Thursday, March 15, 2018

What Are the Chances My Northumberland Ancestor Made a Will?

William Doyle was a coal miner who died in Northumberland, England, in 1838 after being run over by a cart wheel.  He was about 36 years old.  What are the chances he wrote a will?

Reasons a Will Was Created
  1. A person who owned property wanted to declare who was to receive the property after his death.   
  2. A person wrote a will when he anticipated his impending death.

Would William have owned real property?  It's hard to imagine that a coal miner would have accumulated enough money to buy land, or even that he would have worked at the same mine long enough to wish to own property.  He probably owned furniture, dishes, bedding, clothes, perhaps his own tools.  Would his possessions have been "will worthy" --  worth the time, effort, and perhaps expense, to make a will?

Coal mining is and was a dangerous profession.  When miners went underground to their work every day they probably knew it could be the last time they might see the light of day.  At what point would a coal miner have decided it was time to make a will?  

I doubt there's any easy way to know whether William had a will other than to search for one.  And even if he had one, it would have to have been probated for there to be probate records.

I'm on foreign ground with this next question.  Did England have an Orphan's Court and, if so, would a guardian have been assigned to William's five children?  This happened in Pennsylvania after the death of one of my ancestors:  the children were assigned a guardian through the Orphan's Court though their mother was alive and cared for them.  Would that have happened in England in 1838?

And, of course, there's always the question of whether finding a will would help in my search for William's place of birth and his parents' and siblings' names.  Is it worth my time to search or should I move on?

Researching in another country is an interesting experience, especially when it goes beyond indexed census records and birth, marriage, and death records.

Do you have experience researching in England?


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Springing Forward for Daylight Saving Time

Are you ready to "spring forward" tonight or in the wee hours of Sunday morning?  Change your clocks (if you have to do it manually) before bed?  Lose one hour of sleep?  Have the morning dark continue an hour later, and the evening light last an hour later--at least according to the clock?  These days I don't think we have a choice if we want to arrive at work or other activities on time, keep appointments, and meet deadlines for travel on planes, buses, etc.

In his book Spring Forward:  The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, Michael Downing relates the history of Daylight Saving Time from the time it became law in 1918 as "An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States," to almost the present.  He also discusses the creation of standard time, time zones, the challenges of having no standard time, and plenty more.

Until reading this book I had not realized that prior to this law there was no standard time in the U.S.  Times between cities or farms could vary by a few minutes or as many as 50 minutes.  A 30-minute ride on a train could result in leaving and arriving at the same time.  Crazy.  The railroads needed the standardized time for the trains to run efficiently.

Part of the purpose of changing the clocks was to save fuel, the idea being that less electricity, gasoline, and oil would be used if it were light an hour later in the evening.  Apparently no one thought of the need for lights during the hour of darkness in the morning traded for the hour of light in the evening. 

There were plenty of people who were opposed to Daylight Saving Time:  farmers, theater owners, baseball players (who refused to play under artificial light), those who looked at leisure time with an eye toward laziness, those who thought government was messing with "God's time."  And there were those who loved it:  golfers, factory workers, automobile manufacturers (because auto sales increased), those who thought it saved fuel, and anyone who wanted an additional hour of light at the end of the day for leisure activities.  Some people and cities chose to change their clocks, others didn't.  It seems that New York City's choice to adopt Daylight Saving Time was the push needed for other cities to adopt it as well.

I searched for an online newspaper contemporary with my farming ancestors in Mercer and Butler Counties, Pennsylvania, which mentioned Daylight Saving Time with the hope of learning how those in the community felt about its adoption.  I guessed that my farmers, Fred Gerner and William and Gust Doyle, would not have been in favor of the change.  For one thing, they couldn't harvest dew-covered crops and would, therefore, have had to wait an additional hour before beginning some of the day's work.

Nothing from their area came to light but I did found "Daylight-Saving Petitions" on the front page of the Wednesday, September 3, 1919, edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph.
   Daylight saving petitions which the Harrisburg Telegraph was asked to prepare for the great number of Harrisburg folks who want an extra house of sunshine during the summer months now are ready for distribution.
   The petitions are directed to members of Council and call upon the City Commissioners to pass a daylight saving measure for the months of May, June, July, August and September.
   These petitions may be circulated by baseball players, amateur gardeners, golfers, fishermen and all others who have benefited by the extra hour of daylight.  Any man or woman who desires to stave off darkness next summer may secure one of the petitions or sign one in the business office of this newspaper.

Benjamin Franklin has been attributed as the first person to propose the idea of changing the clocks.  He did not propose changing the hands of the clock but suggested that people get up earlier in the morning to take advantage of every hour of daylight.  Wasn't Franklin a wise man to realize that no matter what you do with the hands of a clock, there are a set number of hours and minutes the sun will shine on any given day?  As if turning the hands of the clock will "save" the daylight, prevent its going, and prevent the sun's setting!

If you're still reading I'm sure you realize by now that I'm not a fan of Daylight Saving Time.  I'm not a morning person but the earlier the sun rises by the clock, the earlier I awake and arise.  I dislike giving up an hour of morning sun only to have it tacked on to the end of the day.  Where I live the sun rose at 6:51 a.m. this morning.  It will not rise at 6:51 a.m. again until April 17, more than five weeks from now.  And that's saving daylight?

Do you like of Daylight Saving Time?  Do you know if your ancestors who lived after 1918 had any opinions about it? 


P.S.  For more about Daylight Saving Time and its history, see

Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

My RootsTech 2018 Experience from Home

When RootsTech published the live stream sessions offered for 2018 it seemed packed with presentations.  When I looked more closely on the days RootsTech was presented, I realized that many of the sessions were rebroadcasts of previous years' keynote speakers.  How disappointing.  Now that I go back to the RootsTech website and look at the live stream videos, it once again seems packed with presentations.  Did they not stream all the presentations as announced before the event?  Whether they did or not, at least they are currently available in video format.  I have lots of presentations to watch now!

I watched the presentations below and also all of the keynote speakers.  (Clicking the title of the presentation will take you to the online video.)

Organizing and Preserving Photograph Collections by Ari Wilkins
It's always interesting to see how others organize photo collections.  I liked Ari's methods and appreciated her hints for organizing as well as preserving photos.  Handout here.

Google Photos: Collect, Organize, Preserve and Share by Michelle Goodrum
I use Google's old Picasa on my desktop to organize my photos but I don't store them online in Google Photos.  I appreciate the fact that it can be one more place to back up photos but I don't know that I will use it.  Handout here.

Findmypast's British & Irish Hidden Gems by Myko Clelland of Findmypast
Myko talks fast so the presentation was filled with information about collections available at findmypast and he included some interesting stories.  Toward the end of the presentation there were technology problems and there was no video.  Myko was so calm and collected and carried on as if things were normal.  I have only a limited subscription to findmypast so it's not as useful a website as it could be if I had a full subscription.  Handout here.

Elusive Records at FamilySearch by Robert Kehrer of FamilySearch International
This was my favorite presentation.  It was excellent.  I knew some of the information Robert presented but some was new and I learned several new ways to search the unindexed records available at FamilySearch.  Handout here.

Civil Registration Indexes of England and Wales by Audrey Collins of The National Archives
Audrey explained the background to the indexes and the process by which they were compiled, then the progression of steps from initial registration to collection and processing of the information to the indexes.  It seems that the indexes and the information included in them have been gently evolving and include more information now than in earlier years.  Throughout the presentation Audrey quipped about some of her findings and sometimes about her obsession with genealogy.  ("Obsessed is such an ugly word," she said.)  Handout here.

Next RootsTech 2018 streamed videos to watch:

And then there are the handouts to read:

If you watched RootsTech from home, which presentations did you watch?  Were any especially interesting or helpful?


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Friday RootsTech 2018 Keynote Speaker - Scott Hamilton

If I had to describe Scott Hamilton, RootsTech's Friday Keynote speaker, this is what I would say:  joyful, insightful, with a great sense of humor.  I love his attitude when faced with problems:  Get to work:  pray.  And, Get busy.

He said, "We honor our past, we honor those that came before us, and we honor them in a way of gratitude by remembering them, by celebrating them, by finding out who they are...."  I call that family history.

You can watch his presentation here.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

On Brandon Stanton, Thursday's Keynote Speaker, RootsTeach 2018

Humans of New York was at the edge of my radar.  I'd heard of it but really knew nothing about the blog, the blog owner, the project, or the Facebook page, so hearing Brandon Stanton speak was a great introduction to both him and his work.  His focus is not family history but connecting with others, asking questions, and listening to answers.  (If only we could do that with our ancestors!)

Brandon Stanton at RootsTech 2018

He shared several ideas that I thought were worth noting and remembering. 
  • On time:  "Time itself is the most valuable resource."  We spend our time on activities that aren't necessarily satisfying, in accumulating resources, and doing things that will make us important in the eyes of others but "we don't view our time as a resource itself....  All the cars, all the houses, all the money, all the importance in the world put together cannot buy a minute of that time back."
  • On time and thoughts when doing unfulfilling work:  "It wasn't only the minutes that passed me by, it was all the thoughts that I could have been directing towards people that I love, that I could have been directing towards things that I want to do, things that I want to create, were instead directed and funneled into trying to maintain that sense of importance."
  • On following your dream:  He talked about people following their dreams -- as musician, writer, whatever professions -- and spending a little time each day working at their music or writing, then spending the rest of the day in the coffee shop.  "People use following their dreams as an excuse not to work....  Following your dreams correctly is nothing but hard work....  The goal, I don't think, is get to the place where you don't have to work.  The goal is get to the place where you choose your work...." 

Thank you, RootsTech organizers, for inviting Brandon to speak.  And thank you, Brandon, for sharing your story and insights.

If you didn't see the presentation you can see it here, at the RootsTech website.  I thought it was well worth my hour.  I hope the video will be available on youtube soon, in which case I'll switch out the image above and include the video.


P.S.  I was #NotAtRootsTech.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Essential RootsTech 2018 Websites (if you're not in SLC)

There are a few essential websites for RootsTech if you want to partake of all that's offered, or even if you want to pick and choose from the offerings.  I think these are especially important when you're viewing RootsTech from home.

Complete schedule

Live stream schedule

Session handouts


Monday, February 26, 2018

RootsTech 2018: The Free Version

I'm not one of those lucky souls who will be in Salt Lake City this week to enjoy RootsTech live.  I'll be at home watching the free version.

It occurred to me that some of my readers may not know about RootsTech, arguably the largest family history conference in the world.  Despite "tech" at the end of its name, it's really more about roots, family history, and genealogy than it is technology.  There are several hundred sessions offered at the live conference over the four days of the event this year, from Wednesday, February 28 through Saturday, March 3, and the presentations cover a broad range of topics and levels of experience.

Since I can't attend in person I'm grateful that RootsTech will live-stream presentations during every session which can be viewed from the main website. 

Below is a list of the free sessions you can watch online.  The times stated are Mountain Standard Time so you'll need to calculate the time based on your time zone.

Wednesday, February 28
9:30 A.M.  
Family History in 5 Minutes a Day - Deborah Gamble
Explore 20 ways to effectively do your family history in as little as 5 minutes a day.

11:00 A.M.
DNA—One Family, One World - David Nicholson
This presentation explores a new project by Living DNA that is mapping the worlds DNA, building one world family tree through our genetics. Gain insight into how this will impact your family history.

1:30 P.M.
Organizing and Preserving Photograph Collections - Ari Wilkins
Step-by-step direction in organizing, preserving, and cataloging photo collections for future generations and identifying, digitizing, and sharing collections using family trees and social media.

3:00 P.M.
Finding the Answers: The Basics of WWII Research - Jennifer Holik
Fire destroyed many military and civilian service records. Alternative record sources exist to reconstruct service history. Learn how to research World War I and II records.

4:30 P.M.
Wednesday General Session and Innovation Showcase - Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International
Stephen T. Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International, will explore where we have been and where we are going and introduce the all-new Innovation Showcase.

Thursday, March 1
8:30 A.M.
Thursday General Session - Brandon Santon, founder of Humans of New York
Brandon Stanton started Humans of New York, a photography and storytelling blog. HONY has built a devoted following of over 20 million fans across several social media platforms.

11:00 A.M.
MyHeritage DNA 101: From Test to Results - Yaniv Erlich
Learn about taking a MyHeritage DNA test and how the process works, from taking the test to the lab analysis.  Learn about MyHeritage DNA's over 40 ethnicities and how to optimize your DNA matches.

1:30 P.M.
Google Photos: Collect, Organize, Preserve, and Share - Michelle Goodrum
Google Photos is a powerful, free app for storing, organizing, and sharing.  Users can also edit and create photo projects and automatically add their photos to the app from their digital devices.

3:00 P.M.
Unlocking Roman Catholic Records - Brian Donovan
The Catholic Church is essential for uncovering the lives of millions of immigrants covering many nationalities. findmypast and the Catholic Church are working to make these records easily accessible.

4:30 P.M.
A Gift of Life:  Who's Writing Your Story? - Deborah Abbott
Only you can tell the real stories of love, loss, forgiveness, and change. Don’t leave the task of finding the answers of your life’s history to someone else—take the time to write your life story.

Friday, March 2
8:30 A.M.
Friday General Session - Scott Hamilton
Scott Hamilton is the living example that good guys CAN finish first! He is an Olympic champion, cancer survivor, television broadcaster, speaker, author, husband and father, and eternal optimist!

11:00 A.M.
Findmypast's British and Irish Hidden Gems - Myko Clelland
Myko Clelland explores some of the wonderful collections that can help you to break down those British brick walls, go back further, and add untold color and detail to your family story.

1:30 P.M.
Finding the Right DNA Test for You - Jim Brewster
DNA testing is becoming an integral tool, but what is it and what does it do? How can DNA actually help your genealogy? If you are brand new to Genetic genealogy, this is the class for you!

3:00 P.M.
How Not to Leave Your Genealogy Behind - Amy Johnson Crow and Curt Witcher
Nobody wants their genealogy research to end up in a landfill. Hear a few horror stories of genealogy materials destroyed and how you can avoid those mistakes!

4:30 P.M.
Finding Elusive Records at FamilySearch - Robert Kehrer
Robert Kehrer will demonstrate skills and techniques used by the experts and will expose hidden record identification tools and features of the FamilySearch website.

Saturday, March 3
8:30 A.M.
Saturday General Session - Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Natalia Lafourcade
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Natalia Lafourcade is a Mexican pop-rock singer and songwriter.

11:00 A.M.
Civil Registration Indexes of England and Wales - Audrey Collins
England and Wales national indexes and recent innovations at the General Register Office have opened up some new possibilities as well as some completely new indexes not available anywhere else.

1:30 P.M.
Advancing Your Genealogy Research with DNA - Anna Swayne
Learn what new tools AncestryDNA has to advance your research and get more out of your DNA results.

3:00 P.M.
Pain in the Access:  More Web for Your Genealogy - Curt Witcher
Library, archive, government, and specialized websites have much to offer. This presentation will demonstrate sites and strategies for getting more online data while using the internet.

I can see that I'll have a relatively full schedule.  The only sessions I probably won't watch are the ones about DNA and Catholic records.



Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved. .

Monday, February 19, 2018

If My Ancestor Spoke, Would I Understand?

The title of Melody Lasalle's post, "Harry Jackson, I Need to Talk to You," caught my eye this past week.  Perhaps because I've been researching a line of ancestors from England, I immediately wondered whether I would be able to understand my ancestors if I could ask them questions.  Would their accents (and mine for them) make communication difficult? 

I delight to hear accents -- from any part of the U.S., from England, or from anywhere else in the world -- and I especially enjoy hearing British accents.  But enjoying an accent doesn't mean I always understand what the speaker is saying.  Sometime an interpreter would be helpful. 

Thinking about my Northumberland ancestors and their probable accents sent me to the internet to see what an accent from that county might sound like.  I found several youtube videos and read viewers' comments who pointed out that there's a difference between the accent of a native speaker and the accent of a non-native speaker imitating the native speaker.  Based on comments, I think the three videos below were the best examples of the native language of Northumberland (excluding the even more localized accents of Pitmatic and Geordie).

This particular video, below, has 30 dialects from around the U. K. but it will begin mid-video where someone from Northumberland speaks for a minute or two.  (You can listen to all the accents by restarting the video.)

This next video comes from the British Drama Club.  It is a recording on vinyl and is a little scratchy but, in my opinion, worth listening to for the accent.

And this last video comes from the Northumbrian Language Society.  Listen closely.  Even then you may not understand all the words.

I know that language changes over time so it would be hard to definitively say that my ancestors from Northumberland sounded like any of these speakers.  No matter how much or little the language changed over nearly two centuries, I suspect that their accents would be a challenge for me to understand today.  But I'd certainly be willing to try!  I would hope my ancestors would be patient with me, too.  (For anyone interested in learning more about the language of Northumberland, see Northumbriana, website of the Northumbrian Language Society.)

So, tell me, did you catch everything the speakers said?  Or were there parts that sounded like a foreign language?

Have you ever considered whether it could a challenge to have a conversation with any of your ancestors because of accents or language?


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 16, 2018

William Doyle: Nothing to Go On & Next Steps

I say "nothing to go on" because there are no hints from any source I've found so far for William Doyle's birth location or his parents' names.

What I Know
  • William married Martha Reay on May 3, 1825, at St. Peter's Church in Walls End (currently Wallsend), Northumberland, England.  The marriage record indicates that they were from that parish but gives no family information.
  • Based on baptismal records, William and Martha had six children.  Four were baptized in Walls End, in 1826, 1830, 1833, and 1836.  One was baptized in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1828.  The last was born in 1939 in Bedlington after her father's death.
  • William died on September 1, 1838, in Plessey Creek, Parish of Stannington, Northumberland. 
  • A FreeReg transcription tells me that William's burial occurred on September 3, 1838, as recorded in St. Cuthbert's Church Parish records, Bedlington, Northumberland. 
As I said, there's not much to go on for further research.

What I Don't Know
  • William's birth date.  Based on his death certificate, which gives his age as 36 in 1838, I can estimate a birth year of 1802 (plus or minus up to 3 or 4 years).
  • The location of his birth.  It could have been anywhere in England, Ireland, or any part of what we now call the United Kingdom.  
  • His parents' names.  Online records have provided me with a number of infants named William Doyle, born in various parts of England with different parents.  But how would I know if any are the William Doyle I'm trying to find? 

Next Possibilities for Searching (without getting my hopes up)
  • Newspapers for an article about his death.  Being run over by a cart wheel was probably an accident but he could have been pushed; and it may or may not have happened at work in a mine.  It's possible the event would have received a line or two in a local newspaper.  The challenge is finding whether there were local newspapers at that time, whether they have survived, and, if so, where they are available.  If there were an article or an obituary, it might give names of family members.
  • Probate records.  If William had a will and it had been probated, I might find some information in a court record.  If British courts were similar to contemporary U.S. courts of the time, it's also possible William's children may have been appointed a guardian.
  • The 1841 U.K. Census may reveal other Doyle families who lived near Martha and her children after William's death.
  • U.K. Coal mining history sites may have lists of coal mining-related deaths.  
  • Dig deeper into parish records, beginning with Northumberland.  William and Martha moved several times during their 13-year marriage but seemed to stay within the boundaries of Northumberland.  It's possible William was born somewhere in Northumberland.
  • Devour Tracing Your Coalmining Ancestors:  A Guide for Family Historians (review here) and follow every lead.

I'm trying to remain hopeful of find more about William Doyle's ancestry.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What Love Looks Like

It starts with Love with a capital L, hugs, kisses, hearts aflutter, can't get him (or her) of the mind, romance.  Young love, the kind of love one thinks will last forever.  I know that happened with my parents because I can see it in their eyes in photographs.

That love lasts for a few months -- or years, if a couple is lucky.  The romance dwindles and then love begins to become a steady sureness.  Happy moments and sparks of romance may continue.

Then there are three children and he and she are both tired nearly all the time.  He works turns at a steel mill, sometimes 12 hours a day, five or six days a week.  She soldiers on alone at home, keeping the home in order, the children clean and fed.  Both fall into bed exhausted.  You can see the exhaustion in their eyes.  Does love still exist?

By the time I was old enough to have an idea what love was I was certain my parents were not in love.  I didn't see them hug or kiss.  I didn't see them have conversations.  And I was fairly certain that they didn't even love each other. 

What a child knows about love comes from movies, books, and the imagination.  What married couples know about love comes from a lifetime of living together and caring for each other.  Quiet acts of selfless service, choosing forgiveness instead of offense, seeing the best in the other while ignoring (or trying to ignore) the worst, working together toward mutual goals, choosing unity over self.  One doesn't know how much work a marriage takes until married.

As an adult I know the things I saw as a child were evidence of my parents' love for each other.
  • Dad working at a hard and tiring job in a steel mill plus several other jobs to provide for his family.
  • Mom working to keep a clean and organized home and neat, tidy, well-behaved children.
  • Dad and Mom working together to live within a budget and also set aside a little for savings.
  • Dad making repairs and improvements at home, making sure everything worked.
  • Mom planning and preparing healthy and nutritious meals, packing lunches for Dad.
  • Dad always opening the car door for Mom.
  • Mom washing and carefully folding Dad's clothes and putting them away.
  • Mom and Dad both spoke quietly to each other, as far as I remember.
  • They worked together on home improvement projects without quarreling.

My parents had been married 48 years when my father died.  My mother was disconsolate and, I think, felt desolate.  My father had taken care of her in many ways, while she took care of him in other ways.  Both his care for her was gone and her ability to care for him was unneeded.  I think she mourned the rest of her life.

What does love look like?  It has so many faces, from the hearts-aflutter times, through the exhaustion and the challenges of raising and providing for a family, all the way to quiet knowledge of loving and being loved by one's spouse.  I saw what love looks like with my parents.  I just didn't realize it till I was an adult.

The day's almost over but I'd like to wish you a Happy Valentine's Day.

I'm linking this post to The Genealogy Blog Party Stories of Love at My Descendant's Ancestors.  Thanks for hosting, Elizabeth.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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