The Christmas season and the beginning of a new year is a time of celebration and reflection. It is a good moment to stop in your tracks, take a step back, and think of all the marvellous discoveries you have made throughout the year which is about to end. 2016 will, no doubt, be looked upon not just by us but by historians as a very eventful, if not tumultuous year. Whether you are reading this in the Spain or Syria, the UK or the USA, you will know what I mean.
But what has 2016 taught you, as a family historian and genealogy researcher? What brick walls have you managed to overcome? Which new mysteries have you come across? Which new online collections have made your research easier? How many relatives have you managed to contact throughout this past year?
My own 2016 began reflecting on my great-grandparents’ life as immigrants (or emigrants, depending which point of view you take) in early 20th-century New York. Having abandoned their respective hometowns in Italy, both my great-grandfather Giacomo and his wife-to-be Giovanna made the crossing to America in just over a week. I was (very pleasantly) informed by a fellow researcher with an interest in the same region in Piedmont that FamilySearch has a great collection of civil registration papers covering four decades, from 1866 to 1910. This includes images of original birth, marriage and death certificates, as well as citizenship applications and marriage banns. Needless to say my findings allowed not just to find collateral branches via brothers and sisters of my long-forgotten ancestors, but also to go back up to four generations thanks to the information contained therein.
In April I took part in my first-ever Who Do You Think You Are? Live exhibition – and boy, what a productive day I spent in Birmingham! Not only did I meet fascinating people (some of whom gave me great tips and advice on how to go about my own personal research) but I also purchased a truckload of material which has helped me in my research ever since: maps of areas where my ancestors lived, CDs containing marriage transcripts from Herefordshire all the way back to the 1500’s… That same month I also wrote a history about the house where my grandmother was born and raised. I was fortunate enough to visit the place later in October, and the present owner (who is not related to my family) very kindly allowed us to visit the lovely home which once belonged to my lot.
By June I took my genealogical research to the next level by ordering an AncestryDNA test for myself, my Mum and my Dad (oh and my partner to whom I can now safely say I am not closely related to). It was a fabulous experience, not just learning about my genetic makeup, but also being able to find possible DNA matches from all corners of the earth. Since then, alas, I have only established one definitive link with a fellow Ancestry user (a lady who is descended from a brother of my great-great-great-grandmother, and who was adopted when she was a baby), but I have been trying to find the link between myself and other purported genetic matches, which is obviously keeping me very busy!
In light of the numerous requests I often received from blog readers, I decided in August to write a few guidelines and tips on how to order a birth certificate in Spain. I gather it has been a rather successful blog post, since several users contacted me to say they had received the document!
By September I was starting to give up on any new discoveries, or indeed breaking down brick walls. In spite of this, I decided to order a few certificates from the church archives in Italy where my ancestors come from, and to my great surprise (and satisfaction) I realised that a certificate of death I had found years ago was in fact that of one of my most remote, direct ancestors! Just shows you – never give up, and never discard a finding, as it may come in handy one day!
My year could not be complete without mentioning the breakthrough I had in November. You may recall how I have been looking for the origins of my 3x great-grandmother Ann, whose details I took from a transcription someone volunteered some ten years ago… And much to my dismay during all that time, I was barking up the wrong tree. I eventually found out I had been looking for the wrong person (or the wrong surname), hence my frustration. Now I have managed to climb up the family tree successfully several generations!
Now I start planning, daydreaming and fantasising about what wonderful discoveries I will make in 2017!
Wishing you all the best in your hopefully successful research for the new year. Merry Christmas!