Sparking Ancestor Passion in an Unusual Way




I’ve written before about the many ways I’ve tried to get my family interested in learning about their ancestors. Swedish Death Cleaning was the key for one of my relatives who had recently purchased a new home and was needing furniture – along with the sewing machine cabinet went great grandma’s hand made doilies, a thread chest with great great grandma’s wooden sock darner and several homemade quits and afghans. I’ve helped several relatives apply to lineage societies and although they gained membership, I was disappointed that the result wasn’t a larger interest in learning about other ancestors.  Although I never tried this trick, I did contemplate  hiding cash in a book I wrote about three generations in one line thinking that if the receivers got that far in the story, they would like the extra reward.


What occurred last weekend was unintentional and what made me come to the conclusion that making a connection has to evoke a personal passion in the living; one that you might not even know exists.  


We had a family gathering that was unexpected – the adult kids happened to just show up at our house at the same time.  Since I had been hard at work checking relationships to see if I could qualify for a new society, I made a note of where I was in the pedigree and then joined the rest of my family.  While we were all catching up on careers, shared friends and the state of the world, I mentioned I was confirming relationship to Madog ap Maredudd, Prince of Powys, who was the last prince of all Powys, Wales.  I certainly didn’t expect the response I got from one of my children…”He’s a real guy?!  I always thought he was made up.”  I replied that Madog was indeed real and his grandfather, Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, was widely regarded as one of the most just kings who revised Welsh law making inheritance fairer for those that were not rich.


The response from my kid, “Wow, I didn’t think the guy was real.”  I asked both kids where they had heard of Madog.  Evidently, he had been mentioned in Madeleine L’engle’s Wrinkle in Time series.  Turns out, the protagonist in the series discover that there is a lineal relationship and by learning about a treacherous incident in which Madog’s brother was involved in, saves the world from destruction.  So, my adult kids were interested in how Madog was their 23rd grandfather.  


No way I could ever predict a science fiction novel they read in 4th grade would light a genealogical fire in them two decades later but it did.  We live in a very strange world, indeed.  

Here Today Gone Tomorrow, The Ever Changing Access to Online Records

Ahh, the balance of the universe!  Maybe it’s just me but I’ve noticed lately that the more that the web grows genealogy sources, the more sources I relied on in the past have disappeared.  I’m definitely not a doomsday prophet but I found my experiences yesterday as a wake up call to change some of my practices in the future. If I don’t I’ll be facing disaster someday. Here’s what happened…

I was going back over a line I hadn’t visited in five years.  When I do that, I start with my gateway ancestor, in this case, Mary Ann Hollingshead, and I recheck my saved sources.  I predominately use Ancestry.com so I click on the Gallery feature and look at the documents I previously uploaded.  Then I go to the hints area and look at all that I had saved as “Maybe” or “No.”  I always keep the hint setting on but my tree is so large I don’t have time or desire to check every hint that populates. Weekly, as part of my genealogy cleaning chores, I go through any hints that are shown over the previous seven days and just dismiss them.  They don’t really go away; they are saved under the individual that the system matched them to.  That’s a nice underused feature, I believe, as you can always go through them at your leisure to examine each one closely when you have the time.  

Next, I go back to Facts and check the citations that I had linked to the timeline.  For sources that I created from outside of Ancestry.com records, I always but the link so that I can easily review the information and note if anything has changed.  That’s where I noticed the first of the serious changes to the web.

I went to Francis Hollingshead and was checking the link I had made to FamilySearch.org for England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.  I used to be able to see the actual page of the document but not any longer:

As you can see on the right side above, I must go to the Family History Center to view.  Now I wish I had saved every FamilySearch.org document I have ever found and that’s a lot!  It never dawned on me that the information would not be readily available from home.  All I could think of was Job 1:20 “…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away…”.

I did notice that some of the documents were available through FindMyPast.com so I could (and will) go there to snip and save them to my Gallery but not all can be found that way, as the one above shows.  

As I went farther back on the Hollingshead line I discovered that British History Online now charges for many documents that once were available for free:

Back in the day, they asked for support through a donation but now they have Premium, Gold, 5-year Gold and 10-year Gold access.  What I was trying to reach was Gold level.  I only needed one document so it wasn’t worth it to me to purchase a subscription.  I had saved in my citation a transcript which is fine for my purposes but if I had known it would go away, I would have snipped and saved the original and transcribed under it.  Live and Learn!

Yes, I did try the Wayback Machine to see if I could gain access to these docs and the answer is unfortunately, no.  For the British History Online document, only once was it saved and that was in 2015 but you had to log in to access.  I tried my old log on but it no longer works.  

The next issue I discovered was of a document I had saved in my Gallery.  I had the page snipped but I had neglected to include the book’s title page.  No worries, I thought, as the link was for Internet Archives.  Of course, I happened to hit them just as they went down for maintenance so I couldn’t get the information I needed.  The book wasn’t available through any of the other online sources so this just required me to wait awhile to get what I needed.

It’s not just older documents that are no long accessible.  Google+, which ties to my Blogger account, is disappearing soon.  With it goes all of my former reader comments.  I’m glad that I save all of my posts to my genealogyatheart.com website so they will still be available but unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about the comments.

Genealogy is definitely a practice in patience.  Sometimes it’s years before you find the record you seek or connect with a long lost relative that holds the key to discovering a generation back.  With organizational changes, patience needs to extend to how we save the documents we find at the time we make the discovery.  I’m fortunate that there were only a few records I wasn’t able to access in the 18 generations I checked.  I’m hopeful, going forward with the procedure changes I plan to implement in my practice, that won’t be an issue again.

Growing Your Genealogy with Living Family Member Interaction

Zen needed

Sometimes, you just have to practice self control when you’re around your family.  (‘m referring to the living ones and not the death ones who left no documents or photos behind.)  I bet, as the family historian, you’ve encountered some of the following situations:

  • They just make one excuse after another for not going into (Fill in the blank – attic, basement, closet, storage facility, garage) to retrieve the (Fill in the blank – birth certificate, Bible, photo)  that you desperately need yet…
  • You receive a frantic call at an inopportune time wanting to know if your family is related to a celebrity
  • Your family expects you to help them for FREE join a lineage society
  • Even though you’ve shared all the discoveries you’ve found and ignored the glassy eyed bored looks you’ve gotten in return, they want some arcane piece of info on some distant ancestor because someone at work or some show on TV made them think about that story you told, only you have no knowledge of what they’re talking about because they’ve jumbled different people and events together in their minds
  • You’ve bought the DNA kit, helped them follow the simple instructions, mailed it back for them and monitor it and they don’t believe the results (even though your DNA and theirs is a close match)

Those are my top 5 pet peeves and over the past holiday season, each of them raised their ugly heads.  Two of the above became the most problematic.  

The first situation was the result of Ancestry’s recent upgrade of their DNA results.  With the old results, one family member showed more Swedish than anyone else in the family.  As a genealogist, my take on it is “So what” as we all know that the percentages are fluid since they’re based on the pool tested.  As the pool grows, so the results change.  I have explained this in the past but I guess somehow I’m not doing a good job.  In my family’s case, the updated stats shifted the percent slightly making the former number 1 in second place and the the former second place in first.  No big deal, right?  Evidently it was.  Instead of just asking for my take on the change, the newly placed number 1 decided that the results were questionable and so purchased a test from a competitor.  Of course, the competitor’s pool was different and the results varied but in this individual’s head, those results were more valid (because they hadn’t been updated yet).  Since the percents of test two were even less than the first test results, the individual became upset at all the ‘misleading info and the waste of money.”

It was time to take a deep breath.  I ignored the waste of money part since I had paid for the first test and the individual had gotten a deep discount on the second test.  I brought up my own results from several companies and showed how the results vary and again explained why.  I don’t think it got through any better than the previous times I’ve explained but it did end the conversation on a positive note.  

The second situation was a family member who asked me to write down the birth and death dates for two ancestors.  When I did, I was informed that I was wrong.  I had to bite my tongue to not respond, “If you know the information why are you asking me?”  Instead, after a pause, I asked if the individual wanted a copy of the birth and death certificates.  The response was no.  I then asked why the information was being questioned.  The answer was it didn’t seem like it had been that long ago when the individuals died.  Sure, as we age, time seems to go much quicker.  In this situation, I owned the problem as I jumped to the conclusion that the asker doubted my research when that wasn’t the case at all.  

Family can be a help in our genealogy quest – not just with gaining names and dates of ancestors but in showing us character areas where we need to grow.