Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Genealogy -- The Old Scientist's New Hobby

Early last Fall, the Old Scientist went to Australia to visit his sister who has Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and is well past the expected two year survival rate for this illness. She gave him a couple of old photos of their grandmother and somehow that started him on a genealogy search of his family.

Now he has a quite rare surname and since his father came as an immigrant from New Zealand to Australia he was not likely to find any of the dreaded convicts that Australians might fear in their murky past. Although I can imagine that Australians could well be delighted to have such ancestors nowadays. A reverse sort of pride.

Being the lazy person that he is, sitting at a computer and tracking down all the hard work that others have done before him is right up his alley.

The first I heard about it was when he came downstairs and said, I want to sign up for a website, ancestry.com. It costs $29.99 US. Why are you asking me? I queried. Oh, you want to use my credit card, the one I keep especially for online purposes. OK. And that was the beginning of it all.

For the last several months he has been building up his family tree, with information he garnered there, on some free program called Legacy which he downloaded for the purpose. Not only that, he has contacted various people who had members of his family in their trees and has begun an email correspondence with assorted people around the globe. They are all sharing whatever information they have and correcting their various charts. He has also found some relatives he never knew about before, one a second cousin in Portland, Oregon and some assorted cousins in New Zealand. Funnily enough, in some cases, he is not corresponding with the relatives themselves, but the wife in one case and the partner in another, since they are the "genealogists" of the family. So now, like me, he has all these online correspondents that he has never met, but has become quite friendly with.

So far he has traced his family back to the fifteen hundreds, to Jersey, where apparently some still live.

One of the amusing things he has discovered is that you cannot count on the information being correct, not even straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. His own father always said his name was C... V... B.... and his birthday was 24th March, 1900. But on his marriage certificate and the birth certificates of his children, he seems to have used various birth dates. From his actual birth certificate, it turns out he was V.... C.... B..... and he was born in 1901.

Even the date of his death was incorrect in some trees. Two of his sisters , when asked, said 1970 and that's what the OS had in his tree. But I said no, that's not right, it was 1975, as I recall. Finally one sister found his death certificate. 1974!

So the fact that an ancestor in the 1500s has a birthday in May on one tree and in September on another, albeit at least the same year, is not the least surprising.

As is his usual style, he treats it like a scientific project. I don't think he is quite so interested in the people themselves as much as making nice diagrams and making sure the information is correct and complete.

This week we are off to Australia and as well we are taking a cruise around New Zealand. So we have arranged to meet some of these "relatives". Actually he just got word that one of them died this week, which is a shame.

He has been sending his "results" to all of his family members who are on computer and one of his nieces is very interested. So we are to meet up with her too while we are in Australia. She actually plans to go to Jersey in October when she will be in England for a wedding. I wonder if we will be visiting there any time soon. That would not surprise me, although this passionate interest in the B family certainly has.

Once we were in France, in Normandy, not far from St Malo, where one crosses by ferry to Jersey from France. We came across a tiny village with the name of his surname. My daughter was with us and we have this photo of the OS and my daughter with the sign. Did a B... go there from Jersey, way back in the mists of time or did someone from the village of B..... go to Jersey? Interesting to speculate.

There is a famous French semiotician with the same name and everyone always asks my daughter if she is related to him since she has a PhD in seventeenth century French Literature. She always laughs and says no, I wish. But who knows? Maybe his family tree crosses hers somewhere. I guess we will never know.

However this has kept the OS happily occupied for hours on end and luckily I have my own computer(s) for I would not have been able to get a look in at the main desktop computer these past months. All in all, a harmless enough pastime and quite cheap.


Crushed said...

There are family trees on the internet where people work out their descent back to Adam. Not sure how they get this info, but still.

jams o donnell said...

I wish I could trace my famuily tree beyond my great grandparents

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Do tell us all about it when you meet these relatives, jmb. I was going to ask if he had his own computer!

Sean Jeating said...

It's definitively more fun than shovelling snow. :)
Seriously: Once I made a story with descendands of Guy Fawkes. Fascinating. You'd find Vauks and Fauks and Vaughs etc. on all continents.
This was so impressing that I thought it would be interesting to start a bit family-research.
However - lazy as I am - it did not last long.
Anyway, I do have the family tree my father had to fill in in 1937 to prove his Aryan ancestry, and it goes back to 1773.
Best part of this document (for me) is though that it shows my father was no member of the NSDAP.
Final dot: Only yesterday I digitised some old photos; one's a portrait of my grandfather around 1900, and Mrs J finds there is a certain likeness. :)
Here - before getting diagnosed with logorrhoea - I do abruptly stop.
Have a great time down under, jmb.

Donnetta Lee said...

jmb: I put my dad's name into Google and up popped ancestry.com with his picture. I found many, many family pictures there on the free service. I haven't signed up, but I'm sure if I did, I'd see even more. I had no idea. Interesting stuff. D

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Good hobby! Same thing about my father, what he said and what the official documents said never matched and so we have at least three different birthdays spread over 6 years and two names.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

A hobby that rewards success with an exponential increase in complication and work. ^_^

'Family tree maker' is a good, not free prog for keeping track of family trees. The Mormon site has lots of genealogical records you can search on-line.

About the name. My bet would be that someone from France settled in Jersey, I expect a lot have over the years, given how close they are.

Liz said...

Husband's the genealogist in our family. He's worked one line of my family back to the 1500s and i think he's done a similar thing with his dad's family. No secret links to royalty - or huge wealth - discovered though!

He uses my computer and he can get so engrossed it's hard to shift him sometimes!

I see Moggs mentions Family Tree Maker. That often comes with membership to ancestry.com included in the package.

CherryPie said...

Yes genealogy is just as addictive as blogging!

I hope you have a great holiday :-)

Anonymous said...

I have been to the village of Buggery... nice place - odd name though.

jmb said...

Mmm, Crushed. That would take some manipulation I'm sure.

That's as far as I go too Jams.

He certainly does Welshcakes, he had two desktops, one newish one oldish but still in use.

Indeed Sean, better than shovelling snow. This hobby would not have lasted long with the OS if it actually involved too much effort. Tough times for your father, I'm glad it turned out to his/your satisfaction.

Interesting Donnetta Lee. Be careful if you sign up to read the fine print. It is not just for a month as the OS thought but they bill you every month and it was not so easy to stop that.

Gosh LGS, what was your Dad trying to hide? I'll bet you were all confused.

How true Moggs. I think you are right about them going to Jersey from France but we shall never know for sure.

Liz it seems a lot of people are interested in genaology these days. I don't even know anything about my maternal grandfather let alone father back.

So it seems Cherie, well for one person. Thanks.

Now how would you like to come from there Mutley? A bit embarrassing I'd think.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Mutley, Just be grateful you don't come from the village of Ugly.

I bet they get terrible stick from people trying to be funny.