Blog post

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Researching Abroad Roadshow is coming to Canberra

Coming up next month (August 2017) is a fantastic opportunity for Australians with British or European ancestry. I’m talking about Unlock the Past’s ‘Genealogy Roadshow’ on the subject Researching Abroad: Finding British Isles and European Ancestors.

The roadshow features two very well regarded international speakers – Chris Paton from Scotland and Dirk Weissleder from Germany. If you haven’t been to a genealogy event before, this would be a great one to start with.

Researching abroad: 8-26 August. Brisbane, Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth

I’ve followed Chris Paton’s blog for years. When I learned that he was going to be speaking in Canberra, I jumped at the chance to attend. I’ve had this in my calendar since February!

More recently, I signed up as a Roadshow Ambassador. I’m more than happy to support the Roadshow’s success as I would love to see more events like it. Tickets are available on the Unlock the Past site (scroll down to the city list). There’s a small discount for pre-booking, and by pre-booking you’ll also be entered into a rather substantial prize draw of genealogy goodies.

Disclosure: In return for acting as a Roadshow Ambassador I have received free entry to the event.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Visualising Ancestry DNA matches–Part 4-Updating

This is the fourth part of a series about using a free Excel template, NodeXL Basic, to visualise Ancestry DNA match lists. For previous posts, see the index to the series.

So you’ve made a chart and it’s just the way you want it. The next thing you know you have brand new interesting DNA matches and you’re dying to know how they fit in. Once you get used to it, creating a new graph is quite quick and easy. Or…. you could save a little time and upload more information into the same chart.

How new data is treated

Before you load more information into an existing chart it’s useful to understand what will happen.


  • New matches are appended to the end of the Vertices sheet.
  • Data for existing matches is overwritten (where the columns have the same name).
  • Columns that were not present before are added.
  • Columns that were present before that are not re-imported are unaffected. The existing data will still be there. New matches will have no values in that column.
  • Matches who don’t appear in the new data are unaffected – you won’t lose them.


  • All the relationships in the new file will be added to the end of the list on the Edges sheet.
  • This will duplicate existing relationships. Clean up is necessary.

This has some exciting implications for the kinds of things we will be able to do with the charts. I’m dying to get up to the posts where I’ll show them to you! One thing at a time…

Clearing duplicates

To make things easier on your computer, you should clear away duplicate relationship entries (edges) each time you reload data into an existing worksheet:

  • On the NodeXL ribbon select Prepare Data, Count and Merge Duplicate Edgesimage
  • Clear the Count duplicate edges box
  • Tick the Merge duplicate edges box
  • Select Vertex 1 and Vertex 2 as the columns that contain duplicates.
  • Click OK.

If you have a long in-common-with list you should take this step now, even if you haven’t reimported data.

When you first import data, one ‘Vertex’ row is created for each person, and one ‘Edge’ for each relationship. For fourth and closer cousins who match each other, two relationships are recorded: ‘A matches B’ and ‘B matches  A’. Excel’s Remove duplicates button won’t help because it doesn’t recognise these pairs of reciprocal relationships as duplicates. Each duplicated relationship adds a little to the processing load for your computer.

When you clear duplicates, the first duplicate entry starting from the top is kept and any others discarded. Keep this in mind if you use any of the other edge columns – you may want to choose “Vertex 1, Vertex 2 and this column”, or to sort the edges before clean up so that the ones you want to retain are at the top.

Updating data – the process

To update a worksheet with fresh data, use the following steps.

Save a copy first in case something goes wrong.

  1. Import new in-common-with file – see Part 2
  2. Import new match file – see Part 2
  3. Clear duplicates – see above.
  4. Recreate groups – see Part 2
  5. Autofill columns – see Part 3

If the autofill process hasn’t caused your graph to refresh, then Refresh Graph now.

Note: If one or more of your new matches has a very close relationship to you and should be ‘skipped’, add them to the Additional Input file and reload that as well (see Part 2 for a reminder how to load it). Do so any time before step 3 above. Alternatively you can enter ‘Skip’ manually on the Vertices sheet.

Coming up…

I know a lot of people are interested in ways to work with a busy chart – that post will be next, I promise!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Visualising Ancestry DNA matches–Index

This series of posts has proved to be very popular. I will continue to update this index as I publish new posts.

Published posts

Part 1: Getting ready

  • NodeXL
  • DNAGedcom

Part 2: Loading files the first time

  • Additional input file (‘skip’ close relatives)
  • Load in-common-with
  • Load matches
  • Load additional input
  • Identify groups

Part 3: Navigation and presentation

  • Hiding columns
  • Zooming in
  • Changing layouts
  • Dot sizes and labels
  • Scale the features

Part 4: Updating

  • How new data is treated
  • Clearing duplicates
  • Updating – the process

Planned posts

I am planning to write on the following topics in coming weeks (list may be subject to change)

Part 5: Simplifying a busy graph

Part 6: Adding known ancestors

Part 7: Colour coding branches

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Visualising Ancestry DNA matches–First aid for complicated graphs

If you have tried the instructions in this series and found that no matter how carefully you followed the instructions, all you had was a big blob, it’s probably because your very close relatives have tested. Lucky you!

I will be providing a post with ideas to help with complicated charts including those with many family relationships, but in the meantime you can apply some simple first aid.

  • Add an extra line with the ‘Skip’ instruction to the Additional Input file for each parent, child or sibling who has also taken a test.

Post 2 has been updated to reflect this instruction.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Visualising Ancestry DNA matches-Part 3-Navigation and Presentation

This is the third post in a series about Visualising Ancestry DNA Matches. In previous posts we got ready, and loaded the files. In this post I’ll show you how to get around your graph, and provide some options to adjust the appearance of the chart so that it can be more easily understood.

To begin, open up the file you saved at the end of the last post. You won’t see the graph you created.

Don’t Panic.

Click Show Graph and your work will reappear with your last settings intact.



Jump to a person

I suggested previously that you should move back to the Vertices worksheet and try clicking on some dots. If you haven’t done so, try it now. You’ll find that when you click on a dot the appropriate line on the Vertices worksheet is highlighted. If you scroll right on that worksheet you will see the person’s name, kit administrator and shared cM. You will also find that the ‘matchURL’ field contains a clickable hyperlink to your match page with that person. Very handy!

It works the other way as well. If you select a line or lines on the worksheet, the corresponding dot (or dots) will highlight in red. Note: You may have to click a few times to see this. Only a small proportion of all your matches are on the graph as it only displays people who have shared match information.

Hide excess columns

Scrolling to the right every time can be a bit annoying. We can quickly hide some of those excess columns. On the NodeXL Ribbon, click the Workbook Columns button. Here you hide and show the ‘Visual Properties’ and ‘Labels’ columns if you wish.


Take a closer look

The controls that will help you get around the chart itself are at the top of the graph display area.


  • The Arrow button allow you to make selections on the chart.
  • The + and – Magnifying glasses will zoom the image in or out, as will the Zoom slider
  • When you are zoomed in, the Hand button will let you move to different parts of the graph. If you can’t select dots, it’s probably because you’ve left the hand button active.
  • The Scale slider leaves the graph the same size, but will make everything on it (dots, line width, labels) smaller.
  • Notice most buttons have usage tips that will appear when you hover over them.

Have a play with the controls.


NodeXL allows for a lot of customisation. We’re going to give our graphs a makeover! We’re going to try on different layouts, emphasise our closer cousins and accessorise with carefully chosen labels. By the time we’re finished those frumpy scribbles will be elegant figures wearing designer labels.

We’re aiming for before and after shots something like this:



So far we’ve stuck with the default layout algorithm. There are other layouts to choose from. When I first tried NodeXL I was suffering from a bad case of DNA circle envy, so I choose circle layouts. They worked well with small groups of matches. Since then I’ve acquired more matches and have settled on the ‘Harel-Koren Fast Multiscale’ option (used in the ‘after’ image above).

Layout options are available on the graph area toolbar and on the NodeXL Ribbon.


  • Select a layout option from the drop down list.
  • Each time you select a different layout option NodeXL forgets that you want to keep your groups in separate boxes. Remind it by opening up Layout options… (same menu, bottom item). It seems to retain the options you last set, so just click OK.
  • To apply the new layout, click Lay Out Again.

Go ahead and try different layouts out until you find one that works well with your data.

Dot size and labels

I’ve adjusted the dot sizes on my charts to correspond with the sharedCM value – bigger dots are closer cousins. I’ve also applied labels so I can see who is who without moving back to the vertices worksheet. When I hover over a dot, a tooltip appears with whatever note I had entered on the person’s Ancestry match page at the time I downloaded the file.

All this can be done very easily using options found under just one button.

Click the Autofill Columns button on the NodeXL Ribbon.


The dialog below will appear. This dialog will write values in the ‘Visual Properties’ columns and ‘Labels’ column based on the columns you choose.

  • Set Vertex Label to ‘name’
  • Set Vertex Tooltip to ‘note’
  • Set Vertex Size to ‘sharedCM’ – then click on the Options button on the right.


The Vertex Size options let you decide how big or small the dot representing each person should be based on numerical values in the column you select.

The settings shown below worked for well me. You may be quite happy to leave the smallest number as “The smallest number in the column”. I increased the number to 10 so that I could tell the difference between my closer cousins and everyone else more easily. The number 30 worked well for me as the upper limit (anyone with shared CM of 30 or more will be drawn at the maximum size). Experiment and see what works for you.

To get out and apply the settings:

  • Click OK on the ‘Vertex Size Options’ box
  • Click Autofill on the ‘Autofill Columns’ box.
    The information will be written into the appropriate columns and the settings applied immediately.
  • Click Close on the ‘Autofill Columns’ box


Scale the features

By now you should have graphs that look something like this:


It’s a bit cluttered and hard to see what’s going on. Use the Scale slider to adjust the dots and labels to suit the Zoom level you are using.


Here’s a closer look at the same group with a Zoom of 200 and a Scale of 40.


Don’t forget to save!

What can we do with this?

These graphs show DNA matching relationships in the Ancestry DNA data.

  • Each dot represents a person on your DNA match list.
  • The bigger the dot, the more shared DNA they have with you.
  • Each line represents a relationship between two people who are estimated to be fourth cousins or closer to each other (at least one of the two people must be estimated fourth cousin or closer to you).

When we look at it this way, we can see linkages that are not visible on the Ancestry DNA shared match pages. I can think of dozens of scenarios where this sort of information could lead to valuable clues.

For example:

  • On ‘Cousin K’s’ shared match page, I can see ‘Cousin O’ and ‘Cousin I’.
  • I don’t see ‘Cousin S’ or ‘Cousin T’ who are distantly related to me, but more closely related to Cousin K.
  • ‘Cousin S’ is a (estimated) distant relative to me, but must be a fourth cousin or closer to both ‘Cousin K’ and ‘Cousin I’ for the connecting lines to show.

Suppose the key to my connection with fourth Cousins ‘K’ and ‘I’ happens to lie with Cousin ‘S’? If Cousin ‘S’ doesn’t have a public tree linked to their DNA kit no amount of searching for names or places will find them. As I have thousands of DNA matches on Ancestry, I’m unlikely to make my way all the way to their page which will be well back in my results – let alone contact them if I have nothing else to go on.

Whether you’re taking a paper trail or a segment matching approach to your DNA matches, it helps to know which of your thousands of matches might be relevant to a particular problem.

Now that I’ve visualised the relationships this way, I know that Cousin S exists and that it could be worthwhile contacting them.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Visualising Ancestry DNA matches-Part 2-Loading files the first time

This post is part two of a series.

In the first post I showed you the files and software you can use to visualise Ancestry DNA matches. Today we’re going to load  the match and in-common-with files you downloaded using the DNAGedcom client, and have our first look at a graph.

Getting set up and loading the files is not difficult, but there are a lot of steps to follow and details to note. I’ve suggested some check points at which you should save your progress.  If you miss a detail you won’t have to start from the beginning. Just reopen the file and resume from the last save point.

The first time you try this, give yourself at least forty five minutes at a time when you feel ready to concentrate.

It’s much quicker when you get used to it. The entire process described below takes me less than five minutes.

Thank you to my husband and to Aillin O’Brien who tested these instructions and provided invaluable feedback.

An index to this series of posts is available here.

Preparation: Set up a Spreadsheet for Additional Input

There’s one final step of preparation before we load the data.

If we load the information as it is, the chart will show connections between the test taker (I’ll call that person “you”) and every one of their matches. All you will see is a mass of dots. It’s also likely to tie up your computer while it thinks about all those lines it has to draw. I’ve made this mistake more than once... The graph appears eventually, but it isn’t very useful.

This will also occur when a direct line relative who can be expected to share a substantial number of matches with you from across your tree has also tested - a sibling, parent, child or grandchild.

The most efficient way I have found to get around this is to load in a small additional spreadsheet. We can also use the new spreadsheet to add other information, but we’ll get to that later.

  • Open Excel and create a new workbook:  File – New – Blank Workbook.


In the first row of your new workbook, type in the following column headings:

  • matchID
  • Match name
  • Match admin
  • Vertex 2
  • Name
  • Vertex Type
  • Edge Type
  • Visibility
  • Comment


We need to enter one line of information in this table for each person with a large number of matches.

Under matchid you will enter the test ID number that was assigned to that person’s test by Ancestry. For your own test you can the URL when you go to your DNA page on Ancestry. It will look something like this – you need the part marked red:

  • Copy and paste your test ID number under both matchid and Vertex 2. 
  • Type the word “Skip” under Visibility.             <<< Don’t miss this step!

That’s all that’s strictly necessary for it to work, but a little extra information will remind you what this line is for later:

  • Put your name in three columns: Match name, Match admin and Name.
  • comment is for reminders to yourself. Put whatever you like there. I added a short explanatory note about what this line does.


Repeat the process for each close relative (sibling, parent, child or grandchild) who has DNA tested.

This time, use your own id as the matchid, and your close relative’s id as Vertex 2.

If you’re not the administrator for the test, you can find their match ID on your DNA match page. The red part is your ID, and the blue part is your relative.

Alternatively you can look up the match ID numbers in the matches files.

Save the file somewhere you will find it again. I’ll call this file the Additional Input file from now on.

OK, we’re all set. Now we create a NodeXL file and load the information in.

Create a NodeXL Workbook

The method required to use the template may vary with your version of Excel.
I have an Office 365 subscription. I select File New PERSONALNodeXLGraph

If this method doesn’t work for you, try searching for “NodeXL” in the Windows “Search programs and files” field or equivalent on your system, and double click the “NodeXL Template” file returned.


A new spreadsheet will open. It may check for template updates as it opens, and you will need to wait for 20 seconds for the splash screen to close. Once it does, your screen should look something like this:


A new ribbon called NodeXL Basic has appeared. It won’t be there when you open a normal file, it will only appear when you are using the special files created with the template. Click on the new ribbon and take a look. This is where most of the action will take place.


Load your files

Open your match list (m_yourname.csv), in-common-with list (icw_yourname.csv), and additional input file in the normal way then return to the new NodeXL sheet. With each load we have to tell the template which fields in the file hold information about people (‘vertices’) and relationships (‘edges’). I’ll tell you what to put in at each stage.

Important step before loading the first time:

On the NodeXL ribbon, click the Import button. It’s at the far left hand side.


  • Choose Import Options… (the bottom item on the menu).
  • Clear the box next to “Clear the NodeXL workbook before data is imported”. There should be no tick in the box.

Why: Otherwise, no matter how many files you load only the last one loaded will be in the spreadsheet. We need all three files – matches, in-common-with, and additional input – to go in.

Save the file now that you’ve adjusted the setting.

In-common-with file

  • Select Import from the NodeXL ribbon and choose From Open Workbook…image
  • Select the in-common-with file (icw_yourname.csv) in the top box of the dialog that appears
  • Leave “Columns have headers” checked
  • Tick the boxes for “match id” and “icwid” under Is Edge Column. No other boxes should be ticked
  • Confirm that “matchid” is selected in the  “Which edge column is Vertex 1?” dropdown
  • Under “Which edge column is Vertex 2?” choose “icwid”
  • Click import (say OK to the message about text wrapping if you get it.)


Check the import

Navigate to the Edges worksheet using the tabs at the bottom left of the screen.


You should see lots of ID numbers in the “Vertex 1” and “Vertex 2” columns.

The ID numbers will overlap each other and the other columns. That doesn’t matter. You should not see any other data entered in the sheet at this stage.

If the import looks correct, save your progress and carry on.

Matches file

  • Open the import dialog again:
  • Click on the matches file in the top box (m_yourname.csv)
  • Set “testid” and “matchid” as edge columns (tick boxes). No other boxes in that column should be ticked.
  • Under “Is Vertex 2 Property Column” check the boxes for:
    “note” and
    “matchurl”   (you’ll need to scroll all the way to the bottom to find this).
  • Choose “testid” in the dropdown box under “Which edge column is Vertex 1”
  • Choose “matchid” for “Which edge column is Vertex 2”.
  • Click import (say OK to the message about text wrapping if you get it.)


Check the import

Navigate to the Vertices worksheet.


Check that the first column “Vertex 1” contains ID numbers. You should not see any names or other information in that column.

Scroll right and check that the “names”, “admin”, “shared CM”, “note” and “matchurl” columns have appeared and have information in them. You may need to scroll right to see them.


If this looks right, save you progress and continue.

Additional Input file

Important: Don’t forget to load this file!

  • Open the import dialog again
  • Click on the Additional Input file in the top box
  • Set “matchid” and “Vertex 2” as edge columns (no other boxes should be ticked)
  • Scroll down and tick “Name” and “Visibility” under Is Vertex 2 Property Column    <<< Don’t miss this step
  • Choose “matchid” in the dropdown box under “Which edge column is Vertex 1”
  • Choose “Vertex 2” in the dropdown box under “Which edge column is Vertex 2”
  • Click import (and clear the text wrapping message if it appears)


Check the import

Move to the Vertices worksheet again and find the row with your own name (Control-F will bring up a search box).

Confirm that the word “Skip” is in the Visibility column.


If this looks right, save again and move to the next step.

Now make a chart!

Find the toolbar in the chart area, and click Show Graph.

Troubleshooting: If it takes more than a few seconds, there was probably a problem with the additional input file. When Excel has finished drawing thousands of dots, go back and check the Additional Input file instructions again and make sure you’ve loaded it. If it was missing and you’ve fixed it, click Refresh Graph which will have appeared where you found Show Graph before.


Don’t be disappointed if your chart looks like the image below (and it probably will). It will get better with a few tweaks.


Identify groups

On the NodeXL ribbon, find the Groups button. Click it and select “Group by connected component” from the option list.

This option works well for me, but if you have a lot of very interconnected matches you might find that one of the choices under “Group by Cluster” works better.


Refresh Graph will add the newly created grouping information to the chart. Your chart will become more colourful but no more tidy. Just one more step, and you’ll have something more interesting to look at.

Separate groups in the chart

You can access layout options from both the NodeXL Ribbon, and the chart area. Click on the dropdown in either location and select Layout Options from the dropdown menu.


Change the “Layout Style” option to “Lay out each of the graph’s groups in its own box” and click OK.


Click Lay Out Again to apply that change to the chart. You didn’t need to refresh the graph a second time because the data itself didn’t change, only the layout instructions.


This is how mine looks now. Each dot represents a person I have a DNA match with. Each line represents a relationship between two of my matches.

Move back to the Vertices worksheet and see what happens when you click on the chart dots.


That’s plenty for today. Don’t forget to save your file!

Go and get yourself a nice cup of tea (or whatever beverage you prefer) knowing that if you’ve made it this far you can definitely manage the next steps I have in mind.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Visualising Ancestry DNA matches–Part 1–Getting ready

This is the first post of a series that will demonstrate, step-by-step, how to use a free Excel-based network analysis tool to explore and get more from your Ancestry DNA matches.

You can find an index to this series here.

I first posted on this subject a year ago (under the title DIY Ancestry DNA Circles). Since then, I have experimented and refined the methods I’m using. I think my process is ready for prime time, and that a lot of genetic genealogists would get a lot of value from it. The tool is NodeXL Basic – a free template created by the ‘Social Media Research Foundation’ – which gives Excel the ability to create network charts. It has made a huge difference to how I look at my Ancestry DNA matches.

What you will learn

  • how to visualise your Ancestry DNA shared matches, 
  • find DNA circles for yourself and among you matches
  • keep track of little clues that you discover along the way
  • update with new information easily

The people I have in mind while writing these posts have a reasonable basic knowledge of how to get around on their computer (open a file, find and click on a menu item), but no special skills in Excel. You don’t need to be able to write formulas (but if you can you’ll be able to supercharge your analysis).


An example of the type of visualisation it’s possible to create from match lists is below. These are very quick, just to provide a general idea of where this exercise is headed. There’s a lot more you can do.

Each dot represents a person on my match list – I could have included name labels but have left them them off for online display. I’ve also added some additional information to some of my matches, and I have retained those labels. Two of my matches in the green cluster descend from John Allsop and Ellen Fearn. Having looked at some of the trees of people in my red cluster, I suspect they may be connected to my ‘Mack’ family ancestors who lived in Belfast.

Charts showing dots connected by a network of lines

If I decide to focus on the Mack family, for example, I can see right away a group of close matches whose trees I should examine. I will know which ‘private’ or ‘no tree’ people I could contact in relation to that branch, or who I could ask to upload results to GEDmatch to compare DNA directly.

The dots are sized according to the amount of DNA I share with them. Larger dots are closer relatives. Which brings me to another point. I can see relationships here that I can’t see by navigating through Ancestry shared match pages! On Ancestry, the shared match page for each match only shows people who match and who are (approximately) fourth cousins or closer to you. That means that on the match page for one of your thousands or distant relatives you may see one of your fourth cousins. You won’t see that distant relative on the shared match list for the fourth cousin.

Take a look at the green cluster above. There is a smaller, ‘distant relative’ dot at the bottom of the main grouping who is connected to three of the larger, fourth or closer cousin dots. I don’t see that distantly related person on the my fourth cousin shared match pages! But maybe that person has something in their tree that is the key to working out exactly where those others fit in. I also wouldn’t easily see from navigating ancestry pages, or even with any ease the in common with lists, the big clue that they may be related to my ancestors John Allsop and Ellen Fearn.

Once I get through loading data and navigating the interface, I’ll provide some more detailed examples of use.

What you will need

  • Excel 2007 (or more recent) installed on a Windows machine.
    Knowledge of Excel is not required. If you are able to follow the “what you need” steps, you should be able to follow the rest. I will make suggestions for more advanced users of Excel who want to get even more from their. Sorry Mac users, but the tool I’m going to suggest is Windows only.
  • AncestryDNA match and in-common-with lists
    Obviously you will need to have done an AncestryDNA test.
    To obtain these lists, use the DNAGedcom client [PDF link with instructions]. There is a very modest cost involved – $5 US for one month of access. It’s the most convenient way to get the shared match information from Ancestry and well worth the money. Follow the directions, and download your match and in-common-with (ICW) lists.
  • NodeXL Basic Excel Template
    Follow the directions on the website to install the Basic (no cost) template.
    Take care, as there are links to both a Pro and a Basic version. Its the free Basic version you need. You should not be prompted for a licence number or payment when you install.
    At the time of writing, the template could be downloaded via the link provided. I note that the download site for the basic version is preparing to be archived. It looks like the current form of the template will still be downloadable after archiving. The main NodeXL website has recent blog posts so I hope that this tool will continue to be available in the future.

In my next post, I’ll show you how to load your information into the template and generate your first graph.

Friday, June 30, 2017

I’m excited

There are so many exciting things going on in my family history life, I don’t know which way to look first.

In no particular order, I’m excited about….

  • Congress 2018 coming up in March next year (tickets and accommodation all sorted!)
  • Researching Abroad Roadshow coming up in August this year (I booked my tickets in February)
  • More to explore in the Channel Islands indexes and images that are now online at Jersey Heritage Archive and on Ancestry (sorted out a confusing ancestor and working on new leads for the family)
  • AncestryDNA results are back for my Dad (all as expected)
  • Living DNA results back for me
  • The methodology I’ve developed to explore and manage AncestryDNA matches (blog post coming!)
  • Addition of Presbyterian Church records on ScotlandsPeople (found a missing sibling baptism that had been bothering me)
  • RootsMagic now syncs with Ancestry (I want to try that out – maybe an easier way to manage my Ancestry tree?)

What’s exciting in your family history world?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A recipe to get kids interested in family history

My children have recently taken enough of an interest in our family history that they sometimes ask me questions about it.

“But children think family history is boring”, I hear you say.

“How was this incredible feat accomplished?”

Actually, it happened by accident.

A few years ago I had an ancestry chart printed out by a local office supplies store, just to try out having a chart printed. I looked at it, thought about what I would do differently next time, rolled it up and stored it at the back of a cupboard. It’s not display quality, but when I came across it again it seemed a waste to throw it away. Instead I put the 3 metre wide document up on the wall of our study.

The children noticed this new addition and asked me about it.

Child looking at ancestor chart

Now pay attention, because this is the good bit.

Instead of telling them it’s an ancestor chart – which they would hear as “Family history blah blah blah” – I told them it was a recipe. Yes, a recipe.

A recipe to make…. them!

Suddenly this mildly interesting addition to the room became all about them and (almost) fascinating. It helped that I had included their names on it. We had a good talk about where the different ingredients people came from and since then I have used it a few times to point out an ancestor I have been talking about. They like to count back the generations from themselves and are much more likely to listen to me talking about something I’ve found.

My eleven year old even thought to ask me what evidence I had for these conclusions! (proud mother here!)

Not bad for a black and white chart with only the most basic information.

Now I want to have a new chart printed with photos where I have them, perhaps country flags, occupations, “fun facts”?! I think they’ll really enjoy looking at that, and the questions will keep on coming.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trove Tuesday: The Carlton Brewery in pictures

Woodcut image of the Carlton Brewery, 1870

No title (1870, December 10). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), p. 10 (TOWN EDITION). Retrieved June 6, 2017, from

The Carlton Brewery was five years old in 1870, when the woodcut above was published. The accompanying extensive article describes a large and busy operation with a smoke stack 105 feet high (30 metres). On site were boilers, crushers, a steam engine, refrigeration, thousands of bags of malt and hops, liquor in various stages of fermentation, not to mention barrels of the finished product.

The large stables (at the back left of the woodcut image) could house 20 horses “with every convenience that a man who regardeth the life of his beast could desire”. It sounds like life was pretty good for the beasts.

I wonder what life was like for the neighbours?

This image was a particularly good find for me, because Francis McMahon and Ellen Keogh (my 2xgreat grandparents) lived next to Carlton Brewery in Ballarat street (a street which no longer exists) for at least 40 years. From my reading of maps and street directories, I think they lived in one of the houses I have shaded red, below.


A later newspaper article (1904) also found on Trove provides a glimpse into the interior of the Brewery buildings and gives some idea of the scale of the Brewery.

“The Boiler House”


“Engine Room
Hercules Refrigerator or Ice Machine, having a capacity of 40 tons per day”


“Bottling by Machinery”


More images are available in the article.

VICTORIAN INDUSTRIES. (1904, November 3). Punch (Melbourne, Vic. : 1900 - 1918; 1925), pp. 25-26. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The early bird gets the conference ticket

A week ago today, registrations for the 15th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry opened. Congress is a three-yearly genealogy conference and this will be my second time attending. I’m unreasonably excited (so my non-genealogy friends, family and co-workers say) about an event that isn’t until March next year.

Last time around it was held in my home town Canberra, which was my prompt to finally attend. I got a lot out of it – both from the excellent sessions and from meeting other genealogists face-to face who I had previously only known online. There was no doubt I would sign up for the next one.

So last week when Early Bird registrations opened I bought my tickets. I’ve also booked a small terrace house near the venue in company with two other genealogists who have excitement levels about this event similar to my own!

It’s going to be fun.

Will I see you at Congress?!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Reconstituting the Allsops of Tissington–progress

I’ve been making slow but steady progress on my project to reconstitute the Allsop family/ies of Tissington, Derbyshire, England. I’ve described the general method I used previously. It makes use of the wonderful charting and querying abilities of Family Historian software. I didn’t start out with the aim of putting them all together, I was only interested in my own tree. But as it turns out, my own tree accounts for the majority of them and having gone this far there’s no turning back!

Updated method

I made one slight modification to the method described. Instead of drawing shapes to link individuals who I think may be the same person, I started colour coding the boxes instead. It worked much better as I could still see who belonged where even if the charts moved about as I merged people.


I’ve now identified two main family groups of Allsops. One group descends from a John Allsop from Kniveton who married a Tissington bride in 1833 and had some children in Tissington. This smaller tree is below. Note the use of blue and red box outlines, along with placement of trees, so that I can easily see the people who I think are the same person, but don’t yet have sufficient evidence to merge.


The other much larger group, from which I descend, had been in Tissington from at least the 1600s.


There are also quite a few coloured boxes where want to be sure they really are the same person in here.

Work to be done

I still have a number of extra individuals to sort out. I’ve shifted them so they all sit on one part of the chart sheet. I’ve also added bars with years written on them, so that I can arrange them down the page placed roughly at their estimated birth years.


I’ve been doing more targeted searches for information about these people and have slowly been linking them in to the two main trees where I can. The source that is helping me the most for those born after 1837 is the GRO birth indexes, which now include mother’s maiden names.

I’m also planning to request some documents from the Derbyshire Record Office. There is one document in particular from their catalogue which looks like it will confirm the link I have pencilled in from the earlier to the later generations.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

(Up to) Five Faves Geneameme

Jill Ball at Geniaus has kicked off another geneameme – Five Faves.

To participate, just share a blog post “sharing details of five books written by others that you have found most useful in your geneactivities” and let Jill know about it.

The types of books that I find useful are the ones that give me ideas or provide essential reference material.

I found the first two easy to pick:

Family History Nuts and Bolts:
Problem-Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques
by Andrew Todd, third edition

This little book was an instant favourite on my first reading. Don’t be put off if you think the title sounds advanced, or the subject matter dry. I would recommend it to genealogists with any level of experience.

The book is readable and provides practical methods for both tracking down elusive family members, and making sure you have it right. It’s helpful for projects as ambitious as a one-name or one-place study, or as simple as learning who your ancestor’s siblings were.

Writing Interesting Family Histories
by Carol Baxter

I’ve read a few how-to-write-your-genealogy books, and this is my favourite. Family history narratives (no matter how well structured and researched) can be dull. If you’re not one for a fictionalised account (for the record, I’m not), what can you do?

Carol’s book is choc full of ideas to enliven a family history narrative while keeping it factual.

Then it gets harder to choose. This post had several alternate endings until eventually I decided that I had spent enough time on it and simply wasn’t going to be able to make up my mind!

I will be reading other lists submitted with interest. I think my growing genealogy book shelf is about to expand even more.