Henry the VIII, Henry the 8th, Genealogy Research, online genealogy, ancestry, family search

Fishing or Real Genealogy Research?

Note: the following post is written by Dr. Terrence M. Punch, an expert in genealogy research related to maritime Canada. Since the 1970s, he has published numerous books on Scottish, Irish and French immigration. He has written other posts for this blog, including the popular How our Ancestors Died. Below, Dr. Punch discusses the pitfalls that can trip up an unsuspecting Internet researcher, and how having a thorough research plan can help keep the course.

Fishing or Researching?

Before the Internet was generally in use, people seeking their family trees sooner or later went to an archives in search of information. We spoke with relatives to elicit stories and details about the family. Some hung around cemeteries or called in at the local Registry of Deeds or the Probate Court. Pastors and parish clerks came under siege as dozens of family historians beset them with requests for records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Still, in the long run, for most of us the archives was “Mecca.” In some ways, it still is.

During the 1990s material began to appear on the Internet, a trend that has grown exponentially since 2000. As data was keyed onto websites and links to collections multiplied, increasing numbers of people took up genealogy as a hobby, a quest or an obsession. For anyone living several hours’ drive from a major repository, Internet genealogy was a blessing. The remote, the disabled and the elderly could research at home. Alas, as so often is the case, there may be a worm in the apple.

Well-intentioned people spent hours putting material on the Internet; good, bad, and indifferent. We learned, “junk in, junk out,” when what we believed was reliable information turned out to be filled with mistakes. Some helpful postings were unsourced, i.e., there was no citation telling where the information came from. It matters whether data is authentic or merely the product of someone’s imagination.

Was the person who posted the information working from a primary source, meaning a document created at or near the event by someone actually there, or at least a photographic reproduction thereof? Was that story just what great uncle Ron cooked up after his third double scotch? Was grandmother embarrassed about her oldest brother being a 6-month old baby, so she put back the date of her parents’ wedding by a year so that there was no hint that her parents had indulged in pre-marital sex?

I am sounding a note of caution to the beginner or the trusting: Items found on the Internet should be treated to the same scrutiny as any other information.

Look for corroborating evidence, or at least other sources which support the context of the specific information. Look out for anachronisms. Bishop Charles Inglis did not marry someone in 1821 because by then he’d been dead for five years. Captains in the Royal Navy in 1810 did not ‘jump ship’. Abraham Lincoln drove a Ford?

This is not an assault on the usefulness of websites and their contents; far from it. But we need to be clear that there is junk as well as buried treasure available on the web. Our job is to learn to tell them apart or else wind up convinced that our 20 times great grandfather was Richard the Lionhearted, Ali Baba, or perhaps one of the forty thieves! Given the propensities of Louis XIV or Henry VIII and others, there may be quite a few royal descendants scattered about. Family historians are sometimes humble people, seeking to prove that they descend from someone who was a Big Cheese. Remember that genealogy is not defined as “tracing yourself back to better people,” a hope which seduces some to buy into falsehoods.

Avoid the Online Genealogy Research Trap

It is easy to mistake a fishing expedition on the Internet for genuine research. The first weapon of a good genealogist is an open mind. Unless a person is prepared to accept whatever authentic details they find about ancestors, they would be well advised to leave the job to a cousin or other relative who won’t be shocked at finding a forebear of another ethnic origin or religious persuasion. The second is for the genealogist to make a plan before fishing on the Internet for forefathers and mothers. There is just so much genealogical material on line that you need to have a firm grasp of what you seek and what you are looking at. Otherwise the sheer volume of information can overwhelm and lead you astray, and you spend months thinking that the wrong lead was the right one and you compound the original mistake by building on it.

For example, you were looking for the parents of Evan Bowen, born about 1775 in Wales, and online you find a family with an Even Bowen born in 1777 in Wales. If you then and there assume he is your man and proceed back from him to Evan’s father Owen and find that Owen’s father was Howell ap Owen ap Twdor, you could be shocked to learn that there were perhaps two dozen other Even Bowens born in Wales during the 1770s and you may have latched onto the first one you found, unaware of that fact.

There is so much genealogical material on the Internet that it is easy to get lost. You need a good grip on what you are seeking or you can be misled. My advice is that you get a logical research plan and adhere to it. Doing so can make the difference between success and failure for your research. Remember when using the Internet that it is better to stick to a plan. Too many fishers of the ‘Net become fish because they take the bait. Don’t let that be you.

Image credit:  Henry VIII of England on Horseback. Hand-coloured woodcut. Hans Liefrinck (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

historical pastimes, pastime, ancestors, ancestry, genealogy

Pastimes of our Ancestors

The following post, “A Lighter Side of History — A Timeline of Pastimes of our Ancestors,” is written by author Denise R. Larson. Ms. Larson is the acclaimed author of the recently updated and rereleased Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. She has also authored other posts on this blog including the informative “Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People” about how to find “lost” relatives in your family history.

Please note that Ms. Jacobson’s book, History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors, has been recently released in e-book format and is available for purchase here

We hope you enjoy the following post by Ms. Larson below.

A Lighter Side of History — A Timeline of Pastimes of our Ancestors

Though it can be said that our ancestors did not have the economic advantages that most of us enjoy today, that doesn’t mean their lives were completely humdrum and colorless. They had their fun, too.

A new chapter in Judy Jacobson’s History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors gives hints on how average people in past centuries filled their free time with hobbies, entertainments, sports, and social gatherings. Was your great-grandfather a member of the Masons or Odd Fellows? Did your grandmother march for women’s suffrage or in favor of prohibition?

Genealogy was and still is a favorite hobby and pastime, and the recording of births, marriages, and deaths can be approached in creative ways. The pedigree charts typically used by genealogists to plot a person’s parents, grandparents, etc., is a generational timeline. A genealogist I once met diagramed his family lineage on a white window shade. He slowly unrolled it to show me generation after generation of his ancestors. Easily portable, he understandably was very proud of his ingenious family timeline. Continue reading…

thomas jefferson, War of 1812

Thomas Jefferson sums up the War of 1812

The following post is by Denise R. Larson, the author of the 2016 edition of History for Genealogists. If you were a reader of the original 2009 edition, you will enjoy the new time lines concerning life on the homefront during America’s 20th-century wars; and fashion and leisure in America from its beginnings through the middle of the 20th century. The fashion and leisure chapter discusses things like the invention of the jigsaw puzzle, publication of Good Housekeeping magazine, and the modeling of the first bikini.

Following, Ms. Larson brings her expert eyes to discussing Thomas Jefferson’s views on the War of 1812:

Though no longer president of the United States, his term having ended in 1809, Thomas Jefferson took an avid interest in the welfare of his country, especially during the War of 1812, which he had unsuccessfully attempted to prevent by the economically disastrous Embargo Act of 1807.

In a letter to William H. Crawford, begun at Monticello February 11, 1815, and transcribed in “The Thomas Jefferson Papers” by the Library of Congress (memory.loc.gov), Jefferson wrote: the “6,000 citizens she (Britain) took from us by impressment have already cost her ten thousand guineas a man…. She might certainly find cheaper means of manning her fleet.”

About the progress of the war: “The first year of our warfare by land was disastrous.… But the second was generally successful, and the third entirely so, both by sea and land.”

After Jefferson heard about the signing of the treaty: “P.S. February 26th. I am glad of it, although no provision being made against the impressment of our seamen, it is in fact but an armistice, to be terminated by the first act of impressment committed on an American citizen.”

The taking of American seamen off ships has been downplayed by historians because it ended with the British victory in the Napoleonic wars and was called an excuse for war as used by expansionists, but Jefferson took it seriously. He saw it as a lack of respect and not to be tolerated if the United States was to take its place among the acknowledged nations of the world.

The settling of the northeast boundaries between British North America and the United States was still a touchy one. Jefferson wrote: “What nonsense for the manakin [possibly meant mannequin] Prince Regent to talk of their conquest of the country east of the Penobscot River! There, as in the revolutionary war, their conquests were never more than of the spot on which their army stood, never extended beyond the range of their cannon shot. If England is now wise or just enough to settle peaceably the question of impressment, the late treaty may become one of peace, and of long peace.”

And so it came to be. England no longer absconded with American seamen on the high seas, and the United States and Great Britain, as well as British North America, which later was officially known as Canada, became great allies in a long peace that has lasted to this day.

Image credit: Thomas Jefferson, via The Library of Congress.

history for genealogists, 19th century sports

New Book Release: History for Genealogists

The recently updated and rereleased History for Genealogists—Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors is a rare bird for genealogists: it’s one of the very few history books in print that is written for genealogists

As the subtitle to the 2016 expanded and revised edition of Judy Jacobson’s best-selling book indicates, this sought after book contains scores of historical chronologies that genealogists can access in order to place their ancestors in time and place. As Judy puts it, “Genealogy lays the foundation to understand a person or family using tangible evidence. Yet history also lays the foundation to understand why individuals and societies behave the way they do. It provides the building materials needed to understand the human condition and provide an identity, be it for an individual or a group or an institution.”

That said, we would not want readers to overlook the many valuable narrative elements contained in History for Genealogists. For example, the chapter on new arrivals to America contains a number of important tables showing 19th-century migration patterns. Similarly the new chapter on “Fashion and Leisure,” prepared by Denise Larson – who you may remember as the author behind Companions of Champlain: Founding Families of Quebec, 1608-1635or for her posts here on Maine genealogy or Canadian genealogy – discusses the 19th-century relationship between the growth of amateur sports and recreational swimming and the time constraints imposed upon workers by the industrial revolution.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the new edition is entitled “Even Harder to Find Missing Persons.”  Here Mrs. Jacobson tackles such thorny genealogical problems as finding slave ancestors, origins of the “Orphan Train” riders, record challenges created by boundary changes, and the matter of isolated societies. By “isolated societies” Jacobson is referring to groups such as the Mellungeons of Appalachian Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the “Cajans” of the Spanish frontier of Alabama; the Lumbees or Croatans of North Carolina; the Nanticokes of southeastern Delaware and others. Most of these groups possess mysterious origins and a number of them are mixed-race in make-up. According to Jacobson, as many as 200 multiracial groups of isolated societies could exist in the U.S., and for reasons that should be obvious, delving into the ancestry of any one of them could require the skills of a Sherlock Holmes.

So, whether you want to know when gold was discovered in Bannock City, Montana, when the first Scots Highlanders arrived in North Carolina, how to create a time line of your own or where do you turn when your ancestor lived in a “ghost town,” History for Genealogists may be the book you have been waiting for.

Image credit: Cricket, 1883 team, group photograph via the University of Pennsylvania Archives, Penn Library. Permanent link http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/archives/20050909001.

canadian genealogy, canadian census

Canadian Census Tips from Denise Larson

The following post is from author, Denise Larson, who has offered her expertise on other topics such as Maine Genealogy in two parts, as well as the recently posted piece about Canada’s upcoming anniversaries.

This year, 2016, marks the sesquarcentennial—350th anniversary—of the first official census taken in Canada. Only 163 pages long and enumerated in part by Intendant Jean Talon himself, the census of 1666 noted the name, age, and occupation of the French inhabitants of Quebec City, Montreal, and Trois Rivieres. In this post, Ms. Larson discusses the evolution of the census in Canada as well as some tips for researchers to keep in mind.

Enumeration can be more than general population

From that simple start in 1666, census taking in Canada expanded to Acadia in 1671. Canadian population censuses are either nominal, listing all members of a household, or partly nominal, listing the heads of household. Beginning in 1851, a listing of all family members became standard in Canada.

Some enumerations were very specific to a certain civil or religious group. In 1765 a census was taken of the Protestant inhabitants in the District of Montreal. A year later the merchants of Montreal were enumerated. A census taken in 1779 surveyed the Loyalists who fled the American colonies to the south, settled in the Province of Quebec, and received provisions from the British government to compensate for their losses. This type of census has proven to be very valuable to family historians who traced ancestors to early colonies but abruptly lost the trail during the turmoil of the American Revolution.

Library and Archives Canada offers a list of extant Canadian censuses on its website at http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx. The page lists the years of census returns, a finding aid, and searchable databases.

Not everything is as it appears in Canadian census records

The Library’s Finding Aid Number 300 warns of some pitfalls adherent in Canadian census returns. Users are cautioned that the source of the information written onto a census form might have been a neighbor, not a family member. Even if the information was correct, the spelling skill of the enumerator might be cause for confusion.

The native language of the person taking a census in Canada might be a factor in the correctness of the return. An enumerator whose first language was not French might record “Salway” for Saint Louis, which could have been pronounced something like “san louie” or “san-lou-eh.”

The personal creativity of an enumerator might cause misunderstandings in reading his notes if he used the abbreviation BC, meaning Bas Canada (Lower Canada) if it were misunderstood to be British Columbia and transcribed as such in an index.

The specific age of an enumerated person can sometimes be difficult to determine from a census return. Is the given age how old the person was on the actual date of enumeration (sometimes shown at the top of the page); or how old he or she would be on his or her next birthday; or is the age given as of  the “census day,” the date specified for that particular census on which all information was supposed to be based? Some censuses were started in one year but completed the next, which could throw off a calculation. Researchers should apply a grain of salt to a recorded age and look for proof positive in other sources.

Census taking is not an exact science, but the information recorded by hard working enumerators is a valuable starting point from which to launch a search for firm evidence about family names, ages, occupation, and location on a certain date — the basis used in the Canadian census of 1666 and censuses thereafter.

Image credit: 1911 Canadian Census – Archibald Campbell household, care of Howell Family Genealogy Pages.