Family History Month 2022

Family History Month 2022

August is family history month in New Zealand, and Tauranga Library held an event on Saturday 6th August. We had four presentations with a mixture of in-person and Zoom presenters and a mixture of in-person and Zoom audience too. This combination could be problematic, technology being what it is, but all went well.

Morag Hughson presenting in person

I was first up, in person, speaking to a live and a Zoom audience on the subject, “First Steps into your Genealogy”, a new presentation written for this event. A PDF of the slides and notes can be viewed and downloaded from here.

Next up was Michelle Patient talking about, “Extracting Evidence from Photographs”.

Michelle Patient presenting on Zoom

Interestingly, there were a number of messages repeated in the first two presentations (we didn’t plan this!):

  • Talk to your family
  • Newspapers can contain descriptions of what people wore to events

Michelle’s handout is only available to attendees, but she has made a checklist available for everyone.

Emerson Vandy presenting on Zoom

Third up was Emerson Vandy, talking about the Papers Past, which I had very briefly pointed to as a great free resource for family historians. It was great to have an in-depth view of how to use the site.

It is a vast collection of newspapers and yet still it is only 5-10% of all the papers printed in the time. So while there is a lot of material to search through, you should also be aware that there will be gaps.

We again had some (unplanned) shared messages between my introduction and Emerson’s presentation.

  • Newspapers are great for finding stories about your ancestors, to make your family history come alive
  • Newspapers are Facebook for dead people!

Fiona Brooker presenting on Zoom

After lunch, Fiona Brooker introduced us to the “Memories in Time” project. This is a project to put old artefacts and photos into public family trees on Ancestry so that the families can find them, and perhaps to reunite them with family members. She demonstrated using Papers Past, NZ Historical BDMs and viewing Electoral Rolls, all things that had been introduced earlier in the day.

We finished up the day with a second presentation from Michelle Patient, addressing when folks say, “I’ve looked everywhere!” with a presentation titled, “Where is Everywhere?” Here she encouraged us to understand the records we are researching; know what is recorded in them, understand how they are indexed and so on.

Her handout is only available for participants, but she made a checklist available for everyone.

We had a marvellous day, and the feedback from participants was looking excellent as well.

Another unusual middle name

I’ve written before about where interesting middle names come from.

Another gentleman I’ve written about before, William Parsonson Anderson, has a – very helpfully – unusual middle name. I was chatting to a cousin today about naming conventions and the like, and he came up, and I had entirely forgotten that I did actually know where his name came from, so to stop me forgetting again, I thought I would make a small post about that too. One more for the unusual names set!

It’s quite simple, and just like an earlier example, as it appears that he was named after the minister who baptised him. It also illustrates a good reason to view the original records rather than just the transcriptions provided by various genealogy websites.

Here’s the transcription from Ancestry:-

Name: William Parsonson Anderson
Gender: Male
Age: 0
Birth Date: 11 Nov 1847
Baptism Date: 21 Nov 1847
Baptism Place: Unst,Shetland,Scotland
Father: William Anderson
Mother: Charlotte Russel

And here’s my own transcription from seeing the original record.

1847 Register of Births
No 37
21 Dec
1854
William Anderson & Charlotte Russel in Trohall had a lawful Son born 11 Novr. Bapt 21 Nov in Methodist Chapel by Revd William Parsonson named William Parsonson.

The other thing to note here, is that, although this record is on a page with heading 1847, the date this record says it was registered is 21 Dec 1854. Does this mean that the baptism was registered exactly 7 years and 1 month after it happened? Or is this more likely to be a scribe error. This is from a volume that was a “Copy or Duplicate” of the original register. It is possible that in making the copy, they tried to re-order some out of order entries and in the process messed up the dates?

The original volume has a gap from near the end of 1849 (last entry is October) and then the next page starts in 1854. There is no sign of this baptism entry in the original volume, either in the pages for 1847, or in the pages from 1854 onwards. From census records I know William to have been born before 1851, so the 1854 date is clearly rubbish. He is aged 1 in the 1851 census, suggesting a birth year of late 1849 (given I believe the day and month, just not the year from the above record). And in fact, his age is consistent in every single census entry up to, and including, 1911. This would put him squarely on the missing page in the original register. So I’m inclined to think he was born on 11 November 1849. However, it is rather hard to prove!

Tracking Joan Anderson

Tracking Joan Anderson

I’ve done quite a lot of research of families in Unst, but I have not yet spent time researching the branches that left Unst and went out into the new world to places like New Zealand. I had the opportunity to look into one of these today. It was prompted by a New Zealand cousin getting in touch via a Facebook group.

From my Unst research, I only knew about two of Gilbert and Anne’s children

I knew of her great-grandfather Gilbert Anderson because he was born in Unst. He and his wife and two daughters were marked in my tree as having gone to NZ but I hadn’t looked into it further. From my Unst research, I just knew the family looked as the tree shown on the right.

Her grandfather William was born in 1878 in New Zealand. Looking in the Bayanne site, there was also another sibling, Joan, that was in Bayanne as having been born in New Zealand also in 1878. I have been learning more about doing New Zealand research since I live in New Zealand now, and volunteer at the library to help out people doing their genealogy. So I decided to try out my new found NZ research skills and see if I could find both William and Joan in NZ Historical BDMs. I found William Anderson, born 30 Oct 1878 to Gilbert and Ann, but no sign of Joan.

One of the other resources that I had learned about but not really made use of yet, was travel records. I had filed away in my head that I would at some stage try and find all the travel records for Unst families who left and went elsewhere. So I tried that out today with this family. FamilySearch has lots of travel records, so that’s where I looked, and I found Gilbert and his family. They came over with Assisted Emigration on the ship Howrah leaving from Gravesend on 29th July 1876. Here they are:-

Gilbert Anderson and his family on the passenger list of the Howrah. Here we see Joan as an infant.

As you can see, Joan is listed as an 8-month old infant in this passenger list. So clearly she was not born in New Zealand, but was born before they set off. However, I was 100% certain that she was not born in Unst. So where was she born? Next step was to use the free index in Scotland’s People, to see how many possibilities there were. This gleans a short list of four possibilities.

The Scotland’s People results for Joan

I considered that the Leith result in this list was the most likely record since I know lots of Unst families went to Leith, and it seemed a common staging post on the way to boarding a boat to the new world, so I decided to purchase the record, and indeed that is her. She was born 23 Jul 1875 (so in fact she has just turned 1 year old when she leaves on the Howrah), to parents Gilbert Anderson, Firewood Merchant, and Ann Anderson M.S. Johnson, with a marriage on 1867, Nov 1st Unst, Shetland (correct date, wrong year, they were actually married in 1866 on 1st Nov). Still, it is definitely the correct family, they just don’t appear to be very good with dates!!

So, now I have a slightly updated view of this family and their children.

Gilbert Anderson and his family in New Zealand

P.S. I have submitted suggestions to the Bayanne site to correct Joan’s Birthdate and Birthplace, and to correct William’s birth month.

P.P.S. Gilbert Anderson was a brother to William Parsonson Anderson that I wrote about here.

A Family Tree on Wallpaper

Before the advent of online or software methods to capture your family tree, people wrote it down on paper. In our case, we had it on a long length of wallpaper as the tree was very much wider than it was tall, since it had all the cousins on it too.

I was in the process of adapting an earlier blog post (A family tree and more) for an article in a local genealogy club’s newsletter, and I thought I would try to find an image of a family tree written on wallpaper to add to the text.

So, I searched with Google Images, “Family Tree on Wallpaper”. What I discovered made me chuckle, how times have moved on. All I had were many different, and beautiful images of how people heave decorated their homes with their family trees on the wall, one such example below.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a picture of what I was actually looking for. Never mind.

Patronymic Surnames

In modern times in Scotland (and many other countries) the way surnames are assigned is well known to us. As a child you get the same surname as one or both of your parents. This has been the case since around the same time as the Statutory Records began in 1855. In Scotland, a Statutory Birth record provides both the parents names and the child’s full name so there is no doubt the name the child has been given.

The prior records, kept before 1855, are nowhere near as verbose. These Old Parish Baptism Records record the father’s full name and address and the child’s first name. Here’s an example.

Baptisms 1802
Oct 24 Thomas Johnson, Cliprogarth a Son John

You might be thinking, well, that’s not a problem, the child’s full name is easy to extrapolate from the father’s surname. Clearly the child is called John Johnson. You would not be alone in thinking that since that is how the various online indexes would interpret this record too. However, this is where the practice of using patronymic surnames comes in and confuses the issue.

Patronymic Surname

A patronymic is where the child does not inherit the surname of their parent but instead gains a surname based on the father’s first name. In the example above, if the child had a patronymic they would be known as John Thomason, that is John son of Thomas.

This is a pattern that I believe was inherited from the Norse people who settled Shetland. Going back far enough in the records I am studying you do also come across the female form of this pattern, for example Joanna Williamdottir, that is Joanna daughter of William. There are not many examples of these and it seems that by 1800 the girls were following the male pattern, so Joanna would be Williamson just like her brothers.

So how do you know which surname pattern is in use in this time period prior to the start of Statutory Records? The answer is you can’t tell from just one record. You simply have to remember to bear it in mind when searching for records about a person. Some people used them and some did not.

For further reading, the Icelandic scheme still in use today is similar to how it was in Shetland in the early 19th century.

I’ve written a few blog posts where patronymic surnames have played a part in the research:-

Tracking Thomas Johnson

I can’t resist a puzzle, and when someone posted a question about an Unst ancestor in the Shetland Genealogy Facebook Group, I couldn’t resist taking a closer look. Their 4th Great-Grandparents were John Thomason and Barbara Jane Winwick who I had in the Unst Family Tree already, and they were trying to determine John’s parents. John died on 8 April 1847 which is before 1855 and thus part of the Old Parish Records which means that no parents of the deceased are recorded.

Obituary. Burials at Baliasta 1847
Died Buried
John Thomason, Watquoy 8 April 10 Apr at Baliasta

She had found a John Thomason born to parents Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson, and wondered whether that John could be the same one.

Thomas Johnson from Unst, and Ann Williamson from Yell (the neighbouring island) were married in Unst on 29 November 1801. From the Old Parish Record of their marriage contract we also know that Thomas was from Clipragrath.

1801 Contracts of Marriage
Nov 29 Thomas Johnson, Clipragarth and Ann Williamson

Ann Williamson/Johnson can be found in the 1841 and 1851 census returns living with her daughter Mary. She is recorded as a widow in the 1851 census, and was likely a widow in 1841 as well, but that early census does not record such data. To double check this is the same Ann Williamson, I found her daughter Mary’s death record in Unst on 10 July 1877 which shows her parents to be Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson. So we have the correct person here. Finding all the siblings seemed to be the right thing to follow.

Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1800 until 1823 (starting just before they were married in case there was a first child out of wedlock) for all children born to a father of Thomas Johnson, yields the following list.

  • 1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John
  • 1804 May 2 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary (this one is written on the end of the list of 1804, after all the December entries, it could be an infant who died young, or a recording error.)
  • 1805 May 10 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary
  • 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Jean Barbara
  • 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Elizabeth
  • 1814 Feb 17 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Margaret
  • 1818 Aug 23 Thomas Johnston Gardie a Son WIlliam born 20 Aug
  • 1819 Nov 1 Thomas Johnson Midyell a daughter Ann
  • 1820 May 14 Thomas Johnson Haroldswick a Son Thomas born 7 May
  • 1822 Sep 1 Thomas Johnston Skaw a Son John born 11 Aug

Clearly these are not all the same father, however, the first five children (with Mary recorded twice) all born to a Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth look very likely to be siblings.

To double-check sibling-ship, we need to find the death records for those who died after 1855.

  • Mary Thomason we found already, died in Unst on 10 July 1877. Her death record confirms both parents.
  • Elizabeth Thomason died in Unst on 17 May 1899. Her death record confirms both parents.
  • Jean Thomason is living with her twin sister in the 1861 census, and the relationship recorded confirms her as Elizabeth’s sister.
  • Margaret Thomson died in Unst on 18 December 1884. Her death record confirms both parents.

Confirmation of the parentage of all the sisters, who died after 1855, and the high likelihood that all the children born to Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth are siblings, leaves me in no doubt that John Thomason was the son of Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson as well.

Finally we must ask, could there be any other John Thomason born around the same time who is the man married to Barbara Jane Winwick? All we really know of John is from the 1841 census return where his age (which will have been rounded down) is given as 40.

Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1795 until 1805 for all children called John, yielded a list of 46 Johns. It is unknown when looking at such entries, what surname the child will use in future records, as patronymic surnames were still very much in use at this time and the OPR entry only records the child’s given name (regardless of how some genealogy websites choose to transcribe it!). Considering both surname forms, we end up with the following list of John’s to follow-up on.

OPR Baptism Entry Patronymic Name Name
1798 June 17 George Thomson Gunister, a twin Son John John Georgeson John Thomson
1798 Sep 9 Thomas Miller, Skreveld, a Son John John Thomason John Miller
1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John John Thomason John Johnson
1804 Mar 10 Laurence Thomson Setter a Son John John Laurenson John Thomson
1804 July 8 Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson a Son John John Thomason John Harrison
1804 Dec 14 Thomas Anderson Cliff a Son John John Thomason John Anderson

Here’s what we know about the above John’s.

  • John Thom[p]son, son of George Thom[p]son, lived and died in Bighton and married Ann Spence Trail. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Miller, son of Thomas Miller, lived and died in Petister and married Catherine Thomson. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Thomson, son of Laurence Thomson, married Margaret Mathewson. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Harrison, son of Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson, was a mariner, lived outside of Shetland, and married Margaret and Sarah. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • I don’t know anything about John son of Thomas Anderson, but the other children born to Thomas Anderson of Cliff used the surname Anderson, so I don’t believe he is the John we are looking for.

Through a process of elimination, we can therefore confidently say that John Thomason, son of Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth, is the same man that married Barbara Jane Winwick. There is no other man it could be.

John Thomason and Siblings

John Thomason and Siblings with their spouses

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!!

Ancestors who lived in 1900s

Prompted by this post by Janet Few, which challenged you to realise how many of your ancestors were actually alive in the 1900s, I decided to count.

Ancesters 1900s

My ancesters who lived in the 1900s

I have 29 ancestors who were alive in the 1900s, including two Great Great Great Grand-parents.

I also have photographs of all my Great Grand-parents, and three of my Great Great Grand-parents.

However, I do agree with the sentiment of Janet’s post; I think I spend much more of my research time in the 1800s than the 1900s!

How about you?