Welcome to my new site

You may be wondering if you’ve actually come to the right place. Never fear, this is the website of a genealogist. A genealogist with experience and a qualification, no less. A genealogist who, when first thinking of redesigning her website, started with a rather muted colour palate; sensible typography and a lot of images of trees and people looking pensively at old documents.

The first site looked good, man. Really. It was exactly what a genealogist’s website should look like.

The only problem being… it wasn’t me.

Yes, I’m a professional genealogist. Yes, I do serious research and provide my clients with outstanding reports of a high quality and with a level of detail they expect. Yes, I take my job seriously.

But also, no, I’m not what you’d expect a genealogist to be. I’m colourful and fun and quirky and bouncy and all these colours you see here on this site? Yeah, that’s me.

So, when you hire me as a genealogist, you’re going to get the very best research and report, but you’re also going to get me – my unique view of the world and your ancestors and my attention to detail. I might discover that one of your ancestors had a really interesting life because of a single event that occurred and I may look into that in detail and give you a rundown of how they lived and what they did.

It’s not just about names and dates for me. It’s never just about names and dates. The people I research are more than just that. They are the backbone of your whole being, your childhood, your values, your beliefs are all, in some way, influenced by those people and that deserves respect.

I may be quirky and “out there”, but I have a deep love and respect for all ancestors and everyone’s story. They all had loves and losses and trials and happiness and struggles and moments of sheer joy and, if I can help you to discover all or part of what made them who they were, then it will be my privilege and honour.

So, once again, welcome to my new website.

So Who Do We Think We Are? The Future of Genealogy Events in the UK. Part 2

This is a continuation of my post Who Do We Think We Are? I fully expect some feathers to be ruffled by the following but also truly believe that without some harsh comments and discussions, true progress (in any field) cannot be made. I also want to preempt this all by underlining that the work of people and organisations in the previous WDYTYA? Live shows was really wonderful and everyone should be proud.



Shows like WDYTYA? Live and RootsTech need to be “shows” (to an extent). The life-blood of such events is not those of us who are already in the industry. While it is a great opportunity for us to network and meet up with friends and colleagues, in order for it to be a success, there needs to be some “layman” bums on seats and so the appeal needs to be broad.

What this means is that it needs to draw a crowd and how do you do that? By having fun and appealing things at the event. WDYTYA? Live attempted this by having “stars” from the show appear, but this year was really disappointing and the crew from the Danny Dyer episode is not enough of a draw for 99% of people.

Sir Tony Robinson was there, and he’s a popular figure – if you’re a fan of Time Team or Blackadder – but when the bit he’s doing is basically an advertisement for Ancestry DNA it really does make you wonder if he’s there out of a genuine interest in what he’s talking about or purely because he got a nice appearance fee and script.

If we’re going to appeal to the next generation (and let’s face it, we have to do this at some point), then it all needs to be brought forward to the 21st century. As I wandered around the hall and spoke with people on various stalls I realised just how behind the times a lot of the people, companies and organisations find themselves. The number of CDs I was offered for sale was astounding. I know, I know – there are people who use this technology but when you offer a CD and the potential customer replies “I don’t have a CD drive on my computer, what can I access online?” turning your nose up and sneering “Not everything is online you know” is not really going to ingratiate yourself with that potential customer. Also, looking down your nose at someone younger than you asking a question about genealogy and assuming they are a beginner and don’t know what they’re doing is not going to win you many friends. (That’s a different topic that I’ll gripe about on another day).

So, 21st century. It’s where we are and it’s where we need to be. But, do we need to jazz things up completely in order to draw a crowd, make it relevant and interest people in what we’re doing?

Quite simply, yes.

Attention spans are shorter. There’s a constant stream of distraction around us at all times. In order to break through the colours and noise, you need to do something amazing.

As we all know, first impressions really count, and these days your website needs to be amazing, intuitive, easy to use and informative. The WDYTYA? Live website was/is, quite frankly, shockingly bad. It’s unattractive, busy, doesn’t provide good information and the ticket/workshop booking process was a complete shambles. If I was someone just having a look and thinking I might attend… well I’d have given up and gone to the Mrs Brown show in the other hall.*

RootsTech website
First impressions matter and set the tone for your event

Compare it to the RootsTech website. Clean, crisp, good information and oh, what’s this? STREAMING OF TALKS, YOU SAY? Yeah, the number one question I got from my friends and family when I told them I was talking at the show this was “Where can I watch it online?” People are willing to pay for this kind of content and all big trade shows do it. Heck, even Blizzcon, the annual convention hosted by Blizzard Entertainment which celebrates their computer games, offers a livestream package for people to purchase so that if they cannot attend in person they can still be involved.

Speaking of being involved – social media. Okay, so we saw some tweets and Facebook posts from the WDYTYA? Live crew but there did not seem to be a centralised or organised effort on the part of the organisers to get conversations going. Use of hashtags came down to whatever people came up with and so it was a bit muddled, we had #wdytyalive #wdytya #wdytyalive2017, but nothing obviously official or being driven by the organisers. One person, at the show, with a laptop and phone taking photographs and replying to people talking about the show would have boosted the conversation and would have promoted it even more. If you’re hosting a major event and you’re not trending on social media – you’re not a success. It’s as simple and brutal as that.

A lot of the shortcomings are clearly due to budgetary constraints. That was obvious this year. But if you’re going to organise a show like this, at the scale that WDYTYA? Live was purporting to be, you need to inject cash into it.

So, my original question – does the gap need filling?

The Secret Lives – Hidden Voices conferences promises to be very interesting

Maybe. From a purely selfish point of view, I of course say yes. I love attending and meeting up with people and going to talks and giving talks. From an objective point of view, I’m not sure this format and scale works here anymore. If the gap is filled, it needs a complete revamp, rethink, rework, re…everything. Cloning WDYTYA? Live and going with the same format is just going to keep it dry and dusty and it will not grow the way it needs to grow.

What needs to be decided early on is what it is.

This means a re-examining of what genealogy in the UK is and that means accepting a few things that perhaps we don’t really want to accept.

Genealogy is big business. Genealogy is DNA testing to find out if you’re 26% French. Genealogy is accepting all hints without really double checking. Genealogy is going back as far as you can and discovering you’re descended from not one, but two royal families.

But that’s not all it is. Genealogy is also research. Real, proper, historical and scientific research. Genealogy is communication. Genealogy is sharing. Genealogy is telling stories.

Genealogy is telling stories

So, how do we marry these and create an event that is not only worthy of those of us in the genealogical community who are endeavouring to maintain and grow the academic and “serious” side of research, but which also appeals to the general public and provides them with an incentive to get off their bums, go to an exhibition hall and walk around?

I think we need to start with two things:

1. Accept that what we’ve been doing no longer works and we need to do a major overhaul.
2. Look to the Americans. Now, now, before you turn up your nose and think “ugh, it’s going to be SO GAUDY”, it doesn’t need to be a flashy, flag waving, big band even (although that would be awesome) but we can learn a lot from them and what they’re doing. Quite simply, they’re excellent at this kind of thing and what’s the first thing we as genealogists do when we’re faced with a problem we can’t resolve? We go to an expert. This is no different.

So, let’s not be afraid to look to RootsTech for some real inspiration and just some darn good ideas. It can be really simple – hastags, webcasts, nice website, conversations and involving people. I have a million ideas about how to improve things and what we should be doing and how we can make it more fun and engaging and… I could go on for days.

And I’m sure I will, because this is a conversation that’s going to continue. As we talk more and more about what on earth we’re going to do now that WDYTYA? Live is gone, I’m looking forward to hopefully building up some strong ideas with the rest of the British genealogical community and seeing it grow into something that we’ll be able to touch and experience. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you in 2018?

* I wouldn’t have. I loathe that show. Bleh.

So, Who Do We Think We Are? The future of genealogy events in the UK.

It’s now been a month since Who Do You Think You are? Live was held at the NEC in Birmingham. I attended all three days and got to see and experience the event from a number of perspectives – as an attendee, as a student/professional genealogist and as a speaker.

My biggest take aways from the show this year were that attendance was clearly down, some big names were missing (The National Archives, for example) and local genealogical societies were a bit thin (where was Sussex and Kent, and also Scotland was not very well represented).

As Steve mentioned on his blog and Jane mentioned on hers, there was a high number of non-genealogical stands at the show and I felt quite sorry for the women trying to give away free wine samples at 10am. Also, while the free massage was nice, the number of orthopedic and life insurance stands was a bit of a concern. As someone who’s recently turned 40 I don’t like being reminded of such things.

As a genealogy nerd I loved wandering around and having a nose at things and networking and all that. But, putting my objective hat on, it really was lacking this year and could have been quite a disappointment for people attending who didn’t have friends and colleagues to meet up with and pass the time.

The Good

  • The Society of Genealogists. I love the SOG and the effort and energy put in by them to keep this show going and to keep it relevant and fresh and to get new people doing talks and presenting is something that is just so incredible and something for which we should all be thankful. Without them and their efforts (huuuuuuuge shoutout to Else Churchill here) it wouldn’t have been as organised or interesting as it was.
  • Local societies, new societies and universities. The people volunteering on these stands took time out of their lives to be there to answer questions and provide information. Now, I did have a couple of small issues, which I discuss in a later post, but on the whole, the effort by these groups and the fact that they were there made the show all the more interesting and more than just advertising space for the big companies. Shoutouts to Jeanette Rosenburg from the JGSGB for being good fun; the RQG and my dear University of Strathclyde.

The Bad

  • Communication. One thing I noticed during the event was the lack of really knowing what was going on. There were some boards at the entrance giving an overview of what was happening but there was a lot of stuff going on that simply wasn’t centrally publicised. Even something as simple as some announcements giving details of talks coming up next would have been good. Or bigger boards with more information on talks, events, who’s there, what’s going on, etc.
  • Refreshments and relaxation. The food choices were woeful and expensive and the lack of more seating and just places to chill and talk was an issue.

With the recent news that Who Do You Think You Are? Live will not be returning, there is a rather large gap in the genealogy trade show market in the UK. The question is – does this need filling?

In my previous life I worked in the computer game industry. Each year, there would be a number of trade shows/exhibitions that the company for which I worked would attend. These would happen all over the globe, but primarily in the US, UK and Germany (aka, “The Big Three”).

As time went on the big UK-based trade show got a bit smaller and ended up moving locations a few times. This year it will also be held at the NEC, but the lack of attendance by certain companies signals that perhaps it’s not going the way people hope it would.

In the US and Germany, on the other hand, things are a bit different. There are a number of big computer game/comic/sci-fi conventions that get bigger and better every year (some even have branched out to have East-Coast/West-Coast versions).

If we look at the situation in our own industry and the continued growth of RootsTech each year (to the point that UK-based companies and Universities offering genealogy courses have people and stalls at this convention) one must ask the question – Why can’t we get ourselves together here in the UK and have the same?

I will attempt to answer that question however, will do so in a completely subjective way that may, or may not, actually be accurate. Who knows, what follows in the next post may be the biggest pile of drivel I’ve ever written.

WDYTYA? Live 2017 – How to get kids into genealogy

Well, WDYTYA? Live 2017 is now over and most of us are back home, resting (well, as there’s no rest for the wicked, I know this is not the case for most of you).

This year I had to pleasure of presenting a talk about how to get kids into genealogy. This was for the Society of Genealogists and I’d like to thank Else Churchill for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it, and my audience smiled and laughed in all the right places.

For those of you who missed it, here are my slides… they’re rather, erm, loud. Just like me.

If you have any questions, please get in touch!

A Forwards-Looking Genealogist

I have been rather neglectful of my blog, my last entry was around the time I moved from France to England, so I’m going to firmly blame the move for the lack of posts for the past 7 months.

There, blame shifted nicely.

This is a blog, so it needs a nice reflective writer-type-picture and thoughtful caption.

I have continued my studies with the University of Strathclyde, and am now onto the Postgraduate Diploma year. Unlike the Certificate year, the Diploma focuses on a mix of learning modules and smaller assignments with larger etudes and an over-arching research project at the end. The idea is to move as seamlessly as possible from “classroom” learning to academic research – something which is essential for those of us planning on progressing to the MSc year, which is exclusively based on a dissertation.

One thing which I have noted this year, as my circumstances have changed and I am no longer working full time, is this – I HAVE NO IDEA HOW PEOPLE WHO WORK FULL TIME DO THIS!

Is it down to my time management? Or the fact that I go over things with a fine-tooth comb before submitting and then fret about the quality of the work? I feel I am spending almost all of my time working on this course and yet, I am not going to an office every day. I am amazed at the people who are managing to do the course whilst working full time and wonder if perhaps I am somehow cheating a bit. Will it be as much of an achievement if I have (nearly) all the time in the world with which to complete all the work? We genealogists spend our time looking backwards, but we really need to make sure we also look forwards.

My current assignment (a client report) has got me thinking more on the topic of time management – specifically, time management as a genealogist and how we can be restrict ourselves to working on what has been agreed with a client.

I may not have the waistcoat or pocketwatch but this is a pretty accurate representation of me when stressed.


Case in point: my assignment is a client report in which I have to research the family of someone not related to me. I have agreed on a topic or area of research with my client and am limited to 21 hours research time (outside of initial consultation and report write-up). This may sound like a lot of time and what on earth are you worried about, Erin? Yeah, well, 21 hours at my current rate of working on university stuff = 4 days of work at 5 hours a day. Those of you who are fully in the clutches of genealogy’s talons will know that 5 hours can go by in a flash and that you can have Not A Lotâ„¢ to show for it.

So how best to optimise my work to ensure that I get the best results? I could go and look at other blogs or sites on how to best optimise my research. They will undoubtedly be full of good advice like “Be sure you know precisely what you’re looking for” and “Look at the right site for the information you want, don’t waste time browsing”. Yes, yes, all well and good but what are “successful” genealogists doing?

Looking into it a bit further, and reflecting on my own ways of working I’ve found that my research method always works out being the same when I am looking at primary sources (secondary source research tends to be a bit different).

  1. Gather the basic details of the person in a table, include columns of info I have and want to learn;
  2. Input already known information into relevant cells. Highlight green;
  3. List possible repositories for unknown information. Highlight yellow;
  4. Unknown information for which I don’t have an idea of where to look is also listed. Highlight red;
  5. As the research progresses, fill in cells with basic information and change highlights to relevant colours – green for complete, yellow for incomplete but resources identified (you can even include links to these so you just have to click to access), red for incomplete and resources unknown;
  6. Continue until you have a board of green, baby!

Obvs you’d end up with more info than this but it’s just an example.

It’s kind of like a checklist but more visual and helps me keep everything organised and centralised.

In general when it comes to thinking about my research, I think the best pieces of advice I can give myself (and anyone else in my situation who may be wondering how best to streamline (ugh, that word) their work) are:

  1. Stop writing blogs about it and get on with it. You know what you need to do so go and do it.
  2. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. You know what works for you. You know what research methods work. 
  3. Comparing yourself to other, “better” genealogists is pointless. Your successes are and will always be your own. By all means learn from others, but don’t think they’re the be-all and end-all. Your ideas and methods are just as good and there’ll be someone out there inspired by you.
You can download my Excel template here. It includes a mock-up of how it can be used.

MyCanvas Guest Blog – A Beginner’s Guide to Swedish Genealogy

Have Swedish family history and not sure how to get started? I share how to get started in this guest blog post for MyCanvas! Learn common Swedish genealogy words, and tricks to untangling Swedish family names.


A Family Secret… Really Resolved

Some months ago I posted about the mystery in my family of my grandfather who discovered he was adopted when he was in his 60s. As a genealogist, I had been researching his birth family to no avail for a number of years. I finally had a breakthrough last year when I found evidence of his (alleged) birth father’s subsequent marriage, children and so on.

After being in touch with my (alleged) great-grandfather’s descendant, Paul, for some time, he finally did an Ancestry DNA test and we’ve been waiting for the results to come through.

It’s been quite a nervous wait – what if I was wrong?

I was in a business meeting the other day and got onto the topic of DNA testing and genealogy with the client. I decided to show them my research and also my DNA test results (I am always happy to talk about genealogy, especially if there’s a chance I can give someone else the bug).

Logging into Ancestry DNA I saw there was a new match and that this match was listed as being a potential 2nd or 3rd cousin.

Looking more closely, I realised I recognised the username as being the same as Paul’s email address. I gasped and said “Oh my god”. The client was worried and asked if I was alright and I then went on to explain the story and that this result showed that my research was right.

I had found the descendant of my grandfather’s birth father.

Source: Ancestry.co.uk



The following table gives an explanation of how the cousin relationships work. It’s complicated at first but looking at it Paul my mother’s 1st cousin (half) and my 1st cousin once removed (half). This is because mum and Paul share a grandfather (Allan Douglas). (The half is important here. My grandfather’s birth mother was not the same woman as the woman his father married, so subsequent children had a different mother).

Source: ISOGG
This journey and the discoveries made (and the doors now open – so much research to be done on the Williamson side now) are why I love genealogy and why I spend so much time on it (both academically and personally). Not only for the whole Nancy Drew/Scooby Doo mystery solving aspect of it (although that is freaking cool), but because I have the opportunity to bring people together. Being able to do this for my mum has been a real blessing. She is an only child so finding a whole new set of relatives is important for her and I am glad I have been able to give her that gift. 

Now, let’s see where the Williamson line will take me…


Yet another blog post about Ancestry’s decision to retire Family Tree Maker.

The big news today being talked about on social media by pretty much everyone involved in genealogy is the announcement by Ancestry about the end of Family Tree Maker.

It’s not the most popular of decisions, and as the day progresses the levels of anger are increasing.

I was at first surprised by the news. I received the email from Ancestry at around midnight Paris time and spent about 5 minutes wondering what I will do with my genealogical research in the future before I remembered that I actually run two pieces of genealogy-specific software, and have the information in these also saved in other formats (.doc, .xls, etc).

I stopped worrying about myself and my own research – knowing I will still be able to save my research if I am working offline (I also use Family Historian).

Roll around to this morning and I find myself thinking about this more (thanks to coffee, the neurons are firing and I can actually form coherent arguments and questions) and the impact of this decision is huge and, potentially, very damaging for Ancestry.

Unhappy people. Source.


The decision to retire the software is, in itself, unsurprising. Cloud-based apps and working online have become more and more popular in all areas of software development. I have the MS Office suite on my computer, for example, but work entirely through Office 365 for university and Google Docs for work. The linking of social media to software is an essential thing these days and the “Facebookification” of software (be it social media or other) is almost expected by the general public.

One only has to look at the new Ancestry site to see the direction that is being taken – ease of access, collaboration and social sharing. The pulling of FTM from the market is, sadly, the logical next step. 

The big questions will come from the genealogical community – those of us who either work professionally (or are working towards working professionally) and how this decision impacts us. Questions like: How will we work offline? (Essential if we are in an archive with no Internet access or if we want to work offline to avoid distraction.) Will TreeSync be pushed out as an open source option for other software developers or will we be expected to upload a .ged any time we want to update an online tree?

Ancestry will need to reassure its users and the community as a whole that it will be listening to, and taking on board suggestions and, importantly, the needs of this community. 

A-studying we will go

I like to think of myself as relatively widely read, somewhat intelligent and borderline academic. The reality is I can easily become obsessed by a book/books/journals/articles/other ready-type things, I am probably more smartarse than smart and have delusions of grandeur when it comes to my academic capabilities.

I like writing, but I’m not a prolific or fluid author. My writing is a lot like my thoughts – random, haphazard, often long-winded and sometimes very confusing. Editing is difficult because I always want to move onto the next big thing. I’m definitely more of an orator. If you put me in a room in front of hundreds of people and ask me to read something or talk freely on a subject, I’m in my element. Ask me to write a paper of tens of thousands of words and I’ll attack it with gusto, but will probably lose steam some point around the 35% mark, get frustrated and end up handing in something that probably could have been a lot better.

So, why in the hell am I now a postgraduate student, knowing that I need to write coherently, edit my work and not allow myself to ramble?

I clearly like a challenge.

Studying with cookies and coffee is the only way to go

Some months ago, when I sat and thought about what I want to be when I grow up, I came up with (and quickly dismissed) a few ideas: cake maker (love it, but don’t like sharing); embroiderer (good at it but the eyes are going and I get the weirdest cramp in my butt from sitting for long periods of time); or continue along my current career path and be queen of customer support.


I’m very good at what I do. I can turn a department around from providing shit customer support to providing stellar customer support. I can motivate people and teams and build team spirit. I can speak, with authority and humour, about customer support at conferences. I’m also a star at networking.

But I don’t love it.

Me, not loving it


When I was younger, and first embarking on the genealogist’s journey, I researched my Great-great-uncle Olaf Milford Johanson. I’ve mentioned him here before. He fought in WWI in France, died during the Battle of the Somme and is buried there.

Researching what happened to him took me through many journals and books about WWI history. It also put me in contact with experts on military history and particularly experts on the Battle of the Somme. Through talking with them, reading and piecing everything together I managed to work out pretty much exactly what happened to him, how his body was lost for 14 years, and why he was laid to rest in the Serre Rd cemetery.

Thanks to this research, networking and puzzle completion I was able to visit not only his grave, but the site of the battle in which he was killed. It was such a palpable experience and linked his memory to my inner core so resolutely that from that moment on I not only researched pedigree, but also the lives of the people in my ancestry.

So many people, so much potential

The human touch of history can be found all around us, and is the subject of countless documentaries, papers and books. The human touch of family history is what fascinates me, and understanding how the lives of my ancestors (or the ancestors of people for whom I am conducting research) is interwoven with great (or not so great) historical events is a source of constant fascination (and dare I say, obsession) for me.

By beginning my formal studies in this field, I not only hope to (but know I will manage to) strengthen my knowledge and practical experience of genealogy, palaeography and such. I also hope to one day utilise my other skills (especially the skill of being a chatterbox) to share my knowledge with others and dispel the oft-held notion that genealogists and family historians are elderly men and women wishing to prove they are descended from royalty and who spend their time harassing local archivists and librarians. 

Just as people nowadays wish to document their thoughts and lives through blogs and social media, I wish to document the lives of people in the past. By getting to know the individuals better, so grows our understanding and appreciation of the impact of greater historical events on humanity.

WWI – Olaf Milford Johanson – The Enlistment

One hundred years and ten days ago, my great, great uncle Olaf Milford Johanson enlisted for service abroad with the Australian Imperial Force.


He enlisted at Claremont in the state of Tasmania, which is 26km from the town of Cambridge, where he lived. Both towns are now suburbs of Hobart, the capital of Tasmania.


He was 21 (and 1/2, by his own hand) on the date of enlistment and, thanks to the records I have, I know he was 5’9″/1m75cm tall, weighed 193lbs/86kgs and had brown hair and light brown eyes (like me!).

Under “Distinctive Marks”, the following is written: “Tattoo Heart cross and anchor on right forearm. Anchor & ribbon on front of left forearm. Anchor on back of left wrist.” It comes as no surprise that next to “Profession or Calling” he has written “Sailor”.

Olaf was assigned the service number 3483 and initially served in the 11th Reinforcements of the 12th Batallion. (The 12th Batallion were originally raised within weeks of war being declared and were the first ashore at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915[1]). 

I have Olaf’s entire personnel records and, as the months go by plan on blogging about his movements and the movements of his batallion(s).


[1] https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51452/