As a teenager, I used to dabble with working on my family tree, benefitting somewhat from research that had gone before me by others in the family, or indeed others on the island (Unst – Britain’s most northerly) who had researched many of the local families. My fascination of all things ancestry related was undoubtedly fuelled by slightly surreal experiences such as the time some unknown relatives turned up at my grand-mother’s house (Springpark, Baltasound) and announced they were our cousins. We got the family tree out – on long sheets of wall-paper in those days – and they filled in a section that previously had a scrawl saying “emigrated?”. Indeed, they had emigrated and here they were back for a visit.
Now slightly older, my interest was rekindled during a visit back home to Unst for a week with my sister. We’d been, at the request of our mum who wanted some more space in the loft, clearing out old boxes of stuff and chuckling at old school reports and the like; when the various, slightly crinkly, sheets of paper with the old, hand drawn tree came to light. I’d seen recent TV adverts for on-line family tree programs and decided to get our tree into a more manageable format.
When I dabbled with family trees in my teenage years, it was all about the vital statistics; births, marriages and death dates; but this time around I wanted to do something more interesting. Clearly a tree does start with a basis in those vital facts, and of course the invaluable census returns that help to tie so many people together, but there is so much more. Our ancestors turn up in so many other documents now, especially since so many of these old documents are being scanned in and made available on line, and one that I came across at an early stage which changed the direction I was taking with my family tree project was the Napier Commission. This had transcripts of interviews with crofters who were putting their cases to the commission for lower rents. The insights into the way of life of these people through their own words was fascinating. It also made me realise that it could be difficult to determine which of these people were relatives of mine and which were not. I determined to expand my project to include the whole island of Unst, that way documents such as these could be linked into the correct people whether they were my relations or not, as I would have a complete picture of the island population.
Now I could have seeded this project with a fully prepared tree made by someone else, but hints from some that there were errors in those trees led me down the path to making my own, following the links myself and making the judgement decisions one invariably has to, myself. Also, a large part of the enjoyment of this as a project, is doing it yourself, making the discoveries yourself, and of course in doing so you get to know the tree, something that would not happen by importing thousands of people into your tree in one fell swoop. Once complete, I will then compare my tree with other trees prepared in the past to see where we agree and where we disagree, the disagreements being the interesting areas to research further to find out the reasons for the discrepancy.
So, I am up and running, and have a tree with nearly 5000 people in it to date. Sometimes I feel I may have underestimated the scope of this project, but I enjoy the problem solving nature of following these links and pairing together the people within it. I have many plans once I get the base completed, and am slowly gathering a list of documents to apply, but I am trying to remain focused on the initial task at hand before getting distracted into other different areas.
2014 Update can be read here.