Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Catch Up

Normally I would blog on Tuesdays, since it is one of my not-work days. However yesterday I got caught up in my enthusiasm for genealogy.

A while back my hard drive failed. At least I got a great new computer out of it. But unfortunately I found that my latest back up wasn't very "late". I painstakingly restored all my family history files, but one got missed. So yesterday I went back to some of the web sites where I had found information, and started to recreate the file. By looking at everything with a fresh eye, I was also able to find some new relatives.

Newcomers to genealogy often post messages on the message boards and e-mail lists that go something like this: "My greatgreatgrandfather had twelve children, and just one of them - my greatgrandfather - has several hundred descendants, so there must be thousands more out there, descended from the other eleven children".

Well no, actually. Unfortunately if that were true there would be standing room only on the planet. I read just the other day that the average life expectancy in Scotland in 1860 was around forty years. Even though I know that a lot of people died in childhood, or childless in early adulthood, it still amazes me sometimes when I try and trace large families, only to find that not one of them had children. Some commentators deplore the declining rate of marriage and childbearing (below replacement rates), but they are not going back more than fifty years or so in their comparisons. In the past large groups of unmarried brothers and sisters ran farms together, or the unmarried daughters took teaching jobs and stayed home with their parents, or children died of diseases like measles and whooping cough. In one family that I found with seven children, six of them died before the age of five years old - the other one did grow up to adulthood.

At some stage I'd love to do a study comparing birth and death rates in Scotland, New Zealand, and some of the other countries that the Scots emigrated to, around the late 1800s. I have a feeling the death rate at least was lower in the colonies, perhaps due to cleaner air or less overcrowding.

Despite all this, I am always hopeful of finding new relatives. So I took the time to enter a bunch of the people I had found onto the Lost Cousins website. This is a brilliant concept - one enters the details for any relatives from the 1881 census. There are other genealogy sites where you can look for contacts - one of these keeps claiming they have found new matches for me, and yet all I registered was my maiden name. These people are supposedly related to me because somewhere in their tree they have someone with the same name. Well, my name is not quite as common as Mary Smith, but almost. The Lost Cousins concept means that if they find a match, it is pretty well guaranteed to be someone who is genuinely researching the same families as you are. Even though my ancestors had mostly left Scotland by 1881, I am able to find their relatives who stayed behind, and enter those. And every time they double their membership, the chances of a match increase fourfold, hence this plug for the site. Sadly, I didn't find any new matches yesterday, but I am always hopeful.

I've actually written two posts today, so check out my haiku for "one deep breath" in the post below (still on the genealogy bandwagon).


Star said...

Hi Catherine. Michele sent me. You have certainly invested lots of time and patience into this endeavour.

carmilevy said...

I admire your dedication to this effort. What you've learned in the process will benefit you and your entire family. You've inspired me to look into my own family's history.


Michele says hi, BTW!