What is the Biggest Family History Problem for Those Of Us With British Ancestors?

I put up an online survey to find out what major brick walls people had in British Isles ancestor research and the largest cry that came back was the following:

Help me with my family tree research, especially back before 1837.

Perhaps this resonates with you? You’ve traced your forebears back in the census collections as far back as the 1841 census? Then you have used the Births Marriages and Deaths on the web and found that the nice and easy indexes only go back as far as 1837?

It was, you see, that in 1837 the General Register Office was set up for England and Wales and took over the registration of vital records from the Church of England.

In Scotland it was in 1855 that the General Register Office for Scotland took the same powers from the Church of Scotland. So from those years backwards we all have to use the records kept by the state church and these are known as Parish records in both jurisdictions.

Baptismal registers will normally give you the name of the child and that of its father, plus the date of the christening. Occasionally you may also see the mother’s name, most particularly if the child was illegitimate. In this case you could see the terms “base born” “bastard” or “natural born” on the record. Sometimes the godparents or witnesses also appear. This all goes to show how there was no standard format to baptismal registers until in 1812 Rose’s Act became law in England and Wales and standardised the information to be recorded on specially printed registers. It should be noted, however, that Rose’s Act did not apply to Scotland or Ireland. These new standardised registers asked for more details than before and so now the clergy had to obtain the mother’s Christian name, the father’s occupation and his abode.

Churches kept parish registers locally. They were not collated or sent to any central depository but were retained by the churches themselves. From the 16th century up until 1837 the parish church carried the responsibility of collecting records of its parishioners. While baptism was more important to the church than actual birth dates and burials were noted as opposed to deaths, the church was essentially an arm of local government.

A strong lockable box, known as the parish chest and into which were deposited records were kept. We refer to all those records, that may now be found deposited in the county record office but were once in the keeping of the parish church, as Parish Chest documents. They don’t just include the well known parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials of our forebears. You will find there are all sorts of other records that together are sometimes referred to as the parish chest.

In England and Wales you have the vestry meeting minutes while in Scotland you have the Kirk Sessions. There are also odd records such as the report of the parish surveyor! Many of you may not have even heard of such records that may just contain your ancestor’s name and if you are restricting your searching to the online environment then you are more than likely frustrated by the inability to locate them.

In most cases you are going to have to visit the county record office to get to see microfiche copies of these English and Welsh records, as they are not online. For the baptisms, marriages and burials you could go to your local LDS centre and order the films there. Scotland’s old parish registers, however, can be accessed at the ScotlandsPeople website for a fee. Oh that we could do the same south of the border!

The NoseyGenealogist.com website
The NoseyGenealogist.com website
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England and Wales Wills on-line

Ancestry.co.uk on a computer screen
Ancestry.co.uk -         (Disclosure: Image is a Compensated affiliate link)

Ancestry.co.uk has launched online the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 – an index to more than six million wills proven across the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ancestry has said that the combined value of the 6,079,000 estates in the index reveals a fortune that today would be worth more than £20 billion! On the flip side, however, the average value of our ancestors’ estates is a rather modest £3,400.

Now not all of us will be able to find our ancestors in this collection, but if you are lucky enough to do then they can be wonderful resource for family historians. The value of the index is that each entry may also include the name of the departed, the date and place of your forebear’s death, the name of the executer and also, in a few instances, bequest recipients.

So what is Probate? This is the term given to the court’s authority to administer a deceased person’s estate and including the granting representation to a person or persons to administer that estate.

It was in 1857 that the Court of Probate Act came in to force and with it the power to administer estates were transfer from the Church of England to the state. It is the probate calendar books, in which are summarised and collated annually the grants, that are now to be found on Ancestry.co.uk.

Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “The probate calendar books provide countless new leads for family historians to explore as they move beyond being about family members to long-gone fortunes, mysterious beneficiaries and valuable objects – all with connections back to our ancestors just waiting to be explored.

“Anyone able to find an ancestor in the probate calendar books will be able to find out a great deal about how their ancestor lived, what they bequeathed and to whom – meaning we will be able to find out so much more about what their lives would have been like.”

All wills and administrations were proved in England and Wales however the places of death vary enormously and include more than 107,000 people who died in Scotland, around 20,000 in France and 18,000 in the USA.

To take a look go to Ancestry.co.uk (Disclosure: This is a compensated affiliate link)

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Great to See the ScotlandsPeople Website Updated

Scottish BirthsAs someone that has used their website to good effect with my Scottish ancestors, I am really pleased to see that ScotlandsPeople service is now up, revamped and running. I have had no problem in recommending it to those who have Scots roots because of the value of its content. Now it includes some new search features that are designed to make it easier and quicker for people to use and discover their Scottish family roots.

For example, the site now has a way of plotting search results on maps. This should enable all those who are unfamiliar with Scottish geography – such as the many users of Scottish descent living overseas – to better understand about Scotland and their ancestors and how the terrain may have affected them.

Other changes made are to the advanced search functions, that should provide quicker results and the additional information from Catholic Parish Registers.

http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/

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My Ancestors Were in the Parish Records?

As a family historian, one of the highlights of my year is to try and get to London’s Olympia for the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE exhibition in February and mix with like minded people all “doing” their family tree and seeing what is new in our field. In 2010 I signed up early and bought my tickets on-line. This enabled me to also reserve some passes to one or two of the Society of Genealogist’s lectures in the hall. And a good thing I did, as some of them sold out before the day!

I particularly enjoyed the talk given by John Hanson FSG, who has been researching his family tree for about 25 years.

His workshop, called “My Ancestors Were in the Parish Records? Well They Should Have Been!”, gave his audience a really good overview of Births Marriages and Burials as we would expect to find in the church records of England & Wales. As I sat, taking notes and thinking to myself smugly that I already know quite a bit about this area, I found that pretty soon I was listening to some really useful nuggets of information that I just didn’t know, or had forgotten about along the way.

Old Parish Registers

For example: Baptisms

Most people, John Hanson pointed out, think that baptisms tend to peter out with the start of civil registration on the 1st of July 1873, but this is not entirely true. Yes, they have declined in modern times. Hanson’s wife is a verger in their local church and the number of baptisms that their vicar performs these days could be counted on the fingers of one hand. But go back to the eighteenth, nineteenth & early twentieth century, he said, and you would find that the number of children being baptised per week then, would be similar to the numbers that gets baptised in a year today! Up to 1900, however, we will still find our ancestors being baptised in church and it is only as we get closer to today that the numbers drop off. So although we often think of parish records as predominately those to use to get back before 1837, this is a wake up call that these records can still be interesting to look at after that date.

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