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Sunday, 23 April 2017

I'm all over the place - my DNA results

A week ago, I got the results of my test with Living DNA.  Since then, I’ve been trying to make sense of them in relation to my genealogical paper trail and it’s fair to say that while the results confirm some things, they also raise more questions…

Living DNA are a relative newcomer in the DNA testing market and offer a good value test that looks at Y-DNA (for males), mtDNA and autosomal DNA.  For this blog post I’m focussing on the last of these.

I chose Living DNA as it is currently the only company that offers a sub-regional breakdown of the British Isles.  For someone in the US, a report from Ancestry placing 99% of your recent DNA in the British Isles might be interesting - for a UK native like me, not so much.  Living DNA uses methods developed in the People of the British Isles project to sub-divide Britain into 21 regions, allowing an individual to compare their genetic ancestry against this dataset.  When I originally bought the test the results were said to reflect around 6 generations, although this has recently been  updated and the company now advises  

"Your family ancestry map shows the areas of the world where you share genetic ancestry in recent times (10 generations)”.

So what do my results look like?

At a regional level, 98.5% of my recent genetic ancestry is from Great Britain and Ireland.  No surprises there.  Then there is the 1.4% from Chechnya, which is a bit of a revelation!  It probably goes without saying that I have no paper records reflecting an ancestor from the Caucasus and I think we can safely put this down to a residual trace element and not get too hung up on the detail!

At the sub-regional level, things get a little more interesting, as you can see from the map.


I cropped the list next to the map, so here are the results as a table:

Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland
South Yorkshire
Southeast England
East Anglia
South Central England
Central England
Northwest Scotland
South Wales
South England
Northwest England

How does this compare to my known genealogical ancestry?  The chart below shows where my ancestors were born, back to my 3xGreat Grandparents (I’ve used the colour coding idea developed by J Paul Hawthorne here).

Looking at this, 4 of the top 5 areas in my Living DNA results make sense.  The Southeast England and East Anglia sub-regions reflect my London/Essex/Kent/Middlesex ancestors, while South Central England reflects the large number of Higgs to be found in Berkshire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire.  Slightly further back, but from a number of lines, my ancestors from Northern Ireland and Scotland are showing up strongly.

Clearly the big question mark here is South Yorkshire and the low figure for Northwest England, given that I have known ancestors from Lancashire but none from across the Pennines.  Even allowing for Living DNA’s definition of ‘South Yorkshire’ as including West Yorkshire, I have nothing in my research to suggest ancestors from this area.   On average, we inherit 12.5% of our DNA from our Great-Grandparents, so 13% from Yorkshire would suggest I shouldn’t need to go back too far to find a link.  There is an unknown paternity among my GG-Grandparents, and still lots of gaps among the generation before that, so there may be something to be found there, but it would have to be quite a large Yorkshire representation to account for 13% now.

I’m also surprised at the much higher percentage for Cornwall rather than Devon, as I have no recorded ancestors in Cornwall to date but a clear line back to Devon – and they aren’t even on the right side of the county to suggest a close link to Cornwall!

Of the other areas coming in over 5%, 5.8% for Central England probably reflects ancestors from northern parts of Oxfordshire and/or Shropshire.  As for Northwest Scotland, I don’t have any definite ancestry, but it may reflect some of my Northern Irish forebears moving northwards from the central belt.

Overall, I’m glad I did the test even though it leaves a couple of big questions unanswered.  Before running off trying to identify fake paternity claims among my forebears, I realised there were a few things to bear in mind:

  • The results cannot be taken too literally – there is an element of art to the interpretation as well as science.  In particular, the spread of DNA doesn’t fit neatly into county boundaries!
  • These tests are continually developing.  Fundamentally they work by comparing your DNA against reference samples to determine which yours most resembles.   Generally the reference samples will be from individuals who have four grandparents born within the same area.  As the samples grow in size, and new analysis techniques are applied, results will be refined further.
  •  Living DNA are still enhancing their tools.  As well as a ‘standard’ mode of analysis, there is also a ‘cautious’ mode and a ‘complete’ mode in development, which may help to explain the breakdown further.

Living DNA don’t yet offer a matching service whereby you can establish links to others sharing recent DNA with a view to breaking down brick walls in your genealogical research.  The company says this is coming in the future, although depending on how long this takes I may decide to also test with another provider that already offers this.  In the meantime, I’d be interested to see how other people’s results from Living DNA reflect (or not!) their genealogical research.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Who Do You Think You Are? Live - impressions of a first timer

I think I was one of the first through the doors...

Last Saturday, I hauled myself out of bed to catch an early train to Birmingham NEC for WDYTYA? Live.  Was it worth it?  Definitely.

Although I hadn’t been to the event before (or any family history show for that matter), I thought I had a reasonable idea of what to expect.  What I hadn’t anticipated was the great atmosphere.  What a friendly bunch of people genealogists are!  It’s quite refreshing to have conversations about your research that don’t provoke confused or blank stares…

Here's a quick review of the three workshops I attended:

High Definition Ancestry DNA Testing in the UK
The guys from Living DNA gave a good overview of their methods and how they can offer a more detailed picture of your UK ancestry.  Refreshingly, it wasn’t a hard sell, and in any case I’d already done a test with them (just awaiting results).  I have to admit that the science bit stretched my ‘O’ Level Biology to its limits, and I was on more comfortable ground with the parts that touched on archaeology, anthropology and genetic history – the impact of major events on genetic distribution within the population was particularly interesting.  Living DNA don't offer a matching capability at present so it was good to hear that plans are moving forward for enabling downloads of data that can be transferred to other companies that do provide this.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read – or Hear!
Mary Evans gave a great reminder of the need to look critically at all the information we are presented with and to apply our natural scepticism about handed down family stories to official documents as well.  “It says so on the birth certificate” isn’t always sufficient proof!  People make mistakes, guess and, yes, tell outright lies when engaging with officialdom.  Mary used numerous examples from her own research to illustrate how we can use a sceptical approach to overcome brickwalls and I came away with a determination to look again at a couple of mine.

Why Pay? The Top Free Genealogy Website Alternatives
John Hanson acknowledged upfront that time constraints limited the amount of information he could share – but that luckily the handout would be available from the SoG website.  Overall, John gave some good suggestions for alternative websites to the commercial providers – there probably weren’t many that I wasn’t already aware of but I’ll be interested in looking at the handout in more detail.  It was good that he also acknowledged the additional benefits that paying for commercial providers can bring (and the costs involved with bringing major record sets online, whether financial or the time of volunteers).

Away from the workshops, I hadn’t been organised enough to print out details of research problems that I wanted help with.  Nevertheless, I had some very productive conversations with local family history societies, including Devon FHS who were able to identify the church where some of my McCollough ancestors are buried, (St Saviour's, Tormoham, now the Greek Orthodox Church of St Andrew), and the North of Ireland FHS who explained the importance of Townlands to tracing your Irish relatives.  I signed up for membership of Berkshire FHS and Manchester and Lancashire FHS, as well as the Family and Community Historical Research Society, an organisation I hadn’t heard of previously but one that I’m looking forward to closer involvement with as they focus on locally based collaborative micro-studies bringing together family and local history.

Having signed up for the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies newly launched ‘Awaken Your Ancestors’ course, it was great to meet the school’s Director of Education, Les Mitchinson, who talked me through their qualifications pathway and really motivated me to get going.

Throw in a great book offer from Pen & Sword and a reduced subscription to The Genealogist website and it all made for a very productive, if tiring, day.

I've seen a few issues raised online about the event, some perhaps more valid than others.  A few people have mentioned the number of non-family history exhibitors, which didn't seem particularly high to me, although as I've never been before I obviously had no benchmark to compare against.  I certainly didn't feel they detracted from the value of the event.  In common with others, I am surprised that The National Archives weren't represented, as they have been in previous years.  It would be a concern to me if the number of local family history societies exhibiting is indeed declining, as some people have suggested, as I found talking to these groups particularly beneficial.  Would the show benefit from a return to London?  I'm not sure - any increase in numbers attending from the south would surely be offset by a decline in numbers from elsewhere, which probably makes Birmingham a sensible compromise.  I'm also not sure that a move to London, with associated higher costs, would encourage more local societies to exhibit.

Overall, it's an event I'd recommend to anyone involved in family history, whatever your level of experience.  I'm looking forward to next year...

Sunday, 2 April 2017

How much do those things weigh?! A Gulliver project update

2 and a half files!
That's it.  The cataloguing is complete.  The final tally was 202 logged items, encompassing a whole range of different subjects.  I hope I can find someone who wants them...

Using the GRO indexes on Ancestry and Findmypast I've put together a basic 3-generation tree, with BMD dates spanning a rough 90-year period from the 1890s to 1980.  I've focused purely on the main couple in the papers - Herbert Edward Gulliver and Maisie C Gulliver (nee Chamberlain), adding in their respective parents and their children.  I haven't broadened it out to include siblings of Herbert and Maisie, or of their parents, although this would probably be easy enough to do.  I'm not sharing details of the tree here, or indeed on any public site, as it is not mine to share.

I also wanted to share a couple of non-personal snippets from letters, as when I was reading through them it really helped to illustrate the reaction of 'ordinary' people to historic events, like the end of the Second World War.

End of the war
" you know we have had some marvellous news Japan beaten thank god everyone had two days Holiday..."

It's a letter to a soldier still serving overseas and the writer goes on to highlight how and where she celebrated and the atmosphere in London.  She also expresses her delight at being able to witness Field Marshal Montgomery being granted the 'Freedom of Lambeth'

"...they presented him the Keys of the city in Brixton Town Hall right near where you live. I saw him on the route coming back. I see him at the Oval as he passed so the church bells rung he richly deserves the honour they bestow upon him he is a marvellous man..."

I guess many of us now use social media to record our responses to national and global events.  I wonder how much of it will survive so that our families can see it in 70 years time...

Last, but definitely not least, I am also very excited to report that I have identified a couple of Ancestry members called Gulliver, who appear to be from the right family.  Knowing that they have at least sufficient interest in family history to have created an online tree gives me some hope that I'm not going to be met with a brick wall.  I've contacted both of them today.  Here's hoping...

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Every workplace needs an accordionist (or two). A Gulliver project update.

Having catalogued 184 items, including 40 photographs, I can now see light at the end of the tunnel.  Probably unwisely I have saved the most difficult task until last.  Somehow, the passage of time has caused correspondence to become separated from its containers which means I have a pile of handwritten letters, not all dated, and a pile of envelopes,  most postmarked.  I have to somehow match these to ensure that the correct envelopes and letters are filed together.  Not an easy task - see why I've left it until last?

Leaving that aside for now, I wanted to share three photographs.  The first, typically with no labelling, has intrigued me.

Works photo?

What is going on in this photo, do you think?  My feeling is that it's probably some kind of work-related photo rather than a family event, as they are all men.  Many of them seem to be wearing buttonholes of some kind, which presumably had some significance, and I wondered about the boy.  Is his position front and centre a sign that this is somehow connected to him?  And why are there 2 accordion players?!

The other 2 photos are of the central couple in this whole thing, which I thought I'd share as a) it is perhaps through photos that I may be able to attract the interest of the right family and b) I just thought the wedding picture was fantastic, like a glamorous publicity shot from a 1930s romantic film.  The second picture shows them in a more relaxed setting, probably around the same time as the wedding as they look about the same age.  I did initially wonder whether Mr Gulliver was wearing the same jacket!

1930s wedding
At home?

I'll try to write another update later this weekend.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Friday's Faces from the Past

Life has left little time for genealogy work this week, so just a short blog highlighting a photo from the Gulliver papers that I particularly like – and one of the few that is labelled.

Effra Parade School, Xmas 1946, Tulse Hill Tenants Assn Party

On the back of this picture it says ‘Effra Parade School, Xmas 1946, Tulse Hill Tenants Assn Party’.  None of the individuals are named, unfortunately, but I assume that one or more of the Gulliver children are featured.    I chose this photo to share for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it sparks off some of my own memories about similar events I attended as a kid, thanks to my grandparents’ membership of a residents club.  But mainly I just love the way that the kids’ personalities come through, even more so than in the standard school photos that we all remember.  A couple of the boys in the middle row look typically distracted, while the 4 in the middle with arms round each other clearly want to be centre of attention.  The boy at the left of the second row looks a little forlorn, and someone should have sorted his hat out!  And I assume that’s Santa at the back, and that we can put the slightly improvised nature of the costume down to it being just after the war…

Apparently Effra Primary School closed in 2002.  The kids in this photo will now be in their seventies and eighties.  If by any chance, you remember the school, or recognise anyone, do let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Here today, still here tomorrow? The importance of ephemera (A Gulliver project update)

This week cataloguing of the Gulliver family papers has continued at a steady speed and I’m now at 130 individual items.  A large proportion of what remains is photos and letters, so the pace is inevitably slowing as I start to wonder about the people in the pictures and get drawn into their personal stories.

All of which has led me to ponder anew on the importance of ‘ephemera’.  As genealogists we can sketch the bare bones of our family history – the who, when and where of births, marriages and deaths that we retrieve, with relative ease, from official records.  But this leaves us with a two-dimensional, colourless picture of our ancestors.  The real challenge is to bring them to life – what brought them joy?  What made them cry?  How did they treat other people and what did others think of them?  An immensely difficult task for most of us but ephemera, those ‘things that exist for only a short time’, can help us bridge the gap between present and past.  Here's a couple of examples from the Gulliver family papers.

'Arf a mo' Adolf' Christmas 1944

Xmas dinner, with 'Forcemeat'

Above is a 1944 Christmas Menu from the Men’s Mess, 2 Company – 6 Air Formation Signals.  Interesting as an historical artefact in its own right (I must find out what ‘Forcemeat’ was!), this really comes to life for family historians when looking at the many signatures on the reverse.  Several of the men have included their nicknames alongside their names, and in some small way the handwritten signatures of Boss, Butch, Puffy and the ‘Double 18 King’ jump out from the page as real people in a way that names in an index do not. 

The Gull-bird

Mr Gulliver is there too – ‘The Gull-bird’.  What an amazing thing to survive – the wartime nickname of your ancestor.    How much do you know about the service histories of your grandparents or great-grandparents?  I know very little about the wartime experiences of either of my grandfathers – I would be astonished to uncover a nugget of information as personal as this.

Dursley Road Street Party

The second item is this Souvenir Programme for a Coronation Party in Dursley Road (in Kidbrooke, south-east London). The first thing that struck me was that, aside from the slightly odd non-seasonal inclusion of Mince Tart, the menu seems vague enough to encompass any similar national celebration over the past 60 years.  The programme of events also brought back my own childhood memories of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  All of which made me realise how little many of us know about the childhood of our parents – did they have a Coronation street party?  What did they do and eat?  Did they go in fancy dress?  Did it rain? Did they enjoy it?  If they are from elsewhere in the Commonwealth, how were the celebrations different?  If the Coronation wasn’t relevant to their country, what national events do they remember celebrating as kids?

Menu and events

It strikes me that while the Gulliver family, and other residents of Dursley Road, might feel a tangible relationship to this programme – and descendants of the Bossleys and other committee members might be interested in their ancestors’ organisational flair – its significance for family historians goes beyond those with an immediate connection.  We can all use this sort of thing as an aide to our own research and as a prop for discussion.  It brings us back to some of those first principles of speaking to our families and recording their lives.

Perhaps we should also be thinking more seriously about preserving our own ephemera.  For those of us with an instinctive dislike of anything that might be construed as hoarding and a fear of ending our days drowning in a sea of pizza delivery leaflets, this isn’t an easy task.  We need to learn how to be curators of our own history – recognising and preserving what may be important, interesting or relevant to future generations.  But beyond the item itself we need to preserve the memories it contains by writing them down.  The army menu and coronation programme are time capsules containing the memories of the Gulliver family, now overlaid with my own family's memories of how the documents came into our possession 35 years ago.  But none of this will survive if we don’t record it.

In a way, it is we who are ephemeral – and it is those flimsy items which survive us that can pass our stories onwards.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Bag it, tag it, record it... A Gulliver project update

This week has been all about trying to bring some order to a random assortment of papers. Clearly, I needed to find some way of cataloguing them.  So I came up with the following categories:

  • Family correspondence
  • Family events and celebrations
  • Postcards
  • Employment related
  • Education and school
  • Health related
  • Housing and utilities
  • Military service
  • ID documents
  • Finance, pensions and benefits
  • Photos
  • Miscellaneous

Each document gets scrutinised, put in a plastic folder (not archive quality I'm afraid - I have to economise somewhere!) and given a reference number.  It's then entered on a spreadsheet with its reference number and a brief description.  It seemed like a reasonable compromise between handing over a Tesco bag full of mouldy documents and trying to recreate my own version of a National Archives catalogue.  At the moment, my table is starting to get covered, like this...

I've logged about 60 documents so far.  They include things such as National Identity cards, rent books, a book of postcards from Algeria and an officially issued wartime notebook with handwritten guidance about operating switchboards and orders to burn everything if the Signals Office is in danger of being captured...

A lot of documents relate to financial security, or the lack of it - insurance contributions cards for health and pensions, savings clubs, Co-ops etc - and reflect the fragmented nature of welfare provision before the Welfare State.  It struck me that this was a family in reasonably secure employment who could afford some measure of cover for illness and hard times - not everyone could.

I have been reflecting on what I can share on this blog.  I'm aware that there is an ethical responsibility - this is not my family and I do not have permission to share their personal stories in any great detail, particularly as some of the people in the documents may still be alive.  I won't be sharing life stories or contents of letters, though I will need to provide names and areas of residence as a potential aid to tracking them down.

This doesn't mean I can't share some things which have a broader interest as I work my way through the pile.  In the first week, perhaps the most interesting find was a report from Reuters about the last British newspaper journalists leaving Berlin ahead of World War Two.  It's dated 25th August 1939, exactly a week before the war began with the German invasion of Poland.

Reuters report
This seemed to have an importance beyond family history and I felt I had a responsibility to see it safely transferred to an archive.  I'm pleased to report that I've been in contact with John Entwisle at The Reuters Archive and the document is now on its way to him.

Reuters centenary celebration

John was also interested in other Reuters-related documents that I might find among the papers.  For the moment though I think my priority is to try to reunite them with the family.  The decision of whether to pass them on can then be theirs.

I would imagine, for example, that Mr and Mrs Gulliver would have been quite proud to attend this Reuters Centenary event.  I had no idea who Christopher Chancellor was but a quick Google revealed that he was a British journalist who became General Manager of Reuters from 1944 to 1959 and was credited with keeping the company intact despite the challenging circumstances of the war.  So perhaps the Gulliver family might want to keep this?

If you have any comments or questions about the papers, please feel free to add them below.  For my next post I'm going to write something about the Coronation...