Saturday, November 07, 2015

Research - Somerset Remembers

Here's something for Somerset researchers -- Somerset records relating to the First World War are now on line.

See here:

Research - Somerset Remembers

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - Amy Johnson Crow

Here's some good advice for photos you should take at a cemetery. I've often forgotten to do this, and regretted it later.

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - Amy Johnson Crow:
It’s sad — and rather frustrating — to go to a cemetery, take some photos, and realize when you get home that those photos don’t really help you. (It’s especially frustrating when you’re not able to get back to take more photos.) To help ease the frustration, here are 5 cemetery photos that you should get in the habit of taking every time:
And there's one thing I would add to that useful article: if you have a smartphone, take a photo of the full gravestone with it and send it to BillionGraves.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

New Genealogy Software to Save Thousands of Man Hours

For years we've had a lot o0f genealogy programs that do the same thing, and for the most part they do the same things as eacjh other. When someone writes a new program, it turns out to do the same things as the old ones did. But here, at last, may be something different.

New Genealogy Software to Save Thousands of Man HoursGeneaBloggers:
Ged-I (which stands for GEDCOM Interpreter) is an innovative genealogy software that automates the extraction of ancestral information from genealogical texts. It takes a process that currently takes months, even years, and condenses it into a matter of hours. Nothing like this currently exists. Ged-I is the first of its kind. Ged-I is still in the development phase. Logique LLC, the creators of Ged-I, is running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo starting October 23, 2015, to accelerate development and get the product out to the people who need it. You can find more info here:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Plugging genealogy's 30-year gap - BBC News

Good news for UK genealogists: Plugging genealogy's 30-year gap - BBC News:
The findings of a one-off survey of the public from 1939 are about to be released, allowing genealogists to fill a 30-year gap in census records. What will it reveal of a country just beginning to fight a war? The war with Germany had just started and officials had little time to lose in preparing for the fighting and privations to come. So on 29 September 1939, just 26 days after hostilities had been declared, a survey nicknamed the UK's only "instant census" took place. The findings enabled the issuing of identity cards and ration cards. The register applied to all civilians.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

How to Work With Dates Before 1900 in Excel

Many people people use spreadsheet programs for simple database tasks in their genealogical research.

One of the difficulties with this, however, is that genealogists frequently need to record dates before 1900, and many spreadsheet programs can't handle them.

If you are using Microsoft Excel, however, there are some workarounds.

How to Work With Dates Before 1900 in Excel:

If you work with dates prior to the year 1900, Excel's standard date-handling system will be no help. However, there are several ways around this problem. Excel stores recent dates as a date serial number, which allows us to sort those dates and perform date arithmetic. Unfortunately, Excel's serial number begins on January 1, 1900; and negative serial numbers aren't recognized.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Why I am still using a 22-year-old genealogy program

People are sometimes surprised when I tell them I am still using a genealogy program that is more than 20 years old. It is the 1993 version of the Family History System (FHS) by Philip Brown.

I started using it in 1987, when I got an MS-DOS computer for the first time, and tried out a whole bunch of shareware genealogy programs. FHS seemed to be the best of the bunch, and it was so good that I'm still using it today.

It came as a free version, with optional extensions that one could buy, and I soon bought them. And the author was open to suggestions for improvements. One that I suggested, and he adopted, was an option using the yyyy-mm-dd format for  data entry, which is standard in South Africa, and is the only unambiguous system for entering all-numeric dates.

But why do I still use it today?

I don't use it alone. I use it in conjunction with other programs. I use Legacy for its fancy printed reports and fields for extra information. I use RootsMagic for quick 'n dirty research, adding stuff from all over, and sorting it out later (it has a note field for every event, which is good for that).

But FHS still has several capabilities that none of the others have.

First among them, and which is the key to using it in conjunction with the other programs, is that it has the capability of exporting a GEDCOM file with a defined range of RINs. That means I can export records 19257-19643, and when I import them into another program those records will still have RINs 19257-19263, and person 19439 in FHS will be the same person as 19439 in Legacy, PAF, and any other program I import the file to.

That alone is sufficient reason for me to continue using FHS, and using it as my program of first data entry. No other genealogy program that I know of has that capability, or if it has, it is so well-hidden and difficult to access that I have never been able to discover it.

A second reason I continue to use FHS is that it can spit out free-form reports that can be incorporated into e-mail messages, newsgroup posts and other places where ASCII text is useful. Here's one that I used recently:

Family Group Report
For: John Stringer Worrall  (ID=12780)                           
Date Prepared: 30 Jun 2015 

NAME: WORRALL, John Stringer, Born ??? 1823 in Manchester, LAN,  
  ENG, Died May 1879? in Islington, London at age 56; FATHER:  
  WORRALL, Elisha; MOTHER: STRINGER, Sarah; Bookbinder and  
MARRIED 27 Jan 1859 in Manchester, LAN, ENG, to COTTAM, Mary,  
  Born Oct 1838 in Manchester, Died ???; FATHER: COTTAM, Richard,
  Born ??? 1812, Died Feb 1877 at age 65; MOTHER: BAGOT,  
  Margaret, Born 22 Jan 1811, Died Feb 1882 at age 71 
 1. F  WORRALL, Maggie, born 1 Jun 1861 in Manchester, LAN, ENG, 
       died ???; Married 23 Jul 1892 to EDGE, William Edward; 4  
 2. M  WORRALL, John James, born ??? 1864 in Manchester, LAN,  
       ENG, died ???; Married Feb 1910 to GROVER, Harriet  
       Elizabeth; 3 children 
 3. F  WORRALL, Bessie Bagot, born 5 Feb 1866 in Islington,  
       London, died Nov 1867 in Islington, London 
 4. F  WORRALL, Bessie Bagot, born Aug 1868 in London, MDX, ENG, 
       died ???; Married to BUSH, Harry; 4 children 
 5. F  WORRALL, Lucy Naomi, born Aug 1871 in London, MDX, ENG,  
       died Aug 1900 
 6. M  WORRALL, William Harry, born ??? 1874 in London, MDX, ENG,
       died ???; Married ??? 1905 to KNIGHT, Louise; 1 child 
 7. M  WORRALL, George Frederick, born ??? 1877 in London, MDX,  
       ENG, died ???; Married to Lizzie 

I don't know of any other genealogy program that can do that.

A third reason that I still use it is that it can produce relative reports like no other genealogy program, and it can select all the relatives of any person in the database and export those relatioves, and those relatives only, to a GEDCOM file.

So if my third cousin once removed on my mother's side wants a GEDCOM file of his relatives, he is not interested in my father's side of the family, or my wife's side of the family. I can give him a GEDCOM containing just his relatives. It offers a choice of whether to include spouses, and also children of spouses and spoouses of children, who would be related not by blood but by marriage.

As far as I am aware those three features are not available in any other genealogy program, and that is why I continue to use FHS, even though it is over 20 years old.

So I use Legacy for its fancy reports and extra details, but I still enter my data in FHS and export it by Gedcom, first to PAF 4.0, and import from there to Legacy. Thus each person in the Legacy file has the same RIN as in FHS.

If I import the Gedcom direct to Legacy instead of first to PAF, it scrambles the RINs -- something that the people at Millennia have sometimes promised to fix, but never have.

I keep my FHS database on both my desktop computer (running Windows XP) and my laptop (running Windows 7)., so that if I take my laptop to the archives or a library, I can add people there, and transfer to my desktop computer when
I get home. I transfer using a USB flash drive, which therefore serves as an additional backup for both computers. Actually I have two USB flash drives for that purpose, and alternate them weekly, which provides even more backup.

I do the transfers of FHS and other data using four batch files: dsk2flsh.bat, flsh2lap, lap2flsh, flsh2dsk, so all that is requred is typing a single command for all the files to be transferred. That doesn't only concern FHS, of course, so I just mention that in passing.

There may be other FHS users out there, and if you can think of any of the capabilities of FHS that I've left out, particularly those not found in other genealogy programs, please add them in comments.

And many thanks to Philip Brown, one of the pioneers of genealogical computing, whose work remains unsurpassed in some respects to this day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Which genealogy progam should I use?

I often see people asking in online forums which genealogy program they should use to keep their genealogy data --, or

The do not seem to be aware that these are not programs, but web sites where you can publish your genealogy, and the web sites themselves often do not make it clear that that is what they are.

A genealogy program is a program that runs on your computer and enables you to enter, sort and organise your family history. A web site may have a program working in the background that does such things, but it is running on someone else's computer, not yours, and you have less control over it.

There are many genealogy programs available and it's not my purpose to compare them and make recommendations of the comparisons here. If you want such comparisons of programs, click here.

My main point here is to point out the differences between a genealogy program that runs on your computer, and a web site on which you publish your genealogy, and what they are good for and what they are not good for.

And my first recommendatuion is that you get a genealogy program to run on your computer. Two good ones to try are Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic.

You can download and install both of them for free, and try them both to see which one you like best. The free versions do an adequate job of keeping your family tree information. Once you've learnt how to use them and decided which you like best, you can buy a "deluxe" version, which has extra features.

If you don't like either of them, go back to the comparison page and look for another one. The point about Legacy and RootsMagic is that they have free versions, so if you try them and don't like them, you haven't lost anything.

The point about using a genealogy program is that you have your family tree on your computer, under your control. You can share your data with other family members because both these programs can import and export GEDCOM files, which allow you to transfer genealogical data to other programs (and also to upload it to online web sites). "GEDCOM" stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication, and it produces text files with the .GED extension. If you're looking for a genealogy program, make sure that it can import and export GEDCOM files.

Once you have entered enough of  your family in a genealogy program, and are reasonably sure that your information is accurate, then you can think about putting it, or some of it, on a web site like,, etc.

So which is the best web site to upload your family history to?

My recommendation is none of the above.

The best online web site for your family tree is FamilySearch.

And the good news is that both Legacy and RootsMagic can link to FamilySearch and upload or download data. 

FamilySearch is a collaborative family tree, which is eun by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), though you don't have to be a member of the church to participate, and they won't proselytise you if you do participate. 

FamilySearch family tree has many sources of information, one of which is people like me, who upload their family information. Another is information that has been extracted from records around the world. That means that you will find some information duplicated, and you can merge duplicated people if you know what you are doing. And the way to know what you are doing is to get a genealogy program and enter it on your own computer first.

For example, a couple in my family tree are Thomas Henry Sandercock and his wife Fanny Harris, who have several children. FamilySearch has information on the children extracted from the baptism register of the Church of England parish of St Neot in Cornwall. If there are seven children, the parents are repeated seven times, and you can merge them, if you are certain that they are the same people. This makes the family tree on FamilySearch more accurate and more useful to all the users. That is why it is collaborative.

I find and much less useful. I've written about my reservations about here, and about here, and about the perils of online family trees in general here.

So if you are starting your family tree, don't start it on an online web site, start it in a genealogy program on your own computer. Only put it on line when you are reasonably sure that it is accurate.


Monday, June 08, 2015

Historical Papers, Wits University

This resource includes the archives of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa (ACSA), also known as the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA), which includes many church registers of  baptisms, marriages and burials, some original and some microfilmed copies.

Historical Papers, Wits University:
The Historical Papers research archive, situated in the William Cullen Library, was established in 1966. We are a friendly, vastly used, valued and popular service as well as unique and accessible hub for human rights research serving civil society, scholars and researchers. Historical Papers is one of the largest and most comprehensive independent archives in Southern Africa. We house over 3300 collections of historical, political and cultural importance, encompass the mid 17th Century to the Present. Our primary aim is to serve the broader community as well as the university and to transform archives into accessible centres for research. Included are the records of many human rights NGOs, trade unions, labour federations, political parties, women's organisations, churches and church bodies, and the papers of human rights activists. We are also home to a huge volume of political trials, photographs, press clippings, oral interviews, and material collected by several research institutions and individual researchers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

J T Weaver | And in the end the love you take, is equal to the love you make. — The Beatles

Here's a good example of a lifestory blog, of stories that a father tells for his children -- the kind of stories that he wishes his parents had left for him about their lives J T Weaver | And in the end the love you take, is equal to the love you make. — The Beatles:
My Dearest Sarah and Patrick,
Before you is a set of stories about your father. When you wake up one morning and notice that you are not the towhead kid that you once were, you get a first hand look at your own mortality. It has long been my intention to leave you both with some tangible evidence of your family heritage. Yes, we have the ancestry tree that has been passed from one generation to another. That tells JTus the who and the what of those who lived before us. But it doesn’t tell us anything about the how and the why of those lives.
One of the things we are often told in manuals of genealogy is that in addition to recording what we can of our ancestors, we should also leave a record of our own lives and times for our children, of the kind that we sometimes wish had been left for us.

One of my own efforts along these lines is Tales from Dystopia, stories about what life was like in the apartheid era in South Africa, which few people under the age of 30 will remember.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Hillary Clinton Family Tree a Wake-Up Call for Genealogy

Hillary Clinton Family Tree a Wake-Up Call for Genealogy | Megan Smolenyak:
When Irish America requested that I research and write a piece on Hillary Rodham Clinton's heritage (pages 50-52), I was concerned. Why? Because delving into the ancestral past of celebrities has become something of a sub-hobby in the world of genealogy, so I knew that countless others would have climbed the branches of her family tree. What would I possibly be able to add that wasn't already known? Fortunately for me, but regrettably for genealogy in general, there was plenty of fresh terrain because I soon realized that everyone had a quarter of her family tree wrong. And when I say "everyone," I mean dozens of people on at least eight family history websites.

Monday, April 27, 2015

160 year-old Documents Intentionally Destroyed in Franklin County, N.C. | Stumbling in the Shadows of Giants

160 year-old Documents Intentionally Destroyed in Franklin County, N.C. | Stumbling in the Shadows of Giants: –
This summer a new Clerk of Court in Franklin County discovered a trove (an entire roomful) of documents, some dating back to 1840, in a previously sealed room in the Franklin County, North Carolina Court House. – Recognizing the historical value of these materials, she contacted the local historical society to assist in reviewing the materials, preserving them, and inventorying the materials. – The Local historical group enthusiastically poured themselves into the project, mobilizing volunteers and the whole community – securing space to work, materials, and finances – in order to catalog and preserve the bounty of record books, photographs, deeds, chattel records, land grants, deeds, wills, personal correspondence, and countless other materials from a wide variety of government departments throughout the county. (This room had apparently become the “graveyard” for old records, and no one bothered to investigate it for many, many decades.)

And then all these documents were seized and destroyed.

Friday, March 27, 2015

New Irish Genealogy Records, 2014 - free e-booklet

New Irish Genealogy Records, 2014 - free e-booklet:
Just in time for St Patrick's Day, Irish Genealogy Toolkit has published a 20-page e-booklet providing brief details of all the brand-new or, in some cases, upgraded Irish Genealogy resources released in 2014. All of the collections featured in the e-booklet were the subject of blogposts on Irish Genealogy News at the time of their release.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Miscellaneous useful stuff

Miscellaneous useful stuff gleaned from the web: a hard copy research trip bible, and a digital scrapbook

Creating a Genealogy Research Trip (GRT) Bible | Genealogy With Valerie:
You have the location of your trip picked out, you know the route you will take and if you will make any stops on your way there or back, you know where you will be staying and you have a list of the documents that you want to search for. What now?

The next step would be to make your GRT Bible. This is what my husband called covermy master binder that I put together for my first trip. In it will be your itinerary and other much needed information. It will save you time and keep you on track. It is also an easy reference that you can look at anytime you need to.

Book Review: BarbwireDigi’s Guide to Creating A Digital Genealogy Scrapbook | Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter:
Ms. Groth has published a guide for creating a digital scrapbook, specifically targeted for the users of Adobe Photoshop Elements. This program is an excellent photo-editing software for many genealogists, most especially for beginners. It’s fairly easy to learn, and does an excellent job of preparing photos for viewing and publication, adequately meeting the needs of most of us. Besides removing red-eye and cropping photos, I use photo-editing software to enhance contrast and modify light values on fuzzy scanned documents for improved readability and clarity. And, most importantly, Elements is affordable.

The first chapters of Creating a Genealogy Digital Scrapbook review the advantages of creating digital scrapbooks over the traditional scrapbook methods, then recommend the basic tools you’ll need: computer, scanner, digital camera, and the like.

My instinct is to do it the other way round: for our last few research trips I've used Microsoft OneNote for our trip planning. Evernote would work too, but I find OneNote better for drawing tables. And the tables have a list of things to do in each place, and notes can be added when you are there -- how much you did, and what you found or didn't, people you saw, and so on. But this article makes a good case for having a hard-copy binder as well -- opening up the laptop while sitting in the car and squinting to see the screen to find directions to that cemetery is a hassle. Hard copy would be easier.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Genetic study reveals 30% of white British DNA has German ancestry

Genetic study reveals 30% of white British DNA has German ancestry | Science | The Guardian:
The analysis shows that the Anglo-Saxons were the only conquering force, around 400-500 AD, to substantially alter the country’s genetic makeup, with most white British people now owing almost 30% of their DNA to the ancestors of modern-day Germans. People living in southern and central England today typically share about 40% of their DNA with the French, 11% with the Danes and 9% with the Belgians, the study of more than 2,000 people found. The French contribution was not linked to the Norman invasion of 1066, however, but a previously unknown wave of migration to Britain some time after then end of the last Ice Age nearly 10,000 years ago.
See also British Isles mapped out by genetic ancestry : Nature News & Comment:
Today, few Britons have ancestors from just one local region of the UK, so it is hard to identify patterns of genetic variation specific to any one place. But Donnelley and his team found 2,039 Britons of European ancestry who lived in rural areas and knew that their four grandparents were all born within 80-kilometres of each other. Since these volunteers’ DNA was a mosaic of their grandparents’, who themselves were to known be strongly linked to one British region in the late nineteenth century, Donnelley hoped to find genetic variation that clustered neatly with their grandparents' geographic location.

I was not surprised at the finding that most of the English had German ancestry, but what did surprise me was the differences between Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Indexing the books of Lawrence G.Green

Lawrence G. Green was a prolific author and raconteur who wrote stories about people and places, mostly in southern Africa.

I've found some of his books useful in family history research, as some of them mention family members, or places where they lived. In his life as a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and wrote them up in his books, sometimes reusing the same story in more than one book.

I have been rereading some of his books to make notes for family history research, and in response to a recent review of To the river's end someone pointed me to a combined index of 23 of his books.

I downloaded the index, which was unfortunately in PDF format, though someone kindly converted it so that I could get it into a spreadsheet. Unfortunately none of the books in the index had any references to the families I was interested in (Morris, Stewardson and Green) and it did not give page numbers. Also, the personal names were listed with surname last, which makes alphabetical sorting by surname difficult. It also appeared to be simply based on the printed indexes in the books, which are not complete, and many of the most interesting and useful bits in the books do not appear in the printed indexes at all.

Someone else sent me another index, which was rather too complex and difficult to use.

So I would like to propose a new collaborative indexing project for the books of Lawrence George Green.

I propose that people who have access to Lawrence G. Green's books undertake to index one or two of them, and communicate with each other to ensure that the work is not duplicated.

The entries should be in book index format, and entered in a spreadsheat or database program that can export a file in "comma-separated values" (CSV) format.

The fields should be:

  1. Combined Index
  2. Book
  3. Page

They should all be text fields.

The Combined Index field should contain the index entry, initially compiled from the printed book index, and then supplemented by going through the book and adding missing entries. The Combined Index field should look like this:

Moffat, Robert
Moore, Leopold
Morton, (hangman)
Morris, Abraham
Moss, George
Muchison Club
Musina people
Myres, Prof J.L.
Oates, Frank
Oberholzer (farmer)
Old Drift
Oswell, William Cotton

Personal names should be listed with surname first, and proper names with the initial letters capitalised.

If you use a spreadsheet program, when you enter the title of the book, it will usually offer a duplicate entry, which can saving typing (and typos).

If you have any comments or suggestions to make about this proposal, please write them in the comments section below, and also if you would be interested in taking part in such a project.

You can get a copy of this article, with a sample index, at the following link:

I suggest that discussion and coordination of this project take place in the African Genealogy Forum on Yahoogroups, which has facilities for uploading and downloading files and entering files in a database.