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, 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!

Conveying Accuracy

I’ve mentioned a few times that I plan to get my Genealogical research onto a website eventually. One of the things I’ve been considering for the design of my website is how to convey the accuracy of the information; after all, genealogical research is fraught with accuracy issues.

This is described well in 5 Ways To Tell If Your Genealogy Research Is Accurate.

I think there are several types of accuracy I’ll wish to convey about the records I’ll have used. Here are my thoughts on them.

Transcription Accuracy

I use a range of records, from those I have seen photographs of the original document and made my own transcriptions (5 star) through to facts I’ve been told by other people without any documentary evidence to back it up (1 star). I can imagine a rating scale something like this.

Star rating Meaning
☆☆☆☆☆ I have seen the document, or a photograph of the document that the transcription was made from.
☆☆☆☆ Full transcription provided by someone else without a photograph, e.g. Ancestry website Scottish census records.
☆☆☆ Partial transcription provided by someone else without a photograph, e.g. Ancestry website Scottish Old Parish records.
☆☆ Fact provided from someone else with a note of the record where they found it, but without any transcription.
Fact provided from someone else without any documentary evidence to back it up.

Recording accuracy

There are various ways to look at the accuracy of the recording; the distance in time since the event, e.g. age on a death record; the likelihood of the informant knowing the information, e.g. a neighbour instead of a relative; the kind of record, e.g. a statutory record versus something less formal or rigorous. I can imagine a rating scale something like this.

Star rating Examples
☆☆☆☆☆ Birth/Marriage/Death date from Statutory record of the same.
☆☆☆☆ Age from Statutory Marriage Record.
Parents marriage date on Statutory Birth record of child.
☆☆☆ Age from Statutory Death Record if recorded by a relative.
Age from Census Record.
☆☆ Age from Statutory Death Record if recorded by a neighbour.
Any other record/fact not listed above.

5 stars

Overall accuracy of a Fact

There therefore needs to be a formula that conveys the likely accuracy of any one fact recorded for a person, for example if the birthdate comes from a Statutory Birth Record that I have seen the image of, that would be 5-stars on both of the above scales, and therefore the best possible score, however if it doesn’t match all the other records for the same fact, like all the ages on census returns, then that should reduce the score. I suspect I’m going to have some fun trying to come up with said formula!

Overall rating for a person

Having given each fact a score, the average of all the scores could be used to convey an overall rating for each person.

I suspect these ideas will solidify over time and, especially, when I try to put them into practice when I get to the point of creating my website. I will no doubt find other examples that need rated, and complications to any formula that I come up with. Should be fun though!

Tracking unusual middle names

When working on a family tree for an area, you soon become familiar with the names in use, and then it becomes very obvious when a name is used that looks out of place. It is highly unlikely that this name has just been made up, and 100 years ago they didn’t have the same level of media reporting to provide endless supplies of odd sounding names from celebrities, so it must have come from someone living locally. Finding the source of this name can tell you some more about the people in question, albeit sometimes less tangible things, but aren’t those the most interesting things to learn?

Search for Oliver D

The drop down box on the Ancestry Website when searching my tree for Oliver D

Of course, sometimes it can tell you very tangible things, as in this example. The birth record for a child born in 1905, who I’d known as Oliver D Peterson from the census returns, showed me his full name was Oliver Dryer Peterson. Oliver in itself was not a common name on the island of Unst, and Dryer even less so. However, searching for his name in my online tree in order to attach the birth record to it, I noticed there were two other Oliver Dryers; there had to be a connection.

Uyeasound Free Church

Uyeasound Free Church, Unst, where Oliver Dryer was minister in 1911
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

The other two were father and son, and the father was the minister of the local church in Uyeasound, according to the 1911 census. In 1901 however, he was in Lanarkshire at a different church. Naming your son after the local minister certainly did happen especially by a church going family, as we can perhaps now assume this family were (although since many were, this intangible information is perhaps not all that interesting). Choosing an unrelated name was especially true when you’ve already had enough children to have used up the usual naming “rules” of using the grandparents names. This was certainly the case here as Oliver Peterson was the 12th child of 13. Now, here’s where it gets tangible; what it also tells us is that the minister, Oliver Dryer, must have moved to Unst before Oliver Peterson was born in 1905, or the family could not have known that name to copy.

So, it’s always worth following up even the smallest details, as you never know where it may lead. I find these connections between otherwise unrelated people quite fascinating, so I hope to write a few more posts on these sorts of things.

Working with 1841 Census Returns

If you’ve been using the census returns to follow your family tree back through the years, you may have noticed that the 1841 census returns don’t often show up as hints (a term used on the Ancestry website for showing possible records that may match a person in your tree).

The 1841 census is a bit different to all the subsequent census returns; recorded ages are rounded down to the nearest 5 years for anyone over 15 years of age; birthplaces were recorded as being in the county, rather than giving parish details as in later census; and it does not record the relationships between people in the same household. So for my Complete Unst Family Tree project all those people who were born on the island of Unst (marked on the map below) are recorded as being born in “Orkney and Shetland”, i.e. the full area covered by the map below! Just a slight difference.

There is however, a certain pattern that can be recognised in an 1841 census return which is useful, especially when you already know a lot about the members of the household from subsequent census returns. You can spot the parents and children from the ages; parents will be listed first and then the children in age descending order – sometimes with the male children listed first followed by the female children. The hard part comes at the end of the record for each household where a random selection of others may be listed; servants – usually identifiable as such from an occupation of “FS” (female servant) or “MS” (male servant); unmarried aunts; aged parents, and other random relations. Your only hope with these is that, if they are staying with the family in 1841, that it won’t be the only time. So it really pays to fully understand the family and it’s close relations, before trying to apply an 1841 census return to them.

They are worth searching for though (and you will most likely have to search explicitly for them due to the age and birthplace differences) as often they will provide details of older children that have moved out and got married by the next census, which is invaluable with linking together these early records, especially when Old Parish Marriage Records don’t record parents of the marrying parties.

My advice? Leave the 1841 census till last, but don’t ignore it completely.

Hints when merging people in an online family tree

I am currently developing my family tree on-line, after deciding to get it into a more manageable format than the old crinkly sheets of paper I found when back home. The website I use is Ancestry.

When working through census records I quite often find that the women “disappear” at around the age of 25. Of course, they don’t actually disappear, it’s just that they have got married and I don’t yet know their married name because I haven’t looked up their marriage details yet. Later when I do get to looking up their marriage details, I discover that they are already in my tree elsewhere under their married name. So now I have to merge them. Until a month ago, I was doing this manually, but Ancestry have just added an excellent new feature allowing you to merge two people in the same tree. I’ve already used this feature a number of times and it is so much easier than manual merging. I have some hints when using it which are described in this post.

Single entry facts

Before doing the merge of two people that you have decided are actually the same person, edit them manually to ensure the following facts are identical

  • Name: For example, you have the maiden surname in one and the married surname in the other.
  • Birth: For example, you have “abt 1850” in one and the exact birthdate in the other
  • Birth place
  • Death
  • Death place

The reason for doing this first is because, when the facts differ, Ancestry will add both in, one (which you choose) as the primary fact and the other as an alternative fact. I personally don’t like alternative facts, especially in the above cases where they are easily resolved, and find it less time consuming to deal with them before the merge rather than afterwards. It also has the benefit of making it much easier for Ancestry to present you with the correct person to merge with since the names and birth dates are identical! You know you’ve got it correct when the merge window shows that these facts are the same.

Ancestry Merge Duplicate

When everything matches, this is indicated by the tag “same”

Left over hints

When you have two people that need to be merged, it is almost certain that the hints you have applied to each will differ (or you would have noticed the need to merge them sooner). When merging two people, the hints that are remaining will be carried over. This means that you will end up with a person who has an “Unreviewed hint” that is actually already applied. You can reduce the number of these hints that you have by carefully selecting which of the two people you are merging to actually run the merge option from.

Merge Menu

Running the merge operation from the “more options” menu for one person

I have found that running the merge option from the person with the most remaining hints leaves you with the least tidying up to do. or in other words, the hints that are carried over even though they are already applied to the combined person, come from the person that you selected to match with, rather than the one you ran the merge option from.

N.B. I have reported the issue to Ancestry and it has been passed on to their developers.

More hints to come later.