Getting Past the Road Block in Genealogy

In 2009 I wrote a post entitled Genealogy: Taking Steps to Build a Family Tree. At the time I confessed that I had started my family tree and dove right in and added anyone who looked vaguely connected and didn’t bother with sources.

How stupid of me!

So with over 6,000 people in my tree, I started over. This time I did the research and sourced … every … single … detail. And if there was no source, it didn’t get added.

Now, in 2018, that same tree has just over 1,000 people. However, they are all sourced. And what I discovered is that some of those “sure things” that were added way back then, were not sure things at all. In fact, with the relevant research, I now KNOW that some of those people do NOT belong on my tree.

TIP: Do not, under any circumstances, believe the information you find on someone else’s family tree. Not until you have checked their sources (if they have them), and done the research yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I found information on another tree and when I’ve looked into the information I can prove that the information is incorrect.

For example, yesterday I noticed many family trees on (and by many, I mean dozens) stated that my ancestor passed away in 1901. My records told me she passed away between 1901 and 1911. In effect, I could have agreed with the mass and added this information. But I didn’t do that. I checked their source, and they had sourced the burial for this person as 11 March 1901. Brilliant. I thought for a few moments I had discovered new information. However, the 1901 Census told me she was alive on 31 March 1901. She was with her husband and youngest child in the street they had lived in for many, many years.

My research then took me to the 1911 Census, where her husband was living with his grandson and his marital status was listed as “widower”. So, my person was alive on 31 March 1901 but had passed away by 2 April 1911. This proved to me that all those family trees on Ancestry are wrong! I continued my search. Using FreeBMD I did a search on deaths using my ancestors name and adjusting the date range from 1900 to 1912.

There were half a dozen possibilities. Two were in the area my family had lived all their life. But that doesn’t make the information conclusive. Luckily, the death details also provided the person’s age and as I had conclusive proof on when she was born, I could check the possibilities to see if any of them matched.

One did. And that one was in the area where they lived. I believe my ancestor passed away in 1909, not 1901 like all those other trees claim. I’ve added the information I found to my tree, but I will continue to research it as I want secondary proof so that I know without doubt that this entry is correct.

If you are stuck at a road block then it is okay to check what other people have included on their tree, but make sure you know it’s right before you add it to your own. Checking other people’s trees is a great way to get a clue that might set you off in the right direction, but don’t be lazy. Do the research.

Another tip is to actually look at the images you are using for your research. By this, I mean if you find your family in a Census record, check the neighbours on the same sheet as your family and on previous and following pages. The ancestor I previously discussed lived in the same street for three decades. When I checked the various Census records I had, I discovered that other family members did too! In fact, three households consisted of my family. I didn’t find them through normal searches, I discovered them by reading the images I was downloading and adding to my personal file. And from that information, I discovered all sorts of other information and family members.

And my final tips for today, is to search probate records. Often this source is overlooked, but it can give precious information. Or confirm information that you may already have. Remember how I said I’m going to research for secondary evidence for my ancestor? This is where I will start that research. Because often probate records will confirm the spouse’s name, the area they lived in and also provide a death date.

Some road blocks may never be resolved, as the information is unavailable at this time. However, as our world becomes more digital I believe the data will improve with time, so stay hopeful. In the meantime, keep searching and searching and build your tree. And then maybe one day, not too far into the future, that impossible road block will solve itself.

Genealogy: 1901 & 1911 Irish Census Online

I have a few Irish connections, but not many considering the number of people in my tree. G, on the other hand, has a direct ancestor who was Irish and moved to Scotland; one of his children (or maybe a few of them, I can’t clearly remember offhand) emigrated to Australia. This is a clear indication that genealogists can easily be looking in the wrong place for the information they seek.

Anyway, I was thrilled to discover that the Irish Census records for 1901 and 1911 have been made available online. From what I can see, the records are searchable and free. This is courtesy of The National Archives of Ireland.

About the 1901 and 1911 censuses

The 1901 and 1911 censuses are the only surviving full censuses of Ireland open to the public. Both censuses cover the island of Ireland. They were released to public inspection in 1961, because of the stream of requests for information about people’s ages, particularly those born before civil registration of births began in 1864.

The 1901 census was taken on 31st March 1901. The 1911 census was taken on 2 April 1911.

What information does the census contain?

Ireland is unusual among English-speaking census-taking countries in that our original household manuscript returns survive. These are the forms filled out and signed by the head of each household on census night. Most other countries only have Enumerators’ books, where family details were transcribed by the person charged with collecting the census information.

The basic topographical divisions for the census are: County; District Electoral Division; Townland or Street. This is a simple hierarchical structure which makes it easy to access any area in the country. The returns are arranged in clusters by townland/street within district electoral division within county. For each townland/street, there are a number of original household returns, filled in and signed by heads of households, and three statistical returns, dealing with religious denominations, classification of buildings, and out-offices and farm-steadings, filled out by the Enumerator for that townland/street.

– taken from The National Archives of Ireland website

Legacy Family Tree Software

When building a family tree it’s important to chose software that isn’t restricting. I’ve used several family tree programs but most of them always had something missing. Some looked great, but were not user friendly. Others were user friendly, but didn’t give the reports I wanted. Others still had the tag of a family tree maker but left me feeling incredibly stupid as the program was so difficult to navigate and use.

Eventually, I discovered Legacy Family Tree and I honestly haven’t looked at any other genealogy software since. It’s easy to install and use. It allows me to print all different types of reports. I can perform a multitude of searches. There’s a bookmark facility and also a note taking function that I find helpful. I can add photos of all types to individuals and family groups. There are functions that will search from the program directly on a number of websites and display the results (I’ve found new ancestors through this function alone). This software will even generate a complete, functional website for me (if that’s something I was interested in, which I’m not).

There is also a tag system which is ideal for noting which family members had certain health issues, or had no children, or married a cousin, or for any other reason you can think of basically.

I like the option to mark the direct line of ancestors too. This makes it easy to see where you are and if you’ve wandered down a branch and away from the main stem.

And finally, despite the many other functions that I haven’t mentioned here, the function to link with FamilySearch is great. I use it all the time. But remember, all new leads must be checked before adding them to your tree.

Edited on 2 February 2023: Legacy merged with MyHeritage in 2017. The software has been enhanced to link with MyHeritage, if desired, but there is no pressure to do so and the function can be turned off at any time. Apart from that, Legacy Family Tree still remains my favourite genealogy software.

England Census Dates

When sourcing my records, I find I am referring to the English Census records on a regular basis. Due to this I find that referring to a particular census year isn’t really good enough. I want to refer to the actual date of the census, because it can narrow down other date possibilities, for example birth dates.

So, I set about finding out what dates the census were carried out and you can find them below. I knew the census was carried out every ten years. What I didn’t know was that England started censuring the public in 1801, but only the records from 1841 onwards are available as the older records were not kept, which is a huge loss for all historians.

Anyway, here are the census dates. The archive for the 1911 census will be made available on 1 January 2012, although I have heard that the records may already be available through some online, paying services.

10th March 1801
27th May 1811
28th May 1821
30th May 1831
7th June 1841
30th March 1851
7th April 1861
2nd April 1871
3rd April 1881
5th April 1891
31st March 1901
2nd April 1911

Building a Family Tree: Where do I start?

I have over 6,000 names on my tree and that has taken over 20 years worth of research to build, but I still remember when I first started out. Even though I thought I came from the smallest family in existence, I was still dumbfounded as to where to start. And, really, where to start is the easiest question you have to face in genealogy.

You start with yourself!

Who knows more about you than…well, you? Maybe your parents, but generally speaking you know everything you need to know to get started.

But let’s back up a bit before you start jotting down information. At the beginning, drawing up little charts can be fun and exciting, but you’ll soon realise that those charts are not good enough. You’ll soon be looking for a better way to document the information you gather and I recommend you start out the way you will want to carry on – by using excellent genealogy software.

I use and recommend Legacy Family Tree. I’ve used it for years and find it not only easy to use, but easy to carry around on a flash card so that it can be used on any computer, which I find handy. In the past, I have created a family tree website with it too and it also allows me to search resource websites from within the program. Everything you’ll need to accomplish with it, can be done.

Once you’ve settled on the software you are going to use, open it to a fresh, blank tree and enter the first person – you! From there, enter the details of your husband/wife/partner (if you have one) and then the details of your children and grand children (if any). See how quickly your tree is growing? I’m sure you’ll feel inspired by that alone. When you’ve finished with your descendants, it’s time to look at your ancestors. Add your parents and then your grandparents. From there you’ll be able to add your parent’s siblings and their children. And you’ll also be able to add your parents aunts and uncles.

In a couple of hours you could go from a blank family tree to one with a couple of dozen people on it, if not more.

It is that easy.

Of course, getting started is the simple part. You’ll soon realise that you don’t know all the details you need for your aunts and uncles, let alone your great aunts and uncles and all your cousins. But how to get around that is something to discuss in another post. *grin*

Genealogy: Taking Steps to Build a Family Tree

One of the new directions this website will be going, is Genealogy. A new tab will be added to the navigation bar at the top of the page, as well as a new category added to the sidebar.

I first became interested in my ancestors when my children were born about 20 years ago. Prior to that there was just me and my immediate family. There were no grand parents, aunts and uncles or cousins, let alone distant relatives. Of course, I had all these relatives, but the closest lived 3,000 kilometres away. I always considered myself from a very small family and when my sons were born, I suddenly developed an itch to know where we had come from.

Hence, the questions started. Back in those days, there wasn’t the convenience of the internet. Everything was done by post and everything took months before I started seeing results. I questioned my grandmother and her sister-in-law until they probably cringed every time they saw an envelope with my hand writing on it. But they were fantastic and patient, and provided me with a firm family tree foundation.

Later, many years later in fact, the internet popped up and after a while I restarted my search as I found new sites generating databases filled with valuable information. In the few years that followed my discovery of the internet, my family tree went from 200 or so people to over 6,500 people. Every name I found, spurred me to look some more. More importantly, I connected with other family members who were researching the same family names. These people were complete strangers, even though they were distant cousins, and now they are friends.

However, during those early years of research I made a terrible mistake. I didn’t “source” my information, which means that my family tree is virtually useless in genealogy circles. By the time I realised my mistake, I had gone too far to turn back…or so I thought.

Recently, only two weeks ago, I purchased a new version of the genealogy program I’ve been using for a couple of years. With that new version came the urge to record my tree correctly. Yes, it’s going to be a huge job, but in the long term, it will be worth my time and effort. I look at it like this…I am making an investment for my descentants. When someone looks at me as their ancestor, I want them to be grateful that I put a lot of time into building a tree that will make their life a lot easier. And to do that, it must be properly sourced.

That mammoth job will begin soon…and it will be recorded on this website.