Tuesday Tips #2

How can I tell if my ancestors were Illiterate?

First, let’s define Illiterate, Illiterate means “unable to read or write” (Oxford Dictionary). Many of our ancestors were illiterate, especially if you have non-western ancestry, Eastern European ancestry, or poor ancestors. Historically public schools didn’t exist and even when they did not every child attended. Some children and adults learned to read and write at a place of worship like a Synagogue, Church, Mosque, Ect. In 1900 in America, the illiteracy rate was ten percent or one in ten (https://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp), and it was lower in the past, it’s very likely one of your ancestors were illiterate weather 100 years ago or 200 years ago.

But let’s go back to the question. “How can I tell if my ancestors were Illiterate?”, there are many ways, one common way is contextualizing our ancestors in their world. Was your ancestor poor? An Immigrant from a Non-Western European Country? These are just a few questions to ask yourself. But this isn’t a definite way to prove that your ancestors were illiterate, we can only do this with records.

One of the easiest ways for an American researcher to find out if your ancestors were able to read and write is the Census, particularly 1850 through 1930 Census. 

“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRM5-9N?cc=1325221&wc=9BQL-3T1%3A1030551501%2C1032387601%2C1032387602 : 5 August 2014), Arkansas > Arkansas > ED 1 Arkansas & Chester Townships > image 11 of 53; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

But not everyone has ancestors in the USA so another way to figure out if your ancestors were illiterate is if a record has a signature, if your ancestors were illiterate then they would have written their Mark and not their name. As you can see in the records below Wojciech Myszak was illiterate, but his wife Katarzyna was Literate. 

“Pennsylvania Civil Marriages, 1677-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6957-XDT?cc=2466357&wc=QDNG-M11%3A1588753668%2C1588754300 : 30 January 2017), Philadelphia > Marriage licenses, no 334900-335499, 1915 > image 1416 of 2075; citing the Register of Wills Offices from various counties.

What other ways do you find to tell if your ancestors were literate or literate? I’d love to know! 

Oral History: An Interview with Miyamoto Loretta Jensen.

‘Oral history’ is a widely-used term that we are struggling to understand. On one hand, online searches for this term bring up synonyms such as ‘myth’, ‘folklore’, and ‘fairy tale’. On the other hand, Indigenous cultures rely on ‘oral history’ for the generational exchange of information. In the field of genealogy especially, a majority of researchers verify their research with vital sources to meet a standard of proof. Often, any conclusions reached without sufficient evidence will be rejected. This leaves little place for genealogists with ancestral information outside of the written medium.

Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, image from Twitter @miyajensen

To understand more about the importance of oral history and its current and future place in genealogical research, I reached out to Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, a prominent, young, Indigenous genealogist who specialises in Polynesian genealogy.

Miya describes her work for the genealogy community as “barrier-breaking, fresh and authentic”, always trying to “”keep it real” whenever talking about complex issues”. She has certainly, over the past few years, come to my attention as an important role model for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous genealogists.

What does the term ‘oral history’ mean to you?

Oral history is family history to me. Oral history really is everywhere, if you really think about it. The movement, motion, and expression of emotions via the body and voice are all forms of oral history. My ancestors transmitted their power, stories, families, and lives through the spoken word way before the written language was ever introduced to them. It was once said that my ancestors knew to etch their histories in the minds of their posterity and people because the ocean can wipe away anything. When I listen to oral histories, I feel something move within me. I connect deeply and intimately more than I ever could just reading a piece of paper. Oral history is the giving and receiving of power. Period. I would also say, too, that oral history is literally everywhere. We would die if we didn’t practice oral histories. From news reports to songs being sung on the radio to lectures to talking with friends and family, it is literally everywhere. We would not progress as a society and people if we didn’t have oral histories.

Is oral history important to you, and why?

It matters because this was how my ancestors lived and breathed. In order to understand who they were, I need to take the time to know why oral history was important to them. And I can’t help my own people if I don’t know how they functioned.

How has oral history influenced your understanding of your own history, and what role has oral history played in your own/family/community history?

I used to be angry that oral history was my ancestors’ way of preserving their lives. I used to think that paper was the only thing that mattered. I’ve since then have “come to myself” and decolonized my methodology. I needed to understand my ancestors from their perspective and not impose myself and today’s standards on them. It has changed my life since I have done this! I know now that oral histories were taken seriously. There was a protocol and strictness to learning the oral genealogies of our families. In other words, these were not taken lightly because of the functions oral histories had in society. It determined everything in one’s life including land ownership, marriage regulation, feud support, etc. I can’t relate to these perspectives as much because my genealogy has not determined my life, but I can understand now why they were vital to one’s survival. 

Upon doing a google search of the term ‘oral history’, the synonyms that are associated with it include ‘mythology’, ‘fairy tale’, and ‘folklore’. Does this association damage our perception of credibility in oral history? 

If you are thinking in terms of Polynesian genealogy, then yes. Our oral histories were crafted in poetry and were riddled with metaphors and symbolism. These stories were actual histories, but portrayed in ways that reflect the importance of ancestors. So, I personally reject the idea that oral histories are just made up stories. They all contain treasures of truth within them. It is only a matter of language skills and internalizing ancestral perspectives and history that unlocks them.

Why do you think oral histories are perceived as untrustworthy sources of information in Western societies?

Great question. I have thought, too, about why paper has become such a vital part of our Western societies. Many indigenous societies believed that their word was their bond. Somewhere down the line, that practice was destroyed and no one could be trusted except through the signing and writing down of paper. I understand that paper does allow us to remember things that we may have forgotten throughout time, but paper holds so much value because we do not put an importance on practicing remembering. To me, that is why Western societies don’t trust oral histories as much. Their faith in remembering comes from paper, not from themselves or their families.

How can we change the way oral histories are perceived by some societies in the modern world?

I think this has to start with each of us. We need to commit to practicing remembering. That can come in so many different ways and forms. What can be extremely meaningful for us is looking to our ancestors and learning how they remembered, then practicing those rituals, sacraments, and skills ourselves.

How do you contribute to continuing the legacy of oral history in your own life, and what role does it play going forward?

 I enjoy listening and watching my own cultures in practice via songs, dances, and chants. Because of our unique challenges with COVID-19, I have only witnessed these practices via video. They still carry so much power within them and I am moved every time. I also have been interviewing the elders in my family more. I have called my grandmothers more than I ever have before during quarantine. I am eager to record their stories to make sure they are preserved before anything happens to them. At night, I enjoy reciting these stories to my four year old son. Even though he doesn’t understand much, I know these stories will come back to him in times of need as he experiences life himself. All in all, I am trying my best.

History in academia has become almost ‘scientific’ (in my personal opinion). It is focused on finding the truth through evidence, a common pattern in a white Eurocentric setting.  To me, history is the study of human thought and memory, which never conforms to a particular structure. Has oral history had a voice in historical academic settings, if not, how can we give it a voice? 

Such a good thought and question! Oral histories and the practice of transmitting oral history was heavily disregarded in the past. With the introduction of Christianity and missionaries to Oceania, much of the sharing of gospel involved destroying indigenous cultural practices because there was no room for embracing what was outside the norm of Eurocentric Christian culture. The effects of this are seen today when my own people struggle with researching their ancestors. Many still believe that it is not possible to research their ancestors pre 1850 because there are no more written records then. This mentality calls for decolonization in our genealogy industry. To save our people, we have to shift our mindsets and perspectives. Academia is extremely biased and full of Western perspective because they are used to being the loudest and being respected for their thoughts. Many before me in Oceania have put their feet down and said no more to these biases. They are desperate to share our histories from our own people. To give these individuals, myself included, a voice, just listen to us. We have so many wonderful platforms to speak up and speak out on these issues and many of us are. Take the time to listen to what we are saying and check your social biases. All of us have them. To end the social biases, we all first need to check ourselves. Please choose to not get so defensive when a call of correction comes your way. 

In a world that is progressively becoming more scientific, we, as the future of genealogy, need to ensure that other non-written sources are being validated and not ignored. It is not only a way to ensure Indigenous genealogists and their genealogies are accepted into the community, but the process is also a step towards decolonizing our own mindsets.

I would like to extend a big thank you to Miya, who graciously accepted my request to interview her and responded with the most profound answers. I hope the readers of this interview take her words into their future research to create an awareness and a validated space for Indigenous histories. Miya really epitomizes the next generation of genealogy and is one to keep an eye on!

If you wish to follow Miya,

Twitter: The Polynesian Genealogist (@miyajensen)

Instagram: Miyamoto Loretta Jensen (@thepolynesiangenealogist)

Tuesday Tips #1

Welcome to Tuesday Tips! You may be asking what are Tuesday Tips? Well, Tuesday Tips are little tips I will give every Tuesday. My main goal with Tuesday Tips is to educate young or not so young genealogists about the small details often hidden or overlooked in a record.
This week’s question is “What is the plus next to my relative’s name?”

“Poland, Tarnow Roman Catholic Diocese Church Books, 1612-1900,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X5S8-J6X : 11 March 2018), Edwardus Fijotek, 28 Jan 1900; citing Baptism, Wola Lubecka, Wola Lubecka, Kraków, Poland, volume years 1865 – 1941, page 124, Tarnow Diocesan Archives, Tarnow; FHL microfilm 1,956,071.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

First, this plus sign is called a crutch cross or cross potent. They have historically been used in medieval heraldry and other religious organizations like the Teutonic Order or the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

So what does the cross mean? The cross signifies that the baptized died. Sometimes there’s a date accompanying the cross but most of the time there isn’t a date, the date shown next to the cross is the death date.

Württemberg, Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1500-1985 . Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com

Both Catholics and Protestants used this symbol in their baptismal records. Do baptismal or birth records in your country or religion use the crutch cross? Or do you have a completely separate symbol? I’d love to know! You can Tweet us at @thehiddenbranch.

National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 04992 / 03

Genealogists of the Past – Kale Hobbes

Genealogists of the Past – Interview 2

Hello there! Our blog writer, Tyler, is starting a new series of blog posts called “Genealogists of the Past.” This series will be a collection of interviews from people who were young (early teens to early 20s) genealogists from different decades! Our first interview comes from experienced genealogist and book writer, Ben Nicholls! So, if you began genealogy as a teenager or a young adult in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, or beyond, please consider contacting our co-founder, Tyler, for an interview.

A little Info on Kale…

Kale Hobbes, better known as “Leprechaunrabbit” on his social media venues, has been doing genealogy research for nearly 50 years! He began his genealogy journey back in 1972; his grandmother and 3rd grade teacher helped introduce him to family history research when he was only nine years old. In the time since, Kale has become a very successful genealogist, running his own blog site, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” He is also very active in the genealogy community on Twitter and Instagram, being an #AncestryHour Ambassador and is involved in #genchat. Now, Kale has agreed to be the second interview of Tyler’s “Genealogist of the Past” series to talk about how the past five decades has changed the field of genealogy.

The Interview Questions…

  1. Give us a brief introduction about yourself.
  • On Twitter, I am the long-eared bunny bartender from #genchat and an #AncestryHour Ambassador: SirLeprechaunrabbit® I can be found on most of the social media venues, as “leprchaunrabbit.” 
  • I happily promote all genealogy discussion groups as I find them; and I try to participate in their discussions – my German is improving (my Tante E would be so proud!). 
  • I embrace all ages and experiences of those who hold an interest in genealogy. We have all started out with nothing and built up our documented collections; it is just the lucky few who started out younger than most. 
  • I am married to MiLadyRabbit; it will be 18 years this July. From our previous marriages, she has a daughter, and a son and two grandchildren, while I have my “trio of Army men” (sons) and one grandson.

2. How old were you when you began your genealogy journey? 

  • I was only nine years-old and innocent. I did not foresee the dark, apocalyptic endeavor that would slowly take over my life! It has survived marriage, divorce, a military career, a cross-country move and fourteen computer crashes.

3. How did you get into genealogy? Did you do it by yourself or did someone help you?

  • My Grade Three teacher is to blame! Madame Gallant exposed me to genealogy, but it was Gramma Rabbit (AKA my paternal grandmother, Emily MOREAU, year-1975) who made certain it would be fatal! 
  • Disguised as homework for social studies, Madame asked the class to draw our family tree! No explanations just draw. 
  • I was artistically challenged back then – and, yes, even to this day a big, smiley face is beyond my capabilities, so, I thought that I could do one better: bring it in for Show ‘n’ Tell! [BAD IDEA] 
  • I wrote on my blog how I failed my genealogy assignment, if you are interested to read it.

4. What was it like being a young genealogist in the early 1970s? Did you meet anyone your age at the time who also was interested in family history research? 

  • The Alex Haley movie ROOTS came out in January 1977. Everyone got bit with the genealogy bug, and they eagerly sought help from each other, but they would not consider any assistance offered from a 14-year-old with five-years research experience! 
  • “Go away kid, you bother me,” was their glib remark (but more often times a flippant W.C. Fields impression) that made my involvement very unwelcome. 
  • It had only been one and a half years earlier (June 1975), when my Gramma Rabbit had passed away; and with all the negativity from the senior-aged researchers around me, I was missing her very, very much. 
  • Half-heartedly I continued in silence, enjoying the quiet but loathing the loneliness, with only my school studies taking precedence. 
  • For years, Mama Rabbit tried to convince herself that it was just a phase I was going through. By the time I reached my 21st birthday, she gave up trying.

5. How do you think genealogy research has changed since you started back in 1972?


– Most repositories had banking hours that conflicted with  

school hours. 

– Mail was via the postal services and took ten days for across 

town delivery and up to eight weeks for international replies – 

IF they replied! 

– Pens were NOT permitted in public libraries or archives.  

– White gloves were a must! 

– Internet access was limited to universities and R&D*  



  • At nine-years-old, my traveling was limited to public transit or walking.  
  • If money was involved to acquire proofs or copies, it could not go beyond a self-addressed stamped envelope or ten cents a page using the public library photocopiers! 
  • It was not until 1993, when I got access to a computer! 
  • The next major leaps forward were ZIP drives (1994), thumb drives (2000-2018), EVERNOTE® note taking software (2000), AXCRYPT® encryption software (2002), digital camera (2005), wireless headset/microphone (2012), external hard drives (2015), PHOTOMYNE® photo scanning app (2015) and multiple screens (2 in 2017, and 3 in 2019). 
  • As of 2018, I am now on my second laptop (fourth computer); and, as of 2019 my third cellphone with 64M extended memory. 

6. What were the challenges of searching for family back then?

  • Back in the early 1970s, with Gramma Rabbit leading the way, I would take gravestone photographs – long before it was cool.  
  • Trying to arrange meeting my eldest generations to talk with them. Once I got my driver’s license, most of them were already gone. 
  • Unfortunately, my mother and father’s generations did not want to talk when I asked them. When they finally did, I was either serving overseas in the army, or busy with a growing family of my own. 

7. How did you do your research with limited technical or less access to information? 

  • Extensive note taking! I went everywhere with two spiral bound books. 
  • One was a research log, while the other contained transcriptions, citations, postal addresses and observations. 
  • Obituaries were my first go-to, followed by family plots in cemeteries.  
Kale has extensive and well organized genealogical binders!

8. Tell us a bit more about your work as a genealogist.

  • It is still just a hobby. I would love to certify, but I have not seen a professionally prepared genealogy report to understand IF I could piece one together. (Yes, I am afraid of taking on too much and failing).
  • When I have less than an hour to do some (daily) research, I go online and look up obituaries; and whenever I have some spare time outside, I still take pictures in cemeteries. Sometimes filling requests, other times, capturing the artistic work of the stonemasons. 


To conclude, Kale has seen the field of genealogy change completely since he began family history research when he was nine years old. Although, some things being a genealogist never change, like visiting cemeteries or archives. I can definitely relate with Kale about not having family understand our passion for research. My grandparents also hope that my genealogy “stuff” is just a phase XD. It is also still good to be resourceful, even though technology and the internet has made genealogy easier than ever. You still need to know to do the “footwork” with genealogy, going to archives for records, visiting cemeteries, requesting family records and documents, etc. I really admire and respect Kale for all the work that he has done to build up the genealogy community online, with his professional blog, being involved with different things are Twitter like #AncestryHour and #genchat; it is a big inspiration to me.

Again – if you started researching family history genealogy as a teenager or young adult (early 20s) in a previous decade. Please consider contacting Tyler for an interview just like this one!

The Life and Tragedy of Mr. McGinty

Hi! My name is George Hall and I am the newest member of the Hidden Branch team. I primarily research in the North of England with most of my ancestry originating in West Yorkshire. I have nearly been working on my tree for a year, starting just before the whole world shut down in March 2020. The unusual circumstances gave me plenty of time to build my tree and I have been hooked ever since!

I am lucky enough to have plenty of stories about my ancestors. Some are long, building a clear picture of who the people who preceded me were while some are shorter leaving more questions than answers! I believe all these stories should be told regardless of the contents and it gives me joy to be privileged enough to tell these stories.

My Great-Great Grandad, Luke McGinty, was an elusive figure at first, but soon his tragedy would become apparent.

Luke McGinty was born to Peter and Mary McGinty, Irish immigrants, on the 14 Nov 1860 in Southwick in County Durham, England. He was the eldest of 8 surviving children. He was baptised at the local catholic church on the 25 Nov 1860.

In 1861, he was living with his parents at a private house on Stafford Street in Southwick. They lived with another family as was common at the time. Peter was working as a quarry labourer. Conditions were poor at best, with diseases rife and working hours long. Luke would sadly lose 2 siblings, Ann and Peter, over the next decade to short illnesses.

By 1871, he now had 2 brothers and a sister and was living with them and his parents at Bow Street in Southwick. He was a scholar along with his brothers.

Luke married his first wife Sarah Hannon in the first quarter of 1881. By April, they lived at 7 Cross Place in Sunderland. 3 families, including Luke’s, lived in the house, once again, highlighting the grim conditions Luke faced across his life. In a land of no workers’ rights or protections, he worked as a labourer providing for a growing family.

Luke was unfortunately not a stranger to personal tragedy. His eldest daughter Mary would die suddenly, after a day’s illness, on the morning of the 21 Dec 1881. Luke, his second-born, would live to see the birth of his brother Peter, but tragically would get burns from the fireplace causing his death at the infirmary in Jun 1884. Peter would die the year after. Sarah was born in 1886 and would be the only child from his marriage with Sarah to reach adulthood.

In 1891, Luke lived with his wife and daughter at 57 Rothsay Street in Monkwearmouth. He worked as a mason labourer. He would lose more children over the next decade; two daughters called Annie and Ellen and three boys named Luke, John and Thomas. It is likely they died of diseases like Tuberculosis which spread swiftly with the inadequate sanitary and housing conditions Luke experienced.

1899 was not only the year when his daughter Ellen died but also saw the death of his wife Sarah. She succumbed to heart disease and lung problems, aged 35, on the 27 Feb 1899 at 20 Whitburn Street in Monkwearmouth. Luke had lost 9 of his ten children and his wife, aged only 38, yet he never seemed to be broken by these terrible events instead he focused on moving forward.

Things did seem to improve for him for a brief period.

He married Catherine Conley, the widow of John Jobling, at St Benet’s RC Church on 12 Jul 1905. Tragedy seemed to follow them both with Catherine having lost all children she had to John in their infancy. Luke continued to work as a mason labourer and the couple moved into 20 Whitburn Street. Their only son James was born on his father’s 46th birthday, the 14 Nov 1906, at the couple’s new home.

10 years and 1 day, on the 28 Feb 1909, after the death of his first wife, Catherine would die of Tuberculosis. She was 35 years old leaving a 2-year-old son behind and a heartbroken husband. The death of his daughter Sarah would soon follow in 1913 at the hand of the same disease.

Tuberculosis would kill once again on the 3 May 1917. Luke would die, aged 56, at the Workhouse infirmary leaving his 10-year-old son an orphan. His sister Harriet was present at his passing and registered his death.

Luke’s life and tragedy will always stay close to me. He has a striking legacy of perseverance regardless of personal tragedy. He never gave up and survived as long as he could. His son would display this legacy by joining the army and risking his life in WW2 in the protection of freedom Luke never got to experience.

I will always be so proud to be his Great-Great Grandson.

James McGinty during WW2, left, and with his wife Edie circa 1970, right.

Genealogists of the Past – Ben Nicholls

Hello there! Our blog writer, Tyler, is starting a new series of blog posts called “Genealogists of the Past.” This series will be a collection of interviews from people who were young (early teens to early 20s) genealogists from different decades! Our first interview comes from experienced genealogist and book writer, Ben Nicholls! So if you began genealogy as a teenager or a young adult in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, or beyond, please consider contacting our co-founder, Tyler, for an interview.

A Little Info about Ben…

This year, Ben Nicholls will be celebrating his 20th anniversary of starting genealogy and we feel this post would be a great way to celebrate. He began his genealogy journey in 2001 while studying at university, in London, at the age of 23. So far, he has written two books about genealogy, Bond of Blood and Trial by Fire. Not to mention, Ben runs a successful website, which provides their own genealogical services. Their mission statement is “We reconnect families past and present.” Ben has agreed to an interview with Hidden Branch team member, Tyler, about what genealogy was like back 20 years ago when he started.

Ben (circa. 2007) with his two books, Bond of Blood and Trial by Fire.
Bond of Blood
Trial by Fire

The Interview Questions…

  • Give us a brief introduction about yourself; how old were you when you began your genealogy journey?

“I was 23 when I started actively researching my family history. Before then I had taken an interest and asked older relatives to show me photos of ancestors and help me draw up family trees. However, it was when I was at university in London, that I actually started researching myself.”

  • How did you get into genealogy? Did you do it by yourself or did someone help you?

“I wanted to find out about my dad’s dad because he was the only grandparent I knew nothing about. Because I was studying in London, my dad told me to go to Somerset House where I could get a copy of his birth certificate. Somerset House happened to be on my bus journey home from uni so I stopped off one day and went to enquire. I was told that all the family records had been moved to the Family Records Centre in Islington. So I went up there and someone helped me get hold of a copy of my grandad’s birth certificate. Then they helped me find him on the 1881 census. From there, I got on with things myself and asked questions when I got stuck.”

1881 U.K. Census record for Ben’s grandfather, Robert James Nicholls.
  • What was it like being a young genealogist in the early 2000s? Did you meet anyone your age at the time who also was interested in family history research?

“The early 2000s was an exciting time to be a young genealogist and looking back now, I consider myself very lucky to have started my research at this time. In January 2002, the 1901 census for England and Wales was published online and you could search for your ancestors by name. Up to that point, the only English/Welsh census you could search by name was the 1881 census. Every other census was searchable only by address. And if you wanted to search birth, death and marriage records (post 1837), you had to look through huge books – four quarters to a year – one at a time! However, there was a project starting at this time to make those records searchable online – which is now complete. The other reason I consider myself lucky to have started at this time is because it took a lot more time to find the information you were looking for and so the sense of joy and satisfaction when you did find it was that much greater.

I didn’t meet anyone my age researching their family history. Nowhere near! Everyone in the Family Records Centre going through those books with me was about three times my age. But that didn’t bother me. I was on a mission and I was loving it.”

  • How do you think genealogy research has changed since you started back in 2001?

“Massively. There were just a handful of databases searchable online in 2001. Research back then was very manual. You had to trawl through books and microfiche and microfilm for hours on end. You had to travel to places to look at more localized records and visit churchyards on the off chance a gravestone might still be standing and legible. That was half the fun though. Nowadays there is so much online it’s unbelievable. The convenience of that is great but it has taken away a bit of the magic. For example, you can type into Ancestry the name of an ancestor born in England in 1830 and within moments you can read their name on all the census returns from 1841 to 1911 inclusive. Now that’s cool but I remember seeing my grandad’s name on the 1881 census after all the effort I’d gone to find him which gave me such a buzz that you don’t get in the same way after a quick online search!”

  • What were the challenges of searching for family back then? How did you do your research with limited technical or less access to information?

“Back then I had to trawl through a lot more paper records than I do today. In that respect, one of the challenges was time. However, I was a student so time was not such an issue for me! Another challenge was money. I had to order a lot more certificates in those days because that was the only way to find out information and then use that information to consult other sources. As a student, this was a challenge!

The third main challenge back then was travel. I had to travel to archives in places where my ancestors came from to access information that was not available at the centralized London repositories. I really enjoyed this aspect though. Whilst I was visiting these places, I got a feel for my ancestors who lived there.”

  • Tell us a bit more about your work as a genealogist and as an author:

“For most of my 20 years as a genealogist, I have helped friends and family with their research and about 5 years ago, I decided to formalize this and set up a business called Footsteps so I now get paid for doing my hobby. I provide a complete family history service so as well as research, I work with an adoption agency and a calligrapher who produces beautiful hand-written family trees. Recently I’ve been fascinated by the idea of bringing people’s family history to life so I’m working on an immersive Victorian experience where people can effectively travel back in time and live a day in the life of their British Victorian ancestors. For more information about all of this, you can visit my website: www.footstepsfamily.co.uk

I love exploring various family history themes through writing novels. About 15 years ago I wrote and published two novels about family history and time travel called Trial By Fire and Bond Of Blood. I am currently writing a novel about a character who was adopted and goes on a search for birth parents and a sense of identity and belonging.”


To sum it up, it is crazy to see just how much the field of genealogy has changed in just the span of 20 years. Back when Ben was beginning his genealogy journey while at university, he had to spend many hours looking through physical records, searching for family clues. He also had to travel to actual libraries, local cemeteries, and archives to do his research. Since the rise of the internet, researching your heritage has never been easier. You often never have to leave your home to do a solid majority of the work. Despite this, Ben still said that he found researching back in the 90’s fun and enjoyable, explaining that there was sort of “magic” to it. Back then it was more of an adventure and you had to go some digging out in the “real” world.

Again – if you started researching family history genealogy as a teenager or young adult (early 20s) in a previous decade. Please consider contacting Tyler for an interview just like this one!

Emmy and P.J. Review: Genealogy Standards (2nd ed.)

This article was written in collaboration with P.J. Elias.

A few months ago I (Emmy) began looking at ways I could get certified as a professional genealogist. While it may be a little while off yet, both P.J. and I were intent on furthering our genealogical journey. That is when we stumbled upon the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and their ultimate how-to guide in Genealogy Standards. We both bought the most recent edition (pub. 2019) and read it at our own pace. If you wish to purchase the book, click here.

I was hoping this book would help me to hold my genealogical work to a certain standard, as previously I had been lost in which referencing style to use and I couldn’t answer the question of how much evidence is enough? To P.J., this book was considered to be “the gold standard of genealogy” as it is used by many professionals in the field, and to him it was the “logical next step” in his journey.

We were both impressed by the book but it also left us thinking about things that hadn’t been mentioned. So, let us take you through our list of pros, cons, and what we would like to see for the future.

Firstly, we both noticed how clear and easy to read the book was. We also loved the fact that it was small in size and length, meaning that the authors got straight to the point. P.J. specifically noticed how handy having a guide to citation standards would be to the fellow genealogist, which the book presents on page 7. Teens who are new to citing sources may get muddled up in the plethora of different citing styles imported from other fields, so it is extremely handy to have one clear-cut citation standard laid out in this book.

Another good point is that Genealogy Standards outlines steps, standards and ethics for the use of DNA. DNA, while it is a very useful new addition to the world of genealogy, certainly has many more legal boundaries than other genealogical evidence out there. Personally, the idea of working with DNA other than my own scares me because of the legal complications it can bring (unintentionally, of course), and so I am glad that BCG have come up with a way to ensure legal and ethical standards are being met. (NOTE: However, you should always consult legal documents in your area as well)

Furthermore, Genealogy Standards describes the point at which evidence can become proof, something that can become quite tricky for the wannabe professional genealogist. To someone who does not take genealogy quite so seriously, an Ancestry ‘hint’ may be the only proof they need to forge a conclusion. To the budding professional, more evidence is needed. Genealogy Standards outlines the criteria needed to make this reasonable conclusion, taking the reader through the concepts of assumption, inconsistencies in evidence, reliability of evidence and much, much more.

However, this is where we would like to see more. While this book is well written and provides logical definitions, it might be more useful to a younger reader, a visual learner or someone who is not well versed with academic terms to have an examples guide. Each of the criteria outlined in the book could have an example that has been taken from already completed research, to show how an unsound assumption can harm your research, or how ignoring inconsistencies in your evidence can lead to the wrong conclusion. I think I would have a better understanding of the criteria leading to a reasonable conclusion if I was able to visualise an example of that criteria.

P.J. and I also noticed that the structure of the book and the way the standards were explained were quite scientific and methodological. This isn’t a criticism, as in more modern times it is obvious that the Westernised academic study of family history and history in general has become akin to a science with a focus on paper evidence. However, it is important to note that we are not all Western. Many of us kids and teens may not have much Western ancestry, if any at all. The limitation of this book lies in the fact that it seems like it is tailored to Western genealogical standards. An Indigenous family who do not have census records or vital records may rely on their genealogical knowledge through oral history (which I will be expanding on in a later post), and it is important that oral history is considered by these organisations as a genuine source of information. This cannot be done if genealogy is turned into a science.

Therefore, I would like to bring this article to its conclusion. We (P.J. and I) would like to thank BCG for writing such a definitive guide on the standards that genealogists should be achieving in their public and private research and we hope that more consideration of non-Western methods of research are discussed in future.

An Honest Review of House Elves Anonymous’ – “Our Family Tree Index”

As everyone knows, technology is being used more and more when it comes to the digitisation of records and it can also be the place where you keep all of your family history files but again as everyone knows technology can fail! Take my own experience, about a few months ago the flash drive which I had my 3 years of family history research and files on had failed. Thankfully, I had done a back up a few days prior to this, so if I didn’t do that back up, I would’ve lost everything! Then it got me thinking, I need to have a physical copy and then I came across this “Family Tree Index” book from House Elves Anonymous, Sarah of HEA kindly sent me a copy to review and tell you all about it!

Contents page (Courtesy of House Elves Anonymous)

So, this book is a index for you and your direct ancestors (that’s 12 generations) before you, that’s 4,095 people!

It comes with a fan chart with an easy system to follow:

  • Even numbers = the men in the family
  • Odd numbers = the women in the family

Each page on from that is dedicated for each ancestor and for each generation with generation charts (e.g. all 5x great grandparents go on one page) and if that wasn’t enough there is plenty of space to write notes and for those who are new to DNA, there’s a cousin chart at the back of the book with DNA percentages of how many cM (centimorgans – the unit of measuring DNA) would be shared with cousins.

I had compared this book to one I already have. This one is much more spacious with plenty of writing room to write in notes and much, much, more! So I think this book is ideal for someone starting out and wanting to write it all down somewhere!

Ten fun projects for kids and teens!

1. Transcribe a census record.

This is fun and easy. You can transcribe your family or a random person in the census or you could transcribe records on FamilySearch or similar websites. This project works for American genealogy as well as International research. After finishing your transcription you could try to find out what happened to the people in the census. If you’re lucky and their living you could try and contact them.

2. Do a one-street study

Research your house and streets history, in America you can use public records for more recent history and census after 1940. This is fun because you get to learn about your house and maybe even find a skeleton in the closet!

3. Make a decoupage

A decoupage is a piece of  art made from many different materials, like paper or fabric. You can make one about yourself or ancestor or just a country. There is so much you can do with this project, I really recommend making it even if you’re not into making art.

4. Make a book 

Writing a book can be fun, I’m not very good at writing so when I make a book I put as many charts and pictures as I can. You can make a book about yourself or about your family. These books make amazing gifts.

5. Start a collection

Starting a collection can be fun and you can help persevere history. People collect Prayer cards, Postcards, Photos and Trading Cards.

6. Write yourself a letter for yourself in the future

I find this super fun! You’re making a historical record. The big bonus is you get to open a letter from yourself and see how much you have changed.

7. Make a Family tree for a Movie or TV Show

This is a fun idea and can help you understand the characters and how they fit into the series. It’s also a great way to get into genealogy, especially for young children.

8. Read a history book

Reading a historical book can give context to your ancestors lives. One of the most important things in family history is contextualization, it is essential to understand the world that our ancestors lived in.

9. Draw a map of where your ancestors lived

Maps are amazing for One-Place research, maps help one visualize the area in which we’re studying. 

10. Make a diorama of an ancestors house

I find this one just plain fun. But it also is a tool, by alwaying you to get into what home life would have been and if one doesn’t know a lot about one’s ancestors home then you will get to learn about the typical house in the era you’re researching.

Argentina & Me

Hi, my name is Gearoid D. P. Clarke, you’ve probably never heard of me before as I am new to The Hidden Branch team. I’ve been building and expanding my family tree for several years now, and I’ve found loads of interesting people and places throughout my journey. But there is one place in particular that has topped the rest, Argentina. 

Now, you may be wondering, “How did you find Argentina in your family tree when pretty much all of your ancestors are Irish?” Believe me, I was wondering that too. Turns out, Argentina has a very large Irish diaspora, as many Irish immigrated to there during the 1800s. My 4th great-uncle on my father’s side, Hugh Doogan (often written as Duggan in records) had many children with a woman by the name of Jane Kelly. Two of these children, Tomas Doogan-Kelly and Anne Doogan-Kelly, emigrated from Ireland to Argentina. While I have no date or location of death for Anne, Tomas’ death took place on the 8th of June 1913, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Tomas Duggan-Kelly, FamilySearch

At first, I thought, “Huh, that’s cool, a small branch of my tree is in Argentina.” Oh, how I was so naïve. Upon further investigation, thanks to the brilliant website that is FamilySearch, I uncovered a huge branch of my tree, in fact, it’s probably the biggest branch of my family tree. It’s insane. As I uncovered more leaves, I quickly began to discover some interesting differences between Irish and Argentine genealogy.

  • Argentinians (as well as most Latin-Americans and Spanish) hyphenate their surnames. For example, Tomas Duggan-Kelly married another Irish-Argentine by the name of Marcela Casey-O’Neill. Their children bore the surname Duggan-Casey. 
  • Despite being of Irish descent, Irish-Argentines would give their children Spanish-sounding first names, such as ‘Bernardo’ ‘Juana’ and ‘Carlos.’ This would lead to the quite humorous sounding combination of eloquent Spanish names followed by thick, rural Irish surnames. 
  • Middle names were a lot more commonplace, children would often have two names, followed by their last name. This would eventually grow until you have some very, very long names. One of Tomas Duggan-Kelly’s children had the name of Alberto Huberto Duggan-Casey. 

I also noticed that I was finding more people who were well-known in Argentina than in Ireland. My first ‘famous find’ was my 3rd cousin 3x removed Juan Diego Nelson-Duggan, commonly known as Jack Nelson. Nelson was the grandson of Tomas Duggan and the son of Juana Luisa Duggan-Casey and John Nelson McCormack. Jack Nelson was a polo player and a very good one. He represented Argentina in the 1924 Paris Olympics and in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning a gold medal in each, becoming the first person to win 2 gold medals for Argentina in the Olympics. 

Another well-known figure I was able to find is Eduardo Casey. Eduardo Casey is the brother of the wife of Tomas Duggan-Kelly, or in other words, the brother-in-law of my 1st cousin 5x removed. Casey was a well-known businessman in the region who founded several towns in the Buenos Aires district. 

I can go on and on about different people I’ve discovered in my tree, but I’d be here for ages, so I’ll just briefly list them here and my relation to them. Mind you, because this is Argentina, which is miles away from where I live, all of my relatives here are very distant, so you’ll see a lot of ‘removed’ or ‘in-law.’ Are most of these people related by blood? No. But I think the ability to connect them back to me on a family tree is stunning. 

  • Jack Nelson, olympian (3rd cousin 3x removed)
  • Eduardo Casey, businessman and rancher (brother-in-law of 1st cousin 5x removed)
  • José Francsico De San Martín y Matorras, military general, liberator of Argentina (husband of great-grandaunt of husband of 2nd cousin 4x removed)
  • Manuel Pedro De La Quintana Saenz-de Gaona, president of Argentina (grandnephew of wife of 2nd great-grandfather of husband of 2nd cousin 4x removed)

And much more!

Jack Nelson, Ancestry
Eduardo Casey
José Francsico De San Martín y Matorras
Manuel Pedro De La Quintana Saenz-de Gaona

What’s the point of me telling you all this? Well, I just want to encourage everyone reading this to keep digging, because there is a good chance that you may find something that surprises you. Everyone has their own version of my Argentina story, some just haven’t found it yet. Uncovering new branches also helps you learn the history of new areas, which helps improve your knowledge on the world, and hey, maybe you just found a new holiday destination. If you have found it, what is it? Feel free to tweet or message me or THB with your surprising stories, it’s always fun to learn about other people’s stories!