Category: family history

Another Year, Another Post

As Writing Up the Ancestors approaches its fourth anniversary and I approach the end of my summer vacation, it is time to look back at last year’s posts and look ahead to the coming season. 

Some blogs assess their success from the number of hits they get. That is not the case with Writing Up the Ancestors. For one thing, every now and then the stats go through the roof. For some reason, hundreds of computers in Russia hit on my blog for days or weeks at a time, making the stats that Blogspot provides completely meaningless. 

But every now and then, I get an email from someone who turns out to be a distant relation or who is doing research on one of the people I have written about. That means Writing Up the Ancestors is finding its audience, mainly through Google, and that is very satisfying. 

This past year I broke through a huge brick wall. My paternal grandmother’s grandparents were a missing generation, so I hired a professional genealogist to look through records in the Bay of Quinte, Ontario region where they lived. She helped uncover a family secret: they were not married, and they were probably first cousins. (See “The Ancestor Who Did Not Exist”, and “Martha J. Rixon’s Short and Difficult Life”,

The problem with writing their stories was that they were complicated, and I may have buried my great-great-grandmother’s heartbreak in my efforts to explain the genealogical research steps I took to solve the mystery. Oh well, that doesn’t mean the article must remain a failure: I can always rewrite it.

Many of my ancestors are buried in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Scarborough, ON.

I also researched several other lines on my father’s side last year. My Hamilton, Glendinning and Stobo ancestors came from the Scottish lowlands to Scarborough, Ontario around the 1820s, and the Whiteside family arrived from Belfast at about the same time. I looked at these extended families to see where they were from, who immigrated and who stayed behind, and what happened to that first generation in Canada. These were all large families with many descendants, so my hope is that other researchers will find their stories useful. This research did not make for great story-telling, but it was nevertheless important. 

In the coming years, I plan to tackle another branch of my family tree that will present similar problems: my mother’s ancestors who settled in Massachusetts and Connecticut around 1630. Puritans in belief, they were mostly farmers and they had large families. My four-times great-grandfather Phineas Bagg, who left Massachusetts and settled in Quebec around 1795, was the fourth generation of his family born in North America. 

A great deal of research has been done on this American colonial population. In many cases, it is known where these people came from in England and which ship they traveled on. Marriage, baptismal and death records are all available, as are probate records, land records, military service records and so on. It will be impossible to learn much about their personalities, so it may be challenging to write anything beyond dry facts, however, there are numerous books about colonial culture and religious beliefs. I hope to shed light on their lives by describing those practices, and the historical events of their times. 

Another goal for the coming year is more research on my Irish immigrant ancestors, the Mulholland, Whiteside, Workman and Shearman families. I still know very little about them, but we are thinking about a trip to Northern Ireland next spring, so that motivates me to learn more.  

As in the past, I will try to follow Genealogical Proof Standards and to cite my sources. Without clarity and accuracy, Writing Up the Ancestors would not be worth my time, or yours.

A second annual assessment

I meant to post new articles every two or three weeks this summer, but summer is almost over and I still seem to be in vacation mode. Hopefully when I get back to my desk in September, I’ll feel refreshed and ready to write. 

There is no getting around it: the articles I’ve been posting about my ancestors every week or two require a lot of hard work, so I needed the break. Today, however, it’s time for an assessment. 

Since I started Writing Up the Ancestors in October 2013, I have posted 61 articles. The stories about the Smiths of Macduff and the Hamiltons of Lesmahagow have had the most views, probably because these are common family names – and uncommon place names. But a story called “No Fairy-tale Ending” (The Seigneurie of Milles–Îles, part one),about a young couple who died unexpectedly, leaving their orphaned daughter to be brought up by people who had an eye on her inheritance, has been viewed infrequently. I have changed the title to “The Doomed Marriage of Mary Sophia Roy Bush and Louis Charles Lambert Dumont”. ( I want these articles to be found and read.

One of the biggest challenges in writing family history is to bring each ancestor to life. That starts with writing skills, such as finding a good lead for the story. But I usually only have superficial facts about my ancestors, so I have to make sure I don’t get carried away and make assumptions about their actions and motives, and I constantly remind myself that the values and customs of their societies are quite different from mine. 

Another difficult aspect of blogging, at least for me, is preparing proper footnotes. It is picky and time-consuming and I find it hard to follow a consistent bibliographic style. I need to do a better job of this.

On the other hand, source citations are essential, so I try to give readers enough information that they can find my sources themselves. People have told me they like the Research Remarks section of each post in which I describe the resources I have used and where I found them, mention sources of additional information and identify brick walls. I love writing that section and I hope that, even if readers are not especially interested in my ancestor, they will learn something from the research process.

When I first started writing this blog, I had a bank of stories I had already written, and I had research on other ancestors at my fingertips. Now I’ve posted most of those stories, and I need to spend some time researching families I haven’t even mentioned yet. But it is hard to focus on research and simultaneously write regular blog posts. Something has to change, or this will feel more like work and not like fun. 

So this year, I will either post shorter stories on Writing Up the Ancestors, or I will continue to post long stories less often. I’ll see how it goes. Meanwhile, I will also post short articles about my research processes and discoveries on the collaborative blog I still have lots of stories to tell.