• 52 Ancestors 2022, week 1: Foundations
A grey school exercise book, labelled with my name and "Family Tree Notes"

Over on Twitter I recently spotted the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. It's a series of prompts designed to get people talking about their family history.

Much too often, so much hard work goes in to making discoveries and uncovering stories, only for those stories to then go hidden away, untold.

You only have to look around my so-called blog to realise I don't post much. Hopefully #52Ancestors will be the weekly push I need to do just that.

Week 1's prompt is Foundations, so I'd like to talk about how my interest in my family history all started.

So, what got me interested in family history?

I don't quite remember the exact starting point, I think it may have been something in school, but I was around the age of 8.

My mum was always interested in her ancestry, being of Scottish descent, but born and bred in rural Berkshire, as was her father. I recently found an old school exercise book where she had listed names and birthdays of her immediate family as a starting point for research.

Another page is headed 'places to look' and lists five names along with possible relationships and churchyards. Most of the rest of the book is blank, with the exception of a 'rough family tree' sketched out on the last page. It shows my maternal grandparents, my mum, dad, uncles, aunts, and cousins. 

It's fair to say it wasn't the most insightful of family histories, but it was my starting point for my maternal line.

PageIt was about this time I was also given a photocopy of my g-g-grandmother's will (right). It's two handwritten pages that appoint my great-grandfather as executor, and lists her sons and the possessions they, their wives, and daughters were to receive. There's also a line that has been a family mystery ever since, but that's going to be a story for another time.

Even back then I made use of software to keep track of my ancestors. I don't remember the name of the software I used but it was running on my Amiga 500, and then A1200. I kept printouts of family record sheets in a red ring binder, which I remember showing off at a cub scout meeting once.

Sadly, I don't know where that ring binder is nowadays, but the A1200 proudly sits on my personal display of retro tech. It's not been booted up in over 20 years but, one day, I'm sure I'll be giving it a service and powering it up once again. Who knows, I may even find those original files.

What about now?

When I transferred from using my Amiga to Windows, those family record sheets were the basis for moving everything over to a PC-based system. It's very possible that once everything was moved over, I actually binned those original printouts.

I can't remember what Windows software I used to use, but nowadays everything is kept in an old version (v4.1.3 from 2010!) of Calico Pie's Family Historian, backed up (and kinda portable) through Dropbox. I've never updated the software further since then because, hey, it still works and does everything I want it to. I now have 2,016 individuals in 571 family groups in the database. I also keep a couple of trees in Ancestry just for research and hints purposes.

Amongst the surnames I research are Hearn, Galbraith, Liddiard, Whipp, Judge, and Allen. I'd love to uncover some amazing story. I have one or two smaller stories and interesting people, but I really would love to break away from the seemingly endless agricultural labourers!

I'm sure everybody's family history research has a couple of errors and I'm no exception. Where something doesn't quite make sense, or there's something I'm not quite sure about, I'll just flag it for a little more in-depth research later. I see there's a prompt called Mistake in June, so I might look into the errors and oversights I've made during my research then.

What can you expect from my 52 Ancestors this year?

The prompts in this year's 52 Ancestors look pretty interesting, although I'm not entirely sure right now what I'll be writing about for each one. I've definitely got a story about making connections with my grandfather's cousin who we had no idea existed, a missing person, a couple of potential low-level criminals, a law keeper, and a little spooky story.

Writing each week may even push me in to even more research, rather than my usual thing of having my interest piqued when Who Do You Think You Are? returns to the TV!

And, if I don't keep up with it - I'm sorry! If I do, I hope you enjoy the stories and the little insights into my family history over the year.