Hi WikiTreers,

Welcome to a new installment of “Meet our Members.” It’s time to get to know another awesome member of our community: Meet Michael.

Michael Cayley became a WikiTreer in August of 2017.  He is our newest Project Leader. He’s now the co-leader for both the Magna Carta and Quaker projects.

What are some of the surnames you are researching?

Cayley, Ford(e), Dalton, Legard, Fenton, de Wend

What are some of the locations you are researching?

Yorkshire, Sussex, East Anglia

When and how did you get interested in genealogy and family history?

As a child in the 1950s and 1960s I periodically visited the house of an aunt who was under 5 foot but had a formidable personality. On the walls of the sitting room were pictures of ancestors going back to the 18th century, and she had a cache of family letters and documents from the 1790s onwards, some of which we donated to the British Library after her death. She would seek out cousins, summon them to her house, and garner from them any information she could on our family history. I think this was the birth of my interest in genealogy. 

Who’s your favorite ancestor and why?

My great-great-uncle William Cayley. He was a brilliant doctor described in an obituary as “reticent to a fault and lacking in the bedside manner and the capacity for small talk that often contribute to popular success.” There are quite a number of stories about him. He would frequently diagnose patients’ conditions with his eyes closed, suddenly enunciating his conclusions like, as one of his colleagues wrote, “the oracular announcements of Apollo.” He was almost invariably right.

He once turned up smiling at the hospital where he was based. Asked why he smiled, he responded, “To see a patient at home is a somewhat rare event these days, but this morning I saw two and my dog bit them both.”

On another occasion there was building work at King’s College, London. William, a keen mountaineer, looked up at the scaffolding and remarked that, if one could walk on a plank just above ground level, one could do so 100 feet up. When his companions made fun of this, he raced up a series of builders’ ladders and strode fearlessly across a plank between two walls.

My favourite tale is of a very wet day when his free-standing barometer insisted on registering the weather as “fair”. In exasperation, he hurled it out of a window, yelling, “See for yourself, you damned fool!” The ill-treated instrument was inherited by my formidable aunt: alas, it has since been given to charity.

I ought to add some of these stories to his WikiTree profile. With an ancestor like that, how could I fail to be eccentric?

Tell us about a brick wall you were able to break down or one you hope to bust through.

I would like to be able to trace my de Wend ancestry back beyond about 1800. They seem to have come to England from France at the end of the 18th century, but I have not been able to find any records. 

If you could pick one person in history to be related to, who would it be and why?

The Quaker Elizabeth Fry. She was born into prosperous circumstances but made it her mission to campaign for the reform of the appalling conditions in which prisoners were held, and, some of them, transported, in the early 19th century, fearlessly visiting prisons and transport ships herself. It is said she saw about 12,000 convicts. She also fostered charitable support for the homeless and destitute.

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

I am an unpaid church organist (an expert in bum notes!), love reading, and am keenly interested in history, particularly of Britain in medieval and Tudor times.

How long have you been on WikiTree and what do you spend the most time doing? If you’re involved in a project(s), tell us about how you participate in it.

I joined WikiTree in August 2017. I’ve been helping the Magna Carta Project for some months as a coordinator. Very recently I was invited to become a WikiTree Project Leader (there is a lot for me to learn about this) and became co-leader of both the Magna Carta and Quakers projects.

Most of my time, though, is spent on research – especially into pre-1700 people – and trying to fill out profiles and correct errors. I love seeking out obscure sources, and get great delight if they help to solve conundrums.


What is your favorite thing about WikiTree, or which feature(s) do you like the most?

I love the way we work together. We all have different areas of expertise and knowledge, and different skills and interests. Between us we can create something better than any of us could do individually.

If you could improve one thing about WikiTree, what would it be?

I have always been hesitant about allowing GEDCOM imports, especially where sourcing in the GEDCOMs is not as good as WikiTree would like. When I started on WikiTree, I made a deliberate decision to add people manually, double-checking sources as I went. This took a lot of time, but it was a good discipline, and in the process I picked up some errors that had crept in to my database.

What is an example of how WikiTree has helped you with your genealogy or how you’ve helped genealogy with WikiTree?

Thanks to others on WikiTree, I have found sources I would probably never have discovered on my own. This just underlines the benefits of a collaborative website.

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

  • Take a little time to familiarize yourself with the basics of the WikiTree system and the guidance on sourcing. 
  • Seek advice freely – nobody will think the less of you – and be ready to take on board others’ suggestions. 
  • If you’re interested in English genealogy, think about joining the England Project Orphans Team, especially if you are fairly new to researching family history: it is a quick and good way to learn about WikiTree and genealogy under the gentle and supportive guidance of a more experienced WikiTree member. 
  • Always remember that long-held beliefs about family history may be proved wrong. Be open to new evidence.
  • My own view is that it is preferable to resist the temptation to add loads of ancestors quickly with very little sourcing or biographical information: I think it better to proceed more slowly, including fuller sourcing and data as you create profiles.

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  3 Responses to “Meet our Members: Michael Cayley”

  1. Nice to “meet” you! I related strongly to several of your comments. I too like Wikitree for the ability to connect and work with others to improve our global tree. I agree about having open minds and importing ged-com files. I’ve encountered several that contained errors, were huge, and were created by owners unresponsive to queries or comments. The focus on collaboration and sourcing information, in addition to being free has been one of the features of Wikitree that makes it far superior to commercial sites like Ancestry, at least where family trees are concerned. Importing huge ged-com files dilutes and can negate those advantages. I’m a fan of individually entering information, and adding good source support at the time or ASAP, and believe it’s a responsibility to respond, and also reach out to others. We all have tiny bits of information that others don’t. Your tiny bit can solve another’s puzzle and vice-versa. This is a global tree, a global responsibility, and resource.

  2. Way to go, Michael!!

  3. I love the stories about your great great uncle, especially the one about throwing the barometer out the window. You should definitely add them to his profile.

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