The Journey to becoming a Genealogist

Genealogy has developed almost out of recognition in my lifetime. Digitisation and expanding availability of records brings scans and transcriptions literally to our fingertips, with sophisticated search and analysis functions.  Rapid DNA sequencing, “a unique new tool”(Holton 2019) started as a niche interest but DNA analysis is now part of the Genealogical Proof Standard. Techniques to manipulate the data are expanding. Family trees which primarily focused on going ‘up’ or back in time now expand ‘out and down’.  My autosomal DNA test (2021) plus very recent sibling and first cousin’s tests may help confirm relationships and expand our tree.  @JanetFew’s article in @familytreemaguk (Feb 2023) reminded me that in 1989 I did not have a home computer and my grandfather did not comprehend the ability to video him talking about his life and show it on a TV screen. (“Are you going to send this up to the BBC then chiel?”)

Our history may be in the past, but ideas and research techniques continue to develop; ways to analyse and present history continue to evolve.  Collaboration with other hisstory ‘specialisms’ is perhaps increasing – local history, social history and academia for example. Current challenges to the concept of family include how to record sex and gender for example.   GenZ genealogists and the wider range of cultures and ethnic groups now utilising archive resources may well challenge traditional family history wisdom.  Whilst often thought of as an innately personal activity, the genealogy community and academics have clear up-to-date guidance for best practice. Traditional family history societies may have struggled during ‘lock-down’, but Zoom and similar programs have facilitated innovative group activities and interaction. Small groups of genealogists don’t just share findings but actively research together over zoom, sharing resources and expertise. Discussions abound about how to convert dates and places into engaging personal stories, with participants from around the world bringing new aspects. Digital technologies to present and illustrate our findings proliferate.

So, taking a step back, how do we acquire ‘expertise’? How does one assess achievement or ‘level’ in genealogy?  By the earliest ancestor we can identify, numbers on your tree, or numbers reading your FH blog? Not really.

Percentage of ancestors identified in each generation is a possible progress tool. I started 2022 with 3 unknown Great Great Grandparents and rapidly diminishing numbers in earlier generations.  Revisiting the research, with the ever expanding online sources and increased experience, improved my findings.

Genealogy ‘Score’ by generation (2022) :

Parents 2/2 or 100%
Grandparents 4/4 or 100%
Great Grandparents 7/8 or 87.5%
2x Gt Grandparents 14/16 or 87.5%
3xGt Grandparents 15/32 or 46.8%

Ancestry has a simple self-assessment tool, hinting at the value of time spent:  

Ancestry Website Profile – A self-assessment tool

(Accessed August 2022, *my profile)

Family History Level
Advanced Professional Genealogist

How Often?
*Almost every day
Once a week
Once a month
Twice a year
Once a year

Researching since Year (*2013)

For many sports and hobbies it is the number of hours spent training, practising, learning the art which really counts (10,000 hours perhaps).  Acquiring different skills and knowledge of a wide variety of aspects. External assessment through a recognised qualification denotes time applied to achieving standards and learning as well as summative assessment. The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies @IHGS Correspondence Course in its initial assignment combines many of the above ideas. Consideration of numbers found (fourth generation back) with evidence of research skills before and after civil registration, use and citation of sources, alongside student reflection on the process, to establish a student’s understanding.  The on-going course then seeks to expand knowledge and skills across a wide range of areas with assignments and exams to prove individual achievement.

DNA analysis has a huge learning curve of its own. Many of us struggle to get to grips with our ‘matches’. Courses, lectures and Facebook help groups abound, including the aptly named DNA Bootcamp! Family tree preparation recommended for DNA purposes by @GenealogyLass Michelle Leonard would include building forward all collateral lines. Such a checklist would ask:

DNA Progress Checklist
Have I traced my grandparents, their siblings and descendants? 
Have I traced my great grandparents their siblings and descendants?
Have I traced my 2x great grandparents their siblings and descendants?

Any assessment includes reflection, identification of weaknesses and areas for improvement.  My research in physical archives is limited, just three half days spent in one archive, practical experience of physical research lags somewhat behind my theoretical knowledge gained through multiple Zoom lectures online and a range of @PharosTutors Online courses. I easily succumb to temptations, distracted by ‘bright shiny objects’ and of course rapid access to multiple records online invites haste and failure to cite sources. I love to start projects… too many on the go not finished. My organisational skills, knowledge and use of research plans, and therefore records of research undertaken, both positive and negative, is limited.  For each research question (and ‘project’) the ideal would include:

————————————— 5  Thorough & Clear Write Up——–

——————————- 4  Citation of all Sources———————–

———————- 3  Conflicts Resolved————————————-

————–2  Analysis & Correlation—————————————–

—–1  Thorough & Exhaustive Research————————————-

Elements of The Genealogical Proof Standard described by Osborn

For many of course our genealogy skills are used is other ways such as volunteering for various projects and societies, a one-name study or one-place study. Findings are shared through books, websites, u-tube or podcasts etc. We can always find further developments to explore in our genealogical journey.


Lots of progress in 2022 but … Plenty of room for ‘improvement’ in 2023!

I do not view genealogy as primarily a solo activity. As an apprentice family historian, I have greatly enjoyed the company of genealogists and aspiring genealogists along the way, and look forward to meeting many more “travellers  on  the  educational route  to  becoming  historians” in coming years.


Tracing Your Ancestors using DNA A Guide for Family Historians 2019 Ed. Graham S. Holton Pen & Sword Family History, Barnsley p1

GENEALOGY STANDARDS 2nd edition Board for Certification of Genealogists 2021: “The Genealogical Proof Standard requires researchers to consider all relevant evidence.  Such consideration includes DNA evidence” Introduction to 2nd Edition page xiv. 

Janet Few ‘The Family History Revolution’ Article in Family Tree magazine Feb 2023 warners Group Publications

Example of podcast describing collaborating in research over Zoom for Few Forgotten Women project

Example of story writing group Natalie Pithers Curious Descendants.

The 10,000 hour rule

 LEONARD Michelle 2022 DNA Workbook and DNA Bootcamp in conjunction with Family Tree

 Osborn, Helen, Genealogy Essential Research Methods.  2017.  Robert Hale. Page 244

Becoming a Historian  An Informal Guide. Penelope J. Corfield & Tim Hitchcock  LONDON INSTITUTE OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH UNIVERSITY OF LONDON PRESS 2022

A Few Forgotten Women

First a confession. This post has nothing to do with Sticklepath, though I am looking out for Forgotten Women of Sticklepath! I am one of a group of ladies (“A Few Good Women”!) who have been meeting over Zoom during lockdown and beyond. We have covered a range of topics, from our Grandmothers, to investigating ‘lost’ photographs (acquired from eBay or antique stalls) and discussions of our family heirlooms. Our discussions included how difficult it is to investigate women, who often left far fewer records than men. One thing led to another… Together in early December 2022 we launched a website to showcase ‘a few forgotten women’.

We have investigated one or two women together as a group, and have more such sessions planned. We each subscribe to different sites, and think of different ways to approach the research, bringing a more rounded picture. Plus it is fun! IF you get the chance to join a small group of like-minded genies to share findings, research together, and chat please do. Perhaps you would like to start such a group with a few friends? That is a good New Year’s Resolution in the making!

My first story has been added to the website today, all about Betty Kershaw. Betty had chronic epilepsy. Women with disabilities are often hidden in the records. However Betty was the victim of domestic abuse and hence there are newspaper reports of the coroner’s inquest and subsequent criminal trials from which we find out about Betty. The first half of her story is about the 45 happy years she spent with her family. You can stop there if you wish. It certainly seems rather ironic that we wouldn’t have known about this simple soul in such detail if there had not been an inquest.

There are a number of interesting biographies already on the website and many more to come in 2023. There is also an interesting timeline of laws and events affecting women. Do have a look, explore the website and follow us on Facebook so you know when the next ‘no longer forgotten’ woman’s story is added.

Best wishes for the New Year and a Happy and Healthy 2023!