Sunday, 20 April 2014

Guild of One Name Studies 2014 Conference in Ashford, Kent

Last weekend I spent a very enjoyable couple of days in Ashford in Kent at the Guild of One-Name Studies' Conference. I do not like driving on motorways at the best of times, and especially not the M25, so I decided to travel by train, which gave me the chance to see for the first time the interior of the magnificently restored St Pancras Station, the terminus for the Eurostar services to Europe, and where I picked up my connection for Ashford International Station. The Ashford train is on the new high speed line to the Kent coast with shiny new carriages that are so posh that I thought I'd sat down in first class by mistake! At Ashford station I met up with fellow Guild members Jennifer Tudbury and Denise Bright who were sharing the lift with me from the station to the hotel. Cliff Kemball, who organised the conference with Bob Cumberbatch, had somehow managed to find the time in his busy schedule to act as our chauffeur. We got to the hotel soon after 5.00 pm. After checking in and unpacking there was time for a quick cup of tea and an impromptu Berkshire meeting with Gillian Stevens, Chad Hanna and Ivan Dickason, before heading off to the buffet supper.

After the meal there was an option to attend a presentation by Peter Hagger on the proposed changes that are planned for the Guild's Constitution. Although a somewhat dry subject Peter managed to make the review sound very interesting and gave us much food for thought. We were also given the chance to provide feedback on the proposed changes. Peter's constitutional review was followed by a fascinating talk by local author Bob Ogley on life in nineteenth-century Kent which included anecdotes about some of the famous names associated with the county such as Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens. Many of us then retreated to the bar for a few drinks and a chat.

We had to be up early on Saturday as the programme started at 9.00 am. Derek Palgrave, the President of the Guild, opened the meeting, and Kirsty Gray, the Guild Chairman for the preceding year, provided a review of Guild activities. For the third year running the conference proceedings were livestreamed. The recordings will eventually be spliced and diced and uploaded to the Guild's YouTube channel, provided that the speakers have given permission. I therefore won't go into too much detail about the individual talks but would encourage you to watch the recordings. Until the individual recordings have been uploaded you can watch the proceedings from Day 1 here and the proceedings from Day 2 here. I took my camera with me to the conference but somehow did not manage to take any photographs. I was at the back of the room and not in a good position to photograph the speakers. However, Peter Hagger has very kindly shared his photographs with me and given me permission to publish some of them here. Further photos will appear in the next issue of JOONS - the Journal of One-Name Studies.

The Guild President Derek Palgrave opens the 2014
Conference. Photograph by Peter Hagger.
Dick Eastman was the keynote speaker for the conference, and he was the first speaker on Saturday morning. He shared with us his vision of the future of genealogy which included a strong emphasis on the role of DNA testing, particularly for medical purposes.

Paul Cullen from the Family Names of the UK (FanUK) project, sporting a colourful Mohican haircut, was the next speaker talking on the subject of the Kentish surnames in the FanUK database. His talk was the highlight of the conference for me. I wrote previously about FanUK after attending my first Guild conference back in 2011. The project is attempting to provide a comprehensive database of the family surnames of the UK, and will look at their origins, history and geographical distribution. There are currently 45,281 entries in the FanUK database. Of these, 19,524 are main entries and 27,778 are variant spellings. (The maths doesn't add up because some main entries are also variant spellings of other surnames and vice versa.) For British surnames Reaney and Wilson's sets of early bearers were augmented with references from many different sources such as the fourteenth-century poll taxes, the patent rolls, the feet of fines and the International Genealogical Index. There are 5,308 Irish entries. Woulfe and MacLysaght were corrected and augmented with early name bearers from the Annals of Ulster, the Tudor Fiants, Flaxgrowers and other sources. There are 1,074 Scottish Gaelic names, and 3,650 non-Gaelic Scots names. Finally there are 3,781 recent immigrant surnames (for example, Aziz, Mehmet, Patel and Wong). The project officially ended on the last day of March and is currently 96% complete (there are a few stragglers for the letter W). The database will be published by Oxford University Press and will be available in book form and also as an online database. The copy-editing and production process will take two years, so we are looking at publication some time in 2016. There is further information on the Arts and Humanities Research Council's website. Funding has now been received to continue the research for an additional two years and nine months. The second stage of the project, known as FanUK 2, will allow the researchers to study an additional 15,000 surnames which have over 20 name bearers (the original cut-off point was 100 name bearers). Paul then took us on a tour of some of the Kentish surnames that he has researched for FanUK. Maps generated from Steve Archer's excellent Surname Atlas CD featured very prominently in the presentation.

Cliff Kemball who organised the conference with
 Bob Cumberbatch. Photograph by Peter Hagger.
After lunch there was a panel session on “How I run my one-name study”. Through the wonders of modern technology Tessa Keough joined us from the West Coast of America having bravely got up at an unearthly hour of the morning to contribute to the session. The technology didn't work out quite as planned as we could only hear Tessa and see her slides but we couldn't see her on the video link, but it was nevertheless very exciting that she was able to participate in this way. Paul Howes discussed the collaborative approach adopted by the Howes/House one-name study, and Colin Spencer told us about his Lefever one-name study.

After tea there were breakout sessions provided by the three major genealogy companies, Findmypast, Ancestry and MyHeritage. I went along to the Ancestry session presented by Miriam Silverman which I found very useful. She explained that the much-loved Ancestry Old Search cannot be restored because the underlying code is broken and it can’t cope with the sheer volume of new records that are being added. While we might lament the simplicity of the Old Search it does seem that it is possible to achieve the same results using New Search but sometimes workarounds are necessary. As an aside, note that if you wish to simulate the Old Search experience you can adjust your site preferences by following the instructions here.

There were a number of comments from Guild members that it often takes several extra clicks to do something in New Search. The place name search is probably the most frustrating feature with that infuriating dropdown menu where you are presented with a long list of places that you have no interest in whatsoever, and you have to scroll through to find the one you are interested in. Ancestry recognise the problem and it is hoped to improve the place search but it does not seem to be an immediate priority. Often it is easier to type the place name into the keyword search field. Another complication is that archives sometimes have different names for a parish. This is a particular problem in London. Ancestry will always use both names for indexing purposes.

It is important to understand the record collections so that you can learn how to use them. Miriam cited the example of the British Phone Book collection. It is not possible to search the phone book database by surname alone because of a contractual obligation, and you have to enter both name and place. However, one very handy hint that she gave us is that it is possible to return a list of all surnames in the phone books by doing a generic search.

The partner pages are another useful feature that Miriam brought to our attention. These pages are very helpful if you want to see which records have been digitised and indexed from a particular repository. The example that Miriam gave us was the following link which allows you to see all the records from the London Metropolitan Archives: I presume other partner pages must exist but so far I've not been able to find any.

After the breakout sessions we were gathered together in the foyer for the announcement of the new Committee and postholders. This announcement is normally made at the start of the afternoon session, but this year the deliberations seem to have taken much longer. The big surprise was that Corrinne Goodenough is taking over as Chairman from Kirsty Gray.

Corrinne Goodenough, the new Chairman of the Guild
of One-Name Studies. Photograph by Peter Hagger.
In the evening there was a banquet which provided a good chance for everyone to get together and have a chat. Fortunately this year the band were in a different room so those who wanted to talk could stay behind in the banquet room while others enjoyed themselves on the dance floor.

Jackie Depelle, Bob Cumberbatch and Pam Smith taking
 a twirl on the dance floor. Photograph by Peter Hagger.
Having not got to bed until after 2.00 am the night before I was relieved that we had a late start to the Sunday sessions! There was some confusion over the start times with two competing timetables but it all seemed to work out in the end. I went along to the FamilySearch breakout session hosted by Paul Smart. He provided us with a very useful overview of all the different FamilySearch features. There are now 4.43 billion names in FamilySearch. There are over 100,000 indexers but there are still many more records waiting to be indexed and more indexers are always needed. FamilySearch has a little-known labs feature where they try out new services. One of my favourite FamilySearch features is the wonderful England 1851 jurisdictions map. This map is continuing to be developed and is in the process of being expanded to include Welsh parishes. FamilySearch now provide the facility to export search results in a spreadsheet but you must be signed into your FamilySearch account first before you can do so.

Jayne Shrimpton, the keynote speaker for Sunday, was unfortunately unable to attend at the last minute because of a family crisis. As a result the schedule was juggled around. Bob Cumberbatch moved his talk forward and Dick Eastman kindly stepped in by offering a second talk in the afternoon to fill the vacant slot.

Bob Cumberbatch gave an excellent talk on his top ten free tools for a one-name study. I am already using some of the tools that he recommends but he mentioned some other tools which I have not yet had a chance to explore and which I now hope to find time to investigate. One of the tools he recommended is Evernote which has been recommended to me by a number of other people too. Evernote has a particularly useful OCR (optical character recognition) facility which is very handy for converting digital newspaper images into text files. A similar facility is offered by Google Docs (now part of Google Drive) though file sizes are limited to 2 megabytes. Google Fusion Tables can be used to generate heat maps, and is another tool I hope to explore. Outwit Hub is a scraper which can be used to extract records from a database in an orderly fashion. Jo Tillin has written an excellent blog post on how she uses Outwit hub in her one-name study, and Tony Timmins has also written about Outwit Hub on on his blog. Bob has kindly made his slides available online and they can be downloaded from this link.

Bob Cumberbatch recommends his top ten free tools
 for one-name studies. Photograph by Peter Hagger.
After a break for lunch we returned for a talk on surname mapping from Tyrone Bowes. Tyrone runs a commercial mapping company which trades under the names of Irish Origenes, Scottish Origenes and British Origenes. He produces some nice-looking maps on his website and I was hoping that he might provide us with some hints and tips on how to produce maps for our one-name studies. Instead, he focused on his methodology for pinpointing the “genetic homeland” of a surname. His talk was rather muddled and the methodology was not properly explained. There were also many flaws in the assumptions he made. For example, his method seems to work on the assumption that 37-marker matches all fall within the last 1000 years since the formation of surnames. The reality is somewhat different and we are now finding that when SNP testing is done to determine the subclade some 37-marker and 67-marker matches actually fall within different subclades because of a process known as convergence. As a result, their common ancestor will date back several thousand years.  When investigating matches with other surnames, especially in haplogroup R1b, it is essential to upgrade to 67 markers and to get some basic SNP testing done to determine the subclade. Tyrone is also drawing conclusions on surname origins based on matches within the Family Tree DNA database. However, the FTDNA database is very US-biased. It is estimated that around 70% of the people in the FTDNA database are in America. Close matches with other surnames will, therefore, more often than not be an indication of non-paternity events in America in the last few hundred years rather than in the British Isles. There was only a short time for questions and there was not time to discuss all these problems, but if anyone is interested in reading more on the limitations of the methodology it is worth looking at this lengthy discussion on the Anthrogenica Forum.

Time for questions after the talk by Tyrone Bowes.
 Photograph by Peter Hagger.
We were finally treated to a very interesting talk on cloud computing for genealogists by Dick Eastman. Despite being asked to give the talk at very short notice, he still went to great trouble to anglicise his talk by using British English spellings and converting the dollars into pounds, though a few astute Guild members did manage to catch him out and tease him about a few Americanisms that got overlooked! Dick's slides can be downloaded from:

There was just time for afternoon tea and a final chat with a few more friends before it was time to depart and make our way home. Lifts to the station were kindly arranged for those of us travelling by train.

Although it is now possible to attend the Guild conference virtually by watching the livestream or by watching the recordings at a later date to my mind the best part of the conference is the fact that we have the chance to meet up with our fellow Guild members and get to network with them. I was particularly pleased to have the chance to meet some of the Guild members that I “know” on Twitter including Paul Carter, Amelia Bennett, and Maggie Gaffney. Next year we have vowed to have a tweet up so that all the Guild members who are on Twitter can get together. There were also many people I would like to have had the chance to meet but the opportunity did not arise.

The next conference is scheduled to take place from 17th to 19th April 2015 at the Forest Pines Hotel in North Lincolnshire so put the date in your calendar now!

Further reading
- Christine Hancock's report from the Conference
- Dick Eastman's account of his weekend at the Conference

© 2014 Debbie Kennett

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