What kind of cousin?

What kind of cousin?

Question on Facebook which prompted this post

I’m a member of various genealogy Facebook groups and one of the questions that seems to crop up often is about cousins and once/twice removed etc.

A couple of days ago I saw this question posted on Facebook and it occurred to me that her picture was just the same way I draw things out when I am trying to work out how I am related to someone.

What tends to happen is I’ll be sent a snippet of someone’s lineage back to an Unst person that I can find in my tree, or the statement, “so-and-so was my great-grandfather”. Once I can find that person in my tree I follow back through their parentage until I come to the common ancestor between us (more on that later).

Now on my whiteboard or a piece of paper I draw out the two lines down from the common ancestor, trying to keep the generations neatly lined up.

Finally, I add in the relationship markers. The first generation down from the common ancestor were siblings, the next generation were first cousins and so on.

In many of the recent examples when I have done this, the new contact is an nth-cousin to one of my parents and so is an nth-cousin once-removed to me.

Once Removed Cousins

If you’ve been doing genealogy for a little while, you’re bound to have come across this term, but do you know what it means?

Once-removed means that you are not in the same generation at the person you are related to. In the chart above, my new contact was a fourth cousin to my parent. So they are not in the same generation as me, they are in my parents generation. Their relationship to me is then the same as for my parent but “once removed”. If I was two generations away, it would be “twice-removed” and so on.

Their children and me would be in the same generation, and we would be fifth cousins.

Finding the common ancestor

In order to start drawing out this little chart, first I need to find the common ancestor. If you are an Ancestry.com user, then this is very easy. I’m sure other family tree making software does something similar. As I said earlier, usually I am given the name of an ancestor that is how they have their Unst connection. I find that person in my family tree and then walk back through the parents until I get to a person who is a direct line back from me. So I am looking for the relationship to say “nth great-grandfather”, rather than “nth great-granduncle” or “wife of …”.


Do you have Unst ancestry? Do you think we might be related? Let’s test out that theory. Please feel free to get in touch in a comment below, or via my contact page for a private discussion.

Family History Month 2021

Family History Month 2021

Family History Month 2021August is Family History Month (in New Zealand anyway) and my contributions expanded this year from previous years. Last week was particularly filled with Family History events.

On Tuesday we had our usual 2nd-Tuesday-of-the-month Drop-in session from 10-12noon in the Tauranga Library, but before hand we had a session with the librarians before the library even opened, as they had lots of questions that they wanted us, the volunteers, to help them with so know how to help people who come into the library.

Then on Thursday I was over the hill at the Rotorua Library giving a presentation on Scottish Genealogical Research.

Researching your Scottish Ancestors

We are very pleased to have Morag Hughson speaking about researching your Scottish ancestors.
Which records should I use? Where do I find them? What is in them and should I pay for them?
Morag has considerable experience on this topic and is keen to share her journey and advice to others who have Scottish ancestry. This talk will be held in the Community Pride Space on the Ground Floor of the Library on Thursday 12 August at 12:15pm.

This presentation was a comparison of the main sources for Scottish records and what you can see of the records in each. Ancestry, Find My Fast, and Family Search which are all free to use if you make use of your local library, and Scotland’s People which is a pay-per-record site. Some transcriptions in the free-to-use sites are enough to mean there is little point most of the time in buying the image from Scotland’s People. But for other records, there is so much more to the original record that you can see when you buy the image. The presentation showed the differences and where it was worth spending your money versus where there was little to gain.

The Rotorua Library Facebook page posted some photos of the event, including the one below.

A PDF of the slides and notes can be viewed and downloaded from here.

Morag at Rotorua Library

Morag speaking at the Rotorua Library in Family History Month

Then on Saturday, I was back in one of my local libraries, Papamoa, giving another talk about Scottish Genealogical Research. This time focusing on how to use the Scotland’s People website, with a flavour of the earlier talk since I include advice for when to buy and when not to buy.

Family History Talks at Pāpāmoa Library

Join us for a morning of family history discovery with our two guest speakers: Elinor Rawlings and Morag Hughson.

Elinor will share her own story while giving a broad introduction to the “where to go and what to do” of family history research. This session will introduce new people to the world of family history and genealogy research, offering a quick look at the difference between the two concepts and a peek at the range of places that are free to research and are a great place to start.

Morag Hughson will discuss useful ways to discover more about your Scottish ancestry. The Scotland’s People website is the only place you can see the images of Scottish records such as Old Parish Records and Statutory Records (which provide you with dates for births, baptisms, marriages and death) and Scottish Census returns where you can learn about the familial relationships of people who lived in the same households and start to put together a picture of your ancestral families. Scotland’s People is a pay-per-records website and you can find yourself spending a lot of money. In this presentation we will look at the Scotland’s People website search facilities and discuss when it is prudent not to spend money on the website and look elsewhere for transcriptions.

Tea/coffee and biscuits available. Free. Registration required.

Pāpāmoa Library, Saturday, 14 August from 10am-12noon

A PDF of the slides and notes can be viewed and downloaded from here.

Morag at Papamoa Library

Morag speaking at the Papamoa Library in Family History Month

All in all, while busy, it was a great week. Especially now looking back as today we have just gone into full Lockdown as Delta-variant COVID-19 has made it into the community in NZ.

Gold Miner in New Zealand

Gold Miner in New Zealand

One cousin in my tree, William Parsonson Anderson, I had no idea where he was during the 1871 census. A timeline for him simply had a gap. Then today, when I brought up one of the records I had already attached to him in Ancestry, there was a suggested record for the same name in New Zealand.

His name is somewhat unusual. Parsonson is not a common Unst name. He appears to have been named after the minister who baptised him who was called William Parsonson. This combination of names therefore make you feel it is likely to be the same person when you find another record with the same name.

Before today, I knew when he was born, and had found him in the 1851, 1861 and 1881 census. I also know that he got married in 1878 in Unst, and his occupation on the marriage record is stated as Goldminer. Although married in 1878, unusually, their first child was not born until 1883.

So my questions about him were:-

  • Where was he in 1871?
  • Why did this couple not have children for 5 years after being married?

I found a man with the same name living in Sowburn, Otago in New Zealand, recorded as a miner, in an 1880 Electoral roll, and also in the same region in 1871. If this is the same man as my Unst-born cousin, it would answer both the above questions with “he was in New Zealand”. It would also suggest that he went to New Zealand sometime between 1861 and 1871; came back before 1878 and got married; went out again after that; and came back again before 1881 – possibly before, or because, his father died in late 1880.

Sowburn, Otago is now called Patearoa. It is a small settlement in the heart of the Maniototo Plain that is a rural farming community that has links going back to a gold rush in the 1860’s. The location he lived in New Zealand and the occupations listed on various records, suggest he went to New Zealand for the gold rush.

Also, he is one of the few people in my Unst tree from this era that had a will. When he died in 1918, he left his wife £573. 12s. 5d. suggesting he was successful in his foray in gold mining.

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!

Always check the real records

Transcribed records, provided by the various online genealogy websites are all very well, but part of your research should include checking the actual record image as well. For English records you may well be lucky enough to do this at the same time, and on the same website as the transcribed version, but for Scottish records you have to get them separately from Scotland’s People.

I had a recent person I was looking into that illustrated, again, to me, that it’s always important to look at the real records.

This lady was recorded as living in a house called Garden, in both the 1901 and 1911 census, and the transcription of the 1901 census said she was born in “North Unst”. That was in itself slightly unusual because most people recorded in Unst census returns have their place of birth recorded simply as “Unst”, without it being broken down any further. This is in contrast to the neighbouring island of Yell where birth places are broken down into “North Yell”, “Mid Yell” and “South Yell” because the island itself is not a single parish, and thus not a single registration area, unlike Unst which is.

When I found this lady’s birth record, it showed she was born in Garden, Unst. Not a surprise since this is where her parents, and later she, also lived.

Now there are two houses called Garden in Unst, one in Colvadale, and one in Snarravoe, neither of which I would consider to be in North Unst! See map for the two locations.

So, I brought up the actual 1901 census record, and it doesn’t say North Unst at all! It just says Unst. It would seem that the transcriber’s eye has been pulled offline to the record below her which records someone born in “North Yell”.

1901 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c.,
and No. or NAME of
HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CONDITION
as to
Marriage
AGE
(last Birthday)
WHERE BORN
Males Females
Garden Thomas Irvine Head Mar 34 Shetland, Whalsay
Janet Irvine Wife Mar 41 Do North Yell
Williamina Irvine Daur 10 Shetland, Unst
Thomasina Do Daur 5 Do Do
Andrina Williamsom Sister in law S 53 Do North Yell
Cathrine Do Do S 45 Do Do

So, remember it’s always worth checking!

Check the dates!

Once the statutory records started in 1855, it became much easier to correctly identify people because you have both parents names recorded on a birth record. In the Old Parish Records you have no such luxury as all you have is the father’s name.

Well, that’s not entirely true, you have the father’s name, and where he lives. This does actually help hugely when trying to separate out people born to the same father and those who are a different man.

I’ve recently been following William Gilbert Jameson (to try to figure a natty problem with a death record) and to find all his children required looking through the Old Parish Records for Baptisms. Here’s what I found:-

  • 1791 Sep 19 Willm Gilbt Jameson, Hagdale a daughter bapd Catherine
  • 1794 May 14 Willm Gilbt Jameson, Hagdale a daughter Margery
  • 1796 Apr 9 Willm Gilbt Jameson, Hagdale a Son James bapd
  • 1798 Jun 30 Willm Gilbt Jameson, Hagdale a daughter Janet bapd
  • 1798 Sep 23 William Gilbt Jameson, Gew, a Son Andrew bapd
  • 1800 May 26 Willm Gilbt Jameson, Hagdale a Son William bapd
  • 1802 Sep 16 Willm Gilbt Jameson, Hagdale a daughter Isabella
  • 1804 Jul 26 Willm Gilbert Jameson, Hagdale a Son Gilbert
  • 1807 Jun 25 William Gilbert Jameson, Hagdale a Son Thomas

There’s one thing that immediately stands out from this list for me. All except one has William Gilbert Jameson living in Hagdale. The other lives in Gew. For me this is enough proof that there is a second William Gilbert Jameson and these are not all children of the same man. In case you’re not completely convinced though, you should also take into account the birth dates of daughter Janet and son Andrew. Both were born in 1798 and with not enough of a gap between them to be from the same woman.

The problem that will catch many people out, is that the on-line records at places like Ancestry or Family Search only show the place as “Unst, Shetland”, and don’t include the detail of the house name which is what helps hugely in spotting this kind of problem. It’s always worth looking at the actual records to see ALL the information.

Of course, I suppose it could be the same man and two different women!

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!

Where’s the Genealogical History of the Non-Gentry?

I came across a resource on Ancestry today – “A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry” which was a couple of volumes published in 1891-5 by Sir Bernard Burke, C.B., LL.D. [1] which detailed the lineage, marriage details, issue and a paragraph or two of their achievements and occupations, for each of the people considered to be gentry in the colonies. The search hit that took me there was a governor of Tasmania whose lineage went back to Shetland, and whose Uncle (by marriage) lived in Unst.

Polish Gentry

The gentry have plenty written about them
Photo Source: Jan Matejko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a similar sort of document to “The County Families Of The Shetland Islands” published in 1893 by Francis J Grant. Mr Grant’s book majors more on the lineage with some facts about the people included in a more ad hoc manner.

Both books have one thing in common though. They only feature the well-to-do people, the landed gentry and the like. Ordinary people are not covered in these books at all.

It occurred to me that part of what I’m doing with my research is to produce, not a book, but an online equivalent, detailing the lineage of the ordinary people of Unst. Plenty has been written over the centuries about the gentry, but not so for the ordinary folk, so I am focusing on them.


[1] Sir Bernard Burke was also the author of “The Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage”, “The Landed Gentry”, “The History of the Extinct and Dormant Peerages”, “The General Armory”, “Vicissitudes of Families”, and “Reminiscences Ancestral and Anecdotal”.