Take a Look at Your Ancestor’s Occupation

Census on Computer Screen

What a person did as an occupation can very often give the family history researcher a greater insight into their ancestor’s life. It may also be a useful way of distinguishing between two people who happen to have the same name and that you need to work out which belongs in your family tree and which one does not.

 

Another reason to look into a forebear’s occupation is that it may help you to work out an ancestor’s social status, political affiliation, or migration pattern.

 

Skilled trades were often passed down from father to son and so having regard to an ancestor’s occupation may also be a useful tool in identifying a family relationship with others who happen to have the same name.

 

An important point to remember, in your research, is that people’s occupations sometimes changed. I have an ancestor who changed from being a gunsmith to working in a pawn brokers and another who changed from being a cordwainer (shoemaker) to being a boatman on the river. Workers may suffer accidents or simply get ill and so are no longer fit to work in their primary trade. When this happened they were often forced to take on less prestigious jobs as they grow older. Many of our unskilled ancestors would have had a variety of jobs which depended on the season and local trade requirements.

 

I have wondered about one of my ancestors exaggerating their occupational qualification status in the census returns and I am sure that I am not alone in this! Clearly not everyone would be completely truthful. Just keep in mind that the census collections may exhibit some embellishment as to what your ancestor did; e.g., from Labourer to Mason, Carpenter to Cabinet maker, or from journeyman to Master craftsman.

 

Names for old or unfamiliar local occupations have the potential to cause us confusion if they are poorly legible in the record we are consulting. A prime example is the similarity between the words ostler (a keeper of horses) and a hostler (an innkeeper) which could so easily be confused for one another.

 

In a similar manner, some descriptions of occupations may also pose us problems. One of my Plymouth ancestors was a General Commission Agent, another a Merchant in London, but what did they do? I am yet to find out what areas of commerce these two distinct gentlemen worked in in spite of trawling the trade directories. Several trades have regionally preferred terms. For example, “shoemaker” and “cordwainer” have the same meaning in some places.

 

Finally, we need to remember that many apparently obscure jobs are part of a larger trade community, such as shipbuilding, framework knitting, or gunmaking.

 

We can look for occupational data in several places. It may be found in the records of occupational licenses, tax assessments, the membership records of professional organisations to which our ancestors belonged, trade, city and town directories, census returns, and civil registration vital records.

 

There are a number of websites available that explain many of the obscure and archaic trades, here are two that I have found:

 

http://www.rmhh.co.uk/occup/index.html

 

or

 

http://www.occupationalinfo.org/dot_c1.html

 

Clearly, the occupations that our ancestors carried out on a day to day basis can give the family history researcher an insight into their forbear’s life, as well as providing clues about other family members and the social status of the family. The data may be used by us to distinguish between two people of the same name; but all along we have to be aware that our ancestors may well have been telling little white lies and embellishing their actual job descriptions to the officials compiling the records.

 

 

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Irish Family History Forum Launcehd by findmypast.ie



Findmypast.ie has announced that they have launched one of the first online forums that is solely dedicated to those people researching their Irish family history. This new forum is an online community for all those Irish diaspora who are looking for a place to discuss everything from researching Irish family history and Irish geography, to success stories and what it means to be Irish and its free to all registered users.

This is the findmypast family of websites first foray into community based chat and it seems that they recognised the inherent difficulties involved in looking for Irish ancestors was one of the reasons for setting it up. The forum will enable amateur and professional family historians alike to ask their family history questions to like-minded researchers across the world. The hope is that it will enable members to benefit from the wealth of experience gained from those who have previously hit brick walls in their research and then overcome them.

Brian Donovan of findmypast Ireland and long-time member of the Irish genealogy community commented: “The findmypast.ie forum is another indication of findmypast’s dedication to providing the world’s best platform for researching your Irish family history. I wish there had been an option like this available to me when I first started in genealogy”

The forums are separated into half a dozen different message boards, and once you are a registered user you will be able to start a new discussion on any of the six boards. Users will be able to add responses to topics which have already been posted by others as is normal in a forum. The six message board topics are to include General Discussion, Using the Records, Tracing Specific Ancestors, Places and Geography in Ireland, Your Finds and Success Stories and What Does it Mean to be Irish?

Anything that helps people to break down brick walls, in Ireland, is to be welcomed.


Disclosure: Links in this post are Compensated Affiliate links to findmypast.ie

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Help Me To Get Back Before 1837 In English & Welsh Genealogy

A great many people who are researching their forebears from the British Isles, discover that there is a massive amount of family history information on the internet for the years going back as far as 1837 in England & Wales. Then, as I pointed out before in a previous article of mine about tracing an English family tree before 1837, it would seem to become more difficult for us researchers. What is the significance or the year 1837? This is the date when civil registration started in England & Wales. The state took over from the established church the registering of all the citizen’s vital records.

You may have been amazed at the ease you had finding later records of your ancestors on the subscription websites like Ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk, but then as you go back before the census records and the government run data for Births, Deaths and Marriages, you will have found that only a small number of all the genealogical records, that there actually are, have made it on to the net.

Parish Records can usually be found in the County Record office, or in a few cases the incumbent minister may still have retained them at the parish church. How do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This is the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the relevant counties that you are researching. These maps will not only show the boundaries of each parish, but also those of the adjacent parishes, which can be extremely useful for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about!

Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in regime, such as the English Civil War. Yet another political reason for missing parish records is the effect a tax can have on them. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day – although paupers were exempt. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so, with the collusion of many church ministers, you will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials. In contrast there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act was repealed in 1794, having been found to be largely unsuccessful.

An Act of Parliament, in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.

Baptismal entries now included the Father’s occupation and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, henceforth, included the parish of origin of both parties, their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also those of two witnesses.

Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of £5 was payable.

Marriages could have been solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for their ancestors, will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of bans was the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived, just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.

These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales.

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Tracing my Great-Grandfather in Trade Directories

Directories1869 at TheGenealogist.co.uk

I’ve used trade directories before, when I was tracing my tradesmen ancestors down in Plymouth. At that time I’d found one enterprising forebear, of mine, who had been a Victualler and Brass founder on the 1861 census employing  one woman, six men and some boys in this Devon City. This had lead me on to use the University of Leicester’s site, Historical Directories at www.historicaldirectories.org to find him and his advertisement in a Plymouth Trade Directory. Its great fun to see how polite were the requests of a Victorian era businessman, asking for trade, in an advertisement from this time.

This week I had turned my attention to my maternal great-grandfather. In a book, complied on the family, that I was lucky enough to have found on the shelves of the Society of Genealogists, in Goswell Road, London, my ancestor was given a brief mention in between his more illustrious brother’s, cousin’s and forefather’s. What I was able to glean, from this book, was that Edward Massy Hay had been a merchant in London for a period in the 1860’s, after a short spell in the army.

The book had been complied by his Father, Charles Crosland Hay and completed by his cousin on the death of the former. It gave me a clue that all was not well in the business world of Edward, as a line simply said: “Partner in the firm of Stevens & Hay, Merchants in London; on its failure he became a tea-planter in Ceylon.”

My first reaction was to see if the business went bankrupt and was mentioned in the London Gazette. I checked the website at www.london-gazette.co.uk, where it is possible to search back through the archives for free, but I found nothing on the business. I’d read a tip that it was always worth checking the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes, in case the bankruptcy had been hidden in one of these publications. The results came back negative and so it looks as if the business was wound up without going bankrupt.

Recently, on taking a look around TheGenealogist.co.uk‘s data sets, I came across the 1869 Kelly’s Post Office Directory for London on their site. By entering “Stevens and Hay” I was eventually able to locate their business to an office at 65 Fenchurch Street, London. EC3

Moving on, to a Kelly’s Directory for 1880 London, I found my great-grandfather listed as living in Princes Square, Bayswater, London. Also at that address was his sister, Mrs Mary Ann Webster, whose husband was in the Madras Civil Service. But I had already begun investigating the move to Ceylon (today known as Sri Lanka), by my ancestor. By 1880 he was appearing in a directory for that island, as well as at Bayswater!

From a website, dedicated to the history of Ceylon Tea (www.historyofceylontea.com), I found there are links to many years of the Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory. In 1880 Edward M. Hay was an Assistant for R.Books & Co of London, in the British Colony. He appears in several of the directories, one of which has him as Chairman of his local area’s planters association and in 1905 he was listed as the owner of a tea estate called Denmark in Dolosbage, Ceylon.

This little peep into my great-grandfather’s life was made possible by the use of various trade directories and the fact that they have been scanned and uploaded to websites on the internet. But before I turned off my computer, on a whim I decided to enter the address that he had shared with his sister in London into Google street view. I was rewarded with the Georgian fronts of Princes Square and easily found the house where he lived. It is now a small hotel and so its address is on the internet.

A search for 65 Fenchurch Street, and the offices, shows that they have been replaced by a modern vista. Lastly, I did a Google search for the Denmark Tea Estate in Sri Lanka and by chance it still exists! Using Google Earth I was able to use the satellite view to see, from the air, the hillside estate that once was where my great-grandfather cultivated tea.

It seems to me to be well worth using some of these alternative tools, available to us, when doing family history research. They may add just a little bit of flesh to the bones of facts gained from the census data or the birth, marriage and death records for our ancestors.

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Jersey Marriage Records

Jersey FlagI was doing a bit of research, this week, on a person who had been part of an Army family that moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands, at the end of the 19th century from England.

From the 1891 census I could see that this young girl, aged 14, was listed as a Daughter and was living in the household of a Colour Sergeant and his wife in the Parish of St Saviour. By the time of the next census, in 1901, they had moved a few miles further east, within the island, to the Arsenal in the Parish of Grouville. The head of the household would seem to be listed as a Quarter Master Sergeant, on the permanent staff for the Royal Jersey Militia Infantry and his daughter as a Music Teacher.

Using the various online databases at The Genealogist.co.uk, Ancestry.co.uk and findmypast.co.uk, the next time that the daughter appears, in any of their records, was in the probate records for her mother back in England in the 1930s. From this we see that the daughter has married, revealing her new surname. But there seems to be no record for the marriage in any of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Jersey and the rest of the Channel Islands are British Islands that are not, of  course, part of the U.K. and they have their own administrations and their own marriage registers.

None of the Jersey marriage records are online and so on one of my visits to the Lord Coutanche Library at La Societe Jersiaise, in St Helier, I took the time to consult their copies of the indexes to the island’s marriages. If you have read the guest post by James McLaren on this blog on Jersey BMD records after 1842 as part of the Jersey Family History Section, you will know that this is a somewhat lengthy affair as they are not kept quarterly, like in England, but are simply run until they are filled up. Indexing is alphabetical by the first letter of the surname only, being added to the list in the order that the marriages take place. Each parish runs indexes for Anglican and non-Anglican marriages and in St Helier, the town parish, each C of E church has its own index.

I was faced with the prospect of going through thirty or so indexes, looking for the chance marriage of this couple at some unknown date after the 1901 census. My best guess was to start with the Parish of Grouville, where she had been resident in 1901. Sadly, I had no luck and so I began the trawl through the different parish indexes until I hit St Helier.

There, in 1902, at the main Parish Church of St Helier, married by the Dean of Jersey, G.O.Balleine, was my research targets! It had taken me hours of persistence to find them and, with quite some satisfaction, I now noted down the details on my pad. I would need the Parish, the dates between which the index ran, the Page number and the bride and grooms names to obtain a certified extract from the Superintendent Registrar’s Office in the island, on payment of the required £20.  The time it had taken me to find them, however, meant that this office was now closed for the day. They are only open to the public on weekday mornings and then only when no civil weddings are taking place at the office.

The next day, however, I was able to request the certificate and collect it the day after. A speculative search had revealed the Jersey marriage of this couple in September 1902. A good result and another piece in the puzzle of this family’s research.

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Findmypast.co.uk Launches More New Records and Lowers Prices

I’ve been reading a press release from Findmypast.co.uk,  one of the leading UK family history website today. There is some great news as not only are they reducing their prices they are also adding more content to its existing collections with more than 40 million parish records for England & Wales dating back to 1538.

 

The company announced that it had launched over 18,000 baptism, marriage and burial records from London & Kent dating from 1825-1871, covering the parishes of Greenwich and Rotherhithe.

 

These followed on quickly from the 79,842 parish records from Gwent (formerly Monmouthshire), spanning the years 1634 to 1933, which were also published on the site recently. The records are from the parishes of Chepstow, Shirenewton, Bedwellty, Beaufort, Mynddislwyn and Risca.  What is more, is that Monmouth workhouse baptisms and burials have also been included.

The source for these Welsh records is Gwent Family History Society who are providing these records on findmypast.co.uk as part of an on-going project between the site and the Federation of Family History Societies to publish more parish records online. This is good news as it makes it possible to trace back ancestors from this area, long before the start of civil registration in 1837.

 

20,000 burial records from the St Mary parish of Lambeth for 1819-1838 were also released recently by findmypast.co.uk, supplied by the East Surrey Family History Society, along with 128,000 burial records for the years 1802-1846 from the East Kent Burial Index.

 

With the announcement of these new releases plus the lowering of its prices, family history researcher should be happy. The reductions apply to the full, annual subscriptions to the website – this is the one that gives access to all the historical records on the site – and also to the annual foundation subscriptions, both of which are now cheaper than ever before!

 

Paul Yates, Head of findmypast.co.uk said: “We’re committed to making family history as affordable as possible, while still ensuring that we continue to deliver a steady stream of fascinating, new family history records to our customers every month.”

Full subscriptions now start from just £69.96 and Foundations from £91.95. So why not Find your Ancestors now at findmypast.co.uk !

 

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