I seem to have turned the clock back 50 years as I begin a course at the University of Strathclyde again, though this time it’s an online genealogy course instead of a full time PhD in chemistry! I’ve always believed in learning from experts balanced with learning from personal experience and my new interest in family history is a perfect opportunity for this to happen. After a month of stumbling around and making probably a years worth of beginners errors my stumbling took me to the futurelearn.com website and the Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree Course. I’ll cut to the chase here and just say it’s a brilliant course for beginners, 6 modules at one per week, interactive as much as you like with fellow learners, videos, articles, weblinks, exercises, case studies ….. the usual stuff.
What has interested me the most concerns the creation and implementation of a strategy for researching one’s family; absolutely essential to prevent overreach and stumbling around through the centuries. This might surprise many who know me, because I spent half of my career as an organisational psychologist working on business strategy! However, I might know HOW to create strategies generally, but if you have no expertise in the subject for strategising and nobody to discuss it with ….. you’re stumped.
After 3 weeks of the course I had absorbed enough to think about a strategy based on four primary headings: Line (The part of my family tree to tackle), Focus (What I would specifically tackle or investigate), Process (HOW I would implement the chosen Focus) and Task List (Detailed notes of to do’s as they pop into my head. I created a Mind Map to develop the strategy, a useful tool for visual thinkers, and you can see the four main headings with sub elements in the image.
Let me talk you through an example having chosen three Line segments of my tree in clusters over roughly 100 years, shown above, top centre. One cluster is my maternal grandmother’s line, Emily Waters born in 1876. Her father was John Pedlar Waters born 1837, and going back three generations we arrive at Joseph Pedlar born 1745. This cluster is of interest because all were originally from Cornwall, all miners, all migrated to USA and Canada. Occupations changed in mining from Copper to Tin in Cornwall, then from Lead/Silver to Gold in Wisconsin then California. You can see this on the top right and bottom right of the Mind Map. So now I follow my Process on the left of the Mind Map, carefully constructing the basics of each family member such as birth, marriage, death, residence, occupation etc using census records for example. Migration information comes from ship passenger lists. Most importantly I use paper forms for initial search and fact recording before transferring it digitally to my family tree on Ancestor.com
As the facts emerge about this cluster I start to write “stories” by piecing together bits of information such as parts of family migrating some remaining in Cornwall, the migrating family members separating at Newfoundland, mother and youngest staying in Canada, father and oldest going on to Boston then Wisconsin; then later, mother joining father in Wisconsin, purchasing land and becoming farmers. Finally mother moving to California to join her sons after her husband dies. Imagine the lives of this one family, surviving a crossing of the Atlantic over several weeks, arriving in Newfoundland and needing to find another ship to USA, arriving at Boston Massachusetts then having to journey ….. probably on foot, to Wisconsin! Finding a job, somewhere to live, making a home, raising children. Our lives are so easy today by comparison, and yet we constantly complain about ….. how long a list of quite trivial things would you like?
Anyway, I can thoroughly recommend the genealogy course online via University of Strathclyde, there’s something in it for everyone especially if you’re a beginner. You can access it from anywhere in the world and much of it is generalised so you don’t have to worry about US records vs UK records for example. And maybe best of all …… IT’S FREE!