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The experiences of a 'newbie' Mort researcher

If there was one story I would love to share with anyone researching their family tree - it is the unfolding of what to me has been a truly fascinating journey. Genealogy isn't just about discovering the past; it is also about discovering ‘the living’ and long lost relatives from the present. It is an addictive hobby, but is there anyone out there who can explain why that is?

I started to look into my family tree during June of 2005 - not by design but by accident. I had taken a week off work, and it rained for the whole week. In my job I spend most of my working day sat at a laptop. So, in my week off work what did I chose to do to unwind? Yes...got it in one... opened up my laptop. Hey it was raining!

This whole gene thing started because I was trying to find two old school pals via the ‘Friends Reunited’ web site. Somehow I drifted over to the ‘Genes Reunited’ area and found myself totally drawn into the world of genealogy. I hasten to add that I never did find my two school friends, but did end up with many previously unknown 2nd, 5th and 6th Cousins from all over the globe.

Like many other newbies, I soon found all the ‘on-line sites’ and before long I had subscribed to most of them. Initially I took big bold presumptions and then after about 4 weeks decided I should really double check on my 'leaps of faith'. The Internet is great and so much can be done so easily and cheaply but at some stage you do have to put your hand in your pocket. So, I got out my cheque book and sent off for all the required birth, marriage and death certificates. To my surprise, the data validation gave me a 100% hit rate on all my many assumptions. My instincts were not far off the mark and at least that gave me some faith in the ‘on line’ research sites.

From what I can tell, most experienced researchers can become so over concerned with factual evidence that they sometimes ignore their gut feelings. I am not saying that data shouldn't be validated, it should. It is too easy to bark up the wrong tree and waste valuable time looking into the wrong family line. I spent 4 hours getting excited about a new line in my family (I was only excited because I thought I had found a family that didn’t actually come from within a ten mile radius of Leigh), only to find that I had taken a wrong turn. Big waste of time and so frustrating! However sometimes something just 'feels right' and our instincts do exist for a reason. I did eventually find the true line after tearing several bits of my hair out, and yep, they were from Leigh!

Like all other new researchers, I started to unravel many branches of my family tree - doubling up on Grandparents with each discovery and becoming very excited every time I found a new surname and the beginning of a new line. However at a very early stage of this exploration, one of my newly discovered surnames was becoming a dominant factor. The surname was 'Mort’. I had never heard of this strange surname before. Wasn't this Latin for 'death'? I had grown up around the Leigh-Astley-Tyldesley-Bedford areas, (the stomping ground of many fertile Mort families) yet I had never met anyone called 'Mort’. I didn’t actually know it was a surname.

I continued to explore the rest of my family tree with enthusiasm and interest, but hit great big stone walls. I can only conclude that some of my past relatives from other parts of my tree must have been negligent at registering births, marriages and deaths. I am sure that when this chap came knocking at the door collecting census data, that my other ancestors must have hidden in the coal bunker to avoid giving information. Perhaps they thought it was the rent collector, or then again maybe it was a ploy to confuse their future GGG Granddaughter! In many lines I cannot even trace beyond 1840 and my GG Grandfather.

Not that this confusion arose with the Mort family...quite the opposite. In the world of IT, we would say that they left an 'audit trail'. Most of what my Mort ancestors did was in fact charted, recorded and left behind for future generations to uncover. Some of my Mort relatives were farmers, and their farms have long since been demolished and made way for car parks. With other members from other lines of my past family, that would have been the end of that. I would just have to use my imagination as to how they lived and what kind of dwelling they lived in. Not my Mort line. They had a picture taken of the farm in the days when cameras had just been introduced and photography was probably a planned, rare and expensive event.

Every new researcher at some time or another has to take that first trip into the unknown territory known as ‘the local library’. Great places, once someone shows you how to find books in the reference section and helps you use those strange looking machines with bits of microfilm. On only my second trip to Leigh library, I found a pictorial history book of the area, and there it was ‘Mort’s Farm in Bedford, Leigh’ They were at it again, those go ahead Mort people with their new fangled photographic devices. Maybe many of them were also prosperous, because they left wills. It seemed that the Mort’s wanted to be found and did things ‘by the book’. In fact, many of them were lawyers.

I soon found that with this one particular branch of my family tree, I was zooming ahead at breakneck speed and as if in some kind of time machine - quickly arrived back into the 16th Century. The comparison with other lines of my research could not have been more contrasting. Henry Mort was my Gx12, Grandfather born before 1557 in Eccles. Mathematically I have 16,384 Gx12 Grandparents. That is a lot of people sharing my genes over just a short period of a mere 448 years. Remember, that every time we jump just one generation back, we are doubling up on the number of ancestors and collecting many more surnames.

So, back in about 1530 I would have had in the region of 32,768 people making up my gene pool. I have come to the conclusion that we really must all be related to each other. (A trip to the local supermarket has never been quite the same for me since I now realise everybody in there is most likely a cousin!)

As all my relatives from every line I have uncovered to date seem to come from Leigh and the surrounding areas- the maths don’t quite add up. Would there have been a population to match mine or anybody else’s gene pool back in 1530? Did 32,768 people living in Leigh way back then? I guess there must have been a bit of ‘doubling up’ going on. They simply must have married relatives (either knowingly or otherwise)!

The maths direct me to a logical conclusion that has proven to be correct time and time again- in fact to date, it has still not failed me. It is ‘if it smells like an Orange and looks like an Orange, it’s probably an Orange’. What do I mean by that?

Hundreds of years ago, many of these large towns were probably small villages and hamlets. In an era well before the ‘horseless carriage’ the ability to travel and move around was somewhat hampered. Hundreds of years ago, what were the chances of two differing families in the same small village with the same surname NOT being related, be it distant? I would say virtually nil. So remove the word Orange and replace it with ‘Mort’ or any other surname you are researching.

If your relative was called Mort and they lived in the same area as my Mort at the same time as my Mort, are we related? I have yet to find somebody who isn’t. It is just a question of untangling all the lines, digging deep and eventually the connection will become clear. Communication and determination are the keys!

So what is it about this Mort string of DNA that is so unusual? Out of all those thousands of ancestors and all the many lines of lineage, the one name that goes the furthest back and I know the most about is the name of ‘Mort’. Could there be another reason other than the fact that the Mort’s obeyed the laws of the land and did everything in an official capacity which was charted and recorded for future generations?

Well yes- there is another reason as it so happens. Many Mort descendents seem to have a penchant for genealogy. Any researcher who uncovers a new surname for the very first time (what an exciting moment that is), would probably all do a web search for that name? I did exactly the same for the Mort surname, and other than coming across lots of French sites and mortgage deals; I also found a few Mort family web sites. Interesting, so the Mort’s of today were continuing with the habit of publicising themselves for all to see. I have only found one other active genealogist from my many ‘non Mort related’ branches of my family tree and I certainly haven’t found any web sites for my other surnames.

I find it quite alarming that for many of my other surnames, I am probably the only researcher alive at present and it appears that there wasn’t much going on ‘research wise’ in the past either. Not only did these other relatives avoid the tax collector, census reports and fail to baptise their children, it appears they had little interest in their own histories.

In sharp contrast, I have made contact with so many other Morts’ descendents who are keen genealogist (to the point of almost being semi professional and helping out other newbie’s), that it heavily outweighs anything going on with the rest of my family tree. I have even found (now deceased) past Mort relatives who have written books about their families (even though they may have had a differing family name, they were from the Mort line and that’s all that counts).

So the Mort’s like to create web sites about themselves, write stories about their families, take pictures of their houses and appear to have a genetic tendency towards genealogy.

This brings me to the end of my particular story and my last big ‘top tip’, that is to share information. Without the power of the mighty Internet and the ability it has given me to meet lots of new friends and find many distant relatives, I would not have been able to create the legacy of a family tree for my children and their children yet to come. I was helped, guided and directed along by several expert Mort researchers who had done all of this many times before. They alone propelled me through the generations, and just 4 months after that rainy week in June, I have been able to map out a once unseen world from the past. It is an interesting journey.

Just remember:

Go with your instinct, but do double check the facts to make sure that you have got it right.

Find other people researching the same name and get in touch. You may be able to share information and you may even be related.

If families lived in the same places in the same era, they were probably connected in some way.

Don’t just research your direct line descendent, you can usually uncover so much more by also researching other family members such as siblings, cousins, uncles etc.

Use the Internet, but also venture out to the local library, it’s a gold mine.

Be a lateral thinker, I found one family by an electoral census register.

Share your success stories, we all need some inspiration occasionally.

Good Luck.

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