Networking

Are you a fan of networking?  What networks do you belong to?

Dr Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language, defined Network as “any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections”.  (johnsonsdictionaryonline.com – accessed 18 May 2016).  What a wonderful definition!  Although he would probably not have readily applied the term to the groups of friends and fellow writers that he belonged to, he would have undoubtedly recongnised the concept of spending time with other creative minds, sharing concepts and ideas and supporting others’ endeavours.

That is definitely ‘social networking’ of a kind – but what of the ever-growing importance of networking via social media?  And what part might that play in family history research?

I’m a fan of the Futurelearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course www.futurelearn.com )and have now completed several, the most recent of which was The Power of Social Media, run by the University of Southampton (of which I am a proud graduate, so I’ll just give them a plug there!).  The first week of the course was all about understanding social networks, and, although I admit it got a bit technical to follow at times, I was fascinated to learn about different network models.  I had heard of the Six Degrees of Separation, but had not realised that this was based on an experiment conducted in the 1960s in the United States by Stanley Milgram.  Since I have Norfolk ancestors and so does my husband, I wonder whether that model would have held true in nineteenth century Norfolk?  Might my ancestors and his have potentially had just six degrees of separation between them?  An interesting thought, though it probably doesn’t get us very far.

However, in looking at different network models I learnt that facebook is a collaboration network, where relationships are equally true in both directions, whereas in Twitter, for example, you can follow people who do not necessarily follow you back.  In the most recent Sussex Family History Group journal I was encouraged to read that they planned to set up a facebook group.  I’m already a member of the Norfolk Family History Society one www.facebook.com/groups/familyhistorynorfolk/ .  So the other day I searched for it, asked to join and was quickly accepted.  You can find it at www.facebook.com/groups/sussexfhg/ The big thing at the moment seems to be creating photo albums of Sussex villages, where people can add their photos.  What a great way for those of us who have been able to visit an ancestral location to share our findings with those who live much further away!  I’m waiting for West Grinstead and Shipley to appear so I can contribute to those albums!

Although I can appreciate that some people are hesitant about using social media, as long as you keep an eye on your privacy settings I think the benefits to research could be great.  People post queries and questions and someone else out there may just happen to have the knowledge to answer the query or suggest where to look for the answer.  What a great example of a network!  Sometimes family history research can feel a bit solitary, but if, like me, you do not live close enough to get along to the meetings of the family history societies to which you belong, then an online community like this has massive benefits.  Well done Sussex – let’s go for that reticulation I say!

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Where there’s a will…

We’ve heard a lot about Will recently – William Shakespeare, that is.  The 400th anniversary of his death has been a wonderful opportunity to celebrate his creativity and I very much enjoyed watching the ‘Live from the RSC’ performance (though unfortunately I wasn’t actually able to watch it live!).

Today, however, I was privileged to be able to view his will, as part of the exhibition ‘By me William Shakespeare, a life in writing’ at Somerset House, www.bymewilliamshakespeare.org/.  This exhibition, which runs until the end of May, looks at the documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s life in London, from his share in the theatre company The King’s Men, his court testimony regarding some people he lodged with, through to his will which was proved in London in June 1616.  His will, with various crossings-out and additions, shows how Shakespeare sought to provide for his two surviving children Susanna and Judith and their families.  His sister and nephews and nieces were also included, as were friends and fellow actors and the poor of Stratford.  Reading the transcript of the will I was slightly surprised to see wording which I have seen on much later wills from my own family.  I suppose it shows that the legal terminology (“lawful English money”, “messuage or tenement with the appurtenances”, “All the rest of my goods, chattel, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuff”) stood the test of time.

The second will that I viewed today was that of Dr Samuel Johnson (who also, of course, has a connection with Shakespeare in that he edited ‘The Plays of William Shakespeare’, published in 1765).  This was at his house in London www.drjohnsonshouse.org/ Without any direct heirs, Dr Johnson ensured that his loyal servant Francis Barber was a beneficiary, among other friends.

Having mostly ‘ag lab’ ancestors, I unfortunately have found few wills of my direct ancestors.  However, when you do manage to track one down they can be such a blessing to a family historian in terms of working out family relationships, can’t they?  I have looked at a number which have been helpful for being able to rule out the family connection in this way.  And once you begin to get your eye in with the writing and begin to recognise the familiar legal language, wills can be surprisingly satisfying to read.

I would recommend searching The National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/wills-1384-1858/  , where wills up to 1858 can be downloaded for a small fee.  You can also find wills on The Genealogist site www.thegenealogist.co.uk.

Where there’s a will, there’s a lot more information to add to the family history….