Are we related?

I use the Ancestry website for building my family tree and there is a field at the top of each person profile page to show you what relationship you have to this person. Here’s one I spotted recently that made me chuckle.

Does this count as being related?

I’m not sure this really counts as being related?

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!

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

and No. or NAME of
NAME and Surname of each
to Head of
as to
(last Birthday)
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”.

Who am I? Why am I here?

While this may be a deep and meaningful philosophical question, I’m really only asking “Why am I here blogging?” I started this blog about two years ago and I post occasional musings when I think of something interesting, or at least that I think might be interesting, to write about.

To some extent, my blog was to document my progress on my Complete Unst Family Tree, but if that’s all I wanted, it would be a private journal, not a public blog. So, Why am I here?

Behind it all is a hope that I’m not the only one that would find this interesting. I know that family history is a huge business now with hundreds of thousands of people digging into their own history. I enjoy reading the blogs of other amateur genealogists and so I hope the same is true when others read mine. I know that there are common problems faced by those who try to follow their ancestors, and so writing about problems I find; strategies I use when searching for people; tools I come across; or just general hints may help others. To this end, when I write a post, I share it with facebook for other amateur genealogists to read. There may be other places I should share links too – all suggestions gratefully received.

I also am writing specifically about the family history of part of Shetland – Unst specifically, and there are people originally from Unst all over the world, who like to read a little bit about their distant home. Whether it is recognisable place-names with maps to peruse; photos of places they may recognise; or occupations that their ancestors may have had, I hope to spark memories of the Auld Rock to far-flung ex-Shetlanders. I very occaisionally share links to my posts in the Stories n Photos fae Unst Group facebook if I think it is of interest to non-genealogy people.

New Years ResolutionsSo I guess my target audience is other amateur genealogists and people with a Shetland connection. In the cases where a reader is both, then even better, but I hope some of my posts appeal to one or the other without the need for an overlap – otherwise it’s a much smaller set of people! For those readers who are interested in both, I share my posts with the Shetland Genealogy and Family History Group facebook.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Morag, and I come from the island of Unst in the very North of Shetland – hence the blog name “Unst Morag”. I don’t live in Shetland anymore as I got a job further south, but I’ve always been interested in family history since I was a teenager. After years of not thinking about it, I got started again a couple of years ago, prodded to some extent by the plethora of TV adverts for Ancestry and a well-timed trip home to visit my parents in Unst where I fell upon the old paper family tree.

I’m starting 2015 with an aim to write posts a little bit more frequently. Looking at my stats (which WordPress helpfully provides) I can see that on average I post something once every month. When I look back on this post in a years time, I think I will be happy if I’ve managed to post, on average, twice a month, i.e. doubling my writing rate. I don’t want to write something if I have nothing interesting to write about, but I’m sure I have more things to write about than I currently do. I’m hoping to get a little more inspired this year.

Knitting is women’s work?

West Side Shop, Uyeasound

West Side Shop, Uyeasound
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

The West Side shop in Uyeasound, Unst, was adjacent to my paternal grand-parents house as I was growing up. When it closed there was, of course, a lot of clearing out to do. A box of knitwear was found in one of the cupboards along with a letter from 1881.

The letter was written by a man named James, who was learning to knit.

I am an invalid & have been so for 5 years. I have a widow mother unfit now for the duties of life & have sisters which is my only support. So I began to think with myself what can I do to make me less bothersome to them & I began as they thought the tedious task for me of knitting & although it was female work I could do nothing else.

This discovery made us curious to find out more about this gent. This fitted in very well with my, then, recently started project to make a complete Unst family tree.

Shetland Knitwear

Shetland Knitwear
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

He wasn’t too hard to find in the census and sure enough he was listed with an occupation of Knitter in 1891. He lives with his sisters Robina and Catherine who are Wool Spinners, spinning Worsted, a smooth, strong, hard wearing yarn.

My sisters has spun the worsted & I have sitten up in bed & knitted it. I was over two months or rather nearer the third before I got it finished.

He clearly stuck at it, after this slow start, and improved, since in 1901 and 1911 he is listed as a Lace Knitter, a more complex and delicate knitting task.

One thing we haven’t managed to find out yet is what his previous occupation was, that resulted in him being invalided five years before the letter was written. In the 1881 census his occupation is listed as “Formerly …” but we can’t work out what it says (see Reading Old Handwriting for more details).

UPDATE: Further research led to me writing An unusual breed – a male knitter.

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.