Friday, April 19, 2019

Researching Your Irish Ancestors Seminar

Everyone still has something to learn, no matter how long you have been researching. And it was no different for me when I attended the recent Researching Your Irish Ancestors seminar, put on by Unlock the Past.

The two speakers were David Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer for FamilySearch, and Dr Perry McIntyre, chair of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee.

Dr Perry McIntyre (left) & David Rencher (right)

About half my Irish ancestors are Catholic, and the other half are Church of Ireland. I have been lucky with some of these Church of Ireland families, in that the records for their parish survived the fire of 1922. In at least one case I have been able to view the original registers, which means that the parish could prove they had somewhere safe to keep them and they were not submitted to the Public Records Office and therefore not in the Four Courts Building in 1922. In other cases I have seen poor quality microfilms, perhaps of the original register, or perhaps of a copy retained when the original was submitted to the PRO. In other cases the parish registers were amongst those which went up in smoke. The families from those parishes have become some of my brick walls

What I learnt was that the Vestry minutes were not part considered official public records, and therefore were not in the PRO. There are two kinds of Vestry Minutes: Select Vestry  and General Vestry. Any of these might have references to your ancestors, though they are not likely to be references to exact baptism, marriage or burial records. But if a person is mentioned at a certain point in time, then they were alive at that point. Some lateral thinking might be required, but it might help.

Many of these Vestry Minute Books are held at the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin.

Another lesson I learnt, which I really should have realized before, was that you should still look in Church of Ireland records for your non-Church of Ireland ancestors. This means not only the Catholics, but the Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists and so on. The reason for this is that the Church of Ireland was the official State Church, and therefore had responsibility for matters like probate, poor relief, local taxes and so on.

Monday, March 4, 2019


We all need a sense of belonging. Belonging to family. Belonging to a place. Belonging to a culture. And finding that sense of belonging can be a powerful motivation.

Saroo Brierley
Saroo Brierley, Friday's keynote speaker at RootsTech 2019, got lost as a five year old, but the Indian boy was adopted by a loving family from Hobart in Tasmania. His story is told in his book A Long Way Home, in the movie Lion and in his Wikipedia page, so I won't repeat it all here.  Saroo settled into the Australian lifestyle, so privileged compared to that he had lived in India, but he never forgot his past. The place where part of him still belonged.

By his early 20s he felt he had to do something about finding his original home and his biological family. He thought about everything he knew about his Indian home: where the sun came up, where there were hills, rivers and animals. And of course trainlines.

Then Google Earth came along. Saroo could use all the information and memories he'd gathered to start searching for where he came from. He searched for five years, and it would have been so easy to give up. But he didn't, and finally found what he believed to be the station where he had started his long journey. He wanted to go back and see if he could find his family.

But he also had a family in Australia who were just as important to him. So he asked his parents for permission to go back to India. He went there alone on his first journey, and when he got to his home town he knew where he was. His muscle memory took him back to the house where he had been born. He had belonged so much to that place that his body had not forgotten it.

60 minutes did a story where he went back to India again, and this time his two mothers could be united. Saroo belonged in Australia, but he also belonged in India. And he belonged to two families.

Jake Shimabukuro
Ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro was Saturday's keynote speaker. He is a fifth generation Japanese American, descended from the first group of Japanese who migrated to Hawaii in 1868 to work on the sugar cane plantations (the gannen mono). The Japanese part of his identity was clearly important to him. As he spoke he kept referring to Japanese words and to the Japanese WWII veterans and even to a Japanese backscratcher that taught him life lessons. Jake obviously had a profound sense of belonging to the Japanese culture, or at the least, to the Japanese-American culture.

But feeling a sense of belonging can be complicated, and can take time to develop. The Grand Prize winner and the People's Choice winner of the RootsTech Film Fest, Enge Van Wagoner, who submitted a video titled "My Name Is …", struggled to find a sense of belonging. She always wanted to fit in and belong, but though her looks showed her Chinese origins, it was her name that she felt singled her out. So she told everyone her name was Angie. When she was sent on a LDS mission to Taiwan she thought she'd finally be somewhere that she belonged, a place where her parents had walked in their youth and where the people looked like her, where she could connect with her culture. But after a while she realised that the people there did not view her as one of them. So she felt she didn't belong to either world. It was only when she was back in the US and had to look after her grandfather that things changed. She finally managed to make a connection with him, realising that just as she had felt like a fish out of water in Taiwan, so he felt like one in America. As two misfits they connected. It was then that she realised that "belonging" doesn't mean being the same as everyone else. Belonging is reaching across the differences to connect.

Angie and her grandfather
For us family historians, knowing who our ancestors are, where they come from and what events they lived through gives us a sense of belonging to our great big family tree.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Family makes the lady with the perfect feet happy.

Thursday's Keynote speaker at RootsTech was the actress Patricia Heaton. She comes from a large family. Patricia had three sisters and a brother, and her mother was one of fifteen. She drew up in Ohio where so many people were related to her, meeting by accident a hitchhiker who turned out to be a cousin and a bartender who was a second cousin. Her grandmother was even declared Catholic Mother of the Year for the USA in 1946 and got a medal from the Pope.

But the draw of family didn't initially make itself felt on Patricia. She decided to become an actress and spent thirteen years doing what she called "survival jobs" before her career took off. As an aspiring actress she loved being the centre of attention. But having children changed everything. She was often pregnant or in a post-baby fug while making Everybody Loves Raymond and doesn't remember much about the storylines. But she does remember all about her four children, who, along with her husband, are now of paramount importance in her life.

"Family is that place where you get your sense of self."

Whitney Peterson from FamilySearch came on stage to tell Patricia about her family history. Patricia had told FamilySearch that she was interested how her various family lines made it to Ohio. As the stories of her German (13% of her DNA), English (24%) and Irish (63%) ancestors were revealed she squealed with the excitement of it. She was so excited when she was presented with a book with the results of the research into her ancestry. Family History has that impact on many of us.

"In the end we're all connected and we have to look for the connections, not the differences."

And what is this about the perfect feet? One of her survival jobs in New York was modeling shoes for buyers from the major stores as her feet were size six, which was the standard sample size. But it turned out that not only was she size six, but she was the perfectly proportioned size six, so she was sent to Milan and Perugia in Italy to model shoes. She had never been overseas before, and only on a plane once before she found herself in the high fashion world unable to speak any Italian.

If you want to watch the session, it is already online here.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Wonderful announcements from RootsTech 2019

Steve Rockwood at the Opening Session

RootsTech often brings exciting new announcements, and this year is no different, except there seem to be more than usual. 

First, there two announcements concerning DNA. MyHeritage announced that it is offerning "The Theory of Family Relativity".  This combines paper trails (your genealogical heritage) with DNA (your genetic heritage) and uses graph theory (don't worry – I don't understand that either) to tell you the most likely way you and your matches are connected. And sometimes it gives potential alternative match scenarios. It makes use of the trees on MyHeritage, Geni and FamilySearch. It's a much easier way to find how your DNA matches are connected to you because it can now give you a visual connection that looks rather like the Ancestry shared matches used to to see how you connect to your DNA match. Sometimes. I found one case where it connected me to an incorrect parent for my ancestor, but the rest were very helpful.

Ancestry has also introduced "ThruLines", which are designed to suggest possible ancestors, and link to all people who have that DNA match where applicable. It is only available in beta at the moment to people who meet certain criteria (like searchable trees and having DNA matches). They have also introduced "MyTreeTags", allowing you to add tags to people in your tree. Those can be predefined tags, like "Direct Ancestor", "DNA match" or one of the other 18 tags, or you can create your own. There is also another new feature allowing you to more easily sort, group, and view your DNA matches in any way you'd like. Both of these latter two offerings are also in beta.

The power in these new offerings from MyHeritage and Ancestry is in the massive size of the trees these companies have. I'm sure more will come out about these functions as people have had a chance to play with them.

Tamsin Todd, Findmypast CEO
Findmypast was not to be left out. They made a very exciting announcement. The good news is that they have been granted an exclusive contract to digitize the 1921 census and make it available online. The bad news is that we won't be able to see it until January 2022 due to the legislated closure period.  The other good news – once we can get access to it – is that it contains more information than the 1911 census. Householders had to reveal their place of employment, the industry they worked in and the materials they worked with as well as their employer’s name. Those aged 15 and older were required to provide information about their marital status, including if divorced, while for those under 15 the census recorded whether both parents were alive or if either or both had died. I can't wait, as I need this to try to solve a particular mystery.

Findmypast also announced the addition of further catholic records to their collection, some from Liverpool and others from various parts of America. And they didn't miss the chance to reiterate their recently announced partnership with Rootsfinder, and their partnership with Living DNA, which will in future help build the kind of trees Ancestry and MyHeritage announced today.

FamilySearch had an announcement too: they are giving two million dollars to the International African American Museum. This museum is located in Charleston, on the spot where nearly half of all enslaved Africans arrived in America. FamilySearch's donation will help support the museum's Centre for Family History, and this donation will help.
Martin Luther King III

Much of the Opening Session was a tribute to the fact that this August marks the 400th anniversary of the first slaves from Africa arriving in America.  And there was a very special guest: Martin Luther King III, the son of Martin Luther King Jr, who was assassinated in 1968. He talked about his father's vision of complete integration, not just desegregation. The end result, he felt, would be reconciliation.  This would allow everyone to Connect & Belong.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

RootsTech starts on Wednesday!

Wednesday, US time, will herald the start of RootsTech 2019.  I will not be able to attend this year, so I will be watching some of the sessions live streamed from my home in Sydney. Luckily the changes to the times that the Keynotes are being held will make it far more reasonable for me to watch in my time zone.

The Wednesday General Session and Opening Event, with Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International, will be 4.30pm in Salt Lake City, which is a very civilized 10.30am in Sydney.

The Thursday, Friday and Saturday sessions will be held at 11am in Salt Lake City, which is at the less civilized - but still possible - time of 5am in Sydney. I am particularly looking forward to watching Saroo Brierley from Australia on Friday. I am not a morning person, but will make every effort to struggle out of bed to watch.  At least I watch it all in my PJs.

The full live-streaming schedule is available here.

I have also signed up for the Virtual RootsTech, which will let me see another 18 sessions at a later time, again from home.

Even though I am not there in person this year, I am still very excited!


Friday, January 25, 2019

New Virtual Pass for RootsTech

There is an exciting new development for this year's RootsTech conference, which will be a real bonus for those who can't attend the conference in person (as well as for those who are attending).  You will now be able to purchase a virtual pass which will give you one year's access to recordings of 18 of the talks. This is in addition to the live streamed sessions, which as well as being able to be viewed live, will be online for free, as they have been in past years.  The Virtual pass will cost $US129 for those who aren't attending RootsTech, and only $US79 as an add-on for those who are attending. The sessions can be viewed on your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. 

The complete list of the 18 talks is online here (and one of them relates to my passion, which is medieval English genealogy & history), and the list of the live-streamed sessions is online here.

Why not register for these sessions?

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Less than 40 days til RootsTech 2019!

It is now less than 40 days til RootsTech 2019!  Whether you are a first timer, or a seasoned attendee, you will have a fantastic experience if you attend. And there are many reasons you should attend.

The RootsTech Expo Hall
Firstly, the classes. There are over 300 classes (labs and lectures), and they cover a variety of topics, so there will be something for everyone, not just those with American Ancestry. DNA will feature heavily in the class schedule, as it has become so popular.
The main hall, waiting for the Keynotes

Then there is the Expo hall. This is always a highlight for me, as I love the opportunity to speak to the big vendors and to see any new and upcoming ones.  This year there will be close to 200 exhibitors, so it's a great way to keep up with new developments in the industry.

Another draw-card are the Keynote speakers. They are always interesting, and this year looks to be no different.  Thursday's Keynote will be actress PatriciaHeaton from Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle. Friday's Keynote is Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family when he was five and eventually adopted by a family from Tasmania. His story was told in the movie Lion.

Then Jake Shimabukuro from Hawaii, who is a master of the Ukulele, will feature on the Saturday. But before you turn up your nose at this, thinking that the ukulele is a bit twee and amateurish and brings back memories of George Formby, you should look at some of his YouTube videos. This is his version of George Harrison's WhileMy Guitar Gently Weeps and a classical style piece called Dragon and the ever-popular Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Me (far left), waiting for a Keynote speaker in 2018

Last year the "Relatives at RootsTech" part of the FamilySearch Family Tree app was a lot of fun. It is based on the giant family tree hosted by FamilySearch, and highlights other people who are at RootsTech who are related to you.  This year's version has some improvements, detailed here.

There is a lot of useful information in the Road to RootsTech videos, and a very useful blog post about what to wear and what to bring to RootsTech.

Register before Jan 25 to talk advantage of special price of $209.

But if you can't attend in person, details of the live streaming schedule are available here.