1. Courses coming in August

     

    Looking for a course to study over the Summer? Coming up in August we have:

    In Sickness and in Death – researching the ill-health and death of your ancestors

    Tutor: Janet Few
    Start date: 12th August 2020
    Course length: 5 weeks

    One thing that all but our most recent ancestors have in common is that they are dead. The health problems and deaths of our ancestors are an integral part of our family’s history. This five week course will help you to set your ancestors’ lives in context by looking at the illnesses, disabilities and diseases that brought about their deaths or had an effect on their well-being. We shall discover a variety of records that might provide information about ill-health or causes of death for specific ancestors, or about prevalent threats to health in the past. The causes, symptoms and treatment of various illnesses will be investigated and significant medical developments of the last 400 years will be explored.

    Scottish Research Online

    Tutor: Chris Paton
    Start date: 31st August 2020
    Course length: 5 weeks

    Scotland was one of the first countries to digitise its major family history records collections for accessibility online, and continues to this day to use such resources to promote a worldwide interest in family history for those with Caledonian connections. This course describes the major sites and record types that you will encounter in your research, and how to analyse the results. Most importantly it will inspire you to actively pursue your interest in Scottish genealogy and take it to the next level.

  2. Courses coming in July

     

    We have some great courses coming up in July:

     

    Employment Records

    Tutor: Alec Tritton
    Start date: 2nd July 2020
    Course length: 5 weeks

    COURSE FULL but booking now for January 2021

    Scotland 1750-1850 – Beyond the Old Parish Registers

    Tutor: Chris Paton
    Start date: 6th July 2020
    Course length: 5 weeks

    An intermediate level course in Scottish family history for those who are going back beyond 1850, this course discusses sources that fill the gap when the OPRs are uninformative or missing; for example, records of parish and town administration, occupations, land transfer and taxation.

    Before the Modern Census – Name-rich sources from 1690 to 1837

    Tutor: Else Churchill
    Start date: 28th July 2020
    Course length: 4 weeks

    What do you do when the nominal census records that you have used so much are no longer there, when you cannot obtain names, ages, birthplaces and the household address of a family? And how do you supplement the deficiencies of parish registers?

    Your attention should turn to a variety of lists which at least reveal where someone lived at a particular time. Though this seems scant information, such facts can be vitally important especially in those years when children were not born and christened.

     

  3. Pharos Tutors under new ownership

    Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd has been purchased by Dr Karen Cummings DipGen, with the change in ownership effective immediately.

    Helen Osborn, co-founder and owner of the business since its inception in 2005, has sold the business to allow her to focus on other interests.

    Karen Cummings, who has been the Course Director for Pharos since October last year, is an established genealogist, tutor and speaker. She is one of our longstanding tutors and has taught and written a number of Pharos courses over the last 6 years. Students who have been on Karen’s courses will testify to her enthusiasm about Pharos courses and the subjects she teaches.

    Karen Cummings, new owner (right), with Helen Osborn

    Helen says “Pharos has been a large part of my life for 15 years and it now needs new vision and fresh enthusiasm to take it forwards. Karen shares my love of imparting the best genealogy tutoring and inspiration to all genealogists no matter where they are in their educational journey. She brings many skills to Pharos so I am really thrilled that she is stepping into my place. I know the company will not only be in safe hands, but will build on current successes and go from strength to strength.”

    Karen says “When Helen told me she was thinking of selling Pharos I jumped at the opportunity to buy the company. I’ve been a student, a tutor and then the Course Director for Pharos and, as we were moving things forward, I was constantly reminded of that 1980s marketing campaign “I liked it so much I bought the company”. We have the most amazing group of Tutors here at Pharos, I am in exceptionally good company. Like the other tutors, I am passionate about delivering high quality courses to students, providing them with tools to become better genealogists, and giving them the opportunity to ask questions along the way. We have over forty different courses currently running and more in development, and I am very excited about taking Pharos forward into the future”.

    If you have any questions, feel free to email Karen directly: karen@pharostutors.com

  4. What is Proof?

    This excellent article was written by Phil Isherwood, and he has kindly allowed us to reproduce it here. Phil is a Pharos Graduate who describes himself as an amateur genealogist. His daily working life includes developing methodologies for business teams, a skill transferable to genealogy research. You can find Phil’s blog here: Seeing the Wood for the Trees and follow him on Twitter: @isherwood_phil 
    The end goal of all genealogical investigations is to establish proof, by which we mean a convincing, credible case for a specific ancestral identity, relationship, or life event. By thorough research in sources, we must find sufficient detailed, matching evidence to uncover and reconstruct relationships and events relating to our research target, and only our research target.
    But how do we decide when an accumulation of evidence reaches a threshold that we call proof? How do we define it? How do we decide when it has been met? How do we assess what others have proposed as proof? Is there just one valid definition of proof or are there many? These are questions that are central to the pursuit of genealogy.
    This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

    Why is a definition of proof important for genealogy?

    Once, in those not so distant pre-Internet days, many genealogists laboured away in near isolation, uncovering family histories from public, private or academic sources then sharing the outcomes within their families. Today, genealogy is a collective activity, nourished by easy online access to many sources, supported by vibrant societies and online communities. We share ideas and knowledge, we communicate with and educate one another, and, crucially, we often share our findings. One need only take a brief look at the thousands of published trees on Ancestry and other large subscription sites to understand the ubiquity of sharing amongst family historians. Some, such as the LDS Church, have even gone as far as to suggest that an end goal of collective sharing could be a single, comprehensive family tree of everyone.

    But, as many who have looked at shared online trees in any detail, one quickly realises that the published conclusions of some family historians can stretch credulity. At best it can be said that there is a variable interpretation of what is required to establish a genealogical proof.

    A standard definition of what constitutes proof is clearly necessary for any serious genealogical endeavour, as without a consistent measure of proof we can’t achieve consistent outcomes. When collaborating with others, it is an essential.

    A History of Genealogical Proof

    In the UK there has never been an official definition of genealogical proof – something which I have found troubling. In the USA however, the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) has been a leader in setting out formal definitions and, where needed, updating them over time.

    The BCG’s original definition of genealogical proof was based on the legal standard of proof as used in civil court cases. This principle is called the Preponderance of the Evidence, which amounts to “when I weigh all of the pros and all of the cons, I think that the pros outweigh the cons.”

    This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

    Sounds reasonable, right? But there’s a catch – the margin by which the pros outweigh the cons can be tiny, even infinitesimally small. Where there is a significantly larger quantity and quality of evidence on one side this can work, but in marginal cases this can lead to conclusions which we might view today with some suspicion.

    In the late 1990s, the BCG recognised the weaknesses of Preponderance of the Evidence and developed a new definition of called the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), which they published in 2000.

    The Genealogical Proof Standard

    The GPS is a five-step process which defines a well conducted genealogical investigation. It can be simply summarised as: search, cite, analyse, consolidate, and conclude. To have met the standard, the researcher must show that their whole investigation (not just the conclusions) meets all five of the elements.

    The Genealogical Proof Standard

    1. Reasonably Exhaustive Search
    Full text: “Reasonably exhaustive research – emphasizing original records providing participants’ information – for all evidence that might answer a genealogist’s question about an identity, relationship, event, or situation.”

    So, what is a “reasonably exhaustive search“? Simply put, it is a search that has examined all potentially relevant sources. It implies that we start our investigation by finding out what the potentially relevant sources will be, list them and then search them all in turn, consulting the original or an image of the original wherever possible. By doing so we minimise the risk of undiscovered evidence emerging later to overturn an initial, perhaps hasty, conclusion.

    2. Complete, Accurate Source Citations
    Full text: “Complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item contributing – directly, indirectly, or negatively – to answers about that identity, relationship, event or situation.

    Thorough, accurate citing of sources helps us to remember where we found the information we rely on as evidence and enables others to validate that our search has indeed been “reasonably exhaustive”. Assuring others of the quality of our search is doubly important, it enables them to:

    • replicate our steps; and
    • contribute their own ideas about other relevant sources which could enhance our research.

    Citation is the single most effective tool for enabling effective collaboration between genealogists.

    3. Analyse and Correlate Sources, Information and Evidence
    Full text: “Tests – through processes of analysis and correlation – of all sources, information items, and evidence contributing to an answer to a genealogical question or problem.

    What this really means is that we need to make a sound interpretation of the evidence at our disposal. Kick the tyres, make sure that it stands up to scrutiny, be honest with ourselves about any gaps or deficiencies that may be there. This is the right point to consider whether the evidence we’ve collected forms a full and coherent picture. Is it the best available evidence? Is there any other potential evidence we could add to our search to strengthen our case? Is the evidence sufficient to support our conclusions? Will our conclusions reflect all the relevant evidence, good and bad, direct and indirect, positive and negative?

    4. Resolve Conflicting Evidence
    Full text: “Resolution of conflicts among evidence items pertaining to the proposed answer.

    It is a genealogical truism that any sufficiently exhaustive search will uncover at least some conflicting evidence. The corollary is also often true, that if you’ve failed to find any conflicting evidence then you may not have performed a sufficiently exhaustive search!

    Analysing and resolving conflicting evidence is an essential step. Are we able to understand what the conflicts in the evidence might mean? Can we account for them? Or does the conflicting nature of the evidence put our conclusion into doubt? If we’re unable to resolve conflicting evidence satisfactorily then we will not be able to formulate a credible conclusion.

    5. Soundly Reasoned, Coherently Written Conclusion
    Full text: “A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion based on the strongest available evidence.

    At first glance, this element of the GPS seems like a non-sequitur. Conclusions must be:

    • soundly reasoned – as no-one would accept a conclusion that relied on unsoundreasoning;
    • coherently written – as no-one would accept a conclusion that was written incoherently; and
    • based on the strongest available evidence – as no-one would accept a conclusion based on partial, weak, or inaccurate evidence.

    What this really means is that our conclusion must be based on a sound appreciation of what evidence was available, that we accurately interpreted and collated the evidence, and show how the evidence leads to the conclusion. It enables us to demonstrate that our conclusion is not only valid, but free from bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence.

    What the GPS is – and what it isn’t!

    There is little doubt that the Genealogical Proof Standard is a significant improvement upon Preponderance of the Evidence. It sets a far higher standard for proof to be achieved – no more dodgy marginal cases – and roots its requirements in the language of genealogy rather than a legal framework which has doubtful relevance to our pursuit. It is applicable to all genealogy work, not only in the USA but all around the world, whether professional or amateur. It sets clear expectations on how we should plan, execute, and document our work. It creates a common standard and supports common outcomes that can be scrutinised, replicated, or refuted. It is a vital tool that all genealogists who have mastered basic sources should try to understand and engage with. It is the missing link that may, in the future, allow genealogy to be the truly collective experience that it could and, many would argue, should be.

    This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

    But it has problems too:

    • it isn’t a single, cogent statement against which a documented conclusion can be measured;
    • there is no straightforward checklist one can use to say “if these items are covered in the documented findings then it passes”;
    • to assess whether a documented outcome has met the standard, the assessor must have access to details of how the investigation was conducted;
    • the five steps of the GPS each have detailed definitions which require some knowledge and skill to understand fully and utilise.

    One can easily use the GPS to assess formal genealogy reports, but it is simply not possible to use it to assess the principal form of communication in modern genealogy – the online tree.

    So, if it has shortcomings should we be making efforts to use it? Yes! Yes! Yes!
    The GPS is the only agreed standard for genealogical proof. It is the best available and we should all be using it so that:

    • we have confidence in our own conclusions;
    • we have confidence in the conclusions of our peers and collaborators; and
    • we can share our work in the confidence that it can be used as the basis for further investigation without the need to be re-verified from top to toe.

    It is a sad fact that in the laissez-faire world of shared online trees, one must re-assess all findings before using any element for one’s own purposes. Consciously using the GPS can reduce needless rework and, most importantly, make us all better genealogists.

    The GPS is not perfect – even investigations that follow it thoroughly and accurately can’t ensure perfect certainty in their outcome. (We are engaged in family history, not mathematics, so there can never be perfect certainty!)

    It is a little daunting, but it is the best framework and standard that the global genealogy community has. Once mastered, it can and will save you time, effort, energy, and tears!
    Have I persuaded you that the GPS is the best way forward for your genealogy? Please let me know in the comments below.

    Sources

    1. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2nd Edition 2019).
    1. Anderson, Robert Charles. 2019. Tools for Testing Genealogical Proofs. Talk delivered at RootsTech London, 24 October.
  5. From Family Fact to Family Fiction – Barefoot on the Cobbles

    Pharos Tutor, Janet Few, is author and tutor on the course ‘Are you Sitting Comfortably: Writing and Telling your Family History’. Here she tells us about some of the research that was necessary to turn a family story into a fictionalised account for a forthcoming novel. Janet lives and works in Devon.
    I always knew I would write a novel one day, just not this novel. When FindmyPast released some criminal records, I discovered the story of a local couple who were accused of the manslaughter of their adult daughter. Although this only took place in 1918, no hint of the incident had passed down to the present day and I was intrigued.
    One hundred years ago, in the euphoria of the armistice, a young woman lay dying in a North Devon fishing village. Her parents were to stand trial for her manslaughter. Barefoot on the Cobbles uncovers the story of the troubled individuals involved and the traumas in their pasts that led to this tragedy. I have tried to recreate life at the dawning of the twentieth century and to root the narrative in its unique and beautiful geographical setting,
    I used very similar research techniques to those that I suggest in my Pharos course. The court records do not survive, but I was able to find very detailed newspaper accounts and they were the key to unlocking the past. They also helped me with dialogue, as I had access to verbatim witness statements. Of course, my previous history and genealogy books hadn’t required me to be able to write speech. The novel is set in a fishing community, where the weather played a huge part in people’s lives and I tried very hard to reflect actual weather events of the time. Fortunately, monthly weather reports for the period I was writing about are available. Where possible, I even tried to write chapters at the right time of year, so that I knew that I was capturing correctly the twists of the seasons and the wildflowers in the hedgerows.
    Being an historian, I was obsessed with getting things right. It was very difficult at first to realise that this was not family history, it was fiction and I could fill in the gaps by making things up. Actually, very little was invented in the end. You would not believe the extended debate that ensued over very minor points, such as whether Clovelly donkeys carried luggage down the hill as well as up. Despite photographic evidence, it seems they did not. It turned out that the photograph that suggested to the contrary was posed for a film!
    Avoiding anachronisms is not just about making sure your sixteenth century character is not wearing a wristwatch, or your hero does not put his shopping in a plastic carrier bag in the 1930s; I have read both of these clangers. Using appropriate language was another challenge. I had to be careful not to use phrases or vocabulary that was inconsistent with the early twentieth century. Reading novels and diaries that were written in the period, or earlier, was a great help here.
    I call it a ‘why done it’, it is very much about people and why they may have behaved as they did. It is essentially a book about people and what makes them behave in a particular way. The characters and their backgrounds allowed me to explore such issues as anorexia, shell-shock, mental health, alcoholism, the menopause and infant mortality. You will find evidence of my interest in the history of medicine and of my love of the Devon landscape, hidden between the covers of this book.
    I spent two years immersed in a landscape that was familiar and an era that was not. The characters became as real to me as my own family and somehow I knew how they would react in certain situations. In the end, the facts and the fiction became intertwined and now I have to remind myself which are the parts of the novel that I invented.
    **********************************************************************************
    Barefoot on the Cobbles is due out on 17 November, for more information see
    http://bit.do/bfotc
    Details of Janet’s course Are you Sitting Comfortably: Writing and Telling your Family History here
     

  6. What is your oldest possession?

    This post is by Pharos Tutor, Julie Goucher
    Image - Oldest possession
    As humans we all have many things in common and yet we are unique individuals. One thing we have in common is that we each have a surname, in fact there is a chance it is our oldest possession. We were probably born with it, but we might have acquired it though marriage or adoption. Regardless of how we acquired it, we share our surnames with others, some of whom we are related to and others we are not. For some genealogists, that concept is fascinating and so a project of proportion is born, a one-name study or research into a surname.
    Over the course of the next five weeks, a group of genealogists will be exploring the wider angle of surname research. We will be understanding the concept of one-name studies and surname research, exploring surnames and their history and using distribution maps which often add an interesting dimension to our studies as well as our family history. Also, we will be exploring core records that we need to build our studies and the process of gathering information.  We will then discover data analysis and making sense of it all and look at the practical aspects of operating a one-name study, covering organising it, software, sharing your study using Facebook Groups and using the unique help of the Guild of One-Name Studies Profile feature as well as having your own website. The Guild offers the opportunity to have a website on the Guild servers, at no cost to those with a registered study. The website is indexed by all the search engines such as Google and Bing and provides a platform for you to share your material with others, find lost cousins, and preserve the material at the same time.
    Each week there is a lesson with a series of exercises to undertake, with the answers and comments shared in the student forum, lesson material to read and think about, a video or two to watch. At the end of each lesson is a list of references covered during the lesson and perhaps some hints for recommended reading. Also, each week there is a student chat, this enables conversation, debate, the exchange of information, hints, tips and guidance.
    Since the 1st February on my own blog I have published each day about some of the fascinations of researching a surname, undertaking the Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies course and getting the best from membership of the Guild of One-Name Studies.
    By investing the time to understand the broader concepts of surname research and how that works with, and links to other disciplines, you are laying solid foundations for both your own one-name study and your own family history. At the early stages, it is more than just tree building or name collection, solid foundations involve thinking about what you want your study to achieve over the longer term, thus enabling yourself to build a research plan to meet your study goals and discover the fascinating story of your oldest possession.
    The Introduction to One-Name Studies course starts on 13 February 2018 and runs for five weeks.
    Read more about Julie
     

  7. How do you research your family tree?

    This is a cross post from the excellent blog by professional genealogist and Pharos Tutor Karen Cummings.  You may have missed the original, so we make no apologies for posting it again.
    __________________________________________________________________________

    How do you research your family tree?

    It’s not a trick question, I would like to know. There are so many adverts these days for the big commercial websites: “just type your name in and see what you will discover” and I am concerned we may be losing knowledge of how to conduct proper genealogical research.
    It’s not a question of clicking links on Ancestry (other commercial websites are available) and adding people to your tree, or, even worse, basing research on shaking green leaves or hints. Yes, you can easily create a family tree this way but, and I say this with tongue in cheek, you could end up barking up completely the wrong tree!

    There is far more to genealogical research: knowledge and methodology.

    To conduct genealogical research effectively you need an understanding of sources. What sources should you investigate for a particular research need? When were they created and why? What is the likelihood that your ancestor will be included? There are many courses available to increase your knowledge of different sources, such as those from the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS), Pharos and the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee. There are also lots and lots of books available, e.g. the “My Ancestor was…” series from the Society of Genealogists and the “Tracing Your … Ancestors” series from Pen and Sword and many articles in the family history magazines.

    Even with an understanding of sources there is still a need for caution with the data available on Ancestry, Find My Past and the like. What sources are actually included in a database? Is the database complete or will more records be added later? What are the most effective search techniques and how do you untangle the results you find?

    I saw this posted on a social media group recently:
    “Which side do you work from and why? Family Tree Maker or Ancestry?”

    Aggh! That had me positively jumping up and down on my soap box! Are we really led to believe that “everything is on Ancestry”? Is that what people think? Good quality research considers what sources are required THEN where they are, not the other way around.

    This brings me onto methodology. In the UK we really do not give methodology much air time. Our US cousins are far better at formalising genealogy methodology. In my opinion we really need to think about this more.

    Two things happened whilst I was at “WDYTYA Live” in Birmingham recently that left me with completely opposing opinions of “the way things are”. Firstly I went to a talk from American, Robert Charles Anderson, on the methodology he describes in his book Elements of Genealogical Analysis. It describes a systematic methodical approach to analysing your research and coming to sound conclusions. Some of you may be familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard, more commonly used in the US but, again, a sound methodology to establishing “proof”. That deserves a series of blog post on its own so I won’t go into it further here. I thought Mr Anderson’s approach was excellent but around half the audience got up during the talk and walked out. Was it just the American records bias of the talk or are people really no longer interested in doing things properly?

    At the complete opposite end of the scale, a new book had just been published by Pen and Sword from a colleague of mine, John Wintrip, Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors. The title is deceptive and really does not show it off to the best of the publisher’s abilities. Yes, there is much discussion on the specifics of research in the pre-Victorian period but it is the subtitle that is important: “A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians“. I understand that it was sold out by the end of day 2, and I certainly did not see any copies for sale on the last day, so maybe we are still taking this seriously after all.

    We need more of this in the UK: Sound advice on how to conduct proper, good quality genealogical research.

    John starts by considering the skills and knowledge needed for genealogical research and breaks this down into four areas:

    knowledge of sources
    searching skills
    analytical and problem solving skills
    external knowledge

    There are chapters on sources, distinguishing between original and derivative sources and records, and search techniques, including how to get the best from online databases.

    Special consideration is given to names, social status, religion, occupations and migration and how these may affect your research journey but there is much focus on methodology: using archives, evidence and proof and techniques such as family reconstitution.

    John’s book describes research techniques as used by the professionals and those who take their family history seriously. It introduces the concept of considering the records you are using in the context of what was happening from a historical perspective at the time. Filled with useful case studies from his own research John teaches you to consider the wider picture. Is it possible that a birth you may be looking for is not where you thought because the father was in the militia at the time and stationed elsewhere?
    We do not have a lot of information about genealogy research methodology in the UK.

    The only other recent publication that comes to mind is the also excellent Genealogy: Essential Research Methods from Helen Osborn. Taking a slightly different approach to John Wintrip’s book I heartily recommend both volumes to anyone serious about their research.

    bloghelen

    Please, and I know I have used this word repeatedly, can we do this properly?


    Find out more about Karen here

  8. Trilogies

    This post is by Pharos Tutor, Stuart Raymond, author, teacher and genealogist
    I had a very curious experience last year. I asked Pen & Sword if they would be interested in publishing a book on Nonconformist Ancestors. To which the response was, well, why not expand it to include the Church of England as well? To which my response was, the nonconformist sources would be swamped. Well, in that case, why not two books, one on Nonconformity, one on the Church of England. Oh, and throw in another on Roman Catholic records as well. To which I responded, Help!!!
    But my publisher was right. There were few up to date books which provided comprehensive coverage of sources relating to the various different denominations. Yes, there are many which cover aspects of those sources, such as my own on Parish Registers, or some of the Society of Genealogists’ My ancestors were … series on specific denominations. But there was little recent work which covered the whole range of sources in detail. So I set to work.
    Earlier this year, the first of the trilogy appeared. Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors: a guide for family and local historians aims to provide an overview of nonconformist records. It begins with an outline history of nonconformity, which explains the context in which records were created. Those records are held in many different record offices, which are discussed in some detail.  Many records are common to all nonconformist denominations, for example, state and ecclesiastical records of late seventeenth-century persecution, and the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials deposited with the Registrar General in 1841 and 1856 (and now available at www.bmdregisters.co.uk). The structures of the various nonconformist denominations are sometimes very different, and it is important to know that the record keeping activities of Quakers are very centralised, whereas most Baptist or Congregationalist records do not go beyond the local church. The sheer diversity of nonconformist denominations must also be taken into account. The first denomination mentioned in my index is the Apostolic Church, and the last the Wesleyan Reform Union.


    Tracing your Church of England Ancestors: a Guide for Family and Local Historians is currently on the point of publications; indeed, attendees at WDYTYA have already had the opportunity to see copies. As one would expect, this includes chapters on parish registers and associated sources of baptisms, marriages and burials, and also on probate records (which were a church responsibility). But it also deals with a wide range of other sources created by the Church of England at both diocesan and parish level. These range from churchwardens’ accounts to midwives’ licences, from incumbents’ visiting books to excommunication record. There is also a chapter on the records of Anglican organizations such as the Church Missionary Society, and the Waifs and Strays Society. I wonder how many genealogists have used the records of charities such as these?
    The third book in the trilogy, Tracing your Roman Catholic Ancestors, is not due to appear until early next year. It will of course look at records of Roman Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials, which can be found in both Anglican parish registers, and in Catholic mission registers. But Catholics were subject to severe persecution for over 250 years after 1558, much more so than the nonconformists. So I will be looking in detail at the records of persecution by both state and church. Attention will also be given to the numerous seminaries, monasteries, convents and schools founded by English exiles on the continent during the penal years – and to the many institutions founded in England when the French Revolution forced their return to England. How many of our ancestors attended the Catholic schools they founded?
    Now, what was I doing before I started all this? Ah yes, conducting my Pharos courses on apprentices and the seventeenth century.
    Stuart A. Raymond
    31st May 2017
    Buy Stuart’s books from Genfair:  https://www.genfair.co.uk/search.php
    Pen & Sword website: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/
     

  9. Your oldest document

    This post is by Wayne Shepheard.
    What is the oldest document you have found for an ancestor? Do you have a picture or image copy of it?
    Church registers are among the most common sources for information. They are also among the most desirable as they are primary sources for birth, marriage and death dates, the building blocks for genealogical research. But many church records don’t reach back even to the 16th century, due to a lack of preservation or, in some instances, because they were never created.
    Vital records appear to have been kept in most regions from the early 16th century onward, with a few local exceptions:

    • England – parish registers mandated in 1538 at the time of the Reformation; only a few Roman Catholic parishes have vital data from before this date, mainly for only prominent families

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#England

    • France – civil legislation mandated registers be kept from 1539; oldest have been found in Givry Parish from 1334.

    https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/France_Church_Records

    • Germany – Protestant records from 1524, St. Sebald in Nürnberg; most reform churches kept records from 1650

    https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany_Church_Records

    • Italy – mandatory from 1563 onward; oldest in Gemona del Friuli from 1379

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#Italy

    • Scotland – requirement for records of baptisms and marriages from 1552; most areas date from much later

    http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/birth-death-and-marriage-records/old-parish-registers

    • Sweden – some parish registers date to 1620s; churches were ordered to record detailed books from 1686

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#Sweden
    One might well ask why it took that long before authorities across Europe demanded the registration of births, marriages and deaths. Perhaps it was to do with governing bodies wishing to keep new and more accurate lists for tax purposes.
    Genealogists may also find names of their ancestors, not necessarily with correct, or any surnames, hand-written in manorial or property documents. Other sources might be court records, both civil and criminal.
    A tremendous upheaval in European population occurred following outbreaks of the Black Death of the mid-14th century resulting in the displacement or migration of great numbers of people. Connections to their origins may well have been lost with the mass movement of these working class people. Genealogists today would have great difficulty in tracing these families back further than the 15th or 16th centuries.
    So the vast majority of us, who descend from regular people, will find difficulty in tracing our full family history. This may be one reason why so many family histories end up with Charlemagne in their tree.
    In my search for the oldest genealogical-related record, I found a reference to a marriage in 449 BC interpreted from the Elphantine papyri, part of 175 documents found in Egypt in 1893. The record appears to be a formal recognition of the marriage between a Jewish temple officer, Ananiah, and Tamut, an Egyptian slave (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephantine_papyri#/media/File:Aramaic._Marriage_Document,_July_3,_449_B.C.E..jpg).
    aramaic-_marriage_document_july_3_449_b-c-e
    Marriage Document of Ananiah and Tamut, July 3, 449 BCE, Brooklyn Museum
    The oldest record image for family members in my own library does not quite go so far back! It is for the 1603 baptism of an 8th great-grandaunt, Marie Sheppeard, in Plympton St. Mary parish, Devon. At least I am pretty confident she was related. The existing parish register only begins in 1602 so unfortunately just misses the baptism of my 8th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard, which I believe took place in 1601. I do have a copy of the record of his marriage to Margerit Lee in the same parish in 1630, the baptisms of two of their children in 1633 and 1638, and his will, made in 1657.
    It is very important to actually see original or copies of original documents. Too often transcriptions and indexes misstate information. Getting back before 1600 is a challenge, though.
    What is the very oldest record you have found for which you have seen a copy of the actual document? How did you come across it?
    About the Author
    Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in Family History Skills & Strategies (Intermediate). He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy, in which he relates his experiences as a family historian.

  10. Progress of a sort

    This is a post by Pharos co-founder Sherry Irvine.
    It is with some embarrassment that I confess that so many months have passed since my first article on getting back to my family history – to making a start at writing. Not much has happened in the way of writing, but I have not been idle: I have taken the time to think about the project and stumbled upon things that help me conjure up ideas.
    The time available has been limited. I should have expected that now that moving closer to grandchildren would have an impact on allocating time.  Those hours I have found have been devoted to what can only be called preliminaries. It took several months settle into our new home, but we have progressed to the point where just about everything is either out of boxes or in readily accessible clearly labelled boxes. Fortunately there are not many of the latter and I have put all the family albums and loose photographs into one cabinet and part of another. I know what is where. Also, I know that I can spread things out and leave them should that be necessary. Mind you, it can be only one project at a time. Right now I am doing some sewing, so the machine stays where  it is for another week or two.
    I went through the photo album for my father’s early years, 1918 to 1925. The pictures tell only part of the story, numerous though they may be. My notes, or those by my father, lack certain essential details: where did they live once the family, with my infant father, moved back to Toronto from Winnipeg in 1918? Obviously, some modern family history has been neglected.
    The photo albums show one thing I know from my own childhood. He was surrounded by women. Most of the pictures were taken by one or more of my grandmothers sisters, whom we called collectively “The Aunts”. They were younger than my grandmother, only one of them married but had no children, and my father was an only child. His father and mother were over 40 when he was born.
     He was the centre of attention not only for his mother and her sisters, but for his grandmother and his one and only cousin, a girl ten years older.
    He had a happy childhood, at least until he was a teenager in the hard years of the Depression. His father, an architect, was a man of many practical talents, and the summers at a cottage offered opportunities to mess about in boats, learn some mechanics, and mix with a wide range of people.
    How do I show all that and more in an interesting manner that somehow is just the right length for young and old? And, most difficult of all how do I do next? (To encourage myself, I have decided that the organizing of photos and albums, the creation of a work space, and the review of the first album of my father’s life, are legitimate progress.)
    Happenstance has come to my aid – I have found something that undertakes to explain scrap-booking in 60 illustrated pages. It seems quite out of character for me to be reading something like this, but I do see the relationship. Some of the advice makes good sense: for example, sort photographs by themes and then by logical groups. My theme is obvious, my father’s life, my groups of photos can be stages of his life: the number of groups does not matter as much as getting things sorted. This exercise turns the pictures into a means of creating an outline that will help me judge what to use, how much to write, and how to make it all look interesting. I can return to the easy-read scrap-booking guide to help me plan. At that point I am on familiar ground, as I have done a lot of planning as a genealogist. After all it is fundamental to good research, to writing a book, or preparing a lecture.
    I am heading for firm ground.