Let’s get organized

In my day job, I advise companies about their web properties, including their website and sometimes their presence in social media. Many of the forward-thinking companies take advantage of blogging platforms to publicize information of interest to their customers, using a blog publishing calendar, an essential tool for planning and managing these efforts. Geneablogger Miriam Robbins is just as organized, and she kindly has shared her genealogy blog post calendar. She writes that she has road-tested this already over the past year, with great results. This fits very well with my own desire to write more often, and to cover topics methodically, just as I advise my corporate clients. Thank you, Miriam

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Ready to start over

Once again, Geneablogger Thomas MacEntee has read the inner thoughts of many of us and proposed what we all have been thinking we should tackle: the do-over. Except this time, it’s not just a nagging idea we don’t confess out loud, it will be a group effort, with Thomas and the rest of us there to encourage and support each other. His plan sounds very drastic – set everything you’ve done aside and start from scratch – but it’s essential, if we are to really be truthful about some of the so-called data lurking in our trees. I’m in! And thanks, Thomas!

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One-Name Studies

Inevitably, as we try to hunt down our ancestors, we come across people bearing the surname we’re seeking, but who are not identifiably related to us. Some people simply discard these finds. I hate to do that, particularly for a relatively uncommon surname, since I am hopeful of finding a connection in the future. My research on the GRADWELL line has been somewhat frustrating because there are a whole lot of them in an area far removed from where mine are known to have lived. My solution is to create a one-name study project. Now I can systematically research the name and maintain my research for future connections and for others interested in the name.

Edward William GRADWELL 1869-1905

Edward William GRADWELL 1869-1905

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Once you get started …

The trouble with the 52 Ancestors challenge that I wrote about last week is that the minute I think I have selected a good candidate from my tree, I look up what information I have, and then think, well, I’ll just look up one more thing. Hours later, I haven’t written anything and I have added to my massive pile of potential sources that need to be evaluated and documented. 

What’s more, the minute I try to find a picture of that person, I get lost again in the loosely catalogued collection of digital family pictures, only to conclude that the really good one I remember hasn’t been scanned yet. And won’t be until it’s found in the vaguely organized containers of about 6000 photos I inherited when my mother moved.

So it will have to wait for another day.

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52 Ancestors: #1 Roy William Gradwell

Genealogy blogger Amy Johnson Crow has issued a challenge to blog about one ancestor every week, a great idea that should get us thinking about some of the individuals in our trees and sharing details that help bring their stories to life. For me, this has to include siblings and extended family, because so many of them had lives that clearly influenced people in my direct line.
My choice this week is my dear Uncle Roy, who died in February 2013. In 1927, he was the cherished first born of a working class family in south west London. As a child among those evacuated in World War II, he insisted that he and his sister return to stay with their parents when they were mistreated on a rural farm. He remained the protective big brother to my mother all of his life.
He and his wife emigrated to Canada from the UK at the same time as my parents did in the early 1950s. By then, he had served in the British Army, and learned enough about radar to eventually have a long career with the Canadian government. He loved electronics of all kinds; he delighted in taking videos of family events, leaving dozens of priceless memories for us to enjoy for years to come.
He was a huge influence in my life from my early childhood, even though he and his family often lived many miles away. I’ll always treasure his beaming smile and the hug he greeted me with every time he arrived for a visit. His zest for life, no matter what was going on around him, fascinated and inspired me.


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The problem with starting over

Many of us began our genealogy research before we really understood how to evaluate or document our information sources. A year ago, I decided to be more rigorous by taking another look at the sources I had amassed for my family history. The more I did, the more daunted I felt. I realized that I needed to learn more about handling sources and I needed to develop better systems for keeping track of them. 

The learning continues every day, and the systems are gradually being developed. I decided on a naming system for image files (scans of censuses, birth registrations, etc.) and a process for reviewing and cataloging them in Aperture before I add them to my Reunion database. I am logging research notes and ideas in Filemaker Pro; this system alone has taken many hours since previously I was using Bento.

At least now I feel that I can tackle my growing list of sources systematically. The new problem? Almost every old source I turn to gives me information I hadn’t noticed before, or suggests new lines of inquiry. What a delicious problem to have!

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Begin again, again

Stuck? Overwhelmed? Have you forgotten where you left off? There are lots of ways to restart your genealogy research, and there is no better time than now (in the northern hemisphere at least) during the cold grey days of winter. 

I tackled this problem in December by starting a new course from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. I have done several of their courses in the past and found an advanced methodology course that I hadn’t done. The discipline of working through the reading and assignments is exactly what I needed to re-energize my interest in my own research. 

New tools can often help you restart. Did you get a new scanner, camera or phone for Christmas? Give yourself time to learn how it works, then practice on your documents or artifacts until you feel comfortable with the features. Pretty soon you’ll be planning how to handle and file the new images, tying them to the ancestors in your family tree software.

Thomas MacEntee and Lisa Alzo are offering another option this month: Get Your Genealogy Groove Back Boot Camp. Sounds like an excellent and inexpensive way to rekindle that passion!

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Starting Over with Sources

January is a new starting point for a lot of things. It coincides with very cold weather  where I am and usually a little more free time than at other times of year, so I naturally turn to my genealogy hobby in my cozy office. 

This year I resolved to be more rigorous about family data and to cite sources properly. That resolve was combined with the necessity of rounding up scans and downloaded images which were scattered among three computers and two photo management software applications (Aperture and iPhoto). Yes, I know that these applications can work together, but I decided to consolidate my image files (personal photos as well as genealogy images) and manage them in Aperture on my main home computer. 

The process is a lot like physical de-cluttering – first you pull everything into one place, then put like with like to find duplicates. And oh my, did I find duplicates! The hard part of this process is resisting the urge to focus on an item and start analyzing what it tells you. That will be my reward when the clutter is gone. For now, I think I have rounded up all the strays into Aperture.

Along the way, I am developing a system of tags and categories, so that the collection will be useful in various ways. For example, I can look at all UK census images at once, or all census images for a specific family, or all 1881 images. Rediscovering images I had forgotten about is very exciting!

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Charlotte’s Story, Part 3

This is the final part of my story about my great grandmother, Charlotte Browne Gradwell Marshall. The story begins here and continues here.

A few months after her older boys were placed there in 1905, Charlotte asked Father Hudson’s to take little Freddy, now two and a half. Her sister, Jane Talbot, couldn’t care for him any more and Charlotte had secured a position in Surrey as housekeeper to a priest. She offered to send half of her wages for Freddy’s keep. Father Hudson’s refused at first, but eventually they agreed to take him.

On a cold December day in 1906, she boarded the train at Euston Station to deliver her little boy to the Birmingham orphanage. Her letters reflect her desperate resignation to having her four boys and one daughter many miles away from where she now had to earn a living. 

Soon after this, she needed somewhere for her oldest daughter, Lillian, as well. Once again, Charlotte declined the offer of a Protestant home, to ensure her daughter would be raised a Catholic. Lilly was placed in a convent home in Oxford, many miles away from her siblings, in early 1907.

Charlotte wasn’t doing well at this point. She was very depressed without Freddy and even took him back temporarily, but had to pay others to look after him so she could work. Her health declined so much that she feared she would lose her job.

Finally, by late December 1909, Charlotte was back in Birmingham with no job. Seriously ill, she was in the Aston Workhouse infirmary, where her husband had died just 4 years earlier. Young Freddy was put into yet another orphanage, not where his brothers were this time. With her family scattered and all of her resources exhausted, we can only imagine her desolation in the grim confines of the Aston Workhouse, among more than 1000 other inmates.

But Charlotte recovered. She got another position, this time as a cook. And within two years of her desperate illness, she began a new life, with a new husband, William Marshall. By 1914, most of her family was reunited in Birmingham. All six children survived to create their own stories. Charlotte herself lived to see some of her grandchildren.

I feel truly privileged to be descended from Charlotte and to tell you these parts of her story. I am grateful to Father Hudson’s and the Sisters of Mercy for their generous responses to my request for information about Charlotte and her family.

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Charlotte’s Story, Part 2

This is the story of Charlotte, my great grandmother, widowed in 1905 in Birmingham, England, with six children under age 10. See Part 1 of this story.

Within 2 months of her husband’s death, Charlotte was desperate, desperate enough to ask the local Catholic orphanage, Father Hudson’s, to take in her three oldest boys. Her parish priest wrote on her application: “Mother seems consumptive. Good deserving case. Protestants have offered to take children, but Mother refuses.” 

Her faith was important to her — she wanted them cared for by people who shared her religious beliefs. 

While she waited for Father Hudson’s decision, she was granted charitable relief of 5 shillings and 5 loaves a week. In those days, the poverty line (by some estimates) was a family income of 20 shillings a week.

Charlotte’s sister Jane Talbot was willing to take baby Freddy at first, and already had one of the two girls, but she lived in Surrey, more than 100 miles away. 

Father Hudson’s agreed to take the older boys but requested payment as soon as Charlotte found work. She applied for little Dorothy to be accepted there, too, but Dorothy was sent to a Sisters of Mercy orphanage nearby and rarely saw her brothers again until years later. 

Charlotte moved to Surrey to live with her sister while she looked for work, but managed to visit her boys from time to time. She wrote to Father Hudson’s after a visit: “I am very much grieved over little George having sores and ringworm on his head.” She begged for word that her son was getting better.

Father Hudson’s wrote back briefly to say the boys were doing well.

Charlotte’s story continues tomorrow.

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