Autumn/Winter 2021 at The Parchment Rustler

Six themed images: a line of coloured hats; a DNA helix; a journal; the exterior of the Victoria and Albert Museum; book Tunnel 29; and an Ishihashi slide to test for colour blindness
Just a little hint of some of the themes I have in the pipeline for you here at The Parchment Rustler over autumn/winter 2021. Image credits: Ishihashi slide c/o Wellcome Collection, CC-BY 4.0; Tunnel 29 photo and Six Hats image (C) Sophie Kay.

You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet of late here at The Parchment Rustler – at least in terms of new articles coming out (believe me, the behind-the-scenes stuff never stops). My previous TPR article in June, written during the fantastic frenzy that was the 2021 iteration of THE Genealogy Show, was never intended to be followed by such a long silence! The unforgiving combination of a stack of professional commitments and a medically-enforced time out over recent months has meant that blogging has had to take a temporary back seat.

But fear not! I have plenty of articles in the pipeline which I’m really looking forward to hitting that Publish button on. From taking a look at some structured methods to help you in your family history research, to reviewing recent releases and exciting new exhibitions, and giving you a scientist’s-eye view of genetic genealogy, here’s a little taste of what I’ll be sharing with you all in the coming months…

Research Scaffolding: techniques to support our decision making

If you’ve joined me for my Genealogical Marshmallows talk on bias, willpower and how we make decisions in our family history research, then you’ll have heard me liken good research methodology to scaffolding: it might not be the heart of a building, but it brings stability and support. Pursuing rigorous approaches to how we organise our research, collate information and make decisions needn’t take the fun out of our research process: in fact the scaffolding of good research technique can lead us right to the sweet spots where the rich seams of narratives and archival finds lie.

A row of six coloured hats, implying a sequential progress through perspectives in our research
Six Hats Thinking: a systematic method for examining your genealogy research from multiple viewpoints. Image (C) Sophie Kay.

If genealogical how-to is your thing, then keep your eyes peeled for upcoming articles on Six Hats Thinking for Genealogy, how to use Ladders of Inference to analyse information, and the low-down on my Outlier Method for genealogical mapping.

Tunnels, oral history and the process of life writing

Helena Merriman's book Tunnel 29
Recent release Tunnel 29, scheduled for review on The Parchment Rustler in a joint feature on the relationship between oral history and the archive.

I’ll also be reviewing recent release Tunnel 29 by Helena Merriman, published by Hodder & Stoughton in August 2021. It’s the phenomenal story of a group of brave individuals who tunnelled underneath the Berlin Wall in the early 1960s in a daring attempt to lead a group of East Berlin residents to freedom in the West, and which defied the watchful eyes of the Stasi.

Merriman’s book is the result of hours of first-hand interviews with the tunnellers and those close to them, along with archival documents from the Stasi era. This title is a fantastic example of how to meld oral histories with the written record in your research, and I think it’ll prove an insightful read for many family historians. You may also be familiar with the hit BBC podcast of the same name, which makes a great companion to the book.

To accompany the review, I’ll also be running a feature on oral history, its role in family history, and examining how we construct life writing from spoken recollections. For so many of us, family stories and recollections passed down through the generations so often form the starting point for our research – and perhaps even act as the inspiration for our first steps into family history. Assessing the reliability of oral accounts and working out how to use them in our life-writing is an area I find absolutely fascinating, so I’m particularly looking forward to writing this feature.

Historical Occupations and Industrial Sublime at the V&A

Those of you who follow my #OccupationOfTheDay tag over on Twitter will be familiar with my fascination with historical occupations, endangered crafts and lost industries. The job titles I post and explain each day have proved a great way to connect with historical researchers and archives across the online community – and it’s been wonderful to hear from so many of you to say your interest has been piqued by particular photos, engravings or cartoons. Compiling the series does take a certain amount of time, but it’s worth it for the enjoyment of highlighting some fantastic pictures, archive collections and (for most of us) long-forgotten jobs.

Website snapshot of the V and A's exhibition, Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime
A new display is on the horizon at the Victoria and Albert Museum, showcasing Maurice Broomfield’s perspective on mid-20th century British industry and its workers.

So, given my love of British occupational history, I’m tremendously excited about the V&A’s upcoming display, Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime, scheduled to open to the public on the 6th November 2021 and which I’ll be visiting and reviewing in its opening week.

Broomfield’s groundbreaking work in industrial photography saw him depict a range of workers and subjects from a variety of industries. In so doing, he preserved a unique window into many British industries and jobs which have since declined or died out completely. I’m expecting this event will not only present Broomfield’s creative talent in constructing visually dazzling images of the nation’s workers, but also provide us with a thought-provoking retrospective on our nation’s industrial heritage. Industrial Sublime will be open to the public throughout the coming year, and will showcase 40 of Broomfield’s finest exhibition prints. I can’t wait to review this one for you.

Painting of a blacksmith at work
Researching your pre-19th century ancestors? Then you might be interested in the final instalment of my Bringing Home the Bacon series, looking at how to decipher unusual occupations in family history research for earlier centuries.

In addition to the visual delights of Broomfield, I’ll also be completing my Bringing Home the Bacon series about historical jobs with the long-awaited Part 3, which will step you through methods and resources you can turn to when trying to identify or learn about a mysterious occupation that’s turned up in your pre-19th century research.

A Helping Hand for Genetic Genealogy

Artist's rendering of a DNA right handed alpha helix

Before I became a professional genealogist, I was a bioscientist in academia, working on cancer research problems. It’s many years now since I first extracted and sequenced my own DNA in a laboratory, but it’ll probably come as no surprise to hear that genetic genealogy is a big element of family history research for me. Later this year I’ll be delving into the world of mitochondrial DNA testing, and sharing my go-to reads for those of you looking to learn more about DNA.

And that’s not all! Thanks to some non-commercial funding which I’m allocating to community-focused uses, I will be supporting three different organisations or individuals by providing them with a free autosomal DNA test kit (either Ancestry or MyHeritage) in the coming months. I’ll also be launching some free, openly-licenced information leaflets for anyone and everyone to use, to guide you through the DNA test process and provide an checklist of what you should be thinking about when you make the decision to test your DNA. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, then keep your eyes peeled for further announcements!

Accessibility and Genealogy

We’re fortunate to have an active and engaged online community in the genealogy world, and it’s gone from strength to strength during the lockdowns of the past year. Yet we can do even more to make our community a welcoming place, by ensuring that our digital content is accessible to disabled users and those who rely on adaptive technologies. Later this week I’ll be looking at some simple steps you can take right now to do your bit to help make online family history a disability-friendly world.

And so…

Whether you enjoy reading about research methods, new books and exhibitions, community building and inclusion, genetic genealogy or oral history work, I hope there’s something here to pique your interest: and with all these articles waiting on my to-do list, I suppose I’d better get typing!

Laptop keyboard, open and ready for use

I may also be giving The Parchment Rustler a redesign and visual refresh in the coming months: it’s good to reappraise from time to time, and revisiting accessibility themes for my upcoming article has got me thinking about some disability-friendly changes I could do with making here. So don’t be surprised if you see a new-look TPR hitting your screen soon.

For now, though, I had better return to typing, researching and untangling various genetic mysteries. Which Parchment Rustler articles are you looking forward to the most? Let me know in the comments below – and who knows, if one of my upcoming themes is proving a particular favourite with everyone then it might persuade me to make it top priority…

4 thoughts on “Autumn/Winter 2021 at The Parchment Rustler

  1. As I can not tell what are in the color-blind circles in your post it brought to mind one of the DNA testing companies use of shades of color to define closeness of matching and with three colors in the blue?? range I have no way to know which one they were showing for my data!! Never think of myself as a disabled person until those situations pop up using colors to define or rate a subject.

    1. Yes, colour-blindness tests can certainly surprise us sometimes! As you say, this has implications for all the online interfaces we use in the family history world. So many sites rely on poorly-chosen colour palettes to display information without thinking about how this might affect a large number of potential users.

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