Note from Jean: Today's interview is with our sponsor Anne Sherman from Leaves Family History Research Services. I talked with Anne about her business and her recommendations for family historians.
Jean: Anne, your business – Leaves Family History Research Services – is an interesting one. It is unique in that you are located outside the US (where most of our readers and listeners reside) and you offer look-ups in your country. This is an exciting option for many of us with British roots. What are the most common types of documents requested?
|Anne Sherman. Used with permission.|
Anne: The look-ups I offer cover East Riding of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and mainly 18th and 19th century parish registers entries. This is generally because the client has exhausted online records.
The earliest research I have been asked for was for a family who migrated on the Mayflower and was thought to have come from Lincolnshire. This was a very difficult task as there was no certainty about the parish the family came from, and because of the poor quality records and the lack of detail they contain.
Jean: Of course I read, on your website, about your education. You have a postgraduate diploma in Genealogical, Palaeographic, and Heraldic Studies. Can you tell us what that is and maybe the titles of a few courses that earned you such a unique degree?
Anne: This was a 2 year course, although I had to do an additional year as preparation beforehand, making it three in total. Although the course is part time they still recommend you study for 20-25 hours per week.
The first year (certificate course) had twelve modules covering research practices, recording and referencing, all the different records genealogists use, the history of those resources, overseas records, social history (including currency, calendar changes, maps and local government structures in the UK) DNA, paleography (old handwriting), Latin, Heraldry and medieval genealogy.
The 2nd year (diploma course) was even busier and covered most of the above in greater depth, and including research projects on: a local area, a house history, migration study, a family history study, a paleography project and finishing off with a dissertation. My dissertation was on the Early Victorian Deaf and Dumb in East Yorkshire, and this is being published as an article in the March issue of the Your Family History magazine.
There was an option to do a further year to gain a Masters (MSc), but I have decided to take a sabbatical first, and concentrate on my business.
Jean: I think what adds to the uniqueness of your business is that you not only offer your research services, but you present people with an opportunity to learn how to do it for themselves. With courses and coaching sessions, your commitment to helping people find their roots is wonderful. Tell us more about these services.
Anne: As a qualified adult education tutor I started to teach family history courses at my local college before I started my business, so it seemed natural to include the teaching and coaching as part of my services.
I have found that those interested in family history fall into two categories – those who want to do the research themselves, and those who would prefer someone else to do it for them, usually because of time constraints. As funding for such courses in the community dried up, I decided to create the same classes as an online course.
This is a six module course covering the basics, and some more advanced elements of family history research in England and Wales (Irish and Scottish genealogy is very different). The course is not just handouts and written notes, but includes mini assignments, which help the student to understand and use the resources being discussed, and the chance to research their own family history as the course progresses, under my guidance. I am also available to answer any questions the student may have. The course only uses free websites, although I discuss the other options, so there are no extra financial burdens. The whole course can be done in 6/7 weeks or as long as the student needs.
The coaching option is aimed at those who have already started their research but have got stuck on some aspect. This could be on an area they do not understand, or because they have hit the proverbial brick wall. I will look at the research they have gathered and point them in the right direction. This is charged on an hourly rate, so how much they spend is up to them. If they are local to me I will meet them in a library or archive office, otherwise it can be done via email or on the telephone.
I did have a client who used the coaching service to help her get started as she was too busy to do the course.
Jean: So you have working with people of all ages and experience levels. What is the difference between a younger and an older beginning researcher? Do you find assumptions being made about Internet findings, DNA, expenditure of time, etc. more by one group than the other?
Anne: My students have ranged in age from 14 years old (which was heart lifting) to a lady in her nineties. The older students nearly all had made the decision to do the research once they had retired and then regretted not doing the research earlier when they had relatives to talk to about the family history. However the younger students may not know their grandparents or great-grandparents, and as it is harder to research more recent history, they generally have to purchase birth or marriage certificates to get them started.
Whilst the older students understand many aspects of our social history, some of the younger ones struggle to see how life has changed over time and so not understanding the problems their ancestors’ faced, such as the difficulty of getting a divorce before World War II, the stigma of illegitimacy and that £50 was once a huge amount of money.
The things both age groups have in common is their belief that everything is on the internet, and if Great Aunt Sally said this happened then it must have.
In general though they are all very open minded, willing to learn and get very excited once they have made a family connection.
Jean: What do you find is the most common things people do WRONG when they first start to research their family tree?
Anne: The major issue that most amateur researchers do wrong is not properly recording their findings. Very few actually record WHERE they found the information (i.e. the record type, location of the record, or even if it was just from Aunt Sally). They take brief notes rather than fully transcribe the record, and so can miss vital information needed for a later stage. It seems that this important part of the research process is lost in the euphoria of finding information. One client had looked in the same parish register 5 times over 2 months because he had not written down everyone with the same (unusual) surname, only to find they were siblings and direct ancestors.
Online trees also cause another problem as people are happy to merge information with their trees without checking it. I have seen several online trees where a deceased family member has miraculously remarried and had children after their death.
(See my blog on the retirement of Family Tree Maker ).
The next most common mistake is assuming that everything is online, and sometimes all on one well- known website, therefore if the nearest record to the one they are looking for is 10 years earlier and 50 miles away, then this MUST be the correct record. You may be surprised how often I come across this, and no-one likes their research criticized.
Sadly programs such as Who Do You Think You Are? suggest to some people that researching family history only takes a couple of months at the most. One student was shocked when I said I have been researching mine for over 20 years, she thought she would learn everything about the subject in one session – despite it being advertised as a 6 week beginners course. I did not see her again.
Jean: Any other words of wisdom?
Anne: Learn about the records you need to use. Find out what information they contain and why information may be missing. One client thought his ancestor must have died before a certain census was conducted because he could not find him on it – when in fact the census pages for the village the ancestor lived in had been lost – therefore he would not appear on it. I was asked to find his death record, but I found him on the next census 10 years later alive and well.
Do not assume that the information on records has always been the same, or will be the same in different countries. The information in parish registers has changed over time in England and Wales, and differs from the parish records in Ireland and Scotland. In addition, civil registration started at different times in different countries. Newspaper obituaries are another issue. In England we rarely have the same style of obituaries other countries such as America may have. Instead we have a very basic death notice with little or no family information listed.
Lastly, do not just stick to online resources. These account for less than 1% of records held by archives and local history libraries. These centres not only hold a vast amount of records, but their staff are very informative and helpful.
If in doubt always ask a professional.
Jean: Thanks Anne!
--Jean Wilcox Hibben