Who Do I Think I Am?

If you are reading my blog it is likely that you have an interest in family history. Maybe you have been researching for a long time or perhaps you have landed here via a Google search of a family name. I’ve been researching for a few years now and I am sometimes asked what prompted me to start.

It’s not an unusual story. I had a level of curiosity about my roots but had no real idea of where to start. I watched the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are” and wished that someone would present me with my story just like they do in the show. I wondered what kind of stories they would turn up. Obviously nobody was going to do it for me so I decided to try for myself.

Start with what you know. That’s the advice given to anyone starting out on their genealogy journey and it is good advice. I didn’t really know anything. My maternal grandfather was born in Newmains, Lanarkshire and had a few siblings whose names I didn’t know. My maternal grandmother was born in Glasgow but with an Irish connection. My maternal side is Catholic. I knew the names of my paternal grandparents and that’s it. My paternal side is Protestant. One interesting story I’d heard was that my maternal grandfather’s parents were married in Pennsylvania, USA but I didn’t know why.

My mum was able to fill in a few of the blanks in relation to her parents, aunts and uncles and a wee bit about her grandparents. My father and his only sibling died a long time before I started researching so I had no one to ask about that side. I hear so often family historians say that they wish they had thought to ask the older generation more but missed their chance. A search of some old paperwork at my mum’s uncovered the marriage record of my paternal grandparents giving me the names of their parents. An important step.

My paternal grandparents, Margaret and Archie.
My maternal grandparents, Catherine and Hugh

What did I hope to find? Initially I just wanted to know the names of my ancestors going back a few generations and where they originally came from. I wanted to know more about the Irish connection. I liked the idea of Irish roots which is lucky as things turned out.

I got started with a 14 day free trial with Ancestry. I added my parents, grandparents and great grandparents. If you use one of these sites you will know that when you start you can be bombarded with “hints” relating to your family tree. And hints is what they are. Suggestions that you have to research further before you decide whether or not they really do link to your family. On my maternal side there were a few family trees already there. It can be tempting to take these trees as fact but do take your time and assess all the information. You’ll soon realise there are a lot of mistakes on Ancestry family trees. Research is a big part of my job so I knew to proceed with caution.

It soon became apparent that if I wanted all the records I would need to take me back in time I would have to spend some money. The free trial became a paid subscription. I discovered the Scotland’s People site where all the birth, marriage and death records for Scotland can be viewed for a fee. I’ve spent a LOT on that site.

I grew up in the village where my maternal great grandparents had lived and attended Mass at the same parish they had. Church records are an invaluable source of information and I was very fortunate to be given access to the parish records. I spent a happy day going through the records and scanning and noting as much information as possible.

I found out that the Lanarkshire Heritage Centre held not only the local cemetery records but also the Poor Law records. I’ve found more family members in those volumes than I would’ve liked. A lot of sad stories.

The Scotland’s People Centre at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow let’s you have unlimited access to the records for a whole day for a small fee. The Mitchell also holds Poorhouse and hospital records as well as old newspapers, electoral rolls and a whole load more. It’s a fabulous place. You can really make a day of it. They even do a lovely scone in the cafe!

I mention these places to show that it is not all online research. If you can it’s great to get out and about and walk in the footsteps of your ancestors. Easy for me to say since I’ve found a lot within a fairly short distance. I never thought I’d hang about cemeteries but there you go. Talking of cemeteries, I passed Cambusnethan cemetery a million times without knowing I have family on both sides of the family going back generations who were laid to rest there.

So what have I found? Well, there’s no fortune or fame. There are no links to nobility (fine by me) but there are lots of moving and inspiring stories. There is poverty and hardship. So much poverty and hardship! I have genuinely been moved to tears by some of the stories but there have been laughs along the way too. I’ve discovered that you will never be done with your family history research. There will always be more to discover.

As for the Irish connection, it turns out I’m more Irish than Scottish. My maternal side is completely Irish with some Irish in my dad’s side too. I’m happy with that.

DNA has opened up a few new avenues for research and helped me break down a couple of the dreaded brick walls. It’s a great tool and I’m hoping for a few more matches as time goes on.

One thing I didn’t expect when I started my research was that I would find new family around the world. It’s so nice to hear from those distant cousins who have stumbled across my blog or Facebook or who have made the link through DNA.

You’ll find a load of stories already on my blog and I intend to add more this year. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to comment or get in touch. And if you’re just starting out on the quest I wish you all the very best.

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