Thursday, March 26, 2020

Farm and family in early nineteenth-century Fife : the diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston

Farm and family in early nineteenth-century Fife : the diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston:
The Greigston diary was written by Thomas Graham Bonar between 1824 and 1833. It is mainly a record of happenings on the small family estate of Greigston in east Fife, which comprised two farms and subsidiary holdings for much of the diary period. Besides farming matters, it records visits and visitors, and a note was kept twice-daily about the weather, including a temperature reading for part of the period. This electronic book comprises an introduction to the diary in four chapters, the transcript of the diary itself (274 pages), and a postscript.
A Margaret Graham-Bonar (1794-1852) married Henry Cowan (1797-1830) and their son Robert Leslie Cowan (1829-1863) married Caroline Green (1836-1863). They both died in a cholera epidemic in Shanghai, China. Robert Leslie Cowan was a ship's captain and tavelled the world. Caroline Green was a daughter or William Goodall Green, who went from Canada to the Cape Colony in the 1840s, and several of Caroline's brothers made names for themselves in Southern Africa.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Notes from a small island

Notes from a Small IslandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For years I've been living under a totally mistaken impression of Bill Bryson. Seeing his books in bookshops I had the idea that he was a neo-Victorian polymath, with doctorates in fields like astrophysics, geology, botany, zoology and history. Anyone who could could write A short history of nearly everything must know everything that's worth knowing about anything, right?

So I grabbed this book from the library because nothing else had taken my fancy, and thought I could always bring it back if I found it too erudite. And it turns out that it's a rather idiosyncratic and funny travel book about his own wanderings around Great Britain, with observations on the weird customs of the natives (Bryson is American, and a journalist).

So his book was a much lighter read than I had been expecting, and some of his experiences rang bells for me too -- such as working on a small-town newspaper with hot-metal press, and writing about the exciting doings of the local Women's Institute.And his observations on the differences between the South and the North of England also resonated.

Durham Cathedral, described by Bill Bryson
The things I liked about this book were the familiar things, where he described places I had visited or lived in, like Durham, where I was a student for a couple of years, and Blaenau Festiniog, where he spent a wet Sunday waiting for a train, and we spent a wet Saturday afternoon driving up and down the main (and apparently only) street looking for an Orthodox Church that we were sure was there but couldn't find, and couldn't ask the priest because he was in Turkey that weekend.

And there were some not-so-familiar things I really appreciated too, such as his description of Morecambe. It's one of the places I haven't been to, and he described its meteoric rise and abrupt fall as a seaside resort in the space of about 100 years. I had become interested in it because of family history. One branch of my family, the Cottams, had farmed at Heaton-with-Oxcliffe, somewhere between Morecambe and Lancaster, and I'd only discovered most of them after our last visit to England in 2005, so was unfamiliar with that bit. But when they lived there, Morecambe did not exist as a town, it was just the bay. Several members of the family, perhaps those who couldn't fit in Oxcliffe Hall, spread out to the surrounding villages, including the three that later became Morecambe -- Poulton (le-Sands, not le-Fylde). Bare and Torrisholme. So I thank Bill Bryson for giving me a picture of it.

The book is full of all the personal touches of things that delighted and disgusted and bored Bill Bryson, which could be amusing or confusing. It was definitely the work of a journalist and not a polymath. I could imagine it being bashed out on flimsy copy paper on a worn-out old manual typewriter with uneven keys in a busy newsroom with a couple of dozen other typewriters clacking away in the background with the guy at the neighbouring desk interviewing a fashion model and the bloke on the other side swearing as he rummages through his wastepaper basket looking for page 4 of his six-page story. How else could Bill Bryson write about travelling to Glasgow on Saturday, which was followed by a Friday night, and the next day was Sunday?

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch announce partnership to digitize family histories - Society of Genealogists

Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch announce partnership to digitize family histories - Society of Genealogists:
The Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch are about to start work on a programme of digitization of some 9000 family history books and over 5000 genealogy pamphlets, offprints and unpublished tracts from the Society of Genealogists’ extensive genealogy library. Since its foundation in 1911 the Society of Genealogists has collected the largest assembly of narrative family histories and biographies in the United Kingdom. Some of its collection are unique materials deposited in in the Society’s library for the use of genealogists. This digitization programme not only ensures the preservation of the library’s books, bound monographs and multi-volume histories, but also enables the Society to make them available to a wider audience.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Free pedigree page downloads from JayDax

Free pedigree page downloads from JayDax:
Two free HTML pedigree chart template files are available; a simple chart and an advanced chart which uses Ajax. These are blank template pages designed to be used on your own website. See also the genealogy tutorials at genlinks.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Rootsweb genealogy mailing lists to close

The announcement was made almost secretively: Rootsweb mailing lists for genealogists will be closing on 2 March 2020.

For three decades Rootsweb has hosted mailing lists for genealogists and enabled them to communicate with others around the world and to collaborate in grenealogy and family history research. For more than half the time those mailing lists have been administered by a commercial firm,, which has now decided to pull the plug.

This comes only two months after YahooGroups, another host of mailing lists, made a similar announcement, though a change of management at Yahoo had already resulted in a partial crippling of YahooGroups in 2013.

One result of the Yahoo! debacle was the formation of, which offers a new and improved version of the YahooGroups format, and with the impending closing of Rootsweb many of the Rootsweb mailing lists will be taking refuge there as well.

On the positive side, there will probably be a weeding out and streamlining of  of genealogy mailing lists.

For example, there were about a dozen mailing lists on Rootsweb related to specific areas of South Africa, with fairly sparse traffic. makes it possible to have subgroups, so we are encouraging people to join a new list for the whole of Africa, and we can open subgroups for different regions, but only if traffic from those regions gets too heavy.

You can see the African list here:

and there are also discussions about consolidating various northwest England groups on Rootsweb (Cumbria, Cumberland, UK-Northwest) into a new one on groups io.

The Rootsmagic-users group, for support of users of the genealogy program Rootsmagic, has already opened a new list on, and no doubt others will soon do the same.

The bad news is that thirty years of archives will effectively be lost. 

For thirty years people have been sharing their research on genealogy mailing lists. Many of the people who collected that information are now dead, and much of their work will be lost.

Among the more useful items  were online discussions about published family trees, noting inaccuracies in them and often providing corrections.

Rootsweb was originally an amateur effort, but grew so large that amateurs could not afford the time or the money to maintain the servers and negotiated with to take over the administration on condition that Rootsweb would always remain free. Perhaps, in hindsight, that wasn't a good idea, and it might have been better to set up a kind of non-profit trust, but it's far too late to think of that now.

But there is hope in the migration to, and I only hope that it will be done with consultation, and with weeding out and consolidation of duplicate, overlapping and redundant mailing lists.

Some have sugested that Rootsweb group members should migrate to social media web formats like Facebook groups, but though such forums are popular, they are far less efficient or effective than mailing lists. Because of Facebook's algorithms, one is quite likely to miss the most useful and relevant messages altogether. With mailing lists you decide what is relevant, but on Facebook, it is Facebook's algorithm that decides what it will and will not show you. And finding a message again after a couple of days is often an enormously time-consuming task.

I mentioned that the announcement of the closing of Rootsweb was made almost secretively. A web search revealed not a single news article about it. So if you were concerned enough about it to read this far, please help it better known by sharing this article on social media too -- there are little buttons you can click at the bottom of the article to do so.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Put not your trust in the Internet to keep your data safe

Over the last decade I've noticed a change in the way people speak of genealogy software. In the past we assumed that the software was on our computer, as was the data, and people would be warned of the need to keep backups off site in case of fire, theft or other disasters.

Now more and more people seem to assume that your data will only be on a remote site, and will not be on your computer at all. They assume that in order to "start a family tree" you need to subscribe to some or other company like It seems not to occur to many people that it is even possible to "start a family tree" using your own software on your own computer.

So now the danger is reversed. In the past you were advised to "keep a backup in the Cloud, just to be on the safe side." But how safe is that? How safe is your data in the cloud?

The recent closure of YahooGroups shows that it is not at all safe. See this article: The Old Internet Died And We Watched And Did Nothing:
Most likely, you have some photos that are lost somewhere, some old posts to a message board or something you wrote on a friend’s wall, some bits of yourself that you put out there on the internet during the previous decade that is simply gone forever.
The internet of the 2010s will be defined by social media’s role in the 2016 election, the rise of extremism, and the fallout from privacy scandals like Cambridge Analytica. But there’s another, more minor theme to the decade: the gradual dismantling and dissolution of an older internet culture.
This purge comes in two forms: sites or services shutting down or transforming their business models. Despite the constant flurries of social startups (Vine! Snapchat! TikTok! Ello! Meerkat! Peach! Path! Yo!), when the dust was blown off the chisel, the 2010s revealed that the content you made — your photos, your writing, your texts, emails, and DMs — is almost exclusively in the hands of the biggest tech companies: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or Apple.
The rest? Who knows? I hate to tell you, but there’s a good chance it’s gone forever.
Though that article does not mention any specific genealogy sites, the principle is the same. And there were numerous family history groups on YahooGroups where people shared their family history data and their research, and advised each other on sources and resources. And now it's going, going, gone.

So if you want to "start a family tree", don't ask which is the best web site to do so. You don't need to subscribe to a web site to start a family tree! Ask rather "Which is the best family tree software for my computer and operating system?"

At the time of writing my recommendation for genealogy programs is Rootsmagic, or Legacy.

By all means back up your data in "the Cloud", but keep your primary data on your computer at home, where you can control it.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity: Mega-List of Paying Markets for Horror, Dark Fiction and Poetry

Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity: Mega-List of Paying Markets for Horror, Dark Fiction and Poetry:
Much like other genres of speculative fiction, horror enjoys a loyal, and possibly fixated, fan base. Horror isn't all blood and gore. The subgenres include everything from the mildly unsettling (like Twilight Zone), to splatterpunk (which is exactly what you think it is). Some of the genres accepted by horror magazines include: humorous horror, holiday horror, psychological horror, science fiction horror, slasher horror, supernatural horror, gothic horror, erotic horror, teen horror and, of course, anything with zombies, werewolves, vampires, or other malevolent creatures. Many of the magazines on this list also accept dark fiction, dark fantasy, and other genre crossovers that evoke a sinister mood. Read the submission guidelines, and make sure to follow them carefully before submitting.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The roots of Westville's historic tree | Highway Mail

The roots of Westville's historic tree | Highway Mail:
FROM the earliest years, the infant colony of Natal depended on transport for its development. One of the first, and most important route, was the road from Durban into the interior. Part of this old wagon route, known as the Old Main Road, still survives. The portion in Westville is today Jan Hofmeyr Road and that in Pinetown Josiah Gumede Road. Sections can also be found in the Upper Highway area as it wends its way towards Pietermaritzburg. Before the opening of the railway line to Pietermaritzburg in 1880 – it only reached the ‘Natal’ border in 1891 and goods were delivered by wagons drawn by oxen.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Most Common Last Name in Every Country - NetCredit

An interesting web site showing the most common surnames in every country in the world The Most Common Last Name in Every Country - NetCredit:
In Africa, most surnames are connected to geographic origin, occupation, lineage or personal characteristics. One surname-type unique to the continent is the praise-name, which expresses character traits or other admirable attributes.[6] Ilunga, for example, is of Bantu origin. It roughly translates to “a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.”[7] It is the most common surname in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


GEDCOM version 5.5.5 is the first new version of GEDCOM in twenty years. GEDCOM 5.5.1 was introduced on 2 October 1999. Today, exactly twenty years later, GEDCOM 5.5.5 is available from; the GEDCOM site is back.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Yahoo is shutting down its Groups website and deleting all content

I just saw this announcement today which, if true, will mean that hundreds, if not thousands of genealogy mailing lists will be cut off with very little notice. Yahoo is shutting down its Groups website and deleting all content:
Yahoo (owned by Engadget's parent company Verizon) is phasing out one its longest-standing features. The internet pioneer is closing the Yahoo Groups website in a two-phase process that will effectively see it disappear. You'll lose the ability to post new content on October 21st, and Yahoo will delete all "previously posted" material on December 14th. Users can still connect to their groups through email, but the site will effectively be vacant. All groups will be made private and require an administrator's approval. If you're at all interested in preserving your history on the site, you'll want to download your data either directly from posts or through Yahoo's Privacy Dashboard.
It should be borne in mind that Tahoo! got into the mailing list business when it took over something called E-Grous, which ran public mail servers. If they were concerned about their customers they would give them enough notice and time to possibly arrange for alternative mail servers. As Yahoo! took over E-groups, so other servers could possibly take over some of the lists hosted by Yahoo!. But if they close it down with such short notice I will certainly be removing my Yahoo! Id, and will have nothing more to do with any of their services in future.

Irish genealogy resources made available for free online

Irish genealogy resources made available for free online:
Irish birth and marriage certificates from as far back as 1864 are now available for free online, while death certificates between 1878 and 1968 are also accessible. A plethora of Irish genealogy records has been made available online thanks to a joint initiative from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Friday, October 04, 2019

You Need to Make a 'When I Die' File—Before It's Too Late | Time

We sometimes wish our ancestors had left more information for us, but how much are we leaving for our descendants? Here are some ideas for what to include in a "When I die" file. You Need to Make a 'When I Die' File—Before It's Too Late | Time:
What Molly and Ira found instead took them by surprise: Inside, their mother had carefully organized all of her papers, including the account numbers, pending transactions, and a bundle of other documents they’d need to settle her affairs and distribute her belongings. It was as though their mother had baked them one last batch of kugel from beyond and left it waiting there for them to arrive. “This was not a Buddhist master’s awareness of death,” Ira Byock says. “It was a Jewish mother’s love for her children.” What Ruth had compiled was what we call a “When I Die” file, and it may be the single most important thing you do before you depart. It may sound morbid, but creating a findable file, binder, cloud-based drive, or even shoebox where you store estate documents and meaningful personal effects will save your loved ones incalculable time, money, and suffering. Plus, there’s a lot of imagination you can bring to bear that will give your When I Die file a deeper purpose than a list of account numbers. One woman told us she wants to leave her eulogy for husband in the file, so she can pay homage to him even if she goes first.
And including a couple of printed family group sheets wouldn't go amiss either -- those dates and places needed for forms etc.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Most Dangerous Cities in the World -

The Most Dangerous Cities in the World -
Three cities in South Africa also make it to the list of the world's most dangerous cities: Cape Town (62.25), Durban (38.12), and Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) (37.53). South Africa, which occupies the southernmost part of the massive African continent, has often garnered publicity for its high crime rates, including murder rates. Factors such as high unemployment rates and systemic racism have been blamed for the violent trends in South African cities.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Professional Historians, Personal Histories: A Roundtable on Objectivity, Subjectivity and Family History – Active History

Professional Historians, Personal Histories: A Roundtable on Objectivity, Subjectivity and Family History – Active History:
Any tension in professional historians pursuing research related to family arises from the longstanding expectation in the discipline that historians should be objective and distant from the subjects they study. This distance has often been described in temporal terms, with sideways glances if one proposes to undertake historical research deemed too recent. The craft of history thrives on distance, cherishing the decades and centuries between historian and subject. The idea is that distance enables scholars to better comprehend the historical record, the contingencies that led to particular events and phenomenon, and to assess their full implications. The celebration of distance means that there is considerable concern when historians propose to undertake more intimate research, research that is literally closer to home. As Benjamin Bryce acknowledges in his essay, “Our discipline clings to a belief in a certain degree of objectivity, and historians shy away from flagging our subjectivity more than other scholars.”