It’s always exciting to see new genealogical records come online because they offer new hope for discoveries and brick wall busting.
Findmypast, a leader in British genealogical records, has recently added thousands of new records to existing and new collections. Among these you’ll find everything from baptism and burial records to British and Irish digitized newspapers.
Huddersfield, England Baptisms
A large market and university town in West Yorkshire, England, Huddersfield is nestled between Leeds and Manchester. It’s the 11th largest town in the United Kingdom, and is known for it’s Victorian architecture. Huddersfield railway station was described by former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom John Betjeman as “the most splendid station façade in England”, second only to St Pancras, London.
Over 52,000 records covering 14 new parishes have been added to Findmypast’s collection of Huddersfield Baptisms. All new parishes are highlighted in the Huddersfield baptisms parish list.
Each baptismal record includes a transcript of an original parish register entry. This will reveal a combination of your ancestor’s:
If you are trying to find out when your ancestor died and was laid to rest in Yorkshire, this growing collection is worth a look. Over 5000 additional records have been added to the Yorkshire Memorial Inscriptions collection.
These newly added records cover 14 Anglican churchyards across the York area (West Riding, North Riding and Ainsty).
The bulk of the records mainly cover the years of the First and Second World Wars.
An historic county in southeast England, Middlesex was established in the Anglo-Saxon system from the territory of the Middle Saxons. It existed as an official administrative unit until 1965, and now mostly falls within the ceremonial county of Greater London, with small sections in other neighboring ceremonial counties.
Findmypast has recently added over 64,000 new records to existing parishes within the collection of Middlesex Baptisms. These transcripts of original parish register entries will reveal a combination of your ancestor’s baptism date, parent’s names, father’s occupation and address.
The collection also covers parts of London, Surrey, and Hertfordshire.
Over 5,000 additional monumental inscription records are now available to search. The new records cover two cemeteries in Teddington as well as the Parish of St Mary’s in Sunbury.
Monumental Inscriptions can reveal the names of others buried in that plot as well as more specific details regarding age, birth and death dates. This can be incredibly helpful as it can provide you with the names and dates of your ancestor’s next of kin, including their relation to one another.
Essex is a large county in the south-east of England and forms part of the Metropolitan Green Belt just beyond greater London. The original Kingdom of Essex, founded by Saxon King Aescwine in AD 527, occupied territory to the north of the River Thames and east of the River Lee. In the 1640s, during the English Civil War, notorious witch hunter General Matthew Hopkins lived in the county accused 23 women in Chelmsford in 1645.
You will find five million baptism, banns, marriages, and burial records from Essex on Findmypast. These records were created from the original registers held by the Essex Record Office and other sources.
The oil on canvas The Hay Wain by John Constable shows the Essex landscape on the right bank.
Derbyshire stole my heart this year during a recent trip to England where I spoke at THE Genealogy Show conference. It’s preserved historic beauty can be greatly attributed to the Peak District National Park which mostly falls within this East Midlands area county.
Photo: My recent visit to beautiful Derbyshire, England
Births and Baptisms
Just under a thousand additional records from 15 non-conformist parishes have been added to the Findmypast collection of Derbyshire Births and Baptisms.
Mainly covering Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, the full list of new additions has been highlighted in their Derbyshire parish list.
Over 4,500 records of burials that took place at St Martin’s church in Cheriton are now available to search here. These new additions cover two periods, 1843 to 1855 and 1907 to 1958. Search these records to discover where and when your ancestor was buried, as well as the names of their spouse and father.
These burial records constitute a valuable resource for researching ancestry in Kent and have been provided in association with:
Canterbury Cathedral Archives
Kent County Council
the North West Kent Family History Society,
Folkestone & District Family History Society
and Val Brown.
Billion Graves Cemetery Indexes at Findmypast
You just might be able to pinpoint your ancestor’s final resting place with the new additions to Findmypast’s Billion Graves Cemetery Indexes. The latest update includes:
Cemetery records like these can provide you with information regarding your ancestor’s birth and marriage dates.
According to Alex Cox of Findmypast, “With an abundance of cemeteries, it can be overwhelming trying to pinpoint the precise cemetery in which your ancestor was laid to rest, and visiting each potential location is costly. However, in partnering with BillionGraves, we aim to make available all the cemetery records held on their site for free, saving you time and money as you search for your ancestor. BillionGraves is the largest resource for GPS-tagged headstone and burial records on the web, with over 12 million headstone records.”
British and Irish Newspapers
Additions to Existing Newspaper Collections
Findmpast has added 98,602 brand new pages to eleven of their existing titles. Spanning the years 1865 to 1999, the new additions include extensive updates the Huddersfield Daily Examiner as well as titles covering the south of England (Crawley and London), the Midlands (Coventry), and the North West (Liverpool).
Further updates have also been made to the specialist publication – Field – for which they now have editions up to 1911.
Additional updates have been made to twenty-one existing titles, covering the length and breadth of Scotland, Ireland and England. These include updates to two Cornish titles – the Royal Cornwall Gazette and Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, as well as updates to seven Scottish titles, including the John o’Groat Journal and the Perthshire Advertiser.
There has been a significant update to the Bristol Times and Mirror, with over 33,000 pages added, covering the years 1897 to 1911.
Also updated are two early Labour publications – Clarion and the Labour Leader – as well as one of our religious titles, Witness (Edinburgh), and the sporting title, the Football Post (Nottingham). As you can see, there is a diverse range of interests represented.
New Newspaper Titles
The Queen, The Ladies’ Newspaper and Court Chronicle, a society magazine by Samuel Beeton established in 1861, and the Women’s Gazette and Weekly News have also been added. Published in Manchester, this was a ‘journal devoted to the social and political position of women.’
More historical newspapers added this summer include:
Hawick Express covering the years 1892, 1903-1904, 1913-1914, 1919-1940, 1950-1952
Coatbridge Express covering the years 1885-1951
Dalkeith Advertiser covering the years 1869-1953
Barrhead News covering the years 1897-1912
Banffshire Herald covering the years 1893-1912
Banffshire Advertiser covering the years 1881-1902, 1905-1912
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In this episode:
Exploring what you can do to go deeper in your genealogy research for a more accurate family tree with Elissa Scalise Powell
Irish genealogy podcaster Lorna Moloney, a professional genealogist with Merriman Research, discusses Irish genealogy.
Marcia Finds Treasure on eBay
“I recently remembered your idea of searching for family related things on eBay.
My grandfather and his brother both worked as agents for the Wrought Iron Range Co. of St. Louis. They sold excellent quality wrought iron stoves and my great uncle did very well there as a supervisor.
I did a search for the Wrought Iron Range Co on eBay and immediately pulled up a history of the company, an advertisement for the range and a metal they gave away. I bought them all!
However, the best goodie which I am still bidding on is a “salesman’s sample Wrought Iron Range stove about 12 inches tall and 14 inches long in color and with all working parts.
(Photo: The stove Lisa inherited from her grandmother.)
I may not win the bid, but I am thrilled with what I found.
This will bring my grandfather’s occupation to life for my great nephews!!!!”
“I came across a new site that you might like to inform your listeners about. It is very new and just getting started, so I know they would appreciate a mention.
The name of this new site is “German Letters in Letters” [germanletters.org]. What they are doing is trying to collect letters written between German immigrants to the US and their relatives back home in Germany.
You can very easily submit scanned copies of any letters you have and the really neat thing is that they will post them at their site. Once they post them, they are asking for translations by any volunteers. So, this is an excellent way to have any letters in your possession to be translated….. for FREE!
I was given about 30 letters written to my GG grandfather, Johann Bernard Husam, who immigrated to Adams Co., Illinois about 1855.
They are from his siblings, nieces, and a nephew back in Germany. They range from 1866 to the early 1900s.
I scanned them and they are now on this site. I was given these letters by great granddaughter-in-law [my aunt] who spoke German as she had grown up in the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia. She had escaped Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII before the Russians invaded. She, thankfully, had translated all of the letters.”
Learn more about German research from these articles at Genealogy Gems.
What Ann Likes About the Podcast
Hi, Lisa, I’d love to say that your podcast has helped me with a genealogy brick wall but at this point I’m only a “drop-in genealogist,” figuring that I’m the only one in the family interested at this time (working on one grandson though, because I think he’d be a real asset) in finding and preserving family stories.
I do research in fits and starts. But, I do love your podcasts. I’m catching up on back episodes now and recently listened to one that started with you describing a granddaughter’s first Christmas coming up.
It reminded me of one of the best things about your podcasts – it’s like you’re sitting in my living room with me, having a cup of tea, discussing your stories and tips and tricks to help with mine.
Thank you so much for all the information, and for your casual, personal, yet professional style!”
Kristine is No Longer a “Cooke-Cutter” Researcher
“I just retired and guess what is first on my list of things I WANT to do? 🙂 I jumped in with both feet listening to your Premium podcasts and realized a few times that I am the ‘cookie-cutter’ researcher. But, no more. You are the Captain of my ship now. Thank you!
After binging on your podcasts the last two weeks, the first bit of advice I took was changing the way I searched on Newspapers.com. My family’s everyday life’s treasures were buried in the pages of the local news! You made me take a second look after I dismissed the possibility of ever reading about them.
Thank you so much for your dedicated work on behalf of all the genealogists. My Premium subscription will NEVER run out. When a family member says “I don’t know what to get you” I’m prepared to solve that dilemma!
GEM: Overcoming Shallow Research with Elissa Scalise Powell
About today’s guest:
Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, is co-director of the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP); past-president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and 2017 She won the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Achievement Award. She is a Certified Genealogist®, and Certified Genealogical LecturerSM. You can reach Elissa at Elissa@PowellGenealogy.com. (Thank you to Elissa for contributing notes for this episode.)
The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)
The Genealogical Proof Standard was created to help genealogists gain confidence in their research conclusions by providing criteria that can be followed. A genealogical conclusion is considered proved when it meets all five GPS components.
The 5 Components of the GPS
Reasonably exhaustive research – This type of research emphasizes original records that provide the information for all evidence that might answer a genealogist’s question about an identity, relationship, event, or situation
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
Tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence contributing to an answer to a genealogical question or problem
Resolution of conflicts among evidence items pertaining to the proposed answer
A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion based on the strongest available evidence
The book Genealogy Standardsby the Board for Certification of Genealogists provides a standard by which all genealogists can pattern their work.
Some sources are considered “Low-hanging fruit.” They can be described as:
record type is easily understood
document states the fact desired
Many times, genealogists will need to stretch and reach for harder to find sources. These types of sources are:
possibly unknown to you at this time
not easily accessible
time-consuming to explore
take study to understand it
Elise’s Examples of the Pitfalls of Shallow Research
Believing that family stories have been accurately passed down in all details.
Believing that official documents are always correct.
Believing that published records, especially transcriptions or abstracts, are faithful representations of the original.
Premature conclusions can come back to haunt us.
Disregarding ill-fitting evidence can create brick walls.
Careless citation practices do not give us the tools we need for analysis.
Researching and understanding historical context is crucial to solving problems.
Barriers requiring expertise beyond our own should not hamper the research process.
Assuming there is only one record and suspending research when the first one is found.
Assuming that details are unimportant, or not noticing them at all.
Elissa also points out that when we do shallow research, we can actually do more harm than good. Shallow genealogical research:
Doesn’t allow our ancestors to reveal themselves or their reasons for actions
Puts them in the wrong time and place
Can create wrong kinship ties
Misleads future researchers
Causes brick walls
Wastes our time
Does a disservice to our current family and descendants
GEM: Irish Genealogy with Lorna Moloney of Merriman Research
While speaking at THE Genealogy Show conference in Birmingham England in June of this year I got a chance to sat down for the first time with Lorna Moloney host of The Genealogy Radio show which is produced at Raidio Corcabaiscinn. It airs live on Thursday at 4p.m. and is podcast (click here for episodes). Lorna runs Merriman Research which is dedicated to bringing educational solutions and resources to a wide audience.
A project that began in 2017 to digitize important sacramental records in the history of Boston’s Catholic Church has just been expanded. Here’s the latest on this important project from American Ancestors and the Archdiocese of Boston.
Historic Catholic Records Online Project Expansion
Announced by American Ancestors and the Archdiocese of Boston
20 Additional Years of Records—from 1901 through 1920—and more than 60 Additional Greater Boston Catholic Parishes Are To Be Added to the Historic Digital Genealogy Project at AmericanAncestors.org
August 7, 2019—Boston, Massachusetts—American Ancestors and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston (RCAB) today announced an expansion of its ongoing program to digitize important sacramental records in the history of Boston’s Catholic Church. This expansion of a project collaboration announced in early 2017 will effectively double the original 11 million names of parishioners to be included when the project is completed to encompass a total of approximately 21 million names—a treasure in research terms for historians, genealogists, scholars, and the public at large. Images are available to browse now. Name-searchable records will be available in an expanded database from American Ancestors on their award-winning website AmericanAncestors.org.
These historic records document several sacraments of the Catholic Church in Boston and surrounding towns including baptism, confirmation, holy communion, marriage, and the anointing of the sick. They are valued for research because they contain detailed information about the Catholic parishioners of greater Boston, their relationships with each other, the church, and often the community.
When announced in January 2017, the Historic Catholic Records Online Project—the first of its type in the U.S. to digitize a significant number of sacramental records from any U.S.-based Catholic archdiocese—encompassed 154 parishes in 84 towns within the Boston Archdiocese, covering the years 1789 to 1900.
Today’s announcement extends the project’s reach to cover records through the year 1920—adding 20 additional years of sacramental records to the project and eventually bringing more than 60 new parishes within it—all formed within the Boston Archdiocese after 1900.
Catholic parishes in the towns of
will now be included—covering important phases of greater Boston’s early 20th-century history and stories of immigration, social, and cultural change.
Brenton Simons, President and CEO of American Ancestors, also known as New England Historic Genealogical Society, celebrated the amplification of the project, noting “Throughout our 175-year history, New England Historic Genealogical Society has collected and shared countless manuscripts, artifacts, data, and other resources that tell the inspiring story of the American family. The expansion of this historic collaboration between the Boston Archdiocese and American Ancestors will enrich the research of family historians in America and beyond and be especially informative in Irish, Italian, and French Canadian genealogy. Newer parishes from the 1900s add Lithuanian, Polish, and Portuguese genealogical data of interest.
“I offer our deep gratitude to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for recognizing the historical value of this data—especially Thomas Lester, the Archivist and Records Manager of the Archdiocese, whose forward-thinking vision toward preservation and collaboration inspired this important project and its expansion we are announcing today,” Simons said.
Lester, as the Boston Archdiocese’s leading advocate for records preservation, stated “We recognize the value of this collection to many groups, foremost among them historians and genealogists. This second, expanded phase of our project with American Ancestors, is a result of the overwhelming positive feedback received during the initial phase announced with them in January 2017.
“Use of the records by researchers around the world has exceeded our original expectations and we are excited to offer additional content, with more insights, and deeper glimpses into the history of the Roman Catholic people and parishes in greater Boston. Of equal importance is that we are continuing to create a digital backup to help preserve these irreplaceable records.”
“The completion of the expanded project, covering all records through the year 1920 is now anticipated to be by the year 2029,” stated Molly Rogers, Database Coordinator for American Ancestors, “with all browsable (non-indexed) and indexed names from all parish archives expected to be online by that time.”
The project is enormous in scope, with a large amount of data to be digitized and then laboriously, manually indexed, transcribed, and, in most cases, translated to English for name-searching capabilities.
Some of the first records from this expanded time period—browsable images of pages from parish archives—are available and may be viewed at AmericanAncestors.org/image-example by members of American Ancestors and by non-members alike, with a free online registration as a Guest Member at AmericanAncestors.org/membership/guest-users. Searchable records (indexed by name) are available only to subscribing members of American Ancestors—visit AmericanAncestors.org/Join.
Volunteers coordinated by the staff of American Ancestors undertake the greater portion of the work of scanning and indexing the Historic Catholic Records Online Project documents.
Much of this effort is carried out at the American Ancestors headquarters in Boston’s Back Bay. In 2017, American Ancestors launched a Historic Catholic Records Fund to enable philanthropy to support the project. Information about contributing to this fund can be found at AmericanAncestors.org/catholic-records-fund.
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About American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society
American Ancestors, also known as New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), with its national headquarters located in Boston’s Back Bay, is the oldest and largest genealogical organization in America. It serves more than 260,000 members and millions of online users engaged in family history nationally and around the world. It is home to a world-class research library and archive, and an expert staff.
American Ancestors offers an award-winning genealogical research website at AmericanAncestors.org with more than 1.4 billion records and maintains a publishing division which produces original genealogical research, scholarship, and educational materials, including Mayflower Descendant, a quarterly journal of Pilgrim genealogy and history.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.
Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you.
I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:
“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.
Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”
That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.
How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared
I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!
Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!
The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!
Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:
1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites
1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.
If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.
You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.
One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.
This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages.
To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.
The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.
2. Google Your Question
You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it!And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google.
If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided.
Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.
Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:
When did world vital records close?
Sunset notice for World Vital Records
Who acquired World Vital Records?
As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details.
When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.
Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.
3. Google the Content
As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.
Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.
Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.
Here’s an example of how this works:
In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)
Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.
Obvious, But Not Always
While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.
Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.
This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?
Lessons in life often translate to lessons in genealogy. Here’s an example of how digging deeper can have you singing a happier research tune.
The Music of My Childhood
When I was a kid I had a million interests (and I still do.)
I loved art of all kinds – painting, drawing, and paper mache. I enjoyed baking and particularly candy-making. I had a teal blue easy bake oven I used constantly, and a cotton candy making machine that spun sugar into treats – Yum!
Making cotton candy with my Dad, Christmas 1970.
At the age of eight I learned to water-ski. It came surprisingly easy, so much so that my Dad got me a pair of short trick skis on which I learned to do a full 360 degree turn.
And like most kids I took piano lessons starting in the first grade. My mom bought an old upright piano for $75, and painted it bright red (you can see where I got my artistic flair from!)
My first piano teacher was a lovely lady who happened to be a paraplegic. This meant that she sat across the room from me and the piano and never actually touched the piano. I learned a love of music from her for which I’ll always be grateful. She was a patient teacher with her rambunctious student. But years later after we moved and I started up with a new piano teacher, I discovered I was clueless about fingering which was why many songs seemed unreasonably difficult to me.
It’s eye-opening to realize you didn’t know what you didn’t know.
Something else that slowed me down was not really learning music theory. Oh I had learned the basics, and became a laser-focused sight-reader of music. But my while my second teacher taught me scales, I don’t recall her ever saying why we were doing them. Needless to say, I didn’t practice them because I didn’t know why we were bothering with these notes that weren’t songs. Therefore, I never learned them or their significance to music.
One of my all time favorite songs was and still is One Less Bell to Answer by the Fifth Dimension. I first heard it on the TV series It Takes a Thief starring Robert Wagner which ran from 1968 to 1970. The song was featured in the third season episode called Sing a Song of Murder.
5th Dimension on Sing a Song of Murder
The 5th Dimension were the guest stars that week, and Marilyn McCoo sang that torch song like no one else could. I drove my mom crazy as I belted it out from the top of my lungs and begged her for 5th Dimension albums for my birthday. I still have my original 5th Dimension Live double album and the 5th Dimension Greatest Hits on Earth, both of which feature the song.
Harder than the Average Song
The other day I was falling down a rabbit hole on Instagram where I saw that Marilyn McCoo and her husband Bill David, Jr. had started an Instagram account (you can follow them here). I started following them, enjoying reading about how they are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and seeing old TV clips and new video of their performances.
I got to thinking about that To Catch a Thief episode and soon the rabbit hole led me to YouTube where I watched it. From there I found a tunnel to MusicNotes.com where I bought the sheet music for One Less Bell to Answer.
I sat down, excited to play it, and was stopped in my tracks. This Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic was as hard to play as any of Liszt’s classics!
Although I have continued to play piano all these years, I slogged and fumbled and scratched my way through to the end. My weakness in fingering skills and music theory was painfully apparent. I decided there and then that I wanted this one badly enough that I was willing to go back to the basics, learn what I didn’t know about music, and practice daily.
And so I found myself a good video series on music theory basics. I’ve been devoting a half an hour each day to learning the Circle of Fifths, scales and chords. I also put my husband through listening to me do another half an hour a day of practice, with an emphasis on One Less Bell to Answer. My husband says I’m getting better, though I’m still frustrated that it’s not yet quite where I want it to be.
Along the way though, something really interesting has happened.
I have noticed something wonderful after each painful, slow study and practice session. When I go back to my regular music (my sheet music stack includes the likes of Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, Bach, Beethoven, Billy Joel, one of my favorite composers, Mr. Rogers), that music is much easier, and I’m much better at playing it! In fact, it’s more of a joy to play than ever, and I usually end up playing another hour in the evening, giving up time previously wasted on television.
So what does this have to do with family history and genealogy? Well…
Mastering the Music of the Genealogical Brick Wall
One Less Bell to Answer was not only my favorite song, but one of the toughest to master. So let me ask you, what’s your toughest genealogy case right now?
We all have a brick wall or two that has plagued us. I get emails every day from listeners of the Genealogy Gems Podcast outlining the family history challenge that has them stumped. Sometimes I think their hope is that I might have a genealogical silver bullet, or that I might be aware of some low-hanging genealogical fruit that they’ve over looked. I always encourage listeners to write in because many times there is a quick source or strategy that I can offer that they just may have missed. Or I can refer them to one of our articles, videos or podcast episodes that can provide a more in-depth answer. There’s always value in sharing with others the research challenges we face, and soliciting ideas and input.
However, in many cases, the answer is not so simple. Many of the cases described go well beyond a quick search at one of the Genealogy Giants websites. (You can learn more about them here.) These are cases that don’t have an easy answer. There isn’t one source just waiting to be found.
Sing a Song of Genealogy
Genealogical brick wall cases are much like the most glorious torch songs. They will require more education, steady relentless work, and a willingness to end each research session (like a piano practice session) unsatisfied with the current results. But when we stay focused and persist, we can remain optimistic that the end result will be worth it.
This answer to tough genealogical questions isn’t a popular one. That’s due in part to the increased tech tools and vast online databases (which are all fantastic boons for the genealogist by the way), that appear to offer instant gratification. This auto-generated “genealogy” can actually dilute our research edge when we really need it. We can be lulled into believing there should always be a quick fix. We find ourselves not as willing to stop, create a research plan, set up a tracking spreadsheet, and execute a plan to find the answer.
Many a family tree (particularly online) is filled with errors created by an unwillingness to take the time to dig deep. For example, are we really sure we have the right ancestor when there are several men by that name in that county at that time? Did we really prove it?
Genealogy Research Plans
Is creating and using a genealogy research plan new to you? That’s not usual.
These days, many people first come to climbing their family tree through a genealogy app. Several of the popular genealogy apps allow you to instantly start adding what you know already about your family to your family tree on the app. Then the app starts serving up record hints and matches – genealogical records it thinks may match the people you have added. It may also connect you to other users who share branches of your family tree.
While there’s a bit of instant gratification in all this, it doesn’t help us see the bigger picture, or develop our skills as a researcher. In a sense, we are following the app’s research plan (and I use that term very loosely here), rather than developing and conducting our own research plan.
When we finally take up the baton, and start leading our own research, we will gain more satisfaction and end up singing the right song.
If you’re facing an imposing genealogical brick wall, why not set aside all your other searches, and just work on this one? Slog along, fight your way through it! Do it for an hour every day. If your knowledge is lacking, go find the answers. Get up to speed on the areas you don’t know enough about.
It helps to accept that this genealogical answer that you seek, like a really wonderful song, is going to require more learning and practice than the average answer. But when it’s done, you’ll have the satisfaction of having conquered a really tough one, and the confidence that you got it right.
I can promise you this. When you take the time to craft and work a real and true genealogical research plan, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that when you go back to your other research, you will find it easier, and more enjoyable.
And yes, I’m still working on mastering my favorite song. Follow me on instagram and when I have it mastered, I’ll play it for you.
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