Myko is one of the guest speakers at the LFHHS Conference on the 30th May. See the website lfhhs.org for further details
I recently had the great pleasure to chat with Partnerships and Outreach Manager of Findmypast and speaker at the LFHHS Conference, Myko Clelland. Myko gives us some fascinating insights from the popular genealogy site as well as his explorations into his own family history.
1. How long have you been involved in genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?
I’m a Scots-Sicilian, so being surrounded by two storytelling cultures I grew up with a bit of a head start. My first taste of archival research came in my early teens, for a school memorial project. I was supposed to write a summary of a soldier I knew of from the Great War and my grandfather took me to the Lancashire Fusiliers museum, then to the local library to find newspapers from the time and I just kept going and going. Two pages became two hundred and from that moment on I was rather hooked! It’s taken me all around the world now both personally and professionally, it always feels like there’s still so much to uncover.
2. Have you ever been surprised by your research into your own family history?
I’m continually surprised. Every family has a story but there’s always so much in hearing your own. My great grandmother died at quite an early age, but I’m fascinated by the new relatives I’ve met over the past few years all having so many things to say about her and how inspirational she was to everyone who met her. She was reputedly one of the most beautiful women in Sicily, the only woman anyone knew who wore lipstick at the time and the future king Umberto II personally paid for an attempt to save her life with new medical treatments. She crossed several war torn borders to reach her children at the end of the war and then walked with them all the way back to Sicily from Milan. It’s so powerful and emotive to know that kind of story is part of the reason why I’m here today and makes me all the more determined to help others find their own family stories, so they can feel that same inspiration.
3. You're now the Partnerships and Outreach Manager at Findmypast. Could you tell us a little about your role?
I get to spend my working life talking to and visiting societies, archives and likeminded organisations, helping them to make the most out of Findmypast as a resource; making sure that everyone is as happy as they can be in the family history world. We all want the same things in the end, so the more we can do to get there together the happier we all can be.
4. What has been your favourite success story while helping others in their research?
There are too many to choose from! Family history is full of these beautiful moments when you discover the truth behind a tale or discover such incredible hardship, it’s great to be able to share in that. I’ve seen people moved to tears often, sometimes finding a photograph of a relative where they thought none existed – connecting them to their past in such a magical way. The tale I most remember is a lady in a very expensive fur coat and pearls who had a pedigree going back to Edward I. Within a few minutes we’d uncovered her Irish great grandfather who was thrown in prison on a regular basis for getting drunk and exposing himself on a public street!
5. What advice would you give someone who has hit a brick wall in their family history research?
Periodically return to every brick wall. Put it aside and try again later down the line. There are so many new records appearing online, new sources of information that we may not have even considered. Every record is a potential relative. Only recently I found a newly digitised American passenger list that gave a relative of mine traveling with an “also known as” next to the name. That small bit of extra information led me to discover that she was recorded almost exclusively under a stage name from that point onwards and had a previously unknown long and glittering career as a film starlet of the 1920s and 30s.
6. Findmypast will soon be allowing exclusive access to the 1939 Register. What makes it such a valuable resource?
The 100 year privacy rule that keeps censuses out of the hands of family historians is always a frustration, but after 1921 we have a much bigger problem! The 1931 census was destroyed in the war and the 1941 census wasn’t taken due to the same conflict. It gives us a gap of thirty years until the next available census (which we won’t get to see until 2051) and the 1939 register helps to bridge that gap. It’s a living document too; where a census provides us with only a snapshot of life, the 1939 register was later updated to give more information such as death date and married name.
7. What do you think the future holds for genealogy research?
The internet has opened so many doors to let us research from our own homes at any time we see fit, it’s a fantastic resource. With more records online every day and more intelligent tools to help us find our own ancestors in these records we’re closer than ever to being able to tell the whole story of how we came to be. Technology has democratised family history in a way that few could dream of and we’re still only scratching the surface. Who could have even imagined fifty years ago that we’d have the ability to flick through records in full colour from the other side of the globe? Physical records are fragile things, the fact that we’ve preserved these for many future generations is something we should all take pride in.
8. On 30th May, you'll be speaking at Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society's Conference on the topic of 'Getting the best out of Findmypast'. Could you let us know one top tip for getting the best out of the site?
The biggest tip I can give is to use our record A-Z. It’s accessible from the homepage and is a full glossary of every set of records onsite. When you search through records this way you get access to every field we’ve indexed (mother’s maiden name, place of birth, regimental service number) in that set, which helps you to really narrow down your results.
Interview by LFHHS Publicity Officer, Rowan Bridgwood.