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Posts Tagged ‘one-name studies’

As a family historian with some English connections I was interested in the 1939 English and Welsh Register which went online recently at FindMyPast. But having seen the 1939 Register entries for my Scottish ancestors I didn’t expect to find anything terribly new or exciting. So I wasn’t even sure if I’d check it out promptly. But sure enough I did, being still up as the site went live shortly after midnight on Monday 2nd November 2015.

Sadly the site was very flaky then, with lots of pages failing to load. I was getting an awful lot of error messages, at various points e.g. initial search results, trying to preview an entry, trying to buy credits/unlock an entry, trying to view an image. Usually reloading one or more times sorted it out though. And I don’t seem to have inadvertently spent my credits twice. Fortunately site responsiveness improved over the coming days, and it’s much more stable now, but that wasn’t a good way to launch a website, especially when people were paying pay-as-you-go to access the information.

The positive thing is that after battling through the page loading problems I was very surprised by how much useful information I got in this. Examples include:

  • Finding my great-grandfather in Leeds, getting valuable info on him. He was estranged from my granddad so we didn’t really know anything about him circa 1939, even if he was still alive. Now we have an occupation, address, the fact his second wife was still alive, and this has helped me to hopefully track down his death a few years later.
  • Learning that my husband’s great-grandparents on a farm had 2 land girls staying with them.
  • Discovering that my husband’s Norfolk grandfather was in the local fire brigade in 1939, just like my granddad in southern Scotland.
  • Finding my other Yorkshire great-grandfather with what looks like wife #3, and then using that info to finally trace their marriage record in FreeBMD.

I was also impressed by how full the pages are. Even with lots of entries closed (like my Dad’s, aunt’s, and my husband’s uncle – all still living, in their 80s) you get names of lots of neighbours at the time. Which is really nice. I emailed the relevant pages to my octogenarian relatives, so they can see some neighbour names that might bring back memories for them.

On the downside I still can’t find my husband’s paternal grandparents in the 1939 Register. Goodness only knows quite how they’ve been recorded and/or transcribed! Maybe I’ll find them in future though.

But yes, pleased with what I found. Far more useful than I thought it would be – I didn’t honestly expect it to tell me anything new or terribly interesting. I found the information I got worth the price I paid to unlock the households, but that’s mainly because of unexpected information I found. Getting birth dates for relatives is great, but I’m not sure that would have been enough for me. It’s the extra detail, like war service information and some unexpected genealogical clues, that really helped.

Having said that, I’m not sure that the 1939 Register is being that well promoted by FindMyPast. In particular they aren’t making clear to genealogists that people born after 1915 who are not known by the Register authorities to have died cannot be searched for in the site. There are an *awful* lot of very experienced genealogists out there who have tried to find, for example, parents or other fairly recent relatives in the new database. These people would have been in the 1939 Register, but are too young to be released this time. But the information in the FindMyPast help pages isn’t clear about this at all, not explaining in simple terms that these people cannot be searched for online at the moment.

I’m also not convinced that FindMyPast appreciate just how useful the information in the right pages can be for genealogists. I’ve found references to local war service – e.g. land girls, fire brigade, and air wardens – on every single page I looked at. In some rural areas there were numerous entries in that column. Two of my husband’s ancestral households had useful information there. As a family historian that’s just the type of detail that adds colour to the family story. But sometimes it’s cropped too severely, and cannot be read properly as a result. I think this information is one of the strengths of this register, isn’t as rare as FindMyPast think, and should be better supported via the website.

So some concerns still. I’m also not quite sure how useful this site will be to me as a one-name studier. I’m researching the surname Cavers, and it’s not clear yet how useful it would be to me to extract references to that name (77 or so). Even using the free preview information I’m not sure it would tell me that much new, with so many redacted child/recent entries. And it’s not cost-effective for me with the current pricing structure to unlock all those households. So yes, not sure. I think the site can be great for genealogy, but more personal family history than one-name studies. One-place studies may be different, though my two are in Scotland, so I can’t use this site for those. Time will tell!

EDIT: As a late postscript to the post, after I posted this earlier today the death certificate of my Leeds great-granddad arrived in the post. It reveals that he had more children, with wife #2, the wife who refused to take care of the older children of his first marriage, which meant those children had to go into a home, and broke off all contact with their father. So my Dad now has a new aunt and uncle to add details of to the family tree, as well as lots of cousins. We may even be able to get in touch with living descendants. I’ve been researching my family tree for 30+ years, and it’s remarkable to make such a new discovery, so close to my generation, after all this time. I wouldn’t have been able to trace my great-granddad’s death reliably, were it not for the 1939 Register going online, letting me find him, and be sure it was him with the right birthdate (day, month and year). And because that gave me his address, which was also where he died in 1946, I could confidently link things up. Magic!

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I’m a long-time member of the Guild of One-Name Studies (GOONS), which is a society for people who are researching specific surnames, all holders, rather than just their own family trees. My own GOONS surname is Cavers, which is one of my ancestral surnames.

The Guild holds a number of seminars and an annual conference, but these are typically in the south of England, so far too far away from me. So it was nice that the new regional rep for southern Scotland (I sneak into that, even though I think I live in the north!) Lorna Kinnaird was keen to hold regional meetings for us. On the downside those in the past have been in Glasgow or Edinburgh, which with my MS-like illness is too far for me to manage now. The long journey there would drain me, and I wouldn’t be in a fit state for the meeting, or the journey back. So I jumped at the chance to attend a rare northerly meeting, in Perth.

The meeting was held at the AK Bell Library in Perth, which I know well, having been to the archives there a lot during my part-time history PhD and also Research Assistant job for Dundee University’s history department. The meeting was to run from 10am until 4pm. I knew I couldn’t manage the whole thing, with my MS-like illness, and with the final timetable I would be there for the pre-lunch session only. But that worked out well.

Lorna gave a good opening introduction, which raised lots of interesting points, before Roger Moult took over, speaking about researching First World War Soldiers, in Britain in particular. This was very interesting. I’d done quite a lot of research into these myself, though generally relying on resources available online. It was useful to learn more details about the different types of records that survive, their strengths and weaknesses, and which can be accessed remotely, and which must be researched at The National Archives at Kew.

After a break for tea and coffee we were then given a tour, by Nicola Cowmeadow and Colin Proudfoot, of the library’s local studies collection. As I said earlier I know the archives section of this library well. I had not used the local studies section before though, so this was eye opening for me, and I must return in future to investigate more.

The final item before lunch was me talking, about my Cavers one-name study. This was a 20 minute talk, and seemed to be well received. I’ve been researching my one-name study for nearly 30 years, and wanted to talk about how it has evolved over time, and different techniques I use, as well as newer things, like moving into social networking and DNA tests. This was followed by a lively discussion about some of the issues that I had raised, such as legacy concerns, data preservation, whether to use a genealogy package or a spreadsheet or both, and the pros and cons of different DNA testing companies.

In the afternoon the group was to be given a tour of the archives, and have some personal research time there. I had to leave before that, but I am very glad that I was there for the time I was. I was particularly impressed by the engaged questioning manner of the group members, which meant that we had lively and informative discussions, both during talks and afterwards, and many useful ideas were shared. I do hope to get to a future regional meeting, and would definitely recommend that other GOONS members attend their regional meetings where these are available.

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Another to-do list for my own benefit. I find it helpful to make a note of things in progress, not least because it gets my thoughts and plans in order, and records it somewhere I can find it again in future.

My immediate priority is to write a talk for an academic conference in a month’s time. I’m speaking about my taught postgraduate Masters dissertation research into Melrose regality court records of the late 17th century. I did this research a decade ago, and have completed a part-time PhD on a quite different topic since then. So it is a little bit distant for me now, but I should be able to prepare it well. Actually squeezing it into 20 minutes is something of a challenge, but will be fun, and I hope the audience will enjoy it. I gave a longer talk (about 90 minutes) about the same research in Melrose years ago, and that proved popular.

Alongside that I have a revise and resubmit offer on a journal paper based on this Melrose research. I should get on with that, and perhaps tackling the journal paper revisions alongside the talk writing might kill two birds with one stone. I’m aiming at quite an ambitious journal. They may yet decide to reject me, but things are promising at the moment, and I always regard a revise and resubmit offer as a good one that must be followed up on. Basically you have your foot holding the door open, and it would be silly not to try to get to accepted.

Another priority for me is to write my talk for the Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth in just over a month’s time. I’m going to be talking about my Cavers one-name (surname) study, which I’ve been doing since the late 1980s, and has been registered with the Guild since the late 1990s. We can use PowerPoint at this meeting, as I will do for my Melrose talk, and I’m hoping to cover a lot of ground that will be of interest to other Scottish one-name studiers.

My planned book of strange history / roleplaying articles continues, slowly. I tend to lurch at the articles: have a gap for a while, and then complete three or more in quick succession. I’ve completed nine so far, and have two more well underway. I am aiming for fifteen completed ones, and will then see if I want to write more. Lurching my way forwards anyway.

My text adventure game is on hold, but I should resume it in the autumn. I’m in the middle section of the game now, and am still writing the core plot. The coding side of things (in Inform 7) isn’t that difficult. But writing the detective story side of things is more of a challenge for me, and is being done slowly, and carefully.

And I continue to blog, in my various blogs. For example I blogged earlier today about my husband’s turkey poaching ancestors, inspired by a very similar case covered in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are programme (UK version).

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Early this morning I sent off the revised version of an accepted journal paper to the editor. So that’s taken care of. Good. But I thought for my own benefit I’d make a note here of other things I’m working on, as an aide-memoire.

I’ve agreed to write a book review for a Scottish history academic journal. I was approached for this, because of the specific book, and my research interests. So that’s next on the list. I have the book in the house – my own copy actually – and just need to read it, and pull together some thoughts. That shouldn’t take too long, fingers crossed, and should be fun. The review is needed by the end of this year, but I should easily finish it many months ahead of then.

In September I’m hoping to go to a Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth, and have offered to give a short talk about my Cavers one-name study. I’ve jotted down some ideas in a mind map already, but need to finish writing it, including the PowerPoint presentation I’ll use.

I’ve a series of articles ongoing that are a cross between historical pieces and roleplaying game ideas, and need to resume writing these. They were put on hold, as I battled the illness and completing other things. I’ve done seven articles so far, and am part-way through one on Montrose, with more planned. I’m hoping to publish them as a PDF booklet, once completed.

My interactive fiction game work in progress needs to be picked up again. I’d completed the prologue, and was at a point where I was going to start coding up the main middle section. I should be able to make good progress with this. I find writing the dialogue and interaction quite hard, but the coding side, in Inform 7 – a natural language programming language – is much easier for me. It’s funny, I can’t do much computer programming now, since the brain damage got really bad. But I get on well with Inform 7 – yay!

I have two other academic articles currently with journal editors and reviewers. One was derived from part of my PhD, the other from my MPhil. And I could hear back about those at any time. With luck I’d be offered some sort of revision, even a revise and resubmit would be good. But even if these editors reject the pieces outright I’d want to revise them myself before submitting them to a different journal. So I need to allow a little bit of space to be able to work on that.

I need to put together a proposal for the Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850 project. I can’t attend the colloquium in Chicago, about digital approaches to library history. But I hope to be able to attend the London colloquium in 2015, which is looking at libraries in the community. I could put together a good discussion piece for that, based on what I did for the library in Haddington, researching the readers using a huge range of genealogical and historical records, to be able to contextualise their borrowings properly. I’m also planning similar research in future for the Balquhidder Parish Library in Perthshire, and to that end am currently in the middle of a small-scale pilot study of another set of library borrowings. But I need to put something together for the London meeting, and submit it before the September 2013 deadline for abstracts.

I recently blogged about the 17th century poem I’m transcribing. I’d like to publish the transcript in an academic journal, with a suitable introduction and text contextualising it. So that’s another paper idea I’m working on. But I need to finish transcribing the poem first. For the record it’s massive. Three pages of two columns of tight text. Many many lines of poem.

I have another couple of paper ideas in progress, but they are at early stages, and unlikely to reach editors anytime soon.

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