From Island to Island, pt 2

This is a continuation of this post.

Scollay emigration

Scollays of Yell

Robert SCOLLAY was born on October 2, 1834, in Vatsetter, Shetland to Daniel SCOLLAY and Barbara Jane PETRIE. The eldest of 6 children, Robert followed his father into becoming a merchant seaman.

His brothers and sisters were all born between 1838 and 1853. His father died in 1860, at sea, off the coast of Shetland along with his brother, William. Following his death, Daniel’s widow Barbara received a merchant seaman’s pension and remained on Vatsetter, working as a Farmer, Knitter, and Crofter.

Ruins of house, Vatsetter, Yell, Shetland [1]

Shetland to Australia, a mariner’s life

Robert is listed in the Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Alphabetical Index of Registers of Seamen’s Tickets with Register Ticket number 557791, however no definitive record of his registry entry can be found. There is an entry in the 1853-1857 Registry for a “Robert Soollay” of Shetland. The age of the man corresponds and the note “Nord Isles Lerwick” corresponds with the region. In this record, the man went to sea on 1 November 1854 for a P. Byron of Glasgow and did not have a “home” entry in the log.
According to various sources, Robert was an officer on a ship travelling to Australia in 1859 when he met Margaret REIDY/READ/REED (daughter of Colonel John or Cornelius REIDY/READ/REED of the British Army). They married in Melbourne.

Records for the birth of one of Robert’s children in Australia are found (in Sandridge, Victoria, now Port Melbourne), however, arrival records and marriage records are not found with certainty. This is made more difficult by the uncertainty of Margaret’s actual surname. According to a family tree published on Bayanne and Wikitree, the dates and places of birth of all of Robert and Margaret’s children are known, but this is not fully referenced on either site. Owners of both trees have been contacted asking for further information, but no responses have been received.

Logging, Ship Building, Fishing and Stewart Island

Halfmoon Bay, near Oban, Stewart Island [2]

Robert and his family arrived in New Zealand in 1861 on the ship Queen of Perth. He came to Stewart Island with saw-milling timber and a complete saw-mill plant as he was under engagement to erect the first saw-mill on the island. Robert was also involved in the fishing industry, was a pioneer of the oyster business and ran his own schooner on the coast until 1899.

Robert Scollay’s ship ‘Enterprise’ under construction c.1874 [3]

Robert built a total of eight ships:

Ship Name Notes
LerwickCutter. Used for oyster fishing. Ran aground 15 July 1875.
Jane Scollay Schooner. Replacement for Lerwick lost the year before.
Unknown Cutter. Used in summer for tourism. Oil engine and propellor driven.
Margaret Scollay Schooner. Used for trade between Stewart Island, Bluff, Invercargill and Dunedin.
Endeavour Founded at moorings at South Pegasus
EclipseWrecked at Stewart Island.
Dauntless
EnterpriseUsed by Captain Catling to attempt to recover the gold of the General Grant at Auckland Islands.

To improve the fishing industry in New Zealand, immigration agents targeted Shetlanders. In June 1873, a group of thirty-one migrants recruited specifically for this purpose were carried to Stewart Island.

Horses Hauling Logs, Maori Beach, Stewart Island [4]

The logging industry was important to the development of Stewart Island and the discovery of tin in the late 1800s started a “tin rush” in the south of the island. Robert was involved in the establishment of tin mining.

Land Owner

In New Zealand, Shetlanders were drawn in the 1860s to the south-east, especially Dunedin in Otago, and Stewart Island.

Ian Tait, Shetland Museum and Archives [5]
Bravo Island Settlement, 1879. (Located in Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island). Used with permission of Alexander Turnbull Library. [6]

Robert arrived on Steward Island with his wife and three children in 1861. In 1864 he settled at Half Moon Bay and established a successful skippering trade, transporting people to and from the mainland, as well as to nearby islands. One of his boats was named ‘Lerwick’, a throw-back to his Shetland heritage. He built the boarding house Bayview and established his boatyard in front of the property.

Bayview Boarding House, Oban, Stewart Island [7]

Legacy and Conclusion

An influential member of society, Scollay Rocks and Scollay Flat were named after Robert and he was referred to, in one of his obituaries, as the “Patriarch of Stewart Island” . Along with his boat building, fishing and timber activities, Robert was a member of the Stewart Island school committee; a member of the Southland League and a lay preacher of the non-denominational church at Halfmoon Bay.

Advertisement for Bay View House, Stewart Island, 1887 [9]

‘Scotsmen are proverbially inclined to roam abroad in quest of fortune.’ [12]

Whether this is a generalisation or rings true is a subject of debate for historians. However, the success of Robert Scollay in New Zealand, compared to his prospects had he remained in Shetland, suggests this may be somewhat accurate.

Public notice of intention to use an oyster bed at Stewart Island, 1869 [10]
Notification of grant of 20 acres, Stewart Island, 1875 [11]

This report has provided a brief snapshot of the life of this man, and how emigration impacted and shaped his life. It is a similar story to that of other immigrant ancestors, particularly in my family. Being Australian, I have several convict ancestors, however, those who chose to emigrate often found their fortunes improved from when they were “back home”.

A curious document is available in the New Zealand Archives which may provide further information into the activities and fortunes of Robert Scollay. Found in the Dunedin Bankruptcy Files for 1877, a document for a SCOLLAY Robert of Stewart Island who was a Master Mariner can be accessed on-site at the NZ Archives in Dunedin (Item ID: R19947809).

An article entitled “On the Metal – The Tin Miners of Port Pegasus”, published in New Zealand Geographic, makes mention of Robert Scollay and his involvement as a ship captain, land and smithy owner and prospector during the NZ “tin rush” in the 1880s. This article provides some interesting titbits about Robert’s activities and may warrant further investigation.

The changing fortunes of migrants from Scotland has undoubtedly been researched by many historians, but the application of genealogical research and the telling of individual stories helps enrichen our understanding of just how impactful this phenomenon was – both on the economy of the target land but also the lives of the people involved and their descendants.

Sign for Scollay Rocks, named for Robert. [8]

[1] Images: Photograph. Ruins of house, Vatsetter, Yell, Shetland. Date June 2009. Photographer unknown. Google. http://maps.google.co.uk

[2] Images: Photograph. Halfmoon Bay and Paterson’s Inlet, Stewart Island, New Zealand. Date and photographer unknown. Te Ara. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/stewart-islandrakiura

[3] Images: Photograph. Ship ‘Enterprise’ under construction, Oban, Stewart Island. Date 1873/74. Photographer unknown. Stewart Island News, August 2006. http://www.stewartislandnews.com/uploads/5/3/5/0/53500577/july_2006.pdf

[4] Images: Photograph. Horses Hauling Logs, Maori Beach, Stewart Island. Date unknown. Photographer: E.A. Phillips. Stewart Island – Island of Tranquility. http://www.stewartisland.co.nz/pages/heritage/

[5] Shetland News. 2010. Emigrants’ tales captured. http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/2865-emigrants-tales-captured

[6] Images: Painting. Bravo Island Settlement. Date: 1879. Artist: Christopher Aubrey. NZ History. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/bravo-island-settlement

[7] Images: Photograph. Bayview Boarding House, Oban, Stewart Island. Date and photographer unknown. Stewart Island News, August 2009. http://www.stewartislandnews.com/uploads/5/3/5/0/53500577/august_2009.pdf

[8] Images: Photograph. Scollay Rocks Sign, Oban, Stewart Island. Date: 2016. Photographer: Emmeline [surname unknown]. https://emmelementsmiscellany.wordpress.com/

[9] Public Notices. Evening Star. 26 November 1887. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18871126.2.30.2

[10] Advertisements Column. Southland Times. 22 November 1869. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ST18691122.2.12.3

[11] Waste Lands Board. Southland Times. 13 January 1875. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ST18750113.2.8

[12] Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, No. 302, October 1849, p.225. http://www.archive.org/stream/chamberssedinbu06chamgoog#page/n655

Family History or Time Travel?

When I was younger, and getting to know people (generally boys or girls I was attracted to and wanted to woo), I would give them a list of 20 questions and ask them to answer them all. It would either be done in person, on the phone, via a letter or more recently, via email/chat. These questions would be all about getting to know the other person better, find commonality and hopefully present myself as somewhat mysterious, enigmatic and far more intellectual than I am.



Which time period would you most like to live in and why?

Very important question I would ask people I fancy

My answer to that question would often depend on their answer (because, remember, I was trying to get them to fancy me, so I had to be as similar to them as possible. Yay, psychology!) and I’d say anything from “Ancient Egypt” to “200 years in the future”. I wasn’t really thinking about it. Sure, I was interested, but my answer was generally not genuine.

Being a genealogist, I get to look into the lives of so many different people, from different backgrounds, places and times. Whilst most of the research I do is in the British Isles, one county to the next can provide completely different customs, events and names. Add time to this and these lands present an immeasurable amount of genealogical and historical variety.

Looking at the rest of my family and where they’re from, we need to add Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Eastern Europe into the mix.



Gold miner’s cottage at Hill End, NSW, Australia. Photograph: Bernard Holtermann

To pose that question to myself today means I need to really sit back and think. Sure, I could answer something glib like “Oooh, the roaring twenties” or “the middle ages” – but what does that really mean? When we think of those two eras, in particular, we probably think of Flappers and Knights/Damsels, respectively. But we know that to think of an era in such a simplistic manner is to completely gloss over what was really going on then and what life would be like were I to time travel and spend the rest of my days there.


Would I be able to ignore my modern way of thinking and take on board the beliefs and desires of people in the 19th century?


Would I want to live in Shetland in the 1800s, when my ancestor, Robert Scollay, was forced to leave and travel to New Zealand due to poor economic opportunity, land clearances, and agricultural failures? What would it be like experiencing poverty, uncertainty and fear? Would I want to get on a ship to travel to the other side of the world – not knowing what I would encounter, and knowing I would never see my family again?

Would I be a strong pioneer in New Zealand? Would I be able to build a life from nothing. Find land, build a home, scrounge together a living from whatever I could do or find?

Would I want to do the same with my ancestors in Australia? Could I force first peoples from their land in order to build colonies of New South Wales, Victoria or Van Diemen’s Land? Would I keep my head down and ignore what was going on around me? Would I be able to ignore my modern way of thinking and take on board the beliefs and desires of people in the 19th century?

Or perhaps I’d like to travel to Sweden in the 16th century? Live and learn about life and the seasons with my family in Västra Götaland and Skåne. Spend my days on the farm with the cows and sheep and work from dawn to dusk helping to maintain the household?


Robert the Bruce facial reconstruction

I could go to another time, the 13th century, back to Scotland, and the Bruce clan, with my ancestor Matilda and her brother, Robert, who would become known as Robert the Bruce. What would my life be like as the daughter of a Baron and Countess? Living in a land in turmoil, with in-fighting and threats from England? Knowing that my position and life could be used to determine the course of political and personal life for so many in the land?

These are questions I now often ask myself when I am doing research (for myself or clients) and it is why I find it so terribly important to put as much context into my research as possible. Looking at my tree while I write this article, I see so many names, so many dates with lifespans, marriages, and other events. They are all part of who I am and have created a legacy that will last, but who were they? Really?

Family history is time travel. We don’t need a magic spell or a set of standing stones to be able to go back through the years and discover what life was like. We can find so much information from our ancestors and incredible research done by so many genealogists and historians. Adding to this body of research is so important and will be invaluable to future generations. I am proud to be a part of it, and vow to do more.

From this point, when I go over previous research or do further research into my ancestors, I will not move on to another generation until I have exhausted all possible avenues and repositories of information for the people in the current generation being researched. I want to create the story of how my family became to be and that starts with the families that went before.

I will be reproducing some of that research here, and in the coming months will be publishing papers on my ancestors from Shetland, along with information about the people over the years who lived in one house in Sussex.

(A huge thank you to Janet Few for inspiring this article.)

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.

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 Lot™ 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.

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…


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.

Organisation, shmorganisation

One thing that people who know me well will say about me is that I come across as organised, determined and singular in how I work. I know what I want, I know how I want to do it and I usually have a pretty clear plan of attack in my mind.

What people who know me really, really well will also say about me is that I am a mucky pup.

My desk at home is a total mess. Papers and books everywhere. Pens hidden under all this stuff which, of course, means I have trouble finding one and invariably end up buying another (if only to add to my ever-growing collection).

My desk at home, when tidied.


That said, I tend to know where things are. Kind of. Well, I have a rough idea of in which general physical area they can be found.

What does this mean for my genealogical research, preservation of documents, reports, and (possibly more importantly) my research plans?

Well, I’ll be honest with you, it’s all a bit haphazard at the moment. Having been an amateur genealogist for so long, and having done it purely for pleasure means I’ve had the luxury of being able to tackle it in whatever way I see fit.

This is how it usually goes:

  • I pick a starting person. I decide I’m going to research more about this person, or try to find their parents.
  • During my research, another person catches my eye. Usually because of an interesting name or place of birth/death.
  • I start looking at this person.
  • I research their parents.
  • Another person catches my eye.
  • I start looking at this person.
  • They live in an interesting place, so I start researching that town.
  • I read some of the history of this town.
  • A person of note is mentioned in the history, so I start researching them.
  • Another person catches my eye.
  • etc
In the end, I’ve got a lot of information on a lot of people, places and events, but haven’t really made headway with my initial plan.

Maybe this is why I have over two thousand people currently in my family tree (cousins of cousins of cousins).

A part of my current family tree.


It has to stop.

Forcing myself to be disciplined is something I really need to do, but where to start.

If anyone has any tips, I would greatly appreciate it. I need to get this all in check before I begin my studies in September and actually need to be incredibly disciplined.