Goodbye 2020 – Why It Was My Crazy Genealogy Year

Trying again on 2020, I’m put in thoughts of Charles Dickens’ opening of A Story of Two Cities.

“It was the perfect of occasions, it was the worst of occasions, it was the age of knowledge, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of perception, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Gentle, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

(A Story of Two Cities, para. 1, line 1)

By no means earlier than in my lifetime has a single 12 months resonated so strongly to those phrases. What a wierd, loopy 12 months it has been. The pandemic, after all, has been the central thread woven into each story this 12 months, nonetheless massive, nonetheless small, nonetheless private.

With one hand 2020 has taken away so many issues from us: many private freedoms to journey, meet family and friends, go to a store, eat out; for a lot too many it has taken away well being, wealth and even life itself. With the opposite hand 2020 has given us issues that we have been lacking or had forgotten: renewed senses of group, serving to and caring for others, progressive methods to speak and be in contact by enforced separation, and new methods of giving and receiving the non-public assist that we’ve all wanted this 12 months.

This has been very true of my family tree 12 months. I had particular plans for 2020 (didn’t all of us!), lots of which resulted in tatters. However for nearly each plan that was cancelled or modified, a brand new alternative arose.


I had booked to attend three family tree conferences in England in 2020, all of which have been cancelled within the early days of the pandemic. I like family tree conferences – they’re such a beautiful alternative to study from the easiest in our group, high up my bulging family tree library and meet up with lots of my genie buddies from throughout the nation and the world – so I used to be very unhappy to see them fall sufferer to the rising disaster.

However our family tree group is stuffed with innovators who rose to the problem of 2020. The crew at Household Tree Journal shortly put collectively a web-based convention, which was a fantastic success. Later within the 12 months the Household Historical past Federation ran their FHF Actually Helpful Present, a a lot bigger and extra formidable affair – it had a number of teething issues, however was profitable sufficient that they’ve already organized a second present in early 2021 ( RootsTech have been to not be overwhelmed – unable to run both RootsTech London in late 2020 or the primary RootsTech 2021 in Salt Lake Metropolis, they’ve launched RootsTech Join, an infinite three day extravaganza of a web-based convention which can be fully FREE! (

Household Historical past Societies

I’m a member of Oxfordshire Household Historical past Society ( as, though I’ve no Oxfordshire ancestors, they’re my native society and I take pleasure in attending the month-to-month conferences. The crew at OFHS have a vigorous, informative talks programme and I’ve additionally loved being a Household Historical past Advisor for the society, providing free family tree recommendation clinics in libraries across the county. The pandemic has meant the closure of our assembly corridor and ceasing all face-to-face recommendation clinics.

However the society was to not be daunted. The committee shortly tailored the discuss programme to be deployed on-line through Zoom. The result has been an incredible success for the society: numbers attending every discuss have gone up(!), attracting new members, attendees from exterior the county and even different international locations.

There was an sudden private upside for me from this modification. I’m a member of OFHS’s On-line Assembly Group committee, and had supplied to offer a chat to the society primarily based on my weblog article Fixing Powerful Family tree Issues. I gave the discuss again in June, whereas the UK was in its first lockdown. It was warmly acquired. Emboldened by this, I supplied to ship one other discuss for the society, this time on Organising Your Analysis With Evernote. I delivered this in October, and it was once more warmly acquired. A lot to my shock, I used to be shortly approached by a number of different societies asking if I’d ship the identical discuss for them. Fairly unintentionally, I appear to have develop into a speaker on the British family tree circuit.

Oxfordshire isn’t my solely on-line society although. I’m additionally a co-founder of a gaggle referred to as Professional-Am Genies, a mutual assist group for aspiring skilled genealogists, all of whom have accomplished the Skilled Family tree on-line course supplied by Pharos Tutors ( This 12 months we’ve constructed to a vital mass of members and have vigorous month-to-month Zoom conferences. We talk about the challenges of creating oneself within the skilled family tree world and provide help to at least one one other with particular abilities and data domains. Greater than that although, we’ve develop into good buddies.

Running a blog

I began this weblog in 2019, relating the story of my elusive ancestor Mary Jane Hyland and utilizing this as a springboard to make the case for utilizing structured strategies and greatest practices in family tree analysis. My closing article of 2019, Fixing Powerful Family tree Issues (, was a giant success and continues to be my most generally learn article. My plan for 2020 was a month-to-month collection of methodology articles masking all the important thing components of a structured method to family tree analysis.

After all, the pandemic interfered! By some means, through the lengthy, darkish days of lockdown, I discovered the duty of writing tough. An excessive amount of publicity to rolling information, household worries and internalised nervousness stifled the writing spark. I believe I’m not alone in having skilled one thing like that on this wretched 12 months. I solely managed seven weblog articles by the 12 months (eight together with this one), which was nicely in need of my goal:

  1. What’s Proof?
  2. Linking Genealogical Proof: A Methodology – Half 1
  3. Linking Genealogical Proof: A Methodology – Half 2
  4. What’s Proof?
  5. Easy methods to Construct a Analysis Plan
  6. Understanding Genealogical Sources
  7. 4 Family tree Books Which Will Enhance Your Analysis

Fortunately, they’ve been more and more nicely acquired because the 12 months has gone alongside. A lot to my shock I’ve discovered my weblog listed in Feedspot’s Prime 100 Family tree Blogs and Web sites in 2020 for Genealogists and Household Historical past Researchers. I used to be as happy as punch to seek out my little weblog listed right here, however fairly astonished to seek out it given 18th place!

Analysis Journeys

I had pre-planned two analysis journeys for 2020, taking in three archives and referring to 4 totally different analysis questions I hoped to resolve.

My deliberate journey to the Nationwide Archives at Kew was particularly to analysis the actions of 58 Squadron of the Royal Air Drive, a bomber squadron primarily based at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire, through the first 12 months of the second world conflict. I’ve a relative, Leonard Isherwood, who served on this squadron and was sadly killed in July 1940. The analysis was particular to a set of data referred to as the ORBs, or Operations Document Books, stored by every squadron in two components and filed month-to-month, now to be discovered in school AIR 27 on the Nationwide Archives. For the interval I used to be considering there have been eighteen ORBs to be learn and data to be extracted. They have been out there for obtain from TNA’s web site for £3.50 per file, however it will’ve come to £63 for the data I wanted. It was going to be cheaper to go to Kew in particular person!

The Studying Rooms at Kew have been closed early within the pandemic, so my plan was halted – one other analysis mission to be delay to a different 12 months, I feared. However then, in an sudden transfer, the Nationwide Archives determined to take away the paywall on their on-line holdings during the pandemic. I used to be in a position to obtain and analyse all of the ORBs that had references to poor Leonard. The recordsdata maintain an in depth and engaging story of braveness in opposition to the chances and supreme sacrifice at a time of existential nationwide wrestle. It will likely be one among my 2021 goals to put in writing up and current this story for you all to learn.

My different deliberate analysis journey, again to the native research libraries and archive of my native Cheshire, have been after all cancelled. I had some newspaper analysis on WWI kinfolk to conduct in addition to in search of a 1726 authorized case within the Cheshire Quarter Periods – these I put apart for an additional time.

I changed this mission with a seek for a collateral Isherwood line that disappears from British data a while within the mid-1830s. I suspected that my lacking Isherwoods had most likely emigrated – however the place to? I took a while to analysis the likeliest locations for my errant bunch and ultimately discovered probably candidates arriving in New York in December 1838 and settling in New Jersey. I’d by no means executed analysis in American data earlier than, so I set about discovering out what to search for and the place to attempt to discover it (I attended a fantastic on-line discuss by American genealogist Dave Macdonald organised by the Society of Genealogists in London (, and bought a really helpful guide The Researcher’s Information to American Family tree by Val D. Greenwood). Utilizing the course offered by these sources I’ve uncovered a hitherto unknown department of New Jersey Isherwoods, a few of whom reside there nonetheless. Curiously, the youngest son of the emigrant household, John Isherwood, born in Stockton Heath, Cheshire in 1827, was drafted into the Union military in 1864 and served within the closing 12 months of the American Civil Conflict. I can already see the title of a future article, A Cheshire Lad within the US Cavalry, that may inform his extraordinary story.

Convey On 2021

So, because the lights go down on 2020 (actually, it’s sundown on New 12 months’s Eve as I write), what have I realized this 12 months? That the family tree group is a thriving, optimistic drive within the lives of many. That my buddies and colleagues in societies and teams are nice innovators and buddies. That adversity and alternative go hand in hand.

Seeing The Wooden For The Timber will go on in 2021. I believe future articles can be extra particular to my analysis tasks and rather less over-arching, however they may all the time attempt to spotlight the position of strategies and instruments that you can also use.

Completely happy new 12 months to all my readers!