Computer tools for genealogists

This looks as though it will be a useful research tool for those who have British ancestry: Connected Histories: Sources for Building British History, 1500-1900 | Institute of Historical Research:

the project will create a search facility that adapts to each resource (depending on whether and how the data is tagged, and on the text structure) to allow searching across the full range of chosen sources for names, places, and dates, as well as keywords and phrases. Background information about the search results will be delivered to the end user, and a facility to save and export search results for further analysis will also be provided. An online collaborative workspace will allow users to document connections between sources. The search facility will be expandable as new digital resources become available.

Keeping track of paper files

One of the perennial problems of genealogical research is keeping track of paper files. As time goes by you accumulate mounds of paper, piles of paper — notes, letters, family group sheets sent to by related and unrelated people, certificates, photocopies of wills, and much much more.

How do you keep track of it?

There are all kinds of systems that are recommended, but most of them are too complicated, and too difficult to catch up with if you fall behind.

The easiest filing system I have ever seen is one recommended with the early versions of the Personal Ancestral File program (PAF). It even came with a program to support it, the Research Data Filer.

The simplest solution is this: number each document with a serial number, and file them in numerical order in a lever arch file (or, if you’re American, a 3-ring binder). Use a computer program to keep track of the contents of the paper file.

The Research Data Filer had (has — I still use it!) two files – Documents (.DOC) and Data (.DAT). The document file contains a description of each document. The data file indexes the people in the documents, and allows you to enter the kind of information contained in the documents – the fields are: Document Number, Page, Name, Sex, Id, Event, Date, Place, Rela(ations), Relations Id numbers (up to 3) and Comments. For Id I use the RINs allocated by my genealogy program, since they are unique to each person.

Thus if you are looking for a person, you can search on name or Id, and it comes up with a list of the documents that contain information on that person, which you can then find easily, because you’ve filed them in numerical order.

You don’t have to use the Research Data Filer (RDF) to index your paper files. You could use a spreadsheet or general database program, or a specialised program like Clooz. But I still find the RDF program best because it was designed for the job, and adheres to the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid. I only wish that someone would update it with a Windows version, because printing output from DOS programs with a Windows printer is a pain in the neck.

If course you can’t store all research documents in a lever arch file — for example, if it is a book. The book must stay on the bookshelf. So what you put in your lever arch file is a sheet of paper with full bibliographical information about the book, and, if it is a library book, which library you found it in, and when you consulted it. You can also add photocopies of relevant pages, under the same document number.

The advantage of this system is that it is simple and easy to maintain, and you can start anywhere, with any pile, or any document. Just punch the holes, file it, and give it a number, starting with 1, or 00001 if you prefer. Some genealogy programs, like Legacy, let you include this document number in your source notes on a person.

The Research Data Filer program allows you to sort on any field. You can also “focus” on any kind of information – say a surname, and then a first name, and then a place. This is like the “filter” function in most database programs, but it is not just in the form of a report, but a view of a particular set of records that can then be edited or printed.

Identity theft and family history

One of the families I am interested in is Growden, and so I was interested in this article Identity thieves prey on everyone, advocate stresses | Local News | Cumberland Times-News:

Last week, a LaVale woman arrived home from her vacation in Virginia Beach, Va., to find charges on her credit card from ITunes. She did some further research and discovered other charges from a bank overseas. Somewhere, on her otherwise restful vacation, a thief had stolen her credit card number and made fraudulent charges. The local woman became the latest victim of identity theft. It happened that quickly.

“And that woman was me,” said Desiree Growden, the coordinator of the local Communities Against Senior Exploitation program. A national effort, CASE was launched in 2002 in Denver and introduced to Allegany County through the local state’s attorney’s office in 2009. Growden said the intent of the CASE program is to educate people on the dangers of identity theft.

Actually, “identity theft” is something of a misnomer. The danger here is not so much identity theft, as impersonation, or as it is sometimes called in criminal law, personation. To personate someone is to assume their identity with intent to deceive. To impersonate someone is a more everyday thing, and not necessarily done with criminal intent. So, for example one gets Elvis impersonators. But what is sometimes called “identity theft” is actually, in most cases, personation.

I’ve often read scare stories about “identity theft”, and have found that it is usually a question of simple personation. Someone who has pretended to be you has bought goods in your name, so that the account goes to you. Or they have withdrawn money from your bank account, pretending to be you.

Identity theft is a lot more serious. If someone steals something from you, you no longer have the use of it. If someone steals your car, you can’t drive anywhere, but have to walk. If someone steals your identity, you are no longer you, or at least no one believes you are you. This is the kind of thing that sometimes happens in science fiction or horror stories – a man goes on a journey and returns home to find that someone has stolen his identity, and is living in his house, with his wife, and his children call the stranger “daddy”, and no longer recognise their real father. That is identity theft, and of course it is personation as well. But someone who personates you in order to withdraw money from your bank account has stolen your money, not your identity. You are still you.

But there are scams that involve identity theft, and they were quite common a few years ago. One was when someone personates you to take out a life insurance policy on your life. Then they get a forged death certificate, and claim on the policy. And they might try to do several other things with it. And suddenly, to a lot of people, you are no longer you, because “you” are dead. In that kind of case, your identity really has been stolen, because even if you know who you are, nobody believes you.

But whether it is simple personation, or actual identity theft, it is still nasty, and something one needs to take precautions against.

How does it affect family history?

One example is that went I moved to where I am living now, I opened a bank account at a local bank, and on the application form I had to give my mother’s maiden name. They didn’t say why they wanted it, but I later discovered that if someone came into the bank claiming to be me, the bank would allow them to operate my account if they could tell the bank my mother’s maiden name. Now that was really stupid on the part of the bank. They thought it provided security and would make it harder for scammers to personate their clients. But family historians know the maiden names of most of the mothers in their family, and are anxious to find out the rest. So using the mother’s maiden name as a security question was really stupid. I think the banks have learnt a few lessons since then, and are not quite so naive about it. But if at the time they had told me that that was why they wanted me to put my mother’s maiden name on the application form, I could have told them how stupid it was.

If one is putting a family tree in a public place, like a web site, then most programs that create them allow one to avoid showing full information about living persons, and it is wise to do that, precisely because of the danger of personation.

We have a Growden family internet forum, with a mailing list, and a place to exchange files and photographs and to share information throuigh databases. But it is a “members only” forum. You have to say what your interest in the family is before you can join.

I have sometimes had requests from complete strangers, asking me to send them all the information on the Xxxx family. My response to such requests is to ask how they are linked to that family, and whether they are related, and what their relationship is. If they can show that they actually are related, then I will gladly share family history information with them, but it must be a two-way thing. I won’t give my research unless they are prepared to give me theirs. The ones who simply ask for “all the information” on the Xxxx family” might be naive newbies, who pick a branch of a family that isn’t really theirs, and latch on to it, or else they are scammers looking for information to try to personate someone in the family for criminal purposes. So my rule is, don’t share your family information with people who aren’t prepared to share theirs with you. If you take reasonable precautions like that, you are unlikely to fall victim to personation because of your family history.

The greater danger is phishing, with phony e-mails pretending to be from your bank or something, and asking for your account and password details. I got one like that yesterday.

Dear Customer,
Absa bank technical department will be carrying out a systematic
upgrade on our Network server from 7am today to 5am tomorrow morning to
avoid hackers from accessing your online account.
To take your account through this update process,
Please click on the link below

https://ib.absa.co.za/ib/tvn_upgrade

*Note. Absa Bank will not be responsible for loss of funds to online Phishers
as a result of failure to comply with this new directive.
You will also need to verify your TVN upon request.
Thank You

But hovering the cursor over the URL they asked you to click on showed this:

http://thoughtbroker.com.au/upgrades.absa/absa-banking-update/logonform.do/ibank-login.php

Now why would a South African bank (where I don’t have an account anyway) have an address at a web site called “thoughtbroker.com.au”? That’s a dead giveaway, and it’s as phishy as hell.

And some of the phishers are even more naive, and send their bogus messages from webmail addresses like gmail or yahoo. No reputable bank would send a message from an address like that, though some of the victims of the phishers are apparently even more naive, and fall for that sort of thing.

To get back to family history: be careful, but don’t be paranoid. Within the last month I’ve made contact with four distant cousins, in either my family or my wife’s, because they discovered links either on this blog or on one of our other family web sites. And because we’ve agreed to share information, once we have established the links, we’ve learnt a lot more about hitherto unknown branches of our family, and so have they about theirs. If we’d been over-suspicious, we might have missed a lot.

But a few years ago I had a couple of strange and rather frustrating encounters with over-suspicious family history researchers. One (no names, no pack drill) complained that I had posted information about “their” family (which was mine as well) on the web, and said I ought to have informed them of this, when I hadn’t even known they existed. But they themselves had posted family history queries on all sorts of web sites and magazines, without informing me, and it was in fact through one of the queries that they had posted in a magazine that I had managed to make contact with them at all, and discovered descendants of a branch of the family that connected with mine in the 1830s. They mentioned concerns about identity theft, but posting family details from the 1830s is hardly likely to help identity thieves, and they had posted more than I had. It was rather sad, because by sharing information we could probably both advance our research.

Another example was even more strange and frustrating was correspondence with someone I knew only as “visionir”, and was researching the Stooke family. I mentioned which branch I was interested in, and got this reply:

I have that branch quite straight and have been in contact with the
descendants of the children Mary and Sarah.
The William I am claiming was 7, in Love Street, Clifton in 1851.
His father was Thomas age 38 born Westbury, Salop.

The Mary in question was my great grandmother, Mary Barber Stooke who married William Allen Hayes, and the Sarah was her sister. I didn’t have that branch quite straight, and wasn’t in contact with their descendants, and would dearly love to learn more, but “visionir” wasn’t telling. In that case I don’t think it was oversuspiciousness or malice, but just being rather scatty and disorganised, and assuming that everyone already knew everything that they knew. Eventually I did manage, about 10 messages later, to get out of him/her that Sarah Stooke had married someone called Charlie Parker who kept a pub in Bristol. And I wasn’t able to help “visionir” much because the information he/she gave was too disconnected to make any sense of.

In neither of these cases did the people concerned use computers to keep track of their genealogy, though they did use the Internet to contact others. This led to some weird assumptions. For example the first lot took offence that my genealogy program put my contact address at the bottom of a family group sheet I sent them to show what I had on that branch of the family. They accused me of “claiming” their research. I think that is carrying the hermeneutic of suspicion too far.

Axholme Ancestry

A few days ago I found the web site of a hitherto unknown cousin, Penny Howell, who is also descended from the Vause family, and in following up some loose ends on that family discovered another web site that deals with Isle of Axholme family history, Axholme Ancestry. It seems to be a remarkably useful site for anyone whose ancestors come from the Isle of Axholme.

Epworth, Lincolnshire, England (May 2005)

Our Vause ancestors seem to originate in Epworth in the Isle of Axholme, which is north-west Lincolnshire in England. There seem to be several Vause families in Epworth and in the neighbouring town of Belton, and the Axholme Ancestry site lets everyone put their families into a single database, which should make it easier to find out if there are any links between them.

St Andrew's Church, Epworth

Though they started in Epworth our Vause family moved around a bit, because they also lived in Fishlake and Thorne in Yorkshire, and my great-great grandfather, Richard Vause (1822-1886), was born in Hull, across the river Humber, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The whole area is sometimes called Humberside, which is a good geographical name, though some people objected to it because it was a short-lived administrative county that took people out of their traditional counties. But the Axholme Ancestry web site covers a lot of the neighbouring towns and cities as well, because ours wasn’t the only family that moved around.

St Oswald's Church, Crowle, Lincolnshire

Richard Vause’s father, John Vause (1784-1863), was born in Epworth. He was a maltster of Myton in Hull at the time his eldest son Richard was born. He lived at Thorninghurst, near Thorne, Yorkshire from about 1825-1835, then moved to Crowle, where he was an innkeeper of the Cross Keys commercial hotel.

There were other Vause families that lived at Crowle too, the database at Axholme Ancestry may make it a bit easier to find links between them.

James W. Growden Award

This item from an Alaskan newspaper mentions the James W. Growden award.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – entry Lathrop honors top students =:

At the Lathrop Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony Wednesday night, Keegan Severns received the James W. Growden Award, which goes to the top student athlete at the high school.

In recent years, former Lathrop basketball coach Joe Tremarello has made the presentation, including a description of Growden’s achievements. Growden was a star Fairbanks athlete in the 1950s who became a coach in Valdez. He died, along with his two sons, in the 1964 earthquake.

I believe there is also a Growden Memorial Park in Alaska, presumably also named after him.

James Wilson Growden was born in 1935, the youngest son of William Nelson Growden. James was my fourth cousin. I believe that his daughter Ronda survived (it was not the earthquake that killed James and his sons, but they had gone down to the harbour to watch the fishing boats land their catches, and were drowned by the resulting tsnunami).

William Nelson Growden was born in Tennessee, and worked in government service in Alaska. He was the son of Arthur Matthew Growden, who was born in Dunedin, New Zealand. Much of this information I got from Monica Louise Deragowski of New Orleans, who was a first cousin of James Wilson Growden, and was very interested in the family history, and corresponded with Growdens all over the world. I’ve been trying to continue her work, and see if I can find links between all the Growden families, so I’m very interested in news items, like the one above, that mention the Growden family history.

Research at the LDS Family History Centre

Val is on leave and last Friday we went to Johannesburg and did some research in the LDS Family History Centre in Parktown.  One of the things I always enjoy when going to the LDS Family Centre is the walk through the garden between the car park and the reading room. It is a pleasant place with ponds and lots of shady trees, and is especially enjoyable on hot summer days.

Garden at the LDS Family History Centre

Val was checking Methodist records from the Cape Colony, looking for the Stewardson and Morris families of Damaraland (now part of Namibia), who were said to have had Cape connections, and to have been Methodist missionaries.

I (Steve) was looking at microfilms of the parish registers of Lancaster, Lancashire, England, where the Cottam and Bagot families came from. I managed to find a fair number of entries relating to the siblings of my great-great-great grandmother, Maragaret Bagot, who married Richard Cottam in Lancaster in 1835, and I’ve been reconstructing the families from the parish records.

We also met Gwyneth Thomas there, who is indirectly linked to the Stewardson family through the Gunning family of Walvis Bay — John William Gunning married Charlotte Caroline Stewardson (sister of Val’s great great grandmother Kate Stewardson who married Fred Green) exactly 135 years ago today — they were married at Omaruru on 13 April 1875. Gwyneth Thomas is descended from John William Gunning’s younger sister Sarah Petronella Gunning (1845-1930) who married Thomas William Thomas in Cape Town.

We’ve been trying to exchange GEDCOM files with Gwyneth, but though hers reached us OK, ours seems to get mangled in the transmission, and ends up unreadable.

MyHeritage.com — another scam site?

I keep getting messages from MyHeritage.com, saying that there are SmartMatches for my family tree, or that various people want access to my tree.

When I go to their site, however, I cannot do anything about these, because I get this message:

Your family tree has 10,592 people. This exceeds the Basic subscription plan of your family site.

In order for your family tree to display all people, you must upgrade the site plan.

We have an Easter special: 30% discount on our Premium plan! But hurry up, this offer expires very soon.

Now I never subscribed to their site, with a basic plan or any other. I did not enter those 10 592 people on their site, so if it “exceeds” their basic plan, that is their problem, not mine.

They never asked me for my permission to put their data on their site, yet they seem to have done so, and now want me to pay them to have access to my own data, and to respond to the 19 other people who have asked my permission to access it because they think it matches something in their family tree.

There seems to be something unethical about this whole operation, in fact it seems to be yet another genealogy scam.

They stole my data without my permission, and now they want me to pay them to access it, or to give other people access to it.

Bagots of Lancaster

The past few weeks have been pretty busy with other things, and so not much time for family history. Our son Simon got a new job in Johannesburg, doing computer animation, which is what he’s really been wanting to do for a long time, and until he found a place to stay there at the beginning of the week we had to take him there and bring him home again, and in between I managed to get in some research time in various archives and libraries.

I was looking through a microfilm of the parish registers of St John’s, Lancaster, looking for Cottam, Bagot and Mashiter and related families, and found a number of Bagot entries, and then began sorting them into families, and found that several of them are linked to ours.

So we have John Bagot who married Dorothy Mashiter in Lancaster in 1798, and so far we’ve found six children for them: Nancy, William, Sarah, John, Margaret and Robert. John Bagot the elder was apparently a publican. Margaret married Richard Cottam and was my great great great grandmother.

The surname was spelt in various ways in the records, Bagot or Bagott mostly, though in the end most of them seemed to settle for Bagot.

We’ve managed to find children for William, John and Margaret.

William Bagot married Ann Wooliscroft, who was originally from Derbyshire, in 1823, and we’ve found six childfren for them, though there may have been more. We’ve found marriages and children for two of their boys, Henry and John Thomas. Two of the three girls appear not to have married.

John Bagot, son of John Bagot and Margaret Mashiter, was a watchmaker, and he married Isabella of Oxcliffe (where the Cottams seem to have come from). I’ve discovered four of their children, though there’s a bit of confusion about which of the grandchildre4n belongs to which.

And then there is the mysterious Mary Cottam Bagot, born in Lancaster in 1838, who was staying as a visitor with a Cottam family at Scotforth in the 1851 census. She seems to suggest that there were more links between the Bagot and the Cottam families than Margaret who married Richard, but until I can find her parents it’s hard to say what it was. Perhaps I’ll have to save up to buy her birth certificate!

Most popular blog posts of the year

These were the most popular posts and pages on this blog

2009-01-01 to Today

Title Views
Geocities Genealogy Pages 686 More stats
Geni.com — a flawed site 342 More stats
Families 339 More stats
Mysterious family and place names 209 More stats
The Hannan family 153 More stats
Childhood memories: Ingogo 1948 130 More stats
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Altavista still better than Google for g 126 More stats
Dead at my age 119 More stats
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FreeCen and researching Cornwall familie 113 More stats
About this Blog 112 More stats
In Durban – visiting relatives and resea 94 More stats
In Pietermaritzburg 90 More stats
Death of Canadian author Mollie Gillen 90 More stats
Tombstone Tuesday: earliest Sandercock 89 More stats
Software for family historians, biograph 82 More stats
Tombstone Tuesday: John and Mary Stooke 73 More stats
Tombstone Tuesday: Greenaways in Blislan 65 More stats
William Park of Bath, Belfast and Quebec 64 More stats

Disk crash and lost e-mail

I’ve had quite a lot of computer problems recently, including a dying hard disk. I won’t go into the details here — if you really want to know you can read them on my general blog at Notes from underground: Frustrating computers.

I managed to replace the dying disk drive with a new and bigger one, and restore backed-up data to it, but lost most of my e-mail for the last three months, from 1 September to 7 December, including messages in my “to-reply” folder.

I didn’t lose anything in my family history data files and notes, as I back those up and transfer them every day to my laptop computer, so the biggest loss is the e-mail, and in family history most of it relates to the Sandercock family, as we started the Sandercock mailing list in October. Most of the list mail is accessible on the web, but some people sent me things privately. So if you sent me something and were expecting a reply, and don’t receive one, please, if possible send a copy of your original message, or at least a reminder.

I also received something on the Descendants of Edward Sandercock and Elizabeth Higgs from an anonymous correspondent. It had quite a lot of new material, which I have entered into the family file, but am unable to attribute it to any source, because I no longer have the original e-mail.

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