Confessions of a nouveau genealogist

A structure or pattern is now emerging in my new-found genealogy interest, with FOUR strands combining to give me focus and direction. I freely admit that my motivation is more intellectual than emotional, and there’s a cold logic rather than warm excitement, I really couldn’t care less whether I am descended from Isaac Newton or Alfred The Great for example. I am driven by learning about the historical context in which my ancestors lived, their occupations and travels giving meaning to the social history of England. In turn, this drive is fuelled by learning how to conduct the research, some of which is occurring formally via the Strathclyde University online course, some is happening experientially through particular writing and blogging, and finally through the fantastic engagement of other enthusiasts both amateur and professional. Here are my four strands:

1. Ancestral lines
After various mistakes, brick walls and rabbit holes I have researched and verified the twin ancestral lines of my mother and father going back 3-4 generations in each case. I was born and raised in Cumbria, as was my mother, with her father and his ancestors mostly being miners from Cornwall, and her mother’s family being navvies and agricultural workers from Kent. My dad was born and raised in Durham, his paternal ancestors were miners from Devon and his maternal ancestors were also mostly miners as well as agricultural workers from North Yorkshire. And so I have four ancestral lines like this:

2. Historical contexts, national and local
Each of those four family lines travel through time being influenced by laws, wars, plague, civil conflict, religion, trade, education, and geography. Some of these things are national influences, some are purely local. For example the global price of tin affected my Cornish mining ancestors but not my Kentish navvies; the increasing enclosure of farm land effected my Yorkshire agricultural workers but not my Cumbrian iron ore miners; Henry VIIIs debasement of English coinage affected all of them, as did the estate grabbing lawlessness during the Wars of The Roses, and the rising wages caused by the manpower shortages resulting from various plagues. All of these examples are the bedrock of English Social History a theme of my Imaginative Ancestry blogging with Trevelyan being my guide.

The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure

3. Personal learning
In my professional psychologist days I was branded as a “learning animal”, always wanting to keep up to date with recent research, regularly trying new approaches and making sure my staff did too. It seems to be part of my DNA (!) and my approach to family history is no different. The online learning course with Strathclyde University has coaxed me through strategies and techniques galore, as well as evidence based approaches, the proof standard, and shown me many different sources of information. Some are common and obvious such as the GRO (General Records Office) for births, marriages, deaths, but then occasional gems get thrown in such as the Cambridge Research programme into occupations since the 1300s with an example from their work in the graphic above. But MOST importantly I have gained so much from fellow bloggers, within this blogging sphere everyone being willing to share experiences, whether they be a rank amateur like myself or a professional of many years standing. This is quite a different environment from my wine blogging experiences!

4. Blog organisation and engagement
I decided fairly early that I would not create a new blog for my family history but would continue with the old one, same web address but a different blog title. I’d done this before as our blog focus changed from mountaineering to Nepal education aid, then to travel and finally to wine collecting, each also having various political and philosophical rants thrown in. The previous changes were easy, new categories and different menus were all that was needed, but something wasn’t quite right with the new focus that I hadn’t realised until I came across Chips Off The Old Block. Gail has been genealogy blogging for quite some time, take a look at her blog and you will see everything categorised by family name, date, location and more so that everything is cross referenced. It’s a colossal piece of organisation and Gail told me she had done this from the beginning so as to keep track of everything. So, thank you Gail, I only had three months worth of research and posts to sort out which I have now done into those three sections mentioned. They’re not stuffed full yet, but they will be! Gail has been typical of new genealogy online friends and followers with meaningful engagement from many who are willing to share, advise and comment including Gerry at GerryBolton , Eilene at Myricopia , and also WesternLady, plus my long standing supporters from my wine and travel days Andrew at Have Bag Will Travel  and Darlene at Darlene Foster’s Blog . Do take a peek at their blogs.

5. Next?
I have just finished several chapters in Trevelyan related to the Tudor period so the next Imaginative Ancestry post will be about Shakespeare’s England, and then I start delving into Cromwell’s England …… don’t you just wish he would get down off that statue near Parliament Square today, march into both houses of Westminster and scare the shit out of those useless self interested morons? (Sorry Andrew, I did promise no more political rants)! …….BUT …….. “in the name of God, go!”
Family tree stuff will now concentrate on Cornwall so we are visiting the county for a week around the St Agnes and St Austell areas for research plus some usual and unusual tourist attractions, and reading about tin and the mining of it, plus lots about Methodism, John Wesley in Cornwall, plus the social aspects of non conformism.
And finally I am really struggling with referencing newspapers! I have a subscription to British Newspapers Archive but my searching technique just isn’t working as I can’t seem to get specific enough with their search engine. I’ll persevere however.
We hope you’ll join in.

“In the name of God ….. go!”






Categories: Family History, Genealogy

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13 replies

  1. The Strathclyde course I took helped me focus on proving my findings. I just wasn’t doing that as much prior to taking it. I have an overwhelming amount of data that needs to be organized. Thanks for the links. I miss researching my paternal English side and was just about ready to start on the continent. But, for the 52ancestors stint this year I am working on the German line which actually may be half English! I look forward to more posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A rant is perfect when it points out a truth and uses humor. Good job. I will take a look at Gail’s organizational scheme. Thanks for the referral, too!

    I am never looking for anything in my ancestry (like royalty or some such nonsense). The true stories, as you’ve seen, are plenty interesting. I wish I could share some things I’ve learned through DNA, but it may be years before I can do that publicly.


  3. As a fellow ex-psychologist (i.e. computational psychologist or pyschologist of computing – I had one foot on each side) I’m impressed by your graphs, charts and general approach. As I’ve said before, though, I’m more motivated by trying to imagine how my ancestral families lived, and how they coped, and how amazing they were, and try not to get too academic about it. I’m done with all that.


    • Thank you, I guess I’m in the same camp, you might enjoy Fridays post which shows how to link historical context with ancestors.


  4. Re newspapers, I use Findmypast for this as Ancestry has a limited range. I’ve had fairly good success by just searching on ancestor’s names, but I’m sure there are more sophisticated techniques too.

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  5. Glad you are getting so much out of the Strathclyde course. You probably noticed that the FutureLearn platform also includes some history courses which are good for social/historical context. I did one a while ago about Lancaster Castle which was fun and informative.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cromwell has always been one of my heroes from history and yes we could do with him right now to have a sit down with Theresa. I look forward to your post about the Civil War and the Commonwealth or Interregnum, whichever you prefer it is a period that has always fascinated me especially the emergence of English socialism with the Levellers and the Diggers.

    We are away to Cornwall next month, I would so like to discover a smuggler in my genealogy but this seems most unlikely!


    • I think Theresa should remain standing in his presence, one of my top heroes too but a little way below Isaac! I’m having to skip the logical Civil War post for a couple of weeks as I needed to post next on Friday about 1750 to 1890 to fit our Cornish trip from Monday. Cobbett’s England!


      • Theresa my think she can take on Parliament but she is no Cromwell and there will never be a statue of her in Westminster!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Agree entirely. You calmed me down a while ago away from my political rants, but I have been sorely tempted these past two weeks! Which way I voted in the referendum is utterly irrelevant to my contempt now for this rotten parliament of 90% of the MPs. They represent us, they don’t rule us, and seem to have forgotten they asked our advice in 2016. I’ll shut up!


      • They thought they had a crystal ball and could clearly predict the answer that they wanted but instead they had a cracked mirror with a distorted reflection!

        Liked by 1 person

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