"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, 15 July 2012

On market forces

It has taken me some time to work up this response to the blog post What is the Nature of Genealogy as an Activity? by James Tanner of Genealogy’s Star. I found it a fascinating and thought-provoking read, but I don’t really agree with what James is saying. Trying to explain why, succinctly, has proved something of a challenge.
The discussion revolves around whether many of the websites, software etc. that are being ‘sold’ for genealogy are actually aimed at the ‘genealogical majority’, which he defines as predominantly female, over fifty and happy working at their research alone, while others do the same in parallel. James acknowledges that he is not part of this demographic, but he draws on his observations and his experience as a seasoned researcher to suggest that this is an established demographic with no movement towards or desire for change. The implication is that products are mostly being aimed at what he perceives as a two-fold yet very small ‘minority’: 1. the younger ‘beginner’ genealogist; and 2. collaborative efforts, particularly within the extended family. He ends by posing the question:
If the programs emphasize family cooperation and ‘beginners’ at the expense of providing support for the established genealogical hub individuals, doesn't that at best ignore the present structure of the community or at worst alienate the people who are actually doing genealogical research?
though I can’t be certain, I would imagine that some of these large companies that James refers to are not just guessing at their demographic; that they are carrying out at least some research to identify their ‘target audience’ and its ‘needs’. I can’t imagine that they really are producing products and marketing that are aimed at a non-existent customer. And if they were getting it that wrong, they’d all have gone bust by now!
I would venture that the interpretation of who is doing genealogy is not quite as clear-cut as James suggests. After all, just because he doesn’t see a certain type of person at the conference doesn’t mean they’re not involved in genealogy (I’m living proof!). This week I read an interesting article about homophily – best summed up by the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together’. To my mind, James is flocking with his like-minded solitary researchers precisely by not collaborating; it doesn’t mean the other, more collaborative birds don’t exist!
That’s not to suggest that he is entirely wrong. The chances are that his assessment of the majority of the genealogical community – women in their fifties working alone – is fair. I simply propose that, combined, the ‘minorities’ may be a significantly larger segment than he thinks. And perhaps it is also a more influential one?
The existing majority is the majority because it is established; it is made up of the traditional genealogist. Probably many of them started some ten or twenty years ago, in the pre-internet, even pre-personal computer age. They rely mainly on archives and work primarily from original records, books and microfiche; they even record their findings on paper perhaps?
Ok, so this is a bit of an exaggeration, a stereotype even. Before I get bombarded with complaints a lot of older ladies who think I’m implying that they can’t even turn on a computer, let alone exploit the internet (in which case how would they even be reading this?), let me explain: My point is that they are already working in their own way and happy in their methods, in the tools they have, online or off, and that they don’t need new technology to excite and engage them in their research. They are, for the most part, excited by genealogy because they love it as a long-term pursuit with an established methodology, not as a new discovery with all the possibility that holds.
The new researchers – the young and even the older converts – are more likely to come to genealogy as part of the ‘facebook generation’ (to employ yet another stereotype). They expect and therefore demand that their genealogical tools offer them the opportunity to share, discuss and be collaborative. This is not to belittle them or imply that they are somehow less ‘serious’ as genealogists; it is simply to recognise the influence of the here and now. Of course, the traditional genealogist can choose to try out these new tools, just as the ‘newbie’ (no pun intended) can equally choose not to go down that root, but instead to follow a more traditional methodology. And of course, we can all do both – it’s not necessarily a choice of one over the other.
The demands of the newbie, however, are more accessible to a business looking to make money. The emerging niches are readily apparent, and the technology is continually evolving, which only serves to feed demand among tech-savvy consumers. In that sense, the newbie is more influential perhaps than their more traditional counterpart. These companies are simply responding to the group that may be smaller but is expressing a stronger ‘demand’ for a product, and one that is achievable.
To return to James central question then, does this focus on the ‘newbie’ and their demands mean that the makers of software developers and website owners are ignoring the present structure of the community and alienating what James describes as ‘the people who are actually doing genealogical research’ – those that I have termed the ‘traditional’ genealogists?
The simplistic answer to this question is yes; these companies are at present not providing for the traditionalist. But perhaps this is because such companies do not have the tools to cater for their needs? Or perhaps it is because this group doesn’t seem to be expressing any emerging needs at all, much less needs that these technological enterprises are able to respond to?
As James says, he is perfectly happy working in the way he always has done, alone and using what tools are already available to him. His post does not express any lack of resources or suggests anything he requires, so I wonder what exactly he thinks they should or could do? I certainly can’t think of anything further that websites and software developers could be doing for them – their ‘needs’ seem to have already been met.
My questions is, can a group that on the face of it appears to be content with the resources available to it really be ‘alienated’ by resources that cater to another group that is expressing a demand for them? I don’t think so.
Of course, it is in the interests of genealogy software and website companies to address the needs of their largest group of potential customers, so I can’t imagine that they haven’t explored this. It may be that they simply don’t see a potential product for them, and instead choose to focus their efforts on a group that is smaller, and one that may well be growing as a result.
As I said earlier, the right tools may allow co-operation to become collaboration, and this may attract those of a naturally more sociable nature to what was previously a somewhat lonely, solo pastime. This in turn enlarges their market and thus eventually the nature of the majority will change.
Whether this is a desirable development is another matter, for another post. But it goes to show that genealogy as a pursuit is not immune to market forces. The way to rectify it would be for this ‘majority’ to work out what its need is and express it, so that it can be met. Only the majority itself can change the way the market responds to it.
L x

Saturday, 14 July 2012

On Clipix for genealogy

Today I read an intriguing article about new(ish) website Clipix, which has the tempting tagline ‘Organize your life!’ It has been designed to make saving stuff off the web as simple as possible.
It works very much like Pinterest, but it’s not intended for sharing stuff with other people. Instead it’s designed to allow you to store and organise your own links in a way that’s more convenient, organised and visually accessible than bookmarking.
It’s more convenient because it’s online rather than on your machine. You can access it from any pc/laptop, and there are even mobile apps too. It uses a ‘clip’ button similar to Pinterest’s ‘pin it’ button, so it’s no more of a faff than bookmarking. It also allows you to upload your own files as well, so you can mix in your own pictures and documents with articles, images etc. from the web. Clever stuff!
It’s more organised and visually accessible because it has a board system like Pinterest, rather than a long and messy list of bookmarks. Like Pinterest, for each clip it saves an image and a brief description – useful as a reminder of what it links to, which you don’t get from a bookmark. If there’s no image associated with your link, you can use a sort of ‘title text’ as a thumbnail instead. 
I haven’t tried it out yet, but I’m already hooked on the idea, so I’m really hoping that the functionality, layout etc. is as good as the idea sounds (though currently the website keeps crashing on me, which doesn’t bode well!) For one thing, it means I can work from any computer and always access all my stuff in a useful way, rather than carrying around a memory stick and having to click through a million folders to get to what I’m looking for.
I can see a million different ways this is going to be useful, both for genealogy and otherwise.
From a genealogical perspective though, my initial thought is to have one board for ever surname I’m researching, as a kind of ‘work in progress’ space. From here I could link to individual Ancestry profiles, as well as having my individual index profiles in there, and all photographs, documents and links relating to that branch. If I can have just that board and its info in the background as I research, then it means that literally everything I need is just one click away at all times! Magic!
It does have sharing functionality, which again could be really useful for swapping sources etc. To be honest thought, it’s refreshing to see a new idea that’s actually solving a problem and helping you to do something, rather than just helping you tell everyone you’re doing it!
L x

Friday, 13 July 2012

Catching Crabbs and Jessups

Abandoning any pretence that I’m not researching while I’m supposed to be indexing, I’ve recently been looking into the parents of Mary Ann Jessup, who married Charles John Buswell in Kensington, London in 1876. I have ordered this marriage certificate in order to confirm that I definitely have the right people (as I know who Charles John’s father was and occupation for both him and his father, this should be enough to confirm I have the correct groom).  
I’m pretty confident though. I can’t find any other plausible alternative marriages for Charles and the marriage date makes sense in that their eldest child is born in 1877 (although in Tredegar, South Wales – definitely no marriages there though!) Furthermore, Mary Ann consistently claims she is from Camberwell in Surrey on all of the censuses following their marriage, and I have found a Mary Jessup of the right age born in Camberwell, so all three facts link up neatly enough, with no other obvious possibilities presenting themselves. Following the Newby debacle I’m still being a cautious though, and I really need the marriage certificate to confirm it.
However, while I’m awaiting confirmation, I couldn’t resist looking into Mary Ann’s parentage. According to the 1861 census her father is Charles Jessup, born in Stepney in about 1820, and her mother is Mary born about 1827 in the tiny village of Beercrocombe in Somerset. They have six children born between 1852 and 1868, Mary Ann being the second, born in 1856. Charles gives his occupation as a ‘traveller in flowers’ – which I suppose might explain how he came to meet his wife in the depths of the Somerset countryside.
So far so straightforward. However, a problem emerged when it became apparent that I couldn’t find a marriage record, nor anything conclusive on who the families of either Charles or Mary were despite pretty exhaustive searches. I could find no trace of either of them prior to 1861. It seemed that without the elusive marriage record, I had no chance of progressing. I was working on the premise that the marriage likely took place around about 1851/52, close to the birth of the eldest child, Elizabeth, but with no results forthcoming I spread my net a lot wider. Still no luck.
Instead, I turned my attention to Mary’s siblings. I was able to find baptism certificates for the younger ones, including the very youngest, Henry C. Jessup, which, it turned out, stood for Caswell. With Sarah Caswell, born 1811/12 Somerset, and Clement Caswell, born 1852 Somerset, as house guests on later censuses, I was tentatively proposing that Mary was also a Caswell, and this was a sister or sister-in-law and her son staying with them, but still nothing was forthcoming to prove it. (It also struck me that Caswell is not too far away from Buswell, and wondered briefly whether there was in fact some sort of connection, but I’ve concluded it’s highly unlikely. My Buswells are firmly rooted in Oxfordshire, and I know of no Somerset connections.)
I decided, out of interest, to Google Henry Caswell Jessup, as it is the kind of unusual name that can reveal relevant results very quickly. I instantly turned up several messages left on genealogy message boards back in 2000/2001 by someone named Peter, who appeared to be grappling with the same family and having exactly the same problems as I was. Attempts to contact him have failed, with the two email addresses I found no longer valid. (Peter, if you’re out there and still researching, please do get in touch!)
Peter’s posts, however, provided me with an invaluable piece of information – Mary’s maiden name. Peter had ordered birth certificates for some of their children (possibly all, I don’t know), on which Mary gave her maiden name as Crabb, not Caswell. Caswell, he said, had become a family middle name, but he didn’t know what the connection between Mary and her Somerset guests was, and was trying to find out more about them as well.
So, I now knew that I was looking for Mary Crabb from a tiny Somerset village – sounds easy? Peter’s messages said he had identified a few possible Mary Crabbs, but nothing to connect any of them with the wife of Charles Jessup. I went through the marriage records again, but turned up nothing.
I found a very useful list of households in the tiny parishes of Beercrocombe and nearby by North Curry for 1851, 1861 and 1871, which to me only had one possible set of parents for Mary Crabb: Thomas Crabb b. 1789 and Sarah Crabb b. 1794. The household had children ranging from 38 to 17, which fits Mary’s age perfectly. However, there is nothing to say that Mary’s parents couldn’t have died or even left Beercrocombe – after all, Thomas Crabb was apparently born in Beercrocombe and probably he had siblings. Her parents having left with Mary in tow or died forcing her into work might explain why she isn’t there in 1851 prior to her marriage.
I widened my search terms for both of them and stopped looking exclusively at the marriage records, in the hope that another document might give me the clue I needed. One of the records that came up was an 1851 census record for Caleb Jessup. He was married to a woman called Jane. Right age and right place of birth. This rung a small-but-persistent bell in my head. On one of the baptisms there had been what I had thought was a mis-transcription of Charles as Caleb. I remembered that I had looked at it and to me it read Carle*, with a bit of a squiggle on the end that could have been almost anything. But what if they had got it right and it was Caleb?
I opened the census record to see Caleb’s occupation: ‘Travelling salesman’. Not too far from ‘traveller in flowers’, and I’d seen ‘travelling salesman’ on some of the baptism records of his children as well. A search for further documents relating to Caleb only threw up two: his marriage in 1848 to Jane Booth. This helpfully gave me his parents’ names: William and Ann; and the 1841 census, on which he is living with his parents and what appear to be siblings Julia and Alfred. There was no sign of either Caleb or Jane on later censuses, nor could I find a death for Caleb anywhere that would rule out the possibility that he and Charles were one and the same.
So, I can’t currently prove that Caleb and Charles are, or are not, the same person. But how likely is it? We all know that name changes are not unheard of, and they are one good explanation for a brick wall like this.  I can’t currently see an obvious explanation for this one though…
As Charles/Caleb is in his thirties when he first appears with his young family in 1861, and his wife is younger than him by about seven years, it’s not impossible that he had a previous marriage, and had been widowed. I note that following the birth of his eldest daughter Elizabeth in 1852 there is a four-year gap, before Mary Ann is born in 1856. Perhaps Elizabeth was daughter by his first wife Jane? If Charles is the same man as Caleb living with Jane in 1851, then it certainly seems more likely that she is Jane’s daughter than Mary’s. Conveniently, as yet I’ve failed to identify a promising birth record for Elizabeth to check this theory out! It would help to identify a possible death record for Jane that ties in as well.
If I’m correct in this, then this puts Charles and Mary’s likely marriage date at 1853–1856. Mary would be about twenty-six at that point. Given the lack of Jessup–Crabb marriages, however, I’m contemplating a couple of other possibilities.
Firstly, perhaps Mary had also been previously married. At twenty-six, she could feasibly have been married before. In fact, there’s equally the possibility that Elizabeth was her daughter from a previous marriage as well. If Mary married Charles under her married name, that would explain why the marriage hasn’t been immediately apparent. It might be possible to work through all of the possibilities and rule them out to identify her, but that would be an arduous task
The other possibility is that they didn’t actually marry. Not impossible, particularly if one or both of them was already married – perhaps one or both weren’t widowed/widower but had simply left their previous partner. This will be even harder to prove.
I probably need to get hold of as many original records for this family as possible in order to check out sneaky name changing etc! I think that Elizabeth’s records are probably the key to unlocking this mystery, with the Caswells in supporting roles. I’m still not 100% convinced that Caleb is Charles, but it’s the best lead I have for now…
L x

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

On Wedding Wednesday: Matthew Hall and Kate Birchall Geoghegan

As I noted on Twitter earlier, today is the 138th anniversary of the marriage of Matt Hall and Kate Birchall Geoghegan. As this happens to fall on Wedding Wednesday I thought I might just write what will be a very brief post about it.
The wedding took place on 11 July 1874, a Saturday, at St Peter’s Church in Bolton, Lancashire. The couples were married by banns by John Stott, Lecturer & Curate. The present church had been completed and consecrated just three years earlier.
Matthew Hall was aged 24 and a ‘Boiler Maker’, a bachelor of 20 Velvet Walks. His bride to be was Kathleen Birchall Geoghegan, aged 20, a spinster of 19 Portugal St. The clerk misspelt the bride's surname as 'Geoghean'.
The groom's father was John Hall, ‘Cloth Milliner’, and the bride’s father Joseph Bryan Geoghegan, ‘Musician’. Joseph Bryan Geoghegan is also given as witness to the marriage, as is Kate’s sister, Ann Birchall Geoghegan. This is unsurprising as the wedding took place in Kate’s hometown, while Matt’s family were far away in Middlesbrough and in Batley. I wonder whether any of them were present?
I tried, for fun, to find out what the weather might have been like (perhaps inspired by our rather changeable summer weather at the moment). I couldn’t find much for the Bolton area, but there was a huge thunderstorm in Tunbridge Wells that day and three inches of rain fell in two hours. In light of this, and given that Bolton is practically Manchester, I suspect it was most likely raining!
The couple went on to have five children together, between 1879 and 1891. But the marriage didn’t last - perhaps because, as the old rhyme says, 'Saturday brides will have no luck at all'.

Matthew Hall divorced his wife on the grounds of adultery in 1896. He then moved from Lincoln, where the couple had been living for at least five years to take up a post at the Gaiety in Hanley, where he remained until at least 1812. He died in Barnsley in 1922. I have found no trace of Kate following their divorce – a mystery yet to be solved.
L x

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Detective work 5. Trust your instincts

Instinct is a very important facet of genealogical research. I have often found that even before I can prove a theory I instinctively know that it’s correct. Or, I can see the plausibility of a theory, but yet somehow my gut is telling me that it’s just not right. This is particularly true when it comes to ordering birth, marriage and death certificates. Faced with three possibilities and no strong clues, how else do you decide where to start, other than to follow your instincts?
I think the thing to remember is that your instincts aren’t ‘psychic’ but rooted in your deep subconscious. If you have a strong feeling, it’s probably because it ‘fits’ with what you already know about your family, even if it’s not a tangible fact, but more the sense of identity you have. Perhaps some tiny memory of something someone once said or a picture you saw, even if we can’t pinpoint it now, is what is guiding you in these situations?
However, it’s equally important not to let your instincts override logic too much, because, of course they can be wrong. Make sure that each theory you come up with is backed up by good evidence before you build on it further. You just need to follow your instincts to find the evidence first, so once you get that ‘I just know I’m right’ feeling, get to work proving it!
L x