Saturday, 21 May 2022

DNA update


I keep meaning to delve deeper into DNA research but to date haven't ventured very far. But a recent email from Living DNA offering a Viking upgrade caught my attention. A perusal of the Living DNA site showed more information about the upgrade and I wondered if it would be worth my while. Didn't my ethnicity on the site show Scandinavian ancestry that I'd related to Viking incursions into the Western Isles of Scotland?

Well, Scandinavia used to show up as 13.9% of my ancestry. In the current update to Living DNA's ethnicity results there was no indication that I had any ancestry from that area at all. Ancestry DNA's ethnicity estimate still showed 3% Sweden and Denmark, but then the ethnicity estimates of the various DNA testing companies differ widely.

Living DNA's Viking upgrade offer intrigued me so I decided to pay for it. Perhaps it will add some depth to my Scottish ancestry or a dash of the unknown. Then again, the Vikings in my family's past could come from other parts of my family tree. I was able to trace the roots of my colonial ancestors, the Tripps, from Rhode Island back to Horkstow, Lincolnshire. Trawling the internet I found reminders of Viking incursions on the east coast of England and vaguely remember studying the Danelaw in school. It will be interesting to find out my results.

DNA and the possibilities of its use in historical studies have long interested me. I read a lot of books about history and find that nonfiction accounts of historical events and people have become more readable over the years. Lately, many of them have included DNA as part of their findings in discussions about the origins of populations. But their references can be disappointing at times. I can remember picking up The Scots: A Genetic Journey anticipating an in-depth story of Scotland and its peoples. It was that but, unfortunately the only DNA information included was the male signatures from Y-DNA found in various regions. That's probably useful if you know the Y-DNA signature of your own line but limiting if it is your maternal line that you can trace back to the region. Now that Ancestry has brought out its ethnicity inheritance update and Living DNA its Viking upgrade offer, it seems there is an increased emphasis on population make up. Perhaps these new tools and further fine tuning of population DNA information will lead to books about history which include a wider range of DNA results in their population information. I know I would appreciate books written about genetic origins of populations I could relate to my own DNA results.


Information about Lincoln  

Moffat, Alistair and James F. Wilson, The Scots: A Genetic Journey. Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, 2011

Saturday, 14 May 2022

A course to extend my research horizons?


                                                    Port Ellen, Islay a place of historic interest in my family history

Was it serendipity when I opened up one of the Scottish Genes blog posts that have been piling up in my email inbox to find that there was a course starting the next day entitled Scotland 1750-1850 - Beyond the Old Parish Registers? I'd been eyeing the courses offered by Pharos for a while wondering if they would be helpful. Finding that Pharos course the date before it started was so on target that it seemed like a sign.

I've found out unexpected things by taking courses. Back in the day before much of what we do moved online I signed up for a course about writing family history. The small cadre of students laboured away on their family stories. The teacher made sure that we were productive by getting us to read our stories to the class at certain points. It was through another student's story that I found out about the Regina Cyclone, an event that, until that point, was unknown to me. As that weather event happened just after my grandfather moved to Regina, I needed to know more. Research showed that the path of the cyclone tore down the street he was living on. That was something that definitely made it into one of my family history stories!

Of course, not all forays into genealogical education have led to stories like the one I was able to write after piecing together the effect that weather event had on my grandfather's life. Still, going through course material can suggest new avenues to investigate. Although the first exercise in the Pharos course which called for us to find online local histories of places of interest to our own family histories ran into a bit of a snag for me. About exploring Islay places I wrote: "When searching for the history of places on Islay you're just as likely to find the history of a distillery a the history of a town of the same name." Guess I'll just have to look harder. 

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Changing research travel


                                                                                       A view of Edinburgh

Fresh from a European cruise in 2019, my cabin mate and I planned to travel together the following year. The 2019 trip had been a brilliant, combining genealogy research with visits to many historic places. There was lots to see as we went from Dublin to Belfast, then on to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Le Havre, Southampton, Guernsey and Cobh. The cruise was the major part of the trip but at the end we went our separate ways exploring other places of interest. I took a week long course at the Society of Genealogists before heading off to Leicester to find out more about the story of Richard III.

We wanted to continue the momentum in 2020, this time planning our side travels around a scenic rail tour in Scotland. That seemed a logical jumping off place since we both had ancestors who came from Scotland. Just like our previous trip, we planned to tack on side trips on our own. Our travel was postponed.

Now that things are opening up again in 2022, it's time to get back to planning. The focus of the trip is still the scenic rail tour although the itinerary has changed slightly. The tour company has altered it so that we're no longer going to Islay, the place so many of my ancestors came from. That's a disappointment but really it seems indicative of how travel and in-person research have changed.

I've just begun to look into the usual research spots in Scotland as we've decided to stick to one country as it seems more prudent. My plans for the 2020 trip included a clan gathering in Ireland and a trip to London. Checking now in Scotland, the usual research facilities have finally opened but restrictions make them a dicey proposition. Until May 4th the National Archives required a lateral flow test (rapid test) before using their search rooms. Thankfully that's been updated but a perusal of the restrictions in the reading rooms brings home the message that accessing family history information this trip will not be as easy or fruitful as it has been in the past. 


National Records of Scotland visiting info

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Getting reacquainted with in-person research


My long research weekend just passed was an eye opener in so many ways. It seems that I am out of practice. Who knew that the methods I had honed over so many long distance research trips would get rusty with disuse?

In the time leading up to our four day research retreat, I remembered that preparation was key and went through the BCGS library catalogue to see which books I would be able to access there. I also noted down a Scottish census film available on FamilySearch which I would be able to access there. The BCGS library has affiliate status with FamilySearch. I wrote up the book list and noted down the LDS film number and went on to other things.

Distracted as I was, the research weekend seemed way off but all of a sudden it was here. I grabbed my list and the netbook computer I usually take for research trips and I was off. Thankfully the route to the BCGS library was etched into my brain. I volunteered there for decades. My computer even recognized how to access Wi-Fi in the facility. It had other issues though. It seems that it isn't good to let a computer sit for over two years. The browser wouldn't update. I was able to access FamilySearch and Ancestry but not Find My Past which required a more up to date browser. On subsequent days I took in my other lap top. There were problems with it as well. Looks like I need new equipment before I embark on any more research trips.

The first day definitely showed I was out of practice. I even forgot to bring a notebook in which to jot down my discoveries. I'm a firm believer in one notebook per research trip. It's the system I use. It works well in the field. It would work better if I had a system for follow through once I got the information home! I need to work on that. 

In spite of all of my fumbles and forgetfulness, the weekend resulted in some gems. I found them in my notebook when I was looking for inspiration for this blog post. I have work to do with the information I brought home and, it seems, new computer equipment to buy. It was good to have a run through of my research practices before embarking on any research trip further away.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Immersed in research


                                                                            Th e BCGS Library in Surrey, BC

This weekend I'm participating in a retreat of sorts with a genealogy group that I'm part of. We're making a long weekend of the meeting and holding it at our local genealogy society's library. The BCGS library is a FamilySearch affiliate so I'm able to see some of the films that I can't see at home. Sometimes you just have to trawl through those census films to see where everyone and their neighbour was living. I'm still on the hunt for Donald McPherson, although not knowing if he came from the same parish as my Mathison clan doesn't help much. So far I've found quite a few Donald McPhersons in the 1841 census for Kilmuir on the Isle of Skye. None of them with a daughter Margaret of the right age though.

Of course as the facility is a library there are plenty of books available as well. When my eyes were tired of squinting at the film images, I went hunting for books that might have information of interest. I've mainly been looking at books about Ontario and its records. The library has quite a collection. As I'm interested in Puslinch where both the McPhersons and Mathesons were living at one point, I looked at information about Wellington County. In one such book, I was surprised to find a write up about the train robbery involving Bill Miner, who is well known in BC. The story included a picture of the trail in Kamloops and a description of the robbery which was an ill managed affair. Surprising information can be found in books!

The best thing about the weekend, of course, has been getting together with fellow family historians. There are occasional bouts of silence as we hunch over our computers concentrating on our research, but those are interspersed with the sharing of information and stories. There's nothing like an appreciative audience when the genealogy tales get going!


“Lewis Colquhoun: Wellington County’s Train Robber” Wellington County History: Railway Issue Vol 4. Wellington County Historical Research Society, 1991

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Some Easter history


                                                             Kilsby United Church (formerly Congregational)

When thought about objectively, the traditions around Easter are a confusing mixed bag. There is a reason for that. In common with many Christian festivals, more than one old tradition has been combined. There's the celebration of spring, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. That accounts for the eggs and rabbits. The reawakening of the earth feeds handily into the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. So the date when that was supposed to have happened was fudged in order for the two events to be observed together.

But did all Christian sects celebrate Easter? I have a more than passing interest in this question as I've delved into the history of nonconformity in the Christian church due to my own family history. My 5 x great grandfather, Reverend Thomas Strange, was a congregational minister. He was the first minister at the congregational church in Kilsby, Northamptonshire. In those days people took their religion seriously. I found some of the Reverend Strange's sermons in a book at Dr Williams Library in London. They were pages and pages long. As interested as I was in the man, I couldn't read through them. I can't imagine sitting on a hard wooden pew for hours listening to him deliver one.

A quick Google survey of websites leads me to believe that the Congregationalists also celebrated Easter, even in the early days. The Puritans, of course, were another story. Weren't they always? They banned Christmas, Easter and a whole host of other holidays. Early Quakers were also unlikely to think of Easter as a more holy time than any other. There were more flavours of Christianity than these among those dissenting from the established church in England but I looked at the ones which I have reason to believe that some of my ancestors joined. I haven't begun to untangle which sects my Scottish ancestors cycled through. That's something for another day. 


Memorials of Nonconformity in Herts, Google Books p668

Origins of Easter with an Australian slant

Puritans and Easter

What Did Easter Mean to Early Quakers?

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Social history in the census

                                                                Interior of an early Ontario School

Get in, find your target name and add the information to your family tree. As large databases and commercial sites have taken over, finding the information you seek has become faster. Instead of spending weeks or months looking for that one elusive ancestor, an electronic search can find the information in seconds. The trick is using the right search name.

Looking over the information I had amassed on Angus Clark and family, I decided to see if I could find them on the 1851 census. I didn't have that one yet. This time I tried a different strategy. My target name was the oldest daughter, Ellen. I found them!

The discovery added a different understanding of Margaret McPherson Clark's place in the family. In 1851 Angus Clark was a widower with five children. So where was Margaret McPherson? A quick search for the marriage of Angus and Margaret about 1853 turned up nothing. When searches inputting Margaret McPherson's name in the Ancestry search boxes for the 1851 census didn't come up with a definite match, I decided to browse through the censuses for the areas in and around Puslinch page by page.

So far I haven't found Margaret but browsing slowly through the census pages was reminiscent of the hours I used to spend trawling through census films. It also reminded me of what we miss by popping in, taking the names we are looking for and popping out again - the commentary. Every so often the enumerators wrote down comments which were a window to the area they surveyed.

Some enumerator's comments gave information about the land the people were on; useful if your target person was a farmer and you wanted to have an idea of how they were doing. I particularly appreciated the remarks of James Brebuer who enumerated district number five. That commentary provided a lively background to those he was recording. He wrote about the roads and the lay of the land but his words about schooling and religion were particularly illuminating.

He blamed the recent school act, a frequent subject of discussion, for low school attendance. He also cast doubt on the information given about the religious affiliations people attested to. His slightly cynical remarks brought a human element to the listing of the population that helped colour the social history of the area. I'm glad my hunt for Margaret led me further afield and introduced me to such interesting nuggets of information. 

Sources: search of 1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia for Puslinch Division p 59 - 61