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Gordon Johnson

Gordon Johnson Index Page

 Family History

by Gordon Johnson

In the Good Old Days of genealogy, everything was on paper, either as manuscript (i.e. hand-written) or printed (either with a typewriter, or professionally printed as in books , magazines and newspapers). Nowadays, everything has changed, and we need to go high-tech. The most simple and obvious of todays media is the Internet. Accessed by computer, you can do a search on a personal name or a placename, and get hundreds of "hits"(results listed on the screen), from which you select the one of most interest, and click on it with your mouse. The website page then appears on your screen. Often the results include absolute rubbish, such as when the search term you use has another meaning either in English or a foreign language. Learn to ignore them! 

Points to note about websites:

1. There is no quality control in the Internet, so anyone can put anything on their own website: result: Many errors in websites, either because the compiler made wrong assumptions, or did not bother to get back to the original source, or simply copied someone else's work without checking it. DO NOT TRUST WEBSITES, even official ones.

2. Any search website for genealogy which mentions 1837 as a start date is ENGLISH and NOT SCOTTISH; Scottish civil registration started in 1855. Beware sites which don't specifically refer to Scotland in their title, as they will probably be either English or American.

3. Many people using the Internet have very little knowledge of Scottish sources, and so readily make mistakes. Remember that on-line genealogy indexes are NOT complete, as the pre-1855 material is based on Church of Scotland registers which are not in themselves complete, and the registers of other church denominations are not covered by the indexes. In 1843 the Free Church was formed, and almost half the population joined them, so that while you will find marriages for many couples (The law required banns to be called in Church of Scotland parish churches), their children were mostly baptised in the Free Church and so missing from the indexes. HINT: check the 1851 and 1861 censuses for these children. Other families were either Roman Catholic, Quaker, Congregational, Baptist, etc.- all missing from the indexes until 1855.

4. Use specialised websites to do Scottish searches:
National Archives of Scotland http://www.nas.gov.uk ;
National Library of Scotland http://main-cat.nls.uk
Scotlandspeople for civil registration plus wills/testamentsandinventories http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
Free census records http://freecen.rootsweb.com 

Other media includes sound recordings, videos/cds, and cd-roms. cd-roms are becoming common with copies of original documentation on them. Examine them carefully if possible before buying, as some are more difficult to read/use than others.

One series I can recommend is that of ArchiveCDBooks - you can find them on the Internet. Their quality is very high, prices low, and they have established what are effectively branches in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and are now producing CD-roms of records in these countries.

There are many genealogy software programs nowadays for inputting your own family, and fortunately most are very good now, but I advise you to ask other people who have genealogy databases what they think of the one they use. Older versions are unable to add photographs or videos or sound clips. When you use American software, change the date format from American to European, with the month in the middle using three letters. American dates in numerals put the month in front, causing terrible confusion at times (watch out for that in US websites).  Sound recordings are great for keeping a record of how your grandparents spoke, in their local dialect or in Gaelic, or simply their brand of English with local names and pronunciations. Often, local people referred to places in a different way from the official records.

Aberchirder in Aberdeenshire is known to the natives as Fogieloan, a much older local name. Strachan in Kincardineshire is pronounced "Strawn", but as a surname it is spoken "Strach-an". Old folk can tell you lots, so get a recording made, preferably either filmed or video-ed to add vision. Don't forget that sound recordings could be in tape cassette, or reel-to-reel, and films could be in 8mm or super-8, and the oldest might be in 35mm format. Check the Scottish Screen Archive's catalogue: they can transfer material onto video for you.

Lastly, do not forget photos and gramophone records. Many people in the early 1900s were able to make recordings, especially religious or humourous records. I have a pile of records made in the USA by a
Scottish relative who emigrated.

Photographs should be assiduously collected, and captions added to them, for pictures without captions are like ancestors without names: useless. After about 1900, you start finding photographs in newspapers and magazines. Did any of your ancestors do something which merited a picture? Check the local newspaper, or a magazine either local or subject-based.

That's a brief overview of media sources. There's a lot more!