Ask the Experts: An Interview!

We are about to enter a jam-packed genealogical extravaganza of a year with some huge exhibitions planned for 2019. It feels like more and more people are taking the plunge and diving into their family history. With this in mind, I’ve asked six genealogical experts (including me), six questions about their top tips, 2019 predictions, favourite sites and toolbox essentials. You might recognise some of their names from last year’s ‘Ask the Experts‘ blog, but there’s a quick re-cap below, before we hit the questions:

Emma Jolly

www.emmajolly.co.uk

Emma Jolly MA is a professional genealogist, writer and historical researcher, based in London.

Chiddicks Family Tree

https://chiddicksfamilytree.wordpress.com/

With a keen interest in military history and 15 years experience in genealogy, Paul Chiddicks is an avid blogger, updating his own site regularly and often featuring in Family Tree magazines online blog.

Genealogy Jude

Twitter @GenealogyJude

A professional genealogist since 1993 with an IHGS Diploma in Genealogy, Judith is dedicated to sharing her passion for family history.

Helen Tovey

www.family-tree.co.uk

Helen Tovey is editor of Family Tree Magazine. She really enjoys encouraging people to do their family history and discover the indefinable magic that it will add to their lives. Whether it’s recording family anecdotes or researching a PhD, all avenues of tracing the past should be researched and relished.

Michelle Leonard

https://www.facebook.com/genesandgenealogy/

Twitter @GenealogyLass

Michelle Leonard MA PgCert is a professional genealogist, DNA detective, speaker, writer and historian based in Glasgow.  She offers a wide range of genealogical services but specialises in solving adoption and all manner of unknown ancestor mysteries with the use of DNA testing. She is also the official genetic genealogist of # AncestryHour

Natalie Pithers

www.genealogystories.co.uk

Lastly (and hopefully not least!) myself!

Q1: Can you give fellow genealogists, whether it be newbies or experts, one top tip to remember for 2019?

Emma: For 2019 specifically, I would say check out one of the major family history events that are on. We are lucky to have some amazing events this year, after a bit of a dry spell.

Family Tree Live takes place in April at Alexandra Palace, London. Highlights include a host of different lectures and panel discussions. Plus a wide range of exhibitions.

Natalie: I’m really excited about all the upcoming events for 2019. In order to prepare for these exhibits, I’d recommend completing an annual review of your work.  You’ll be amazed at how much you learn every year, even as an experienced genealogist.  New records are constantly being added online.  Every visit to the archives improves your skills – so even if you think you’ve exhausted the information you’ve found on your favourite family group, you might be surprised at what fresh eyes can discover.  Regularly reviewing your existing tree also means your more likely to spot mistakes, missing sources or gaps in information.

The Genealogy Show takes place at The NEC, Birmingham in June. Grab your tickets and book 20 minutes “personal wizard consultation” to help you solve those family tree quandaries.

Helen: I’d recommend writing a wish list of things you’d like to do or discover about your family history. Sometimes it’s easy to research in a bit of piece meal way. However, by deciding on a few specific things and setting yourself goals, this time next year, you’ll be able to look back, feeling pleased with what you’ve accomplished.

My goals are to visit my uncle and scan in his archive of Victorian photos, visit my aunts in Scotland. I also want to visit at least two ancestral ‘haunts’ whilst I’m there. Oh, and to methodically tackle the (10!) brickwalls that have been bugging me for a while now!

Jude: My tip is to look beyond the big subscription websites and see what you can discover elsewhere, be that on another website or in an archive, museum or book. Although websites like Ancestry or FindMyPast are brilliant, they only contain a fraction of the available records and so much information can be found in other places. For example, My husband has ancestors from the London Docks, so the website ParishRegister.com which focuses on this area is a fantastic resource for tracing his ancestry. Many books and websites focus on a particular town or village, and these resources can tell you a lot about the local and social history of the area.

Paul: In my opinion, Newspaper reports are probably one of the most valuable, but under used resources within Genealogy. We all use BMD’s and census returns within our research, but many of us overlook newspaper reports. Where else could you get three generations of one family listed, naming children, grand-children and in-laws, as well as Military Service, with full Regiment and Battalion, all in one document!

Michelle: My top tip would be to always attach a tree to your DNA results on whatever platform you’re using – this will aid you as well as your matches.  You can add a tree on Ancestry, MyHeritage and FTDNA.  There is no tree facility on 23andMe but you can still add a link to a tree hosted elsewhere.  On Ancestry make sure you link your family tree to your DNA results – only by linking your tree can you receive Shared Ancestor Hints and DNA Circles.  Equally it’s best for your linked tree to be a public one but if you’re not comfortable with having your master tree with photographs and documents public, I advise creating a bare bones skeleton tree with just the names, dates and places of your direct ancestors then making that a public tree and linking it to your results instead.  Ok that was more than one top tip but they’re related!

Q2 What’s your favourite non-subscription / free website?

Jude: I would have to say FreeBMD because I use it all the time. In the past, I spent hours ruining my eyesight using a michrofiche reader, searching for GRO events, so it is an amazing free resource. You can be pretty flexible with your searches too, enabling you to pinpoint the entry you are seeking. If you find a death entry of interest in FreeBMD, you can then find out the age of the person from the GRO death indexes, which are digitalised for the years 1837-1957 on the GRO website. The best thing is to use the websites in tandem.

Paul: Yes I use FreeBMD every single week, it’s such a valuable site. What’s remarkable in this day and age, is that it’s still free!

Emma: I recommend FreeBMD‘s sister site, FreeReg too. Both sites are part of a group of websites that form FreeUKGenealogy

Natalie: All the FreeUKGenealogy sites are brilliant. Personally my favourite website is Internet Archive. I love being able to view old texts, from Victorian medical manuals to 1960s recipe books!  It’s a great tool for discovering social history.

Helen: I really like FamilySearch. I use it for growing my family tree online, and for encouraging family members to take an interest and see the progress with the family history too. I also love the hints it gives – they have a really high degree of accuracy and have also led me to think about new record collections that I’d not known about.

Michelle: I agree, for traditional genealogy FamilySearch really is the big gun when it comes to free websites and I use it on a daily basis.  I also love FreeBMD but my favourite now for English and Welsh births and deaths is the GRO Index (births from 1837-1917 and deaths from 1837-1957) because, for births, you can now obtain the maiden name of the mother and for deaths you can obtain the age of the deceased.  While FreeBMD is fantastic maiden names on births are only available from 1st July 1911 and ages at death are only available from 1st March 1866 so if you have a birth to look up from before 1st Jul 1911 or a death before 1st Mar 1866 the GRO Indexes can provide additional information.  Be aware there are some records missing from the indexes that you might find on FreeBMD or Ancestry though so always search on more than one platform.

For DNA hands down my favourite free website is the wonderful International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) wiki – it contains a wealth of information on all aspects of DNA testing for genealogy.  There are 574 articles in the wiki and it is growing all the time.  There are too many fantastic articles to highlight just one or two but the autosomal portal, beginner’s guides, DNA comparison charts and autosomal DNA statistics pages are especially helpful for those starting out on their DNA journey.  ISOGG is also free to join.

Q3 Can you recommend one of your favourite books or shows to fellow genealogists?

Emma: I thought the ITV series Home Fires was excellent, particularly for stimulating thoughts on the reality of everyday life for women during WWII. I was disappointed that it was not renewed for another series. The story has been continued in a series of books by Simon Block – see it here on Goodreads.com

Jude: I would recommend a book called Common People by Alison Light (see Goodreads.com). Alison Light is a historian rather than a genealogist but she set out to document different branches of her family, writing a story about each. It is a moving account of English social history and an excellent model of how to get under the skin of one’s ancestors and really understand what their lives were like.

Michelle: I would recommend Richard Hill’s book “Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA” (see Goodreads.com) – it is the true story of one man’s journey to uncover the identities of his birth parents and is a really engaging read.  Well worth reading if you are interested in family history, DNA and true life mysteries.

Helen: That’s a tough one – I wouldn’t want to recommend a single one, but I would recommend reading as much and as widely as possible, both for getting a sense of the past and the worlds of our ancestors, and for sparking ideas for your family history research too.

Q4 What’s been your best genealogy moment or discovery so far?

Paul: Now that’s a toughie, so many to choose from, but after having a brickwall with my Dublin Ancestry for many years, I was finally able to break this down with the wonderful help from fellow Genealogy Friends on #ancestryhour on twitter. This culminated in meeting up with my long lost Daniels family from Dublin.

Emma: For me it’s all the exciting discoveries made through DNA testing. It’s opening up so many doors!

Michelle: This is a tough one as there are really too many to pick just one!  Off the top of my head though finding out that my 3rd great grandfather was prosecuted for bigamy and being able to access the full trial papers at the National Archives of Scotland was pretty amazing – to read evidence given by my 3rd great grandmother (Mary number two!) and his first wife (Mary number one!) as well as Mary number one’s father and other people who knew him was so fascinating.  The judge’s scathing opinion of him was a particular highlight!  Another amazing moment was using DNA to discover where in Ireland some of my most stubborn Irish brick wall ancestors came from but that’s a longer story for another time.

Natalie: It was finding out that my ancestor Elisha Pithers was a deserter.  I’d known he’d served in the army but never been able to find enlistment or discharge papers.  I visited The National Archives to view the muster rolls. I think I let out a shriek of delight when I saw his name. Then I trawled through the entries and there was ‘deserted’ written against his name in his very last entry within the rolls. 

Helen: I found tracing the war years of my maternal granny’s dad intriguing. He was awarded an MC and bar, but I’d never heard a single mention of this in the family. It was only when I spotted a little purple and white ribbon with a grey rosette on it in my mum’s jewellery box, that I set off to find out what it really was. As ever in family history, there are twists and turns – and I also found out that our family hero had also been court martialed for accidentally shooting a comrade, while cleaning his pistol in the trenches…Onwards and upwards!

Jude: I recently discovered that my grandfather’s cousin, Bertie Batchelor, was a Prisoner Of War (POW) before his death during WWI. had an idle moment one day and was checking out the Red Cross Prisoners of the First World War website, and decided to see what entries there were for some of my family surnames. To my great surprise, I found Bertie there. I’d believed that he had died on the first day of Operation Michael, 21 March 1918, but I discovered he was actually captured by the Germans – dying three weeks later, presumably from his wounds. The record states that the Germans buried him 300m south east from Hargicourt and his dog tag was sent to the German authorities in Munich. Although his grave is unmarked and unknown, I appreciate that he was laid to rest somewhere, and he is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial.

Jude – Like finding love, sometimes the most exciting genealogical discoveries happen serendipitously, when you are least looking for them.

Q5 If you could only keep one tool in your genealogy toolkit what would it be?

Jude: I think there is nothing like having a good pedigree chart. I have a basic 15-generation chart that comes out from time to time. Having that visual record makes it much easier to see where you have gaps and need to do some more research. It is also a useful aid to show to other members of the family.

How can they fail to be impressed? It is satisfying too to see how much progress I have made over the years as I add more names and information.

Helen: Definitely a paper family tree chart. I do love the tech, but for immediacy, and for engaging fellow family members, I’ve found that a traditional pedigree chart never goes out of interest.

Paul: Has to be my family tree software, Family Tree Maker, although I always have a paper copy of absolutely everything.

Without the organisational skills of my family tree software I would be completely lost!

Michelle: Just one – that’s mean!  Reluctantly I would have to keep Genome Mate Pro where I’ve organised all my DNA matches but it’s a close call between that and my Family Historian family tree software. 

Natalie: I actually think I’d struggle without Twitter!  I’ve found out so much by following other genealogists, local archives and historians.  I’m always discovering new blog posts, tools, websites, records etc via Twitter.  I also really enjoy connecting with other genealogists via #AncestryHour

Q6 With 2019 just round the corner, could you give us a prediction for the future of genealogy?

Natalie: I agree with Emma’s top tip for 2019 regarding genealogy exhibitions. There are a lot of shows planned for 2019.  I think, RootsTech is going to have a big influence – really pushing technology and how we use it for genealogy to the forefront.  I guess my prediction is new technology that makes research – and perhaps more importantly analysis – easier.  I’m excited!

Jude: I think DNA testing is going to get even more popular. The numbers taking tests is growing exponentially so more and more people are going to be able to make connections with “cousins” around the world. Hopefully that will encourage a spirit of collaboration and the sharing of family records and information. There is also going to be a lot more in the news about the applications of DNA in solving crimes and improving health. I am also keeping my fingers crossed that Ancestry will provide a chromosome browser in 2019.

Paul: Yep, I agree with Jude. Without doubt, there have been two defining moments in Genealogy History, the first being the launch of the Internet and the ease of accessibility to records and the second revolution has already started, DNA testing! DNA testing has exploded in the last two years with lots of new companies offering competitive prices for the relative DNA tests. Now this will not replace the conventional methods that Genealogists use, but it will definitely play a large part in the future of Genealogy. So if you are reading this and have not taken a test yourself, why not make it a goal for 2019?

Helen: Yes I agree with Jude and Paul. DNA is the breakthrough tool for me. Not only is it transformative in helping family historians make new discoveries, DNA is absolutely revolutionary in the way that it allows every single person to join in with the quest to trace their roots wherever they come from in the world. Usually, when we’re looking at the paper trail and online databases these collections inevitably tie us into a particular country or culture. DNA unlocks the possibility of family research for everyone! Love it!

Michelle: I think genealogy is in a good place and the advent of DNA testing is going to bring an influx of new genealogists in the future that would not have been drawn to genealogy if they hadn’t taken a test.  One of the most important things the seasoned genealogists among us have to remember is millions of people with no prior interest in building a family tree are taking these tests and while many of them will be satisfied with ethnicity estimates, many others will be fascinated by their cousin lists and inspired to start their own trees.  We need to help and encourage our new DNA cousins who may be interested but lack the know how when it comes to building their trees. 

I think many new collaborations will be forged over the coming years between long-standing genealogy addicts and complete newbies and these collaborations will only enhance the genealogy community as a whole.

Hope you have all enjoyed the interviews. Look out for more blog posts in 2019!

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