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Using Shooglebox and Ancestry to piece together family history

By Tony Cuthbertson

Shooglebox is a brilliant tool to gather together pieces of family history, old photographs and stories that will be lost with each generation. I'd originally started to piece together my family history on It was a fast way to capture my family tree and work back through census data to find relatives. It was only on a recent trip to my parents' house (they are both in their late 70s) that I felt like I needed a place to put more than just a photo of a family member and their census records.

My dad had a big box of photos that had been passed to him from his mother (my grandmother). Gran had carefully taken the time to write down all of the details of who was in each photo, but I wanted to capture all the stories about the people in the photos. Many of the photos weren't people from my direct family (so I wouldn't have added them to my family tree) but each of them made up part of the story of my ancestors. This was the stuff I really wanted to capture. The stories of life are the most important elements.

I took a picture of each of the photos on my iPhone and uploaded them directly to Shooglebox. I shared the box with my dad and we started to piece together all the stories on the backs of the cards. It didn't take long to find build some cards that told the story of life on the farm where my dad grew up, the tenant farmer my grandfather was the shepherd for, a photographic history of the buildings on the farm (and what they look like today) and all the other people who worked alongside my ancestors.

We added more cards of the local village school my dad attended and used Google Street View to explore what everything looked like now. We went building to building in the local village and talked about the wooden office where my gran worked selling eggs, pheasants and surplus potatoes from the local farms; matched up all the photos of the local village school where my dad went; and plotted out the route across the fields where my dad rode a horse to school (side note, he hates horses and the horse always hated him).

Shooglebox is far more than just gathering up missing family members on a family tree. It's about every story that sits behind every photo – and the backs of the cards make it really easy to capture anything from the basic details of who is in each photo, right through to some really detailed cards uncovering all kinds of bits of history.

Using to find all the family connections is brilliant. It's a great functional tool for all the details of the family tree, but when it came to chatting to my dad about all the 'stories' behind the photos it was far more useful, thought provoking and fun to switch to Shooglebox.

I'm adding links from various profiles in to my family history Shooglebox and I'll continue to capture more stories and do more family research with my dad. My dad is really enjoying the process of capturing part of his life and I think the finished box will be brilliant to share with my children too.


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