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Jersey Family History Forum at WDYTYA? Live

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on March 6th, 2011
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Jersey Family History Forum at the WDYTYA? Live show 2011

Jersey Family History Forum at the WDYTYA? Live show 2011

I had to be up, showered and breakfasted for 6 am, in order to make my way to Jersey airport and the 7 am “red-eye” to London Gatwick. The fact that I, not in any way a morning person, was prepared to do this stems from the timetable of workshops that I had seen for the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE show at Olympia.

First on, in the Society of Genealogist’s Regional theatre was “Researching Your Family History in Jersey” given by Sue Payn and James McLaren and I really wanted to be there for the workshop. My bus to the airport, the flight to London and the coach transfer to central London all ran reasonably to schedule and so I was in the building by 10.15. and taking a seat in time for the presentation.

James’ began by clearing up the perennial misunderstanding by people from outside of the island, regarding Jersey’s constitutional position. As a Jersey born and educated person, myself, I have spent most of my life making similar statements to his and so a smile warmed my face as the familiar words rang out.

I am often heard saying that we are not part of England and Wales, nor are we part of Great Britain, nor the United Kingdom and we are not in the EU, but are British Islands.

As James said: “We are a Crown Dependency: we owe allegiance to the British crown, but in most other respects we are self-governing. We have our own legal system, large parts of which are quite different from English law. In this respect we are similar to Guernsey, but please understand that we are not the same! It’s like the difference between a Mercedes-Benz and an Austin Allegro – the principle is the same, a vehicle that gets you from A to B, but the detailed implementation is rather different.”

This brought another smile to my lips as the old rivalry, with our sister Bailiwick of Guernsey, was introduced to the good folk in the workshop. Both Bailiwicks trace a Norman heritage and when in 1204 King John lost his French possessions, the Channel Islands kept allegiance to the British Crown.

One of the first things you are going to find, if you are researching your ancestors from Jersey is that the records are invariably going to be in French, as this was the official language of this island until very recently when English has become dominant. James pointed out that Jersey was very largely French or Jerriais-speaking until the middle of the 19th century, and so a lot of legal records long after that were kept in French. The deeds to my house, for example.

I have often heard people in the island refer to these documents being written in “proper French” to distinguish the language used from Jerriais, the name given to the Jersey French patois spoken in the island, which even comes with variations in pronunciation across the 45 square miles of the island!

Jersey people have always travelled far from their island; some to settle away in places such as Canada, Australia and of course to the United Kingdom. Some stay and some return. As James said the reason Jersey folk travelled was “– partly because of our rules on inheritance, partly because there was money to be made in trade, partly to serve Queen and country in the armed forces, and more recently because the only way to get higher education was to go to the big island to the north of us. Consequently there are numerous people in the UK who have Jersey ancestry somewhere in their past.”

I shall be returning to the subject of Jersey Ancestors and have more from James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society in another post on this site shortly.


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