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Ancestry shaky leaves… shaky foundations?

Ancestry shaky leavesIf you have a family tree on Ancestry or use Family Tree Maker, you will have seen the Ancestry shaky leaves. These are hints that there are records or other family trees on Ancestry that could be relevant to your ancestor. But are they helpful? Can you trust them?

Last week, I did a rare check and, to my surprise, found two very useful hints.

One hint referred me to a tree that included my great great grandmother’s sister, Margaret, her husband and daughter. An elderly relative had said that Margaret immigrated to America; this tree said Canada. But birth and marriage dates and places matched, the daughter’s fairly unusual middle name, Leask, was included and a son born after the family left Scotland had a distinctive family name, William Moncrieff. After checking some facts,  I’ve been in contact with the owner of theAncestrey shaky leaves tree hints tree and am satisfied that we both have the same people. (Of the eight trees in the hint, this was the only match worth investigating.)

Another hint, also from a public tree, took me down a much more surprising route: a x3 great grandfather, born 1800 or earlier, whom I have hardly researched, turned up dead in Australia, as did his daughter, whose name and birth date I knew. Initially, I was very sceptical, the best way to be with these public tree hints, especially as he was also said to have married again. His name, Thomas Sinclair, is not unusual and it is very easy to link the wrong people when you find a name in marriage records. The tree included some Scottish census links which I followed up: both made sense and one probably explains why Thomas’s daughter, my x2 great grandmother, got married where she did. After checking out some online baptism and marriage indexes, the likelihood that this is the right man increased. I now have a tasklist including: check the original baptism, marriage and census records at ScotlandsPeople and National Records of Scotland (some are not from the established Church of Scotland); order a copy of the Australian death registration. Once I have seen those, I hope I will be able to confirm that this is my Thomas Sinclair.

In general, treat Ancestry shaky leaves that lead to other member trees with extreme caution. You need to investigate further, check the original records, not just transcripts or indexes, and verify the information for yourself. Don’t take someone else’s word for it or you could be building shaky foundations for your own tree and adding to the many error-filled trees on Ancestry. This type of hint is not a substitute for your own research. I’m really pleased with my two links from last week but they make sense because I’ve already built a solid foundation.

Shaky leaves and actual records

Once you click on the person, you find out just how many hints  there are. Ancestry shaky leaves hintFor Alexander there were three in total, one for member trees and two for records. Shaky leaves linking to actual records on Ancestry are potentially much more accurate, very accurate sometimes but they are only as good as the information you already have in your tree. If that information is wrong, the hints will also be wrong. For Alexander there were two census hints, 1891 and 1881 (below), both spot on.Census hint




If I didn’t already know his birth date or his parents’ names this hint could be very useful but I’d then need to check the original birth and census records at ScotlandsPeople. (Some of the original records are on Ancestry so you can investigate straightaway.) The sibling’s name could also help with identification through other records.  Sometimes, it will be very obvious that a record is not relevant, for example if you know for sure that your Alexander Slater was born in Orkney, Scotland in August 1881 but the hint is about a John Harris born in Tredegar, Wales in 1881 then it is unlikely to be the same person.

It’s important to understand too that by no means all of Ancestry’s many record sets/databases are included in the hints. You will have to search them yourself. Ancestry has a good video explaining how to use hints (some comments, on censuses for example, refer to American records rather than UK).

Ancestry shaky leaves – use them carefully, do your own research and they can be a real asset. But check throughly before you attach them to your tree, don’t allow the thrill of discovery to carry you away!


Hogmanay – and a Happy New Year

I’m writing this on Hogmanay, 31 December. Hogmanay has always been a celebration in Scotland, much more so than Christmas in the past. My grandmother, born in 1887, was at school on Christmas Day at least once. My mother, who is now 90, would hang up a stocking on Hogmanay when she and her cousins stayed at her aunts’ farm. We always had a special dinner on New Year’s Day, something which really surprises my English husband.

First footing is/was a very important part of Hogmanay/New Year, calling on friends and family, maybe with a wee dram. A tall, dark, handsome first foot was considered good luck. As a child, I was always first in through the door at our neighbours, ahead of my rather fairer sister. As well as the drams, shortbread and currant bun, also known as black bun, were part of the overall jollifications.

New Year 2016 with fireworksThe Scots Language  Centre has some great information on Hogmanay and New Year. You’ll find the words for Auld Lang Syne and A guid new year to ane an aa there.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016 – and every success with family history!

If you are in the Stirling area, I’m looking at running some family history classes in 2016. Do get in touch if you are interested.

A wedding anniversary and a tragic family

Today, 14 May 2015, is the 153rd wedding anniversary of my paternal great great grandparents, George Flett and Mary Leask. In fact their marriage lasted less than ten years for Mary died of tuberculosis, aged 32, on 27 February 1872, in Orphir, Orkney. I have yet to research this line in depth but the little I know points to a very hard life.

There were six children from the marriage; that alone made great demands on Mary. One daughter, Jemima, died in March 1871 aged six months, cause of death unknown (no medical attendant). A second Jemima was born on 13 January 1872, about six weeks before her mother’s death, and died on 2 July 1872, cause of death “gradual decay”. The tragedy continued with the death of Thomas, aged six, in March 1873, cause of death unknown (no medical attendant). Perhaps the poor little boy just lost the will to live.

Both Mary and George’s mothers were dead by the time of their marriage so another source of help was wiped out. Going by the 1871 census, George, a farm servant, and Mary had some assistance from Mary’s sister, yet another Jemima, which may have continued. But a motherless six-week old and four other children under ten would be a major challenge for anyone. Like many men in a similar situation, George remarried in May 1874. There were four children from that marriage and George died in 1919.*

I have often wondered what my great grandmother, Ann, aged around eight when her father remarried, made of it all.

Photo of Ann Flett

Ann Flett (1866-1944)

Compared to my other lines at the same period, her family had a very hard time. Ann herself lived to be 78 but effectively lost another brother, John, when his letters from Australia simply ceased. Any descendants of a John Flett in Australia please get in contact – I do not even know where he settled. Ann’s older sister, Mary, outlived them all and died in 1954 aged 89. A happy ending of sorts I suppose.

*George Flett’s youngest son from this second marriage was the father of my maternal uncle’s wife which makes their children both my first cousins and also my half second cousins once removed!

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