Small Errors In My Great-Great Grandfather’s Will

I am a bit of a pedant and so I got slightly annoyed recently with a number of small inaccuracies that I found in a copy of a 1908 will and have wondered if the solicitor for my great-great-grandfather knew him at all and whether my ancestor actually read the will that he signed three months before his death!

Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth, Devon.
Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth.

 

I have got hot under the collar because I had sent off for my forebear’s will. The story is that recently, while looking around the Ancestry.co.uk site, I discovered, within the National Probate Calendar for England & Wales, a listing for my 2x great-grandfather Henry Thomas Thorne. I was aware that he had died in 1908 in Dartmouth, Devon, but until then I had no idea that he had left a will. He was the son of a boatman and one time cordwainer from Dartmouth. Henry had moved, in his youth, to Portsmouth to work in the Royal Naval dockyard as a ropemaker.

It was here that he met and married his wife Ellen Malser, the daughter of a Master Mariner if the records are to be believed. Henry and Ellen soon moved back to Dartmouth where Henry obtained a job, in 1864, as the steersman of the railway ferry that crossed the Dart from Kingswear to Dartmouth. He was to eventually became the Captain of the steamer, called the Dolphin, that replaced it.

Henry Thomas Thorne spent 40 years working on that vessel and even had the privilege of sailing King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra across the Dart, when they came to lay the foundation stone for the Royal Naval College. From that time on the townsfolk nicknamed Henry “The Admiral”, according to sources that I have read.

With the details, from the National Probate Calendar, I was able to download a form (PA1S) from the Government’s Justice website and send off my cheque to the Postal Searches and Copies Department, which is in Leeds.

http://hmctscourtfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/GetForm.do?court_forms_id=739

When the will arrived, on my door mat, I was somewhat confused to find that it contained some interesting errors.

Henry Thomas Thorne was listed as a retired “Ropemaker”, an occupation that he had pursued in his youth in Portsmouth. But surely, with 44 years as the steersman and then Captain of the railway steamer across the Dart, it would have been more appropriate for the solicitor to have identified him as a retired mariner? No matter, I thought, and read on.

Next Henry appoints his wife Helen, along with the solicitor to be executors.

Helen, I wonder, who was this wife called Helen? It was, of course Ellen.

The will goes on to mention his “free-hold house situate at Victoria Road, Dartmouth, which had me looking on a map as all his census records show him living on South Ford Road and his death certificate mentions Fernleigh. From the map I can see that a Ferndale is an extension of South Ford Street and it overlooks Victoria Road. Using Google Street View I could see that Ferndale was not navigable by the Street View car and is a sort of walk rising up the hill. So perhaps I can assume that his house at Fernleigh was indeed in the area of Ferndale, but was it on Victoria Road?

He bequeaths money, in trust, to his daughter Florence Melzer Thorne. She was named after her mother’s family, Malser and not Melzer. In fact she was actually named Ellen Florence Malser Thorne, but I digress!

So it is a lesson to us all to take what is written down in any record that we find, even a will, as not necessarily being completely accurate. Check several sources before you can be sure of any fact.

In this case I wondered if the solicitor was new to the area. However a check of the census, in 1901, shows me that he would have been 33 in 1908 and had been born in the town. As such he would have, no doubt, been ferried across the river by my 2x great-grandfather on any occasions that he had need of catching the GWR train as Dartmouth had no railway lines itself. He must have been familiar with the character called The Admiral, who had been in the same job on the water from before the solicitor’s birth!

 

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Family Bibles as a Genealogical Resource

Some of us are fortunate to have a family bible to refer to as a genealogical resource as we build our family trees. My cousin has our great-great grandparents bible for the Thorne family of Dartmouth, in his possession. Knowing my interest in the subject he sent me a photocopy of the back page where the dates and times of the birth of all their children have been entered by hand.

Thorne family from Dartmouth, Devon.

Other families have bibles that also go on to list baptisms, marriages and deaths as well as the births. Anyone with one of these is indeed very lucky as it would be an invaluable asset to a family historian pointing their research in the right direction. As with all secondary sources, however, it is good practice to go to the official records and check that the dates listed for the events in the bible match the dates reported to the authorities. Errors may have crept in to the family bible list by mistake.

Another tip is to take a look at the date of publication of the bible to see if it is before or around the time of the first entry. If it is later then there is the possibility for someones memory to have played tricks on them in the remembering of past events. A contemporaneously listed family is likely to be more accurate than one that has been recalled later on.

While a good many families would have had one it is by no means certain that a family bible will have survived down the years. Many would have been destroyed because antiquarian booksellers can only sell them as bibles and not as a genealogical record and so a tome that has been written in has less chance of being purchased. Many of the family bibles are also in a poor state when they are found and because they are unsellable they are therefore destroyed by the finder or the auction house.

A check of the search engines throws up several websites that are offering family bibles for sale as does ebay. Realistically, however, it is not very likely that you will find that long lost family bible of yours if it has left your family’s keeping.

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Finding Ancestors Up To 1837 In An English & Welsh Family Tree

The National Archives at Kew

The National Archives at Kew

Why do we talk about the year 1837 in English & Welsh Family Tree research? Well this is when the General Register office or GRO was founded and That’s when and civil registration took over from the church in England and Wales.

The reasoning behind it was that the powers that be wanted to centralise data on the population. Consequently two Acts of Parliament were brought in to law by the Whig Government of the time.

1. The Marriage Act – which amended existing legislation for marriage procedures and brought in the addition of the registry office marriage; that allowed non conformist to marry in a civil ceremony. It is for that reason that you may sometimes see this piece of legislation referred to as the “Dissenters Marriage Bill”

2. Act for Registering Births Marriages & Deaths in England – which repealed previous legislation that regulated parish and other registers.

The new laws brought with them a change with 619 registration districts coming into force. These districts were based on the old poor law unions and so England & Wales were divided up into these districts for the purpose of civil registration.

For each of these districts a superintendent registrar was appointed. Further sub-districts being created within the larger unit and so from the 1 July 1837 all births, civil marriages and deaths had to be reported to the local registrars, who in turn sent the details on to their superintendent.

Every three months the superintendent-registrars would then send on the details gathered in their own returns to the Registrar General at the General Register Office.

So what was the case for church marriages? Well the minister was, in a similar manner, charged with sending his own lists to the GRO where the index of vital events were complied. This system means that many of us are able to simply find our ancestors in indexes and order copies of certificates back as far as the third quarter of 1837.

But how do we get back before 1837? That is a subject for another time.

Help Me Get Back Before 1837 in England & WalesHow To Get Back Before 1837 in England & Wales Audio CD is available now for £12.47.

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Did you see June Brown on Who Do You Think You Are?

Did you see June Brown on the BBC’s new series of “Who Do You Think You Are?” last night?

It was really interesting in the number of generations of her Jewish line that they were able to trace. I was fascinated by the different countries they had to go and research in, as each generation moved on, sometimes by being forced out and sometimes for economic reasons. If you missed it the countries included the Barbary Coast of North Africa, present day Algeria, Italy, Holland and England.

Not only was it revealing of June’s family history but it shone a light on a wider history of the times and, as she said in the programme, “the wandering Jew”. Wandering because they had to, not by choice.

 

Has the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ got you interested in researching your own family history? Findmypast.com are offering you 10% off subscriptions. You’ll have access to over 850 years’ worth of records including complete census, births, deaths, marriages, military and many more specialist records. Start searching for your ancestors now!



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Tracing Your Channel Islands Ancestors.

"Tracing Your Channel Island Ancestors" Book
Tracing Your Channel Island Ancestors

If you are trying to research your family tree in Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark or Herm then you’ll be pleased to know that Pen & Sword Books have brought out a useful paperback called: Tracing Your Channel Islands Ancestors. Marie-Louise Backhurst has written an expert introduction for the family historian tracing forebears from these islands which, while not part of the United Kingdom owe alligiance to the English Crown. Indeed, the author refers to them as being officially “Islands in the British Seas”.

 

For those who need to trace their family history within these self-governing smaller British Isles, where the laws and customs are sometimes very different from the “mainland”, then this work will point you to the wealth of material available to researchers in libraries and archives in Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. As an example, civil birth, marriage and death records are different in format from those in England and Wales. The family history researcher will also find that they are only available in the islands themselves and the book gives the reader full information on how to gain access to them.

 

Marie-Louise Backhurst sets out to cover the census data, church records, nonconformist registers, rating lists, newspapers, wills and inheritance, official records, as well as a variety of other sources which can help top flesh out a Channel Island ancestor’s life. As migration has played a large part in the history of the Channel Islands the details of these records are fully explained within its pages.

 

This authoritative and easy-to-use guide to these collections, and the author’s advice on how to use them and get the most out of them, will be invaluable to anyone who is trying to find out about the life and experience of an ancestor who lived in the Channel Islands, or was connected with the. Available from The Printed Word Bookshop and all good bookshops

 

 

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