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

Miss E. A. Seward – A valuable obituary?

Elizabeth Ann Seward is not a direct ancestor of anyone. She never married. Yet we can learn so much diverse information from the newspaper report of her funeral, a transcription of which you can find below.

She was well respected, and at the grand old age of 87 years, many attended her funeral. Nowadays, sadly, many of us will spend our last months in a care facility, often many miles from our friends, associates and neighbours (FANS). Perhaps by virtue of being ‘out of sight’, and perhaps because those FANS don’t know about the funeral until too late, perhaps because families are much more spread out geographically and tend to be smaller, funerals may be poorly attended. Covid of course adds another level to that, with many social activities being curtailed, and numbers attending funerals restricted in recent times.

The newspaper gives useful genealogical details including her full name, age, address, and a number of relationships such as nieces and nephews. Often, particularly for men, occupation is included. In fact we learn here that her cousin John was church warden for many years.

Hints at character are often included – ‘A prominent member of the Women’s Institute’ (WI) she was ‘closely associated with the social activity of the village’ somehow implies lady-like activities, not that she was down the pub every evening or a loose woman!

Church was clearly important, to her cousin if not Miss Seward herself, since she donated a stained-glass church window in his honour.

I was aware of the WI, though we now know it was already going strong in the village in 1939. However, I learn of the ‘Belstone, Sticklepath and Sampford Courtenay Nursing Association’, of which she was President for many years. Their floral tribute tells of her ‘generosity and kindness’ to the nurses and association. We also find the secretary is called Miss Reynolds. Further research shows 156 donors to the association and that Albany Finch took over as the President (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 04 August 1939).

I spot another floral tribute was sent by my great grandmother, widow of an Ag Lab, and wonder what the connection there was. Perhaps consider which of your ancestors was a contemporary too.

There is mention of the vicar being Rector of ‘Belstone with Sticklepath’, which might alert us to the fact that responsibility for the Sticklepath residents was passed from one vicar to another in different parishes over time.

There is also a hint about funerary customs – the bearers are listed, which is not surprising, but mention is also made of ‘A number of neighbours’ who ‘acted as relief bearers’. The coffin must have been carried a reasonable distance to require one or more teams of relief bearers. Her house, Sunnyside, pictured above, lies about mid-way between the church and cemetery, which are about 100 yards apart. Even a fairly wealthy woman was carried then, not taken by hearse.

My point? It is worth reading about funerals and other events taking place where your relatives lived, even if they were not themselves present. You may just pick up something that helps to put their life in context. Like any source, information should be confirmed where possible and often many new research questions arise – why, for instance, did she come to the village as a child? Where did her money come from to allow such generosity? Who benefitted after her death?

(Although I have used the tribute below, a fuller account can be found on her memorial on Findagrave using the Western Times 3 February 1939 report).

Western Morning News – Tuesday 31 January 1939 accessed via

STICKLEPATH FUNERAL Last Tributes To Miss E. A. Seward.

Many mourners attended the funeral at Sticklepath Church yesterday of Miss Elizabeth Ann Seward, of Sunnyside. Sticklepath, aged 87. Miss Seward went to Sticklepath to live in her early childhood, and during her life had been closely associated with the social activity of the village. She was president for many years of the Belstone, Sticklepath, and Sampford Courtenay Nursing Association, and a prominent member of the Women’s Institute. Some time ago she was the donor of a stained-glass window to Sticklepath Church, in memory of Mr. John Cook, her cousin, who was a churchwarden for many years.

The service was conducted by Rev. C. Lister James (rector of Belstone-with-Sticklepath). Family mourners were Miss B. W. Seward and Miss M. W. Seward, nieces; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Tucker (Crook-Burnell), Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Hawkins (Waterslade), Misses Ada and Elsie Colwill (Hatherleigh), and Mr. Ashley Hopper (North Tawton). Mr. Frank Seward (nephew) was unable to attend.

Bearers were Messrs. J. Cooper, G. Brooks, J. Newcombe. A. Bowden. T. Holman, and G. W. Hellier. A number of neighbours acted as relief bearers.

THE MOURNERS. Among the mourners were Com G. Aldwell R.N., Mr J J. Newcombe (clerk to Okehampton Town Council) and Mrs. B. B. Newcombe (Okehampton). Messrs. C. Counter. Wright, Sleeman. J Cook. Harvey. Bowden. Wonnacott. Brook, R. Finch. E. Heggador,. C. Bowden. J. Newcombe, E. Hull. R. Bennett. A. Hopper. F Richards and A. G. French Mesdames E. C. Maynard. E. Heggarion, Simpson-Grey. M A Bowden. E. Tucker, F. Wonnacott. Cooke. Lethbridge, E Bowden. E Tucker. A. Bowden. S. Bowden. Jones E. Jones. Mr. and Mrs A. J Crews (Plymouth), ard Mrs. S. Yeo, Mr. and Mrs. F Fielder. Misses Alder Brown, Stewart. Mesney. E. Ireson. Warn. H. Heggadon. E. Cobbledick. Reynolds (secretary of the District Nursing Association). Littlejohns. and Nurse Gator.

Floral tributes were sent by Frank and May, Bessie and Mary; Margaret and Cary: Annie: Mrs Sloman and Miss Hockaday (Honeychurch); Mrs. Minnie Tucker and Lena (Mitcham. Surrey); Mrs M A. Bowden; Miss A. C. Watson (Plymouth); Dr. and Mrs Maynard: Elderton ar.d Miss Stewart: Mrs and Miss Miss A. C. Hastie, Mr. and Mrs Freeman (Berryfield. Mrs. and the Misses Colwill Hatherleigh; Mr and Mrs. Edgar Hawkins (Waterslade). Com. and Mrs Metherell (New Milton): Miss Reynolds: “In grateful memory of much generosity and kindness to the Nursing Association”: members of the Women’s Institute.

The trouble I’m having with Auntie Kate…

Many of you will have met Auntie Kate before. But for those who haven’t Auntie Kate, Kezia Ching, was born in 1860 and lived to the ripe old age of 73. She had two husbands and both of them had more than one wife! She never had children herself, but became step-mother to my grandmother Muriel when Kate’s sister Georgina died. She collected many items which are much prized by family historians such as myself.

Now Auntie Kate has a new lease of life as she has become my alter ego. So I will be taking her along to the FREE #HistoryForUkraine event. This 24 hour history and genealogy event has been organised by Natalie Pithers @geneastories and a great many friends and colleagues. 47 world renowned history and genealogy speakers plus Auntie Kate will be online to entertain you from lunch time Saturday (GMT) all the way through to lunch time on Sunday (BST). Do read more here and consider donating through the JustGiving page to the Red Cross Ukraine appeal.

So what is this trouble? Well, the first thing was she wanted a new hat for the occasion. Then she wanted more flowers to decorate it. Happily it does just fit…

Now I am having real trouble keeping her to time. Like many Devon women of a certain era she can talk the hind leg off the proverbial donkey. I have told her 20 minutes is the absolute limit, and that includes getting the technology to behave! Fortunately it is at 6am and she perhaps will not be into full flow at that time in the morning, although being brought up on a farm she is no stranger to early mornings.

She is getting quite excited: “But I can tell ‘ee all ’bout my family and livin’ in Sticklepath – a whole lifetime or more!” Oh dear, I will have to keep her on a tight rein and not let her get too excited or that Devon accent gets too strong! Then again she has her moments of nerves too and has to be calmed down.

Feel free to join us, or if you are enjoying your sleep at that time, recordings will be available for up to 48 hours. A huge range of topics and speakers, do find time to come along to some of it.