The Power and Preservation of Oral History

How can you preserve a family’s history when it exists only in the memories of tribal storytellers? Visit the tribe and capture its oral history, as MyHeritage is doing with its Tribal Quest initiative.

MyHeritage recently announced a new global initiative to record and preserve the family histories of tribal people living in remote locations around the world.

Their first project is in Namibia. Next they plan to move on to Papua New Guinea. Check it out in this brief video:

MyHeritage is even recruiting volunteers who want to travel to these places and help out. You can learn more at TribalQuest.org.

FamilySearch published an article a few years ago about similar work they’ve done in several African nations. “Most African tribes have a designated ‘storyteller’ who is responsible to memorize the tribe’s oral traditions, including names of ancestors going back six to thirty generations,” it says. “FamilySearch works with chiefs and local volunteers to visit these storytellers and record the information they have been charged to remember in their heads. Sometimes the interview is audio or video recorded.” FamilySearch enters what they learn into a GEDCOM (the universal family tree file format) and put it on FamilySearch.org for others to use.

How far have YOU gone to capture your family’s oral history? Probably not to a remote tribal home! Why not use the resources below to help you with your next oral history project?

More Oral History Gems

Record and Share Oral History with Free MyHeritage App

WPA oral history transcription

From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article. Click image to read.

 

Easy Family History Writing Project: Publish a Q&A (Oral History)

Premium Podcast 134: Lisa’s Tips for Recording Oral History Interviews on Your Mobile Device (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required)

 

 

Genealogy Gems Book Club: Q & A with Genealogist Nathan Dylan Goodwin, Author of The Sterling Affair

After a long day of genealogical research, what could be more satisfying than curling up with a good book about genealogical research?! Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s new book The Sterling Affair promises a satisfying return journey into the life of forensic genealogist Morton Farrier. 

(This article includes affiliate links. If you decide to pick up a copy of this book, using our links for which we will be compensated by the book seller helps support our ability to bring author Q&A’s like this to your screen. Thank you!)

Click here to purchase your copy of The Sterling Affair

Genealogy Gems The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. Click image to order your copy.

The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Goodwin sets the scene of his new book as follows:

“When an unannounced stranger comes calling at Morton Farrier’s front door, he finds himself faced with the most intriguing and confounding case of his career to-date as a forensic genealogist. He agrees to accept the contract to identify a man who had been secretly living under the name of his new client’s long-deceased brother.

Morton must use his range of resources and research skills to help him deconstruct this mysterious man’s life, ultimately leading him back into the murky world of 1950s international affairs of state.”

A Conversation with Author Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Don’t worry, we won’t be spoiling the exciting read you have ahead of you. Today I will be chatting with Nathan about his life as an author, his writing process, and how the main character, Morton Farrier, almost didn’t make it past the first book!

Lisa Louise Cooke: The Sterling Affair is your eighth novel in the Morton Farrier genealogical crime mystery series. When you first began writing the series did you imagine an eighth book?  And today can you imagine even more?

Nathan: I literally had no concept that there would be so many books in the series! At first, it was written as a one-off, then I started to have ideas for two or three more.

I think when I wrote book three, The Orange Lilies, I knew that the series had plenty more scope, especially as DNA-testing was just beginning for genealogists, opening up a whole new world of potential storylines! As to the future of the series, I’m currently plotting books nine and ten. I don’t see an end to the series just yet!

The Sterling Affair - a genealogical crime mystery

Click the book image to order your copy.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I heard you speak at THE Genealogy Show conference in Birmingham England in 2019. In that presentation you told the audience that you almost killed off Morton at the end of the first book. I imagine you’re glad now that he survived. What exactly happened back then? 

Nathan: Killing Morton would have been the most stupid thing I could have done!

I started writing Hiding the Past (the first book in the series) as part of my studies for a Master’s Degree in creative writing and I think I’d been reading a novel at the time, which went along the lines of ‘if you’re reading this then I’m dead’. I thought this angle might work for the first draft of my story but thankfully, as the book progressed, I was able to see several plotlines, which could continue into further stories.

I knew from the outset that I wanted the main character, Morton Farrier, to have been adopted and be totally unaware of his biological family, so there was plenty of scope there to continue that subplot in future books.

Lisa Louise Cooke: How has the advent of DNA testing changed the course of your writing?

Nathan: DNA-testing has completely changed the course of my writing—in a good way, I like to think! There are now so many more possibilities for Morton to solve his cases in different ways.

Morton took an Ancestry DNA test back in 2014 when it had not yet even become possible in the UK. He did what I had to do, which was to order one in the US and have a friend ship it over, then post it back to the US for testing and analysis!

From that point onwards, DNA has played an ever-increasing role in helping Morton to solve his cases. In the most recent book, The Sterling Affair, Morton uses a variety of real tools and websites which are familiar to genealogists.

Lisa Louise Cooke: When you start a book like The Sterling Affair, do you already have it well mapped out, or are there surprises even for you along the way as to the path it will take?

Nathan: I usually spend at least three months conducting research for the books. This involves reading, visiting record offices, libraries, churches, etc. Basically, anything which Morton does in the book, I do first.

 

Novel Research - photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin

At the point when I actually start writing I probably have about 60% of the storyline mapped out. It’s a big cliché to say so, but for me the characters really do come to life and do things which I hadn’t anticipated. For the first few books I found it a little unnerving to be starting to write something that I didn’t know pretty well 100% what was going to happen, but now I trust myself and I know I’ll get to the end if I let the characters lead the way!

Lisa Louise Cooke: Where do you get your inspiration for the story lines in your books? 

Nathan: My ideas come from a variety of sources, but never by actively searching for the next story; I just seem to stumble on a nugget of an idea, which I think could make for an interesting genealogical crime mystery and make a note of it! It can be a news story involving history or genealogy in some way, something I’ve picked up from a family history publication, or a Facebook group where people share their own genealogical mysteries.

Increasingly, the books have more real-life characters, plotlines and locations. For example, The Spyglass File, which is set on the frontline of Kent during the Battle of Britain, was loosely based on my grandmother’s story, whereby she gave birth to an illegitimate child in 1943, whom she put up for adoption whilst my grandfather was a POW in Thailand.

Nathan Dylan Goodwin Genealogy Gems Podcast

Nathan’s Grandmother – Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin.

The Sterling Affair is based on nefarious goings-on during the 1950s and involves real undercover MI6 operations and real spies. The idea for this story came from the National Archives newsletter, which mentioned the release of some previously closed MI6 records. This got me thinking about someone trying to conceal their real identity and Morton having to use his skills to work out who he might be! 

Lisa Louise Cooke: For those new to your books, they will see that this is the eighth novel in the series and wonder if it’s too late to join in. Can the book be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel? 

Nathan: I always say that the books can be read as a stand-alone, but you would be missing out on Morton’s backstory. However, with The Sterling Affair there is not too much given away about his own past, so, of all of the stories, this is the most readable out of sequence!

Lisa Louise Cooke: When you’re not writing about Morton Farrier, what is your favorite way to spend free time? 

Nathan: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘free time’!? Obviously, I spend a lot of time on genealogy. I’ve been researching my own family for thirty years now and I feel very fortunate to be able to combine my two loves of writing and genealogy. Aside from that, I enjoy reading, running, skiing, theatre and spending time with my family, friends and dog.

Lisa Louise Cooke: You’re a man of many talents. Do you have other “wishlist” projects you yearn to do in addition to writing?

Nathan: I enjoy photography and would like to develop that at some point in the future and I really would like to take a watercolour painting class at some point. I just need some of that free time you mentioned!

Photography by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

A man of many talents – Photography by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Lisa Louise Cooke: I’ll be at RootsTech again this year. Will we see you there?

Nathan: I shall have a booth at RootsTech SLC this year signing books and also at THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham once again. So people can come and say hello and let me know what they think of my stories. I love chatting with my readers!

Hear More from Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Read and hear more from genealogical author Nathan Dylan Goodwin in the following exclusive Genealogy Gems content:

  1. Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 features an Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin author of The Lost Ancestor.
  2. Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 179 features a discussion of The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin.
  3. Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin: Genealogy Gems Book Club – In this article from 2015 Nathan discusses the second book in the Morton Farrier series, The Lost Ancestor. 
  4. Listen to the full-length Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, as he discusses The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.)
  5. Listen to our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin about his The Wicked Trade and The Suffragette’s Secret in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 159 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

Catch up on the Morton Farrier

Learn more about the entire book series featuring Morton Farrier here in this Genealogy Gems Book Club article. 

New Free Online Historic Maps, DNA and more in Genealogy Gems Premium Episode 92

Old maps can tell us a lot more than just where our ancestors lived: They put events into geographic context, reveal surprising genealogical clues, and can be incorporated into Google Earth for analysis and storytelling.

It used to be pretty difficult to find old maps to use in your family history research, but it is a lot easier these days. Libraries and archives are digitizing them and putting them online.  And in the newest episode (#92) of the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast I’ll tell you about a terrific example of a website that has set the goal of have every image they possess (allowable by copyright) digitized and on their  website by early 2013

Also in this episode I’m going to tell you about something pretty shocking that happened to me recently while speaking at an international genealogy conference. I was really taken by surprise, and received some unexpected questions. I will share those with you as well as some solid answers.

It’s another packed episode. If you are a member sign in now to start listening.

 

Not a Genealogy Gems Premium Member yet? 

There’s never been a better time to join!  You will get access to videos of my most popular classes, and as of today 92 Premium episodes providing hours of genealogical education and fun.

Click here to become a Member today

 

Genealogy Problem Solving: Conflicting Birthdates

Show Notes: Learn how to resolve conflicting evidence in your ancestors’ birth dates.

resolving conflicting birthdate genealogical evidence

Lisa’s special guest is genealogist Lindsey Harner.

 

In this Article and Video:

Reasons for Birthdate Discrepancies in Genealogy

5 Questions You Should Ask About Conflicting Birthdates

Birth Record Substitutes

Case Study Strategies for Solving Conflicting Birthdates

Have you ever been frustrated by finding conflicting birth dates for your ancestor? The article called Birthday Wishes appears in the July/August 2020 issue of Family Tree Magazine tackles this challenge. The article’s author, professional genealogist Lindsay Harner is here to share five questions that you should ask yourself when you are comparing birth dates across a variety of genealogical records. These questions will help you get a little closer to the truth.

Resource: Download the ad-free show notes including a printable checklist cheat sheet. (Premium Membership required)

Reasons for Birthdate Discrepancies in Genealogy

Lisa: What are some of the possible reasons that we might come across birthdate discrepancies when we’re looking at a variety of different genealogical records?

(01:08) Lindsay: We’re talking about vital records, birth, marriage and death records.  I think birth records tend to be a little different sometimes, because marriage records would be recorded by churches and in civil records for many, many years and often reported in the local newspaper. Death dates are often carved on headstones. But with the birthdate, nobody can remember their own birth date, right? So, in the days before documentation, a lot of times people had to rely on what they were told by maybe a parent or a relative in terms of what their actual birth date was.

(01:58) Lisa: That’s a good point, it poses a very unique challenge.

5 Questions You Should Ask about Conflicting Birthdates

Let’s jump into your five questions, because I think they will help us find the truth. What is the first thing that we should ask ourselves when we’re seeing a discrepancy?

Question #1: When was the birthdate record created?

(02:16) Lindsay: The first question you should ask yourself is, when was the record created?

Records tend to be more reliable the closer they were created to the actual event. People tend to remember events better when they’re fresher in their minds. We tend to remember things better that happened last week than, say, 10 years ago.

Question #2: Who was the source of the birthdate?

(02:52) The next thing you’re going to want to ask is who was the source of the birth information? Was it someone who could have been present at the birth?  They’re going to be the most reliable sources of information. People such as a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, maybe an older sibling who would have been old enough to remember, an attending physician or midwife if you’re lucky enough to find a record from one of them. People like that would be much more reliable than, say, the person’s child who of course, couldn’t have been present at the birth.

Lisa: A death certificate is a good example. It will often tell the birthdate of the person who died. However, you then look at the informant, and you realize that guy certainly wasn’t there when the person was born and certainly heard about it second or third hand. So that’s what you’re talking about, deciding how much weight to give it?

Lindsey: That’s right. Yes.

Question #3: Can the birthdate be corroborated?

(04:00) The next question you’re going to want to ask is whether or not the birth date can be corroborated with other records. For example, if you have three records that report one birthday, and then you find another record that gives a completely different birthday, chances are the record that differs from everything else is probably not accurate, if you can’t find anything else that matches it.

Lisa: So, you’re saying if one thing stands out as different while everything else seems to be lining up, then we give it less weight. That makes sense. And I imagine that there are some dates out there that just don’t make sense, right?

Lindsay: Yes, that’s right.

Question #4: Is the birthdate plausible?

(04:50) You’re going to want to take into consideration everything that you know about the person when you have conflicting information. Look at all of the records you have related to them in their immediate family. That should clue you in on whether or not a certain birthday is even plausible or makes sense.

For example, if someone is listed in the 1860 census, they couldn’t have been born in 1861 or later. Or if they had an older brother who was born in 1875 their birth date would have to be at least nine months after the older sibling’s birthday.

Lisa: That sounds logical. When you’re in the heat of a research challenge, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of those very simple discrepancies. What else should we be asking ourselves?

Question #5: Is the birthdate inaccurate on purpose?

(06:00) Lindsay: The last question that I recommend you ask yourself is, in this situation, is there a reason that the source would be dishonest? There are a lot of reasons why someone may have lied about their age. I’m sure most of us have heard about boys claiming to be older than they actually were in order to be eligible for military service.

Some people may have lied just for the sake of appearances. For example, I can think of an instance in my own family tree where I have a female ancestor who was about seven or eight years older than her husband. Once they were married, all of a sudden her birth year in census records became much later because she apparently didn’t want people to know she was so much older than her husband, or they just assumed that they were closer in age. So that’s one reason why someone could be dishonest.

Another possible reason for dishonesty could be that they had a financial incentive. My grandfather got his driver’s license when he was 15. He lied about his age for many years. His driver’s license never had the right age on it.

There are all sorts of reasons that people lie. So, you’ll just want to ask yourself, is there a reason? Did they stand to gain something from being dishonest?

Lisa: That’s a very good point. It makes me think back to my first job. If anybody ever finds my first job application, they will find a bit of a discrepancy on the age because I was really anxious to get to work. I was 15, and you had to be 16 to work. But I don’t do that anymore!

Birth Record Substitutes

When we’re looking at these kinds of records, and you were talking about finding additional records to corroborate what we’re finding, what are some of the birth records substitutes that we could be looking for?

(08:15) Lindsay: Yes, fortunately, even in the years before state issued birth certificates, there are a lot of other sources that we can turn to that would give a birth date. Probably the best sources out there would be a family Bible or a baptismal record.  Chances are, they were created very close to the birth, or not very long after.

If your ancestor lost a parent at a young age, there may be guardianship records that would record their birth date.

If your ancestor served in the military, there could be various military records, enlistment records, pension records, or World War One World War Two draft registration cards that would record birth dates. They’re both available on Ancestry.

Older headstones are another source. They might not record a birth date, but I’ve seen many where they’ll record the death date and give the person’s very specific age in years, days and months. And so even if it doesn’t record the actual birth date, you can calculate it.

There are also death certificates and obituaries. There are also many records that we record a person’s age at the time that the record was created. Census records are of course a big one, and marriage records. You can use those to help calculate a range of when their birth may have occurred.

Lisa: As you list those records, I think of so many others too, like a passport application. I know I’ve seen them on Ancestry.com. There are lots of different opportunities to come up with some additional records to help determine the true birthdate.

Case Study Strategies for Solving Conflicting Birthdates

In your article in Family Tree Magazine, you provided a great case study. I always think it’s so interesting when we take the theory behind what we’re doing and really apply it to something. Tell us about the case study dealing with these discrepancies in birth records.

(10:41) Lindsay: I came across this situation a few times in my research, but probably the most interesting and perplexing case is the one I shared in the article. It’s about my great, great, grandfather, named Thomas H. Higgins. He was born in Pennsylvania in the 1850s which was many any years before Pennsylvania started issuing birth certificates. Pennsylvania didn’t start until 1906.

STRATEGY: Find out when your ancestor’s state started issuing birth certificates.

Fortunately, his life is very well documented. I have many records that record a birth date for him. Unfortunately, very few of these records match. I actually found six different birth dates for him. I went through each record and evaluated it based on the questions that we just talked about.

Initially, I believed he was born on December 9, 1856. I got that birth date from what I believe was a very, very reliable source. That birthdate had appeared in a biography my grandfather had written about him. It had also appeared in a school application I found. It also appeared in his mother’s Civil War, widows pension application, so that that date came from his mother!

However, as I continued to research him, I started to find many records that did not match that birthday and that made me start to question the accuracy of the 1856 birth date. I started to find quite a few records that said that he was born more than a year earlier in August 1855. Initially, I didn’t put much stock into some of these records, because quite often he was the source of the information. He actually was not a very reliable source because I also know that he had a history of lying about his age!

As I mentioned previously, quite often, young boys would claim to be older to enlist in the military. But in his case, he actually claimed to be about 15 or 16 years younger than he was in order to be able to enlist in the military. He was in his 60s during World War I, and he claimed to be in his 40s in order to enlist. So, I was skeptical of any record where he was the source. I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him.

STRATEGY: Collect as many birth records as possible

Then I started to find other records. I found an additional birthdate buried in his mother’s Civil War pension application. I then found a baptismal record. They both corroborated the August 1855 birthdate. And, of course, if he was baptized in March of 1856, he couldn’t have been born in December 1856.

What was the reason for these multiple birthdates? Well, it turns out his parents weren’t married until April 1855, about four months before the August 1855 birth date. So, I believe that he was actually born in August 1855 and his mother fibbed about that in order to hide the fact that he was only born a few months after their marriage.

Lisa: That’s a great example of a reason why somebody might fudge things a little bit.

STRATEGY: Chart out the conflicting birthdates and sources.

I also really liked in the article how you shared a chart, almost like a timeline, but really charted out all the different items. It really helps you see the whole picture of all these conflicting dates, where they’re coming from, when they were created, all those things that you mentioned so that we can try to make a final determination.

The article is called Birthday wishes and it appears in the July / August 2022 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

About Author and Genealogist Lindsey Harner

Where can we learn more about what you’re up to these days?

(15:55) Lindsay: I focus on Pennsylvania and New York research primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’m always busy working on that. And you can find me on my website Lindsay’s Histories. I also have a blog there that you can check out and read more about my research.

Resources

Download the ad-free show notes including a printable checklist cheat sheet. (Premium Membership required)

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

 

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU