Chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

I have a profile on the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) website (actually I have two, that one and one for my Unst work). I was recently contacted by a gentleman who was trying to track down the child of a couple and had no luck and wondered if there was anything I could do from within NZ as he had exhausted the online databases.

The couple were Mabel Meredith Maitland (b.16 Jun 1869, NZ) and John Arthur Mason (b. 1864, Woodford, Essex, England). They were married on 8 Jul 1891 in St Matthews Church, Dunedin, Otago, NZ, and their marriage can be found in the local paper, the Otago Witness.

MARRIAGES.
MASON-MAITLAND.-On the 8th July, at St. Matthew’s Church, Dunedin, by the Right Rev. Bishop Nevill, assisted by the Rev. R. T. Howell, John Arthur, eldest son of Thos. Mason of Merleswood, Woodford, Essex, to Mabel Meredith, younger daughter of the late W. G. Maitland, Moylneux, Otago.

There was also a report on the fashion and social attendance of the wedding in this newspaper report.

Also in the papers was their divorce, an extract of which is shown below. It was this report that showed that there was a child from this union, but that child was no where to be found in any of the online genealogy databases.

DIVORCE COURT
In the Divorce Court yesterday the Chief Justice heard the undefended suit Mason v. Mason, a wife’s petition for dissolution of the marriage.
Mabel Meredieth Mason, the petitioner, said she was married to John Arthur Mason in Denedin on the 8th July, 1891. There was one child as issue of the marriage.

I tracked down the divorce record which was found to be held in Wellington. It was free to go along to the Wellington Reading Room to view the document. However, I am not in Wellington, so it was not free to me. So I went back on the RAOGK website and found a Wellington based volunteer, and she was very happy to go along to the reading room and see what this document contained. It was a stack of about 15 documents, each with numerous pages, in a bundle and tied with a pink ribbon. They were folded legal docs and the pile stood about 3 inches high. She was so relieved when all the pertinent genealogical information was found on the first page!

Under “The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1867”

TO SIR JAMES PRENDERGAST KNIGHT CHIEF JUSTICE.
THE 26th day of November 1897.
THE Petition of Mabel Meredith Mason of the City of Wellington sheweth.
1. THAT your Petitioner was on the 8th day of July 1891 lawfully married to John Arthur Mason at St.Matthew’s Church Dunedin by the Reverend Bishop Neville.
2. THAT after her said marriage your Petitioner lived and co-habited with her said husband at Tapanui in Otago, New Zealand, Melbourne in Victoria Australia and at Plymouth in England and that your Petitioner and her said husband had issue of their said marriage one child to wit John Clifford Stuart Mason aged 1year and 10 months.

I have to assume that the quoted age of the child is at the time of the document, since we know the child still lives as Mabel is granted custody of the child, according to the newspaper article on the divorce.

His Honor said he though a divorce should be granted, He gave the petitioner the custody of the child, leaving power to the respondent to apply under the Children’s Custody Act, of he desired to do so afterwards.

This would mean that John Clifford Stuart Mason would have been born around Jan or Feb 1896. From the newspaper report on the divorce we know a little of their travels around that time.

About five years ago they left New Zealand. They arrived in England in January, 1895. Whilst they were in England there was a quarrel between her husband and herself, and she returned to New Zealand with her mother in February 1896. She left her husband three or four months before that.

So would she have traveled when heavily pregnant and had John in New Zealand, or perhaps on board the ship? Or is the three or four months wait between leaving her husband and traveling to New Zealand because she waited and had the baby before traveling? This would mean that John was born in the UK.

Mabel actually married three times. She has a helpfully unique combination of names and so searching Papers Past found her several times. After her divorce from John Arthur Mason she then married Frederick Stuart Des Barres on 1 Sep 1900 in the Registry Office, Napier, Hawkes’ Bay, New Zealand. This marriage also ended in divorce on 14 Mar 1912, as per another newspaper report. Then she married a third time, in 1913, to James Ambrose Eivers and shows up in the papers again trying to get back the jewelry that her second husband used as security on an overdraft.

Helpfully, Mabel’s son John also has a seemingly unique combination of names, so I searched for his names. Nothing came up to start with, so I dropped the surname, and up popped a war record in the Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph for a John Clifford Stuart Des Barres. Des Barres was his mother Mable’s second married name. Could this be him? Reading through the record, in the listing of his company:-

1st NEW ZEALAND CYCLIST COMPANY
Reg. No. Rank. Name. Occupation. Name and Address of Next-of-kin.
10747 Corporal Des Barres, Clifford Stuart Picture-show Manager Mrs. M. Eivers (mother), Opotiki.

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-B53

He died on 30 Sep 1916, by which time his mother had married a third time and was now Mrs. Eivers. It is definitely him! And there’s even a photo of him! It seems he had dropped the John and was more commonly known as Clifford Stuart.

Knowing how he was referred to, I was then able to find a report of his death in Papers Past, in the New Zealand Herald.

Roll of HONOUR.
DES BARRES.-On September 30, 1916, killed in action in France, Corporal Clifford Stuart des Barres, eldest son of Mrs. J. A. Eivers, Te Telo, Whakatane; aged 19 years.

I stopped briefly when I saw the mother’s name here, wondering if I’d mixed up two different people. But then I realised Mabel Meredith was also Mrs James Ambrose Eivers.

According to his war record he was born in Ireland, so I guess Mabel did wait until after he was born before traveling back to New Zealand with her new-born, and it’s no wonder we couldn’t find his birth in England or New Zealand.

It seems rather fitting that this chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness should find this man, who died serving his country in WWI on the eve of ANZAC day.

31 Days of Family History Fitness – Week 4

I only came across the blog post 31 Days of Family History Fitness at the very end of January so I decided to do it in February instead. I’ll update you with my progress on a weekly basis.

Day 25: Set up a research log to help you keep track of your research. You can find sample logs on our website. Be sure to include when and what you researched, plus what you found and where you found it. If you already have a research log, make sure it’s up to date and backed up.

I’m really not sure about this one. I can understand the need for a research log when you are working on behalf of someone else, and to some extent that’s how the referenced sample log looks as well. So I don’t really know what to do here. I wouldn’t use the data in the log, so why keep it? Perhaps some of you that do keep research logs can tell me what the point of it is?

Day 26: Find genealogy blogs or Facebook groups that cover your ancestry. In addition to having resources for various ethnic groups and research roadblocks, these groups will also allow you to collaborate with like-minded genealogists. Check out Family Tree Magazine’s list of blogs or the Geneabloggers’ Blog Roll.

Back when I first started this blog, I took an online blogging course run by WordPress, and one piece of advice from that course was to find other blogs that interested you and follow them too. I found a number of the blogs I follow now back then, and have added to it gradually as I find others through various social media posts. I created a blog roll (which you can see on the right hand area of my blog if you are reading this post online) back then, but I haven’t updated it since. So, prompted by the task for today, I have updated my blog roll.

Day 27: Review your privacy settings, and lock down your data as appropriate. Most online family trees will make any people who don’t have death dates private, but make sure that you know who can see what of your family’s information. Consider editing privacy settings to be more restrictive, using encryption to lock down your data, or changing your password to prevent hacking or unauthorized access to your account.

My tree on ancestry is completely private, so for now I don’t have concerns. When I complete my work to the point where I choose to put it online, then I will have to ensure living people’s data is protected. Helpfully this comes built into TNG which is the model I intend to use to get it all on line.

Day 28: Search the free Social Security Death Index on FamilySearch.org. Check for any 20th-century US relatives who lack death dates.

There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent collection for the UK. I expect to find the death dates I need from the statutory records.

Day 29: Pick a problem that you’re having in your research (tracing slave ancestors, finding ancestors before birth records began, etc.) and search the web or your local library for potential solutions. Resources like the FamilySearch Wiki or books or downloads from ShopFamilyTree.com may be able to help.

My biggest problem at the moment is not having enough hours in the day to process all the data I already have. Once I get through all that then I will step back and look for incomplete people that I will then focus on.

Day 30: Perform a quick Google search for the hometown of one of your ancestors. Learning about the places your ancestors lived (as well as how those communities have changed over time) can give you insight into your ancestors’ lives in ways other records can’t. Be sure to check out city directories and other place-specific resources to learn more.

I know Unst fairly well, although, as I noted in the post about Old Maps, I am still discovering where some house names are on the maps. Going through the census page by page helps hugely with that because the houses are recorded by district and area, and in a fairly logical progression, i.e. if you come across an unknown house, it is likely somewhere close to the previous and next houses on the census. There are a number of areas that crop up again and again where Unst people moved to, such as Leith in Edinburgh, and Toxteth Park in Liverpool. Both are areas with docks which no doubt would be attractive to men who had grown up with fishing as a livelihood. These two areas are good candidates for me to dig into further.

Day 31: Now that you’ve got your research in order, find some ways to share it! Look for project ideas on Pinterest, FamilyTreeMagazine.com and other websites to get started.

I’ve enjoyed quite a few of these prompts that got me doing things that I knew I should be doing but wasn’t. While some aspects of my research was already in good shape, now other aspects are in better shape too. However, it is by no means finished, and so I’m not yet at a point where I’ll be putting it up online yet. That’s something I am looking forward to in the future though.

31 Days of Family History Fitness – Week 3

I only came across the blog post 31 Days of Family History Fitness at the very end of January so I decided to do it in February instead. I’ll update you with my progress on a weekly basis.

Day 17: Make a timeline for one of your ancestors. Be sure to include major life events (birth, baptism, marriage, birth of children, death, burial, etc.) as well as information that’s come from year-specific directories and federal or state censuses. Visually mapping your ancestor’s life will help you identify gaps in your research as well as aid you in evaluating new information you might discover.

Since I’ve just started to use TNG (privately for now) to look at my Unst tree, it produces a timeline for each person. Here’s one for the person I’d like to interview (see Day 18).

John Hughson b.1837 Timeline

Timeline for my Great great grandfather, John Hughson

I also have him located on all the census returns from 1841 through 1901, and his occupation recorded from various marriage records of his children which is not shown on this timeline that TNG produces (perhaps I can update it a bit once I learn more about how to modify TNG).

Day 18: Identify a relative (living or dead) who you’d like to interview about your family’s history, and prepare a handful of questions you’d like to ask. You can use our list of interview questions as a starting point.
Auld Erne John Hughson

My Great great grandfather, the sea eagle ‘Auld Erne’, John Hughson

The relative I’d like to interview is my great great grandfather ‘Auld Erne’ (the sea eagle) John Hughson, who lived in Colvadale and was skipper of a sixereen.

  1. What was it like living in Colvadale?
  2. How does everyone fit into such small croft houses?
  3. Did you go to school?
  4. How did you meet your wife, Jemima?
  5. Tell me about your wedding day.
  6. Do you get tired of eating potatoes and kale?
  7. Is it scary fishing the far haaf in a storm?
Day 19: Set up a time to interview a relative, and use your questions from yesterday’s prompt. You never know what kind of family history information even a distant family member might have!

Since I chose a relative that is no longer alive, I’m skipping this one.

Day 20: Download the Surname Variants Chart worksheet from FamilyTreeMagazine.com and record all the variations you can think of for three surnames you’re currently working on. Do any previously unconsidered spellings pop up? Revisit online databases and search for any variants you haven’t tried before.

There are quite a number of varied spellings for surnames that I have come across in my tree. Some are fairly repetitive and predictable, like, Johnston vs Johnson, and Jamieson vs Jameson, but some are a bit more interesting.

Surname Cluness Matthewson Thomson
Variations Clunass, Clunes Matheson, Mathewson, Mathieson Thomason, Thompson
Day 21: Find an ancestor in a federal census record and examine the other names on that ancestor’s census return page and on the page before and after it. Do you see any familiar names? Relatives often lived close together, and your ancestor may have been friends with (or even eventually married) a neighbor from down the street.

Since I’m doing a family tree for the whole area of Unst, I do this as a matter of course. You do find people recorded on census with their neighbours, or siblings, and so on.

Day 22: Preserve your own information for future genealogists. Write down the major events from your lifetime (your birth, graduation(s), marriage(s), major moves, military service, etc.) and store them in a safe place. Your descendants will be glad that you did!

My birth and marriage were already in the tree, but I’ve now added schooling, university graduation, the two main “Starting Work” events, and my emigration to New Zealand.

Day 23: Learn the basics of your immigrant ancestor’s language. You can consult word lists like the ones curated by FamilySearch. Focus on the names of family members (father, mother, child, brother, sister, son, daughter, etc.) and words likely to be used in records (birth/born, bride/groom, marriage/married, death/died, buried, etc.).

Shetland DictionaryMy own ancestry, and that of the island I am studying, all comes from Unst in Shetland. I was brought up speaking the Shetland dialect, which does vary from place to place in Shetland.

There is also a Shetland Dictionary, both in book form (I have one in the bookcase) and more recently online.

Day 24: Organize your desk. Clean, structured workplaces will help you be at your best and prevent you from distractions. Also be sure to organize your computer desktop or the apps on your tablet or smartphone.

My desk isn’t too bad at the moment. There are definitely times when it has been a lot worse (Ahem!)

Facebook post when I re-found a book from my sister

My sister tried to help me de-clutter

Here’s a before and after picture.

Adding place names on Ancestry

I have a fairly big tree now (see Complete Unst Tree – How’s it going?) and I’ve recently been having problems with the Ancrestry website when I add fact to someone with a area rather than a specific place name. For example when I add their occupation, I tend to just record it as “Unst, Shetland, Scotland” even though they lived in “Little Ham, Muness, Unst, Shetland, Scotland”, because I don’t really know the exact location of their work.

Ancestry Location entry field

Ancestry shows you all the locations which CONTAIN the letters you type into the location field

Recently Ancestry’s interface changed so that if you put in the first few letters of the place name you wanted to insert, say “Unst, S” instead of popping up a list with all the places you have previously used that BEGIN with those letters, it’s shows all the places you have previously used that CONTAIN those letters. For me this is a VERY long list, with the one I want at the bottom of the list! It also appears that this list is not scroll-able past the point it disappears off the bottom of your browser window. This was a pain.

Well totally by accident today, I discovered a way round this. If you put 2 spaces in front of the characters you type in, the list only seems to show you things that start with the letters you want, rather than all those which contain them. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ll take it!!

31 Days of Family History Fitness – Week 2

I only came across the blog post 31 Days of Family History Fitness at the very end of January so I decided to do it in February instead. I’ll update you with my progress on a weekly basis.

Day 9: Branch out and pick a genealogy website you haven’t used much (perhaps FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage, Findmypast, Access Genealogy, Genealogy Today or Olive Tree Genealogy). Spend at least 15 minutes perusing its offerings. Look for a content listing, how-to articles, resource listings and more. You might discover a new favorite website!.

AncestryFind my pastI’m normally an Ancestry girl so I tried out Findmypast with my local genealogy group the other day. They have the same data essentially it would seem, but choose to display it in a different format. For example, for census records, Ancestry shows you one record at a time on the page with the list of other household members at the end, whereas Findmypast shows all rows from that household on the page at the same time (rather like the image shows you).

Day 10: Choose a specific problem in your research, such as identifying your great-grandmother’s parents, finding when your second-great-grandfather immigrated, or locating your great-aunt after she was widowed and remarried. Write a plan to research that problem, and list your question, the information you already know, a hypothesis and some records to check. Check out a sample plan.

New Zealand MapOnce I get through all the records I am currently processing, my next problem to work on will be finding all those families that emigrated to New Zealand. I know there are many of them, although some of them I may not yet have even identified as having gone anywhere, they’ll just have disappeared off the face of the planet! This is my basic research strategy.

  • List all those people in my Unst Family Tree that do not have all census records or a death record – suggesting they have disappeared somewhere.
  • Visit Tauranga Family History Centre with said list and work through them to see if any came to NZ
  • For those known to have come to NZ, work through death, and if applicable marriage, records, plus electoral rolls (no census to work with in NZ) to find out more about them.
Day 11: Select one kind of record (census record, birth record, marriage certificate, Social Security death index entry, etc.) and ensure you’ve found a record of that type for all your relatives back to a certain generation. If a relative who should have that kind of record doesn’t have one, go find it. Make sure you save a copy of the record, and be sure to cite your sources.

That’s essentially what I’m working through for my tree. I have, for example, got all the census records from 1911 back to 1871 associated with all the people in my tree, and all the marriage records (since they are the most helpful, listing both sets of parents!)

Day 12: Select one ancestor and research any of his or her siblings that you know about but haven’t previously studied. This “collateral” research can help you uncover information about your direct-line ancestors, such as parents’ names or birthplaces.

Again, this may be one of the reasons why it’s taking me so long to do what I plan, but I do this as a matter of course. It has been extremely useful in locating all sorts of missing people who were later found with their siblings or children.

Day 13: Write a paragraph or two that includes everything you know about an ancestor. Writing out that person’s information can help you identify gaps in your research.

This is something I plan to put together programmatically when I get everything onto a website. In the process of producing such a paragraph, it would then become clear when I didn’t have all the information needed to finish the paragraph. I imagine it looking something like this:-

Janet was born on 27 Apr 1848, the second child of 13, to parents Andrew Scott Edwardson and Barbara nee Sinclair. As with all their children, Andrew and Barbara baptised her within a few months of her birth on 11 Jun 1848. She lived in the family home in Collaster, and then Snarravoe, until she married Laurence Sutherland on 21 Nov 1857 in the Uyeasound Free Church, on the same day as her sister Tamar married.

She and Laurence had 13 children and lived in Lerwick and Unst throughout their marriage. She died the year before her husband, on 3 Apr 1936 in Murrister.

Day 14: Set a goal that you’ve been holding onto and break it down into smaller parts. By establishing a research plan, you’ll give yourself a guide to future research.

For me this is the same thing I described on Day 10, so I won’t repeat it, and catch up another day in my aim to complete this in February.

Day 15: Create a checklist of possible records you still need to research for an ancestor. As you work, check off the records you’ve found.

I have this checklist for my tree as a whole, rather than per person. The list currently looks a bit like this (since I’m working on both census and statutory records to give myself some variation!):-

  • ☐ 1841 Census
  • ☐ 1851 Census
  • ☐ 1861 Census
  • ☑ 1871 Census
  • ☑ 1881 Census
  • ☑ 1891 Census
  • ☑ 1901 Census
  • ☑ 1911 Census
  • ☐ Statutory Birth Records
  • ☑ Statutory Marriage Records
  • ☐ Statutory Death Records
Day 16: Make sure all the birth, marriage and death dates in your family tree are formatted consistently. Having all these data points in the same format will make it easier for you to compare them and identify errors

All my dates are formatted thus:-

  • 10 Apr 1874
  • abt 1874
  • before 1874

Well that’s Week 2 finished, and I feel my tree is in quite good health, albeit still with a lot of work to do, but at least I have a plan!

31 Days of Family History Fitness – Week 1

I only came across the blog post 31 Days of Family History Fitness at the very end of January so I decided to do it in February instead. I’ll update you with my progress on a weekly basis.

Day 1: Sync your desktop software and online family trees to make sure you have the latest version of your work in both places. If you don’t use desktop software, download a GEDCOM of your online tree instead. If you don’t have genealogy software or an online family tree, consider starting an online tree to help you organize your research.

CalendarI don’t use desktop software but instead build my private tree on the Ancestry website. I do download GEDCOM copies of it in an ad hoc manner, when I think I’ve made a sufficient number of changes to warrant doing so. This had increased a little recently when I’ve been playing around with TNG, but I could do with a more regular pattern as well as the ad hoc extras. So since I’m starting a new month to improve my family history fitness, I’ll mark the beginning of the month as the time when I take a new GEDCOM copy.

Day 2: Back up your genealogy data using an external hard drive or a cloud service. If you don’t currently use a backup system like Dropbox or Backblaze, take some time to learn about them.

With my new regular export to GEDCOM I’m also going to use that to save it off to an external hard-drive too. If I do them both together I have more chance of achieving this as a regular step.

Day 3: Create a source citation workflow so that you—and anyone who sees your research—will know where you got your information.

Citations are one of my strong suits, and possibly the reason why it’s taking me so long to finish my work. Nothing goes into the tree without full transcriptions and source citations.

Day 4: Set up a file-naming convention, and make sure all your documents follow it. This will simplify your filing and help you quickly find the information you need.

Some of my documents follow a good scheme and some don’t. Census pages and any statutory records (post-1855) are well organised including the year in the naming scheme. Old Parish Records are much less organised and every time I need to browse a particular year it takes me a while to find it. So I’ve used this prompt as a nudge to get that sorted.

Day 5: Find your local FamilySearch Center. Have you ever visited one? These branches of the Family History Library (FHL) have helpful volunteers, local resources, and computers with access to genealogy websites. From a FamilySearch Center, you can also rent microfilmed records from the FHL. Search for the nearest one, and call to check the hours.

This is my nearest Family History Centre. It is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 9.30am -3.30pm. I haven’t been there yet, but I definitely want to go.

Day 6: If you’ve taken a DNA test, look at your DNA matches (not just the ethnicity results) and review the match information for any fourth cousin or closer. Also check for messages from any matches who’ve contacted you (and respond to them).

Since I haven’t taken a DNA test, I’ve skipped this day. After all there are more days in January than there are in February so in order to complete it in February I need to get cracking.

Day 7: Choose a town your ancestors lived in and search the FamilySearch online catalog for it. Browse records the FHL has on microfilm and note any that might apply to your research. You might even find links to digitized versions on the FamilySearch website.

Searching the FamilySearch online catalog for Unst showed up a small number of records, but nothing that I hadn’t seen before. At least I know I’m not missing out on something major as a source!

FamilySearch Catalog

FamilySearch Catalog, results for Unst

Day 8: Search a digitized newspaper collection for names on your family tree on the Library of Congress’ free Chronicling America website.

Zetland TimesThe best digitised newspaper site for British research is of course the British Newspaper Archives. It has the Shetland Times, from 1872 onwards, digitised which I use in an ad hoc manner at the moment, with an intention to go through more thoroughly once I finish processing all the information I have already collected. It can also be used for free from the library which is nice.

So that’s week 1 finished. I’m feeling fitter already, well better organised anyway!

The puzzle of Jemima Georgeson

I do love a good puzzle, especially when you find the last little piece of the puzzle fits in perfectly and proves all your remaining outstanding questions.

I was actually following the branch of an Unst gent, Charles Peterson who, like many Shetland men, had moved to Toxteth Park to work in the docks. I found two possible marriage records for him, which upon further digging both turned out to be him as his first wife died not long after they married, as he is then recorded as a widower in the census and then in the second marriage record.

  • Oct-Nov-Dec 1890: Married Jemima Georgeson, Toxteth
  • Apr 1891: Recorded as a widower in the census return, where he is boarding
  • 4 May 1892: Recorded as a widower in the second marriage record

As I always do, I like to branch out sideways in the tree and find out what I can about spouses, siblings etc. But I didn’t really know very much at all about his first wife Jemima. I had an approximate age, and her father’s name Peter Georgeson, from the marriage record.

I had a Jemima Georgeson, born in Fetlar (the neighbouring island to Unst), with Unst ties in my tree, with the same approximate birthdate and father’s name. Could it be the same woman? I didn’t even know if Charles’ first wife was from Shetland, although it was certainly a common occurrence for two Shetlanders to meet in Toxteth Park and marry, I’d seen that many times already. If she was the same woman, then I wouldn’t find any evidence of her in the census in Toxteth Park because she was in Unst in 1881, and had died before 1891.

Then I found that she and Charles had a daughter, born in the same registration quarter that she died – suggesting a childbirth related reason for her death. This daughter died in Shetland in 1892. She wasn’t with her father in the 1891 census as he was on his own as a boarder. She must be somewhere in the 1891 census, perhaps she was already in Shetland by then, sent home by her widowed father to be looked after by relatives?

Sure enough I located her in Fetlar, living with her grandmother, her maternal grandmother. That link proved that Jemima Georgeson was indeed the one I already knew of. Also, the census showed that little Jemima Margaret Peterson was 4 months old in the 1891 census narrowing down her birth date from a registration quarter to a month, and also the same for her mother’s death date.

Charles Sinclair Peterson's Family Tree

Charles Sinclair Peterson’s Family Tree