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From amateur to professional genealogist one blog post at a time.

22 February 2017

A Forwards-Looking Genealogist

I have been rather neglectful of my blog, my last entry was around the time I moved from France to England, so I'm going to firmly blame the move for the lack of posts for the past 7 months.

There, blame shifted nicely.

This is a blog, so it needs a nice reflective writer-type-picture and thoughtful caption.
I have continued my studies with the University of Strathclyde, and am now onto the Postgraduate Diploma year. Unlike the Certificate year, the Diploma focuses on a mix of learning modules and smaller assignments with larger etudes and an over-arching research project at the end. The idea is to move as seamlessly as possible from "classroom" learning to academic research - something which is essential for those of us planning on progressing to the MSc year, which is exclusively based on a dissertation.

One thing which I have noted this year, as my circumstances have changed and I am no longer working full time, is this - I HAVE NO IDEA HOW PEOPLE WHO WORK FULL TIME DO THIS!

Is it down to my time management? Or the fact that I go over things with a fine-tooth comb before submitting and then fret about the quality of the work? I feel I am spending almost all of my time working on this course and yet, I am not going to an office every day. I am amazed at the people who are managing to do the course whilst working full time and wonder if perhaps I am somehow cheating a bit. Will it be as much of an achievement if I have (nearly) all the time in the world with which to complete all the work? We genealogists spend our time looking backwards, but we really need to make sure we also look forwards.

My current assignment (a client report) has got me thinking more on the topic of time management - specifically, time management as a genealogist and how we can be restrict ourselves to working on what has been agreed with a client.

I may not have the waistcoat or pocketwatch but this is a pretty accurate representation of me when stressed.

Case in point: my assignment is a client report in which I have to research the family of someone not related to me. I have agreed on a topic or area of research with my client and am limited to 21 hours research time (outside of initial consultation and report write-up). This may sound like a lot of time and what on earth are you worried about, Erin? Yeah, well, 21 hours at my current rate of working on university stuff = 4 days of work at 5 hours a day. Those of you who are fully in the clutches of genealogy's talons will know that 5 hours can go by in a flash and that you can have Not A Lot™ to show for it.

So how best to optimise my work to ensure that I get the best results? I could go and look at other blogs or sites on how to best optimise my research. They will undoubtedly be full of good advice like "Be sure you know precisely what you're looking for" and "Look at the right site for the information you want, don't waste time browsing". Yes, yes, all well and good but what are "successful" genealogists doing?

Looking into it a bit further, and reflecting on my own ways of working I've found that my research method always works out being the same when I am looking at primary sources (secondary source research tends to be a bit different).

  1. Gather the basic details of the person in a table, include columns of info I have and want to learn;
  2. Input already known information into relevant cells. Highlight green;
  3. List possible repositories for unknown information. Highlight yellow;
  4. Unknown information for which I don't have an idea of where to look is also listed. Highlight red;
  5. As the research progresses, fill in cells with basic information and change highlights to relevant colours - green for complete, yellow for incomplete but resources identified (you can even include links to these so you just have to click to access), red for incomplete and resources unknown;
  6. Continue until you have a board of green, baby!

Obvs you'd end up with more info than this but it's just an example.
It's kind of like a checklist but more visual and helps me keep everything organised and centralised.

In general when it comes to thinking about my research, I think the best pieces of advice I can give myself (and anyone else in my situation who may be wondering how best to streamline (ugh, that word) their work) are:

  1. Stop writing blogs about it and get on with it. You know what you need to do so go and do it.
  2. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. You know what works for you. You know what research methods work. 
  3. Comparing yourself to other, "better" genealogists is pointless. Your successes are and will always be your own. By all means learn from others, but don't think they're the be-all and end-all. Your ideas and methods are just as good and there'll be someone out there inspired by you.

You can download my Excel template here. It includes a mock-up of how it can be used.
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23 July 2016

Thoughts Of A Relaxing Postgrad Student

Yesterday I submitted my final assignment for the Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogy, Palaeography and Heraldry with the University of Strathclyde. It's been an interesting 9 months, not without struggle, but I am pleased to be done and (although I am waiting on a final mark) I am very proud of what I have achieved.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the end of 2015 and since July of last year have been dealing with quite severe symptoms of this disease. When I began the PG Cert I did consider whether or not it was a wise decision, given what I was going through and what was likely to come but I decided to give it a go.

The support I received from the staff at the University was nothing short of amazing. They were completely understanding, flexible and gave me great advice all along the way. I had a couple of bouts of being in hospital (including one where I got a lumbar puncture which resulted in me not being able to sit or stand for more than 10 minutes at a time for a week). This flexibility is the main reason I have been able to successfully complete the year and I am immensely grateful to Toni, Tahitia and the other staff at Strathclyde for their continued assistance.

Having been an amateur genealogist for over 20 years I admit I thought the course would be more of a refresher than anything. Boy, was I wrong. I learned so many new things, new research techniques, new repositories of information and new tips. I also learned more about where my strengths and weaknesses lie, but how to overcome any hurdles I may encounter in my future studies and career.

Citation - courtesy University of Strathclyde

The course is extremely broad and covers topics such as: genealogical ethics, standards and professional practice; referencing, record keeping and indexing; civil registration in England, Wales and Scotland; census records, census substitutes and Poor Law records; copyright law, Freedom of Information and Data Protection laws; Burghs, burgesses and guilds; genetic genealogy; local directories and newspaper archives; armed forces; Irish, American and Canadian sources; feudalism, nobility and landed gentry; wills and inheritance; ecclesiastical law; palaeography; landholding and land records; heraldic devices, composition and law; heraldic registers and visitations; Latin for genealogy and family history.

All this in 8-9 months. *mops brow*

One of the modules towards the end of the course year was on Heraldry. I knew a bit about this art and science but nothing beyond "oooooh, pretty". Well, I am now hooked. I love everything about Heraldry and have discovered I've quite a knack for blazoning. So much so I decided to go with a rather difficult achievement as part of my final assignment. I had to blazon 5 different arms and describe the differences between the five, including familial links, etc.

Henry Howard, 3rd Earl of Surrey
(European Heraldry)
Blazoning this particular achievement took a lot of time and research to discover who owned the arms in each quarter but I felt like a genealogical/heraldic Velma from Scooby Doo. In fact, I am a genealogical/heraldic Velma from Scooby Doo.

So, would I recommend this course? Yes, absolutely, but with a few words of caution:

  1. This will take over your life. The course recommends 25 hours of study/work a week but I found (and others on the course with whom I have spoken) that I was doing much more than that. This is a really important thing to consider, especially if you work full time. You will spend your evenings and most of your weekends doing course work and assignments.
  2. Consider doing one of Strathclyde's online genealogy classes which are not part of the Postgraduate program but which will give you an idea of how studying online works.
  3. If you have your heart set on the Postgraduate Certificate and time is a concern, sign up for the Modular option. This will be a workload of around 14 hours a week and means you can complete the Cert over 2-3.
  4. Jump into the Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree free online course. This has just started so there'll be a bit of catching up to do, but it is being run by Tahitia McCabe from Strathclyde and covers a lot of topics and will help you develop your genealogical research skills.

So what next? Well, on to the Postgraduate Diploma from October for me. End goal is to do the MSc but that's some way aways so I won't get ahead of myself just yet. In the meantime, it'll be nice to do some genealogy just for fun. It's been a while and my ancestors are waiting.

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21 June 2016

MyCanvas Guest Blog - A Beginner's Guide to Swedish Genealogy

Have Swedish family history and not sure how to get started? I share how to get started in this guest blog post for MyCanvas! Learn common Swedish genealogy words, and tricks to untangling Swedish family names.



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8 April 2016

A Family Secret... Really Resolved

Some months ago I posted about the mystery in my family of my grandfather who discovered he was adopted when he was in his 60s. As a genealogist, I had been researching his birth family to no avail for a number of years. I finally had a breakthrough last year when I found evidence of his (alleged) birth father's subsequent marriage, children and so on.

After being in touch with my (alleged) great-grandfather's descendant, Paul, for some time, he finally did an Ancestry DNA test and we've been waiting for the results to come through.

It's been quite a nervous wait - what if I was wrong?

I was in a business meeting the other day and got onto the topic of DNA testing and genealogy with the client. I decided to show them my research and also my DNA test results (I am always happy to talk about genealogy, especially if there's a chance I can give someone else the bug).

Logging into Ancestry DNA I saw there was a new match and that this match was listed as being a potential 2nd or 3rd cousin.

Looking more closely, I realised I recognised the username as being the same as Paul's email address. I gasped and said "Oh my god". The client was worried and asked if I was alright and I then went on to explain the story and that this result showed that my research was right.

I had found the descendant of my grandfather's birth father.
Source: Ancestry.co.uk



The following table gives an explanation of how the cousin relationships work. It's complicated at first but looking at it Paul my mother's 1st cousin (half) and my 1st cousin once removed (half). This is because mum and Paul share a grandfather (Allan Douglas). (The half is important here. My grandfather's birth mother was not the same woman as the woman his father married, so subsequent children had a different mother).


Source: ISOGG
This journey and the discoveries made (and the doors now open - so much research to be done on the Williamson side now) are why I love genealogy and why I spend so much time on it (both academically and personally). Not only for the whole Nancy Drew/Scooby Doo mystery solving aspect of it (although that is freaking cool), but because I have the opportunity to bring people together. Being able to do this for my mum has been a real blessing. She is an only child so finding a whole new set of relatives is important for her and I am glad I have been able to give her that gift. 

Now, let's see where the Williamson line will take me...

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9 December 2015

Yet another blog post about Ancestry's decision to retire Family Tree Maker.

The big news today being talked about on social media by pretty much everyone involved in genealogy is the announcement by Ancestry about the end of Family Tree Maker.

It's not the most popular of decisions, and as the day progresses the levels of anger are increasing.

I was at first surprised by the news. I received the email from Ancestry at around midnight Paris time and spent about 5 minutes wondering what I will do with my genealogical research in the future before I remembered that I actually run two pieces of genealogy-specific software, and have the information in these also saved in other formats (.doc, .xls, etc).

I stopped worrying about myself and my own research - knowing I will still be able to save my research if I am working offline (I also use Family Historian).

Roll around to this morning and I find myself thinking about this more (thanks to coffee, the neurons are firing and I can actually form coherent arguments and questions) and the impact of this decision is huge and, potentially, very damaging for Ancestry.


Unhappy people. Source.

The decision to retire the software is, in itself, unsurprising. Cloud-based apps and working online have become more and more popular in all areas of software development. I have the MS Office suite on my computer, for example, but work entirely through Office 365 for university and Google Docs for work. The linking of social media to software is an essential thing these days and the "Facebookification" of software (be it social media or other) is almost expected by the general public.

One only has to look at the new Ancestry site to see the direction that is being taken - ease of access, collaboration and social sharing. The pulling of FTM from the market is, sadly, the logical next step. 

The big questions will come from the genealogical community - those of us who either work professionally (or are working towards working professionally) and how this decision impacts us. Questions like: How will we work offline? (Essential if we are in an archive with no Internet access or if we want to work offline to avoid distraction.) Will TreeSync be pushed out as an open source option for other software developers or will we be expected to upload a .ged any time we want to update an online tree?

Ancestry will need to reassure its users and the community as a whole that it will be listening to, and taking on board suggestions and, importantly, the needs of this community. 
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14 October 2015

A-studying we will go

I like to think of myself as relatively widely read, somewhat intelligent and borderline academic. The reality is I can easily become obsessed by a book/books/journals/articles/other ready-type things, I am probably more smartarse than smart and have delusions of grandeur when it comes to my academic capabilities.

I like writing, but I'm not a prolific or fluid author. My writing is a lot like my thoughts - random, haphazard, often long-winded and sometimes very confusing. Editing is difficult because I always want to move onto the next big thing. I'm definitely more of an orator. If you put me in a room in front of hundreds of people and ask me to read something or talk freely on a subject, I'm in my element. Ask me to write a paper of tens of thousands of words and I'll attack it with gusto, but will probably lose steam some point around the 35% mark, get frustrated and end up handing in something that probably could have been a lot better.

So, why in the hell am I now a postgraduate student, knowing that I need to write coherently, edit my work and not allow myself to ramble?

I clearly like a challenge.

Studying with cookies and coffee is the only way to go

Some months ago, when I sat and thought about what I want to be when I grow up, I came up with (and quickly dismissed) a few ideas: cake maker (love it, but don't like sharing); embroiderer (good at it but the eyes are going and I get the weirdest cramp in my butt from sitting for long periods of time); or continue along my current career path and be queen of customer support.

I'm very good at what I do. I can turn a department around from providing shit customer support to providing stellar customer support. I can motivate people and teams and build team spirit. I can speak, with authority and humour, about customer support at conferences. I'm also a star at networking.

But I don't love it.

Me, not loving it

When I was younger, and first embarking on the genealogist's journey, I researched my Great-great-uncle Olaf Milford Johanson. I've mentioned him here before. He fought in WWI in France, died during the Battle of the Somme and is buried there.

Researching what happened to him took me through many journals and books about WWI history. It also put me in contact with experts on military history and particularly experts on the Battle of the Somme. Through talking with them, reading and piecing everything together I managed to work out pretty much exactly what happened to him, how his body was lost for 14 years, and why he was laid to rest in the Serre Rd cemetery.

Thanks to this research, networking and puzzle completion I was able to visit not only his grave, but the site of the battle in which he was killed. It was such a palpable experience and linked his memory to my inner core so resolutely that from that moment on I not only researched pedigree, but also the lives of the people in my ancestry.

So many people, so much potential
The human touch of history can be found all around us, and is the subject of countless documentaries, papers and books. The human touch of family history is what fascinates me, and understanding how the lives of my ancestors (or the ancestors of people for whom I am conducting research) is interwoven with great (or not so great) historical events is a source of constant fascination (and dare I say, obsession) for me.

By beginning my formal studies in this field, I not only hope to (but know I will manage to) strengthen my knowledge and practical experience of genealogy, palaeography and such. I also hope to one day utilise my other skills (especially the skill of being a chatterbox) to share my knowledge with others and dispel the oft-held notion that genealogists and family historians are elderly men and women wishing to prove they are descended from royalty and who spend their time harassing local archivists and librarians. 

Just as people nowadays wish to document their thoughts and lives through blogs and social media, I wish to document the lives of people in the past. By getting to know the individuals better, so grows our understanding and appreciation of the impact of greater historical events on humanity.
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13 August 2015

WWI - Olaf Milford Johanson - The Enlistment

One hundred years and ten days ago, my great, great uncle Olaf Milford Johanson enlisted for service abroad with the Australian Imperial Force.



He enlisted at Claremont in the state of Tasmania, which is 26km from the town of Cambridge, where he lived. Both towns are now suburbs of Hobart, the capital of Tasmania.



He was 21 (and 1/2, by his own hand) on the date of enlistment and, thanks to the records I have, I know he was 5'9"/1m75cm tall, weighed 193lbs/86kgs and had brown hair and light brown eyes (like me!).

Under "Distinctive Marks", the following is written: "Tattoo Heart cross and anchor on right forearm. Anchor & ribbon on front of left forearm. Anchor on back of left wrist." It comes as no surprise that next to "Profession or Calling" he has written "Sailor".

Olaf was assigned the service number 3483 and initially served in the 11th Reinforcements of the 12th Batallion. (The 12th Batallion were originally raised within weeks of war being declared and were the first ashore at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915[1]). 

I have Olaf's entire personnel records and, as the months go by plan on blogging about his movements and the movements of his batallion(s).


[1] https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51452/
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