Ancestry – May 2017

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I’m a few more weeks in with my ancestry research and things are moving at a pace.

I have entered approaching 2,000 names. These are distant and broad connections. As the names grow, the little green leaves (hints) also grow as the technology trundles off and looks through any census, criminal, church, emigration, war and other ancestor users’ records to match them to. There are about 1700 ‘hints’ awaiting my attention. I will get around to them.

The 30+ fourth cousins have now grown to 53+ cousins. The more direct matches where we share a common ancestor has doubled from 3 to 6. And I’m excited to report I’m going on my first ‘meet’ in early June to chat with a cousin I’ve found about our joint heritage. And here’s the thing – we don’t actually know where we are related but we know we are. That, and we have things in common – in short, I’ve made a friend. Now we have to turn detective and find out where our DNA crosses but quite honestly I don’t mind too much. I like her anyway.

Of all the cousins and more moderate confidence matches, many keep their ancestry trees private. This is probably because they use Ancestry as a repository rather than an opportunity to find relatives. Generally when I’ve asked for access it has been forthcoming and is followed by a few getting-to-know-you messages. Little has come from this yet (apart from my new cousin-friend). Very often members of the site haven’t even started their family tree or have put limited numbers on it. Very frustrating! The most frustrating was what I assume is an elderly gent refused my request to see his tree, despite us being a good match via DNA. His right but I was disappointed. He’d explained there were criminal minds out there and he didn’t want to fall foul of anything. But he checked my tree (which is public) and couldn’t find a match.

I’ve yet to comprehend the DNA circles which draw in connections and present them in a graphical way. However I’m part of two of these and slowly I’m getting to grips with how it all works.

My journey continues to be hypnotic and compelling. I’m excited to be meeting my first cousin. Of course I’ll take the usual precautions – meet somewhere public and let someone know where I’ll be. In fact I have rules for anyone I meet online. Do remember to stay safe with all the excitement and activity! More next month…

Ancestry – April 2017

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Over the next year I am going to be spending as much of my time as possible compiling my family tree. Having received my DNA results in February, I’ve decided to start blogging monthly about where my journey is taking me.

Since my first blog, I’ve actually joined Ancestry. You don’t have to be a member to order your DNA. I elected for the wider access that includes Germany and the US – both of which I believe will connect me to unknown rellies.

I half-heartedly started the process of joining Ancestry a few times. That was because I knew it was going to be a demanding hobby once I started. I don’t know if the two are connected, but discounted membership offers did start presenting themselves to me over the coming weeks and I eventually got a year’s membership for £90. That’s £1.70 a week – not bad for something that keeps me quiet for a good 30+ hours a week, given the chance.

Then came the task of entering my family tree itself. Working with Ancestry’s software takes a little getting used to (so allow time for it initially) and I made some mistakes but it is generally human-friendly. When you set up your tree, you can elect to have a completely private tree or you can go public with it. Many set up their trees under a username and no-one would know who you actually are in real life. That’s a personal choice. I’ve been quite honest about who I am (she says writing this blog under my writing pen-name!) and I’m public with my family tree but I’ve kept off anyone living. In fact I think Ancestry does that themselves.

It has been heart-warming posting up portrait photographs of ancestors, some gone over 150 years, and watching little family groups appear with growing associated data to remind us they were here on this planet once-upon-a-day.

The benefit of putting your tree up is several-fold. Firstly little green leaves start to appear at the top right of the ancestors called ‘hints’. The system has done its own quick research and found links to the trees of those who also carry your ancestor and to public documents such as census, military records etc.

This speeds up the growth of your tree because it brings in that information to be assessed. It’s possible to review dates, siblings, spouses, children and sometimes photographs or documents and to incorporate that information into your tree. Some have to be ignored or shelved to a later time if you aren’t sure.

Don’t underestimate the enormity of these little green hints. They quickly accumulate into 100s. But it doesn’t matter. It just means there is always something you could be working on and you can choose which line of exploration to follow.

The fun starts… Your profile has DNA and now it has names. From all those potential cousin matches (I started with 34; it’s grown to 38 cousins 4th-8th level) the system can match with your tree names as well. So if under the DNA section I search for the name ‘Jones’, the system will filter through all of those 38 cousins who share my DNA. It isn’t always obvious and can be incomplete – for instance my Jones are Midlands based but many of my potential matches might be in America; so there’s more work to be done there.

But I did notice on my DNA summary page Ancestry had taken it upon itself to show me there was a direct hit for 3 complete occurrences. Ancestry extracted these automatically to show me. It did it because I’d put my tree on so it is worth that effort, yet many don’t do it – which puzzles me.

Ancestry makes it easy to contact fellow members so long as they are checking in regularly and up for contact, contact is a real possibility!

On Monday I had my first ‘phone conversation with a new relative. That was an exciting moment. Our joint ancestors were a couple who lived for most of the 1800s. We talked about the now and the then. Amazingly and by sheer chance, we’ve found an unusual surname that we also have in common which he hasn’t posted up yet, so now we are looking to see if we are related down that line as well. We hope to meet up.

When I read (or write) a book, in my resting moments I wonder what the characters are doing. It’s the same with genealogy. I never met most of them but what I do know buzzes around my head even when I’m not looking at photos and facts about them. Don’t tell anyone but I sometimes talk to them too.

I am messaging some other matches and potential matches but those little green leaves will keep me busy for a long time yet.

I’m excited that more and more people are getting the genealogy bug. It is addictive. But the plus of that is that my tree will keep growing and my family should keep on growing too. Who knows where the next few weeks lead me.

I suspect DNA is a BIG growth area! Cheers! 

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DNA – a tall story

No other words for it – I’m excited! Part of my Christmas present was sending off my DNA kit to AncestryDNA and six weeks on, the final part of my Christmas present has been dropped into my email account – the results.

I’d no idea what to expect. Reports about DNA results for ancestry purposes have been on my radar for some time now. They were often negative, however, I chose to close my mind to any negativity and to have this self-indulgent adventure anyway.

Who would have thought a few years ago that one’s spit, a product of the vilest of insults to another, could actually be the key to so much, to life itself. It will take me some time to get to the bottom of all the information and to decide how I’m going to work with it, however, the initial surprise is that I’m far more European than British. I suspected that my great-grandfather’s native Germany might be something of an influence however, the inferences of 18% Scandinavian got me twitching with excitement. Perhaps this is why I love cold weather so much? I’m 62% Western Europe and only 10% British! Suddenly my heart and head that patriotically existed on the British side of the channel all my life are unapologetically tugging me across to the other side of that dividing watercourse.

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The ethnicity estimate was only part of the information they provided. I was informed I’d got 31 4th-8th cousins on AncestryDNA. How could they possibly be right? Yet what jazzed me even further was that some of the links to cousins carried ancestral names already known to me. I now had contact points for all these ‘cousins’, so I picked one of the names I knew from high on the probability matching score and fired off a message. Sure enough he came back to me and named a distant point where we were probably related. It was information I had already got via my genealogy work. I can’t explain it – the tingles and fizzy excitement at the thought of one couple getting together two hundred odd years ago and cascading their genes through time and space to here, now, strangers connected by DNA and technology.  I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of something life-changing.

Amongst the excitement, a few thoughts are stirring. I voted Brexit. Admittedly that was because I disagreed with the control the EU had but I was approaching this from a feeling I’m completely British and that I celebrate the different nationalities out there and want to preserve them, not dilute them. I don’t like the thought we’ll lose that and end up as one mishmash of people. I love the French, Germans, Italians, Dutch etc for what defines their wonderful unique countries. Now I know I’m more European than British it is a bit mind-numbing and I’m questioning who I am, who I want to be. The truth is there really isn’t such a thing as a pure race or nationality. We all are a cocktail so complex, so huge, so…. so related and inter-related. I AM a mishmash of people and can’t be defined by words, nor contained by labels.

It will cost me more money doing my research. The Ancestry website has the information sewn up in slick sections and there are payments to be made to access different information. I will be joining Ancestry.com/.co.uk because I need access to all the other family trees that exist on line already. I want to be part of the Ancestry community along with my other cousins.

And I need time – lots of it because I can feel this is going to take me over. I want to find living (and deceased) relatives and ancestral connections. I want to find out where my 6ft tall genes come from (although my bet is on my Scandinavian ancestry!). And I want to unearth stories; stories that I can’t even imagine today.

I suspect this will be the Christmas present that will just keep on giving…

 

 

Why I love the Victorians

The Victorian Slum was an emotive series touching those who know little about the era as well as those who know much more about it. As I tweeted at the time, this programme should be on the school curriculum.

I’ve long been fascinated with the Victorian era. For me it is the era where history starts. Anything since the Victorians is just modern day whereas anything before it stands as a Victorian gateway, guiding us yet further into our past.

Queen Victoria died in 1901, just seeing us into the new century. It was the century during which almost everyone I know (older than 16) was born. Somehow that connects us along the production-line known as the human race.

The Victorian Slum was a well-crafted insight on fast-forward across several decades into what life might have been like for the poorer end of society. I initially watched as an observer but got emotionally pulled into the trials of all of the inhabitants of the tenement building. I’d never before considered the connectedness and the intricacies of how one person’s bad luck then might be good luck for another inhabitant. I lived it with them.

And I was particularly outraged for The Victorian Slum-dwellers when the paying wealthy public were permitted to tour the slum homes and gawp at their misfortunes. Yet gawping is something we still do in this day and age at both the wealthy and unfortunate, yet perhaps a little more in the privacy of our own homes – via the internet, television or newspapers.

wp_20161205_11_06_25_pro-1During my lifetime I’ve met real-life Victorians. My maternal great-grandfather (a German – pictured) came to Sheffield, England in 1888 as young teen for a better life. He moved with family down to Birmingham where he married and settled into a new life, marrying in 1897. Sadly he died when I was a young girl in the 1960s and although I can remember him as an elderly gent in a tall Victorian front room sat in front of an open fire, I wonder what the younger man was like. What was going on in the world that made his mother pack him off to relatives in Victoria’s England for a better life when he was so young?

My paternal step-nan was born in 1899. She lived into her 90s into the 1990s. What a world of change she must have seen. She’d have been a toddler in 1901 on Queen Victoria’s demise so, strictly speaking she was a Victorian and we only lost her about 20 years ago. That IS recent history.

Victorian memorabilia surrounds us in abundance of what they’ve left behind – design, industry, architecture, monuments, commercial buildings and houses. Paintings, documents, books, crockery, fashion, events, a way of doing things. We see it, use it, live with it all daily.

This is the first era captured comprehensively by photography to give us clues as to what life might have been for them. The Victorian era can be brought alive by photographs – real pictures taken of our ancestors. Whether it is with formal photographs of rigid looking families all dressed up in their Sunday best or those less formal taken by the very wealthy who owned a camera or news enterprise. I stare in fascination into the faces of those caught on camera, time-travelling and pondering on what they did immediately after breaking their frozen pose. They walked our land.

For me this all adds up and contributes to the feeling the Victorians have only just got up and left our planet. They’ve left so much of themselves for us to ponder on or enjoy.

Life has changed considerably since the black and white world of the Victorians was here. But it’s important that we don’t lose this history nor stop making the connection that most of us touch these ancestors in some way.

Another of my favourites is back – Who Do You Think You Are? Tantalising series pulling us into the depths of someone’s ancestry and mixing in social information of the day. Invariably they transverse the Victorian times, sometimes they stay and explore awhile. Victoria came to the throne in 1837. A census exists from 1841 and every 10 years thereafter facilitating this research.

It’s important to know where we came from if not to stand back in awe at how far we have come and how grateful we should be for the advancements in science, technology, medicine that we are able to take common advantage of today. For the very fact we can sit in the warmth of our centrally heated homes, enjoying a journey into an often uncomfortable past on our flat-screen televisions; sustained by popping to the kitchen cupboards for a high calorie snack or hot drink – the things we take for granted are vast.

December is here. That means Christmas is not far behind it. I love Victorian-influenced pictures on Christmas cards, the kind I rejected first out of the box when I was younger. I savour anything with children, snow and frosted shop windows on it! Perhaps its time I got Charles Dickens out for a reminder of the grim reality of Victorian Britain. Although I can be effortlessly transported via the written word and pictures into a Victorian world, I suspect I only do it so readily because I can decide at the flicker of a few brain cells to return to be living more than a century later where we can decide to luxuriate in and spend time on pleasure, rather than the more immediate business of trying to stay alive…