Thursday, December 07, 2023
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So, Bruce asked me to share my recent experiences of communication in the family history arena. 

Full disclosure to start, Bruce is my half 4th cousin once removed. Our common ancestor is George Ashburner, my 3x great grandfather, born 1791 in Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire. From his first marriage, his daughter’s son George Ashburner Rigg emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1800s. I am descended from his second wife; that line staying firmly on the Furness peninsula in Lancashire through to my father’s birth in 1925.

A bit of background. I am a ‘newbie’ to family history, only starting this year after retiring at the end of last year. But I inherited a family tree in FTM with 750+ names that my mum and dad had been working on since the early 90s. Mum died in 2010 and dad in 2013 and the box with all their accumulated notes, correspondence and certificates has sat gathering dust in my garage since 2013. I uploaded the tree to Ancestry which generated dozens of hints and then I twigged in June that I could attach the results of a DNA test from 2019. That generated a huge list of names, with a goodly number tagged ‘common ancestor’. I was uncertain what to do next, until 24 hours later a message popped up from a lady in Brighton saying we were a DNA match and she was my 4th cousin. Several messages later we’d established how we were related and then started looking at common matches. While all my messaging with her has been friendly and constructive she advised that many people simply did not bother replying. And so it transpired, out of the next five people I contacted, four haven’t replied. One hasn’t even read the message, despite having logged into Ancestry as recently as this month. For the one that did reply, my UK cousin and I were able to work out the missing link to her tree and she thanked us for that.

But then a change in fortune, from the next six outbound messages, five produced replies, one of which was Bruce (!) and the sixth again hasn’t read the message but logged on as recently as last week. Bruce is unique in that he has enjoyed communication with both father and son! He was corresponding with my dad back in 2003. His aunt Emily came up as the DNA match with me and I put in the message that I had spotted, but not reviewed in detail, some stuff in the previously mentioned box that I recall had come from a guy in New Zealand and related to the Ashburner's. The other four that replied all covered different branches of my family tree and were very positive in providing material and trying to work out the links. So I now had cousins in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand. And this pattern has basically repeated. People either reply and are interested to collaborate or they don’t read the message and/or don’t reply. I’ve tended only to message those who have a family tree where Ancestry has suggested common ancestor, or I’ve been able to spot a potential recognisable surname in the tree. I’ve not messaged folk who haven’t logged in in over 3 – 11 months or more. I understand many people sign up for Ancestry to do the DNA test, either one they bought themselves or one received as a gift, check the results to confirm they are who they thought they were and possibly not sign in again. What I don’t understand in the short period (<2 months) I’ve been going through my DNA match list is the people who would appear to be serious about family history if size of their (public) tree is anything to go by, but don’t have the common courtesy to acknowledge and possibly reply to a message. And I think related to that, it would be helpful if Ancestry displayed user country as that too would be useful in determining if contact was worth following up.

Before I summarise, I would like to share two real positives.

Chasing down a hint on my father’s side I came across a tree which had detailed everyone up to my paternal grandmother. I messaged the owner on the off chance to see if it was her family line. She replied within a day. Of course it wasn’t, but her reply was so positive – “Hi James I just looked up which line you meant, sorry no I didn’t have a particular interest in this branch I got a little carried away when I first started doing my tree, I was obsessed with following every branch. Eventually I settled and returned to my direct line but loved every moment of researching the others. If there’s anything there that helps you with yours feel free to take anything that helps you with your journey.”

One element on my mother’s side has proved particularly challenging. In desperation I put a name of someone we thought was related but couldn’t see the link into Google and the third source was the most amazing reference called Glossop Area Family Histories. I emailed the website; got an almost immediate reply and we were able to make sense of the problem. And since he was from Glossop, and everyone from Glossop is related, so it transpired. He was related to both myself and my UK cousin who contacted me first!

In summary, 22 people contacted, 10 (45%) have replied (the 10th literally as I was typing this piece up and added Canada to the country list), 6 (27%) have yet to read my message, one or two may not have logged in since I sent it, but the rest have and 6 (27%) have read the message but not replied.

How does that compare to other people’s experiences?


PHOTO: Dad (George Young) and my brother (Nigel Young) outside 5, Croslands Park Road in Barrow, taken in June 2011. This was the home of George Ashburner Bigg (born July 1861) and Isabella Annie Simpson after their marriage in 1889. My common ancestor with your aunt [Bruce] is George Ashburner (b 1791). Your line is from his first marriage and daughter Esther; mine from his second marriage and daughter Mary. She married James Pritchette Bigg and George Ashburner Bigg was their eldest son and my great grandfather. G A Bigg died in 1931. Annie remained in the house for a few more years until she moved to Southampton where her daughter was with her husband, George.