Lithophones are made of rocks of varying sizes that produce sound when struck. Some found in India and Vietnam are estimated at between 4,000 and 10,000 years old.

·         Bullroarers are made of thin slats of wood attached to a stout cord and may go back to Palaeolithic times (18,000 years). When swung in a large circle they emit a roaring sound (thus the name). They have been found on every continent.

·         Blowing through holes drilled into conchs (seashells) have been known to produce sounds for about 18,000 years.

·         Stringed instruments may also go back several thousand years although they are only really known from about the 9th century.

Violins and their cousins date from the 16th century. The most famous is probably the Stradivarius, made by Antonia Stradivari (1644-1737). Their pure and unique tone is thought to be due, largely, to the dense and very fine-grained wood they were made from. During the colder years of the Little Ice Age, trees grew much slower, resulting in narrow annual bands. These materials (spruce, willow and maple) were thus more uniform in structure and more dense.

The Archangel Gabriel, of course, had a horn. That story would take us back several thousand years. If you would like to see an interesting sculpture of him, check out this video. Chocolate Angel - Bing video

Monday 16 May 2022


Every once in a while, you see a picture or hear a joke that reminds you of your childhood, or stories told by your parents or grandparents about their childhood.

I sent out a funny pic recently, concerning the current leader of Russia, to friends around the world and got back a reminiscence from one about a Dunny Man. I had never heard the term before but apparently it is a term common to many parts of the world, or at least to places in the British Empire.

Chris noted that “Australians of my age affectionately remember the age of the ‘dunny can’, which would be positioned under a wooden seat in the ‘dunny’ (or out-house) and be collected weekly by the ‘dunny man’.  It was a true ‘poo tin’. I’m afraid the photo you posted, about a receptacle for dog droppings, does not capture the romance associated with our ‘dunny can’.  For example, my mum would always leave a generous Christmas donation for the ‘dunny man’, much more than she left for the garbage man, because she reckoned the ‘dunny man’ always looked cleaner. Whenever I couldn’t find mum, my day would say she had run off with the ‘dunny man’.”

So, of course, I did a Google search for the term. There are all kinds of stories and even books written about the subject. Blog posts too! Who knew?

For my part, I remember outhouses on my grandparents’ farm, and using the Eaton’s catalogue for toilet paper, but being a city kid, we always had indoor plumbing. The outhouses on the prairie were all built over deep holes that were filled in and a new one dug every few years. My dad used to tell stories of Halloween pranks involving pushing the outhouse back a yard or two to catch unsuspecting people out for a moonlight potty trip. I can't even imagine what that was like for those who might have been caught, although I suspect farmers were all too aware of what could happen. No, my dad would never have done such a thing!

Another friend in England told me this story: “I had a tough elderly aunt who lived in a listed cottage out in the Warwickshire countryside.  I used to spend holidays with her in the ‘60s and she had a dunny can as did most of her neighbours.  The lovely council eventually compromised on the medieval local situation and installed covered cesspits alongside the quaint old buildings but it was up to the owners to install proper toilet facilities!  Auntie Gert was a tireless worker for the Royal British Legion and would walk from house to house every year selling poppies.  One neighbour had had their ces-pit emptied but the workman had neglected to replace the cover and one year Auntie fell in on a dark night.  She clung to the edge by her fingertips for about an hour, calling out for help in the cold and dark until someone went into their kitchen to make a cup of tea and heard her!  She had to be taken to hospital to be cleaned and rested but she had the ‘shakes’ for the rest of her life.” Boy, who wouldn’t?

Funny how pics we see or jokes we hear now stimulate those of us who are mature enough to remember the "olden days" if the '50s can qualify. The closest I can come is having seen milk men with their horse-drawn wagons delivering daily dairy products. Back then the joke was who might have been the result of a liaison of moms and milkmen or whether a lady ran away with one.

Outhouses are still in use in many parts of the world, or at the summer cabin where sewer lines have yet to be extended. You can buy elaborate plans to build them or even DIY kits from companies like Home Hardware. Ready-made units are available to just hall away and set up. Often however, they are marketed as Storage Sheds or as environment-saving products.

For fun do a search for “outhouse kits” and look at the dozens of images that pop up. One site you might come up with is called Morning Chores.

Reminiscing adds many things to your own family history, events and stories you thought you forgot or that did not seem all that important. What we might remember growing up is part of the fabric of our own lives. And if you can recall stories your own parents told you of everyday life, that really adds important pieces to your ancestral mosaic.

Like Outhouses!