Submariner ancestors

HM Submarine at



I’ve been visiting the Submarine Museum at Gosport and it is a fascinating experience especially if you have an ancestor that may have served in these boats.

Three submarines – HMS Alliance, Holland I and X24 – form the core of this Museum’s unique collection. There are also many other items to view including many photographs, various documents, ship plans and artefacts to supplement these vessels and also tell the broader story of the service.
The Submarine Museum is also part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) whose wider collections include items relating to the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Marines, Surface Fleet and naval firepower among many other things. For more information please see their main NMRN collections page.

I found it helpful, when going onboard the HMS Alliance submarine that the two guides on the boat were ex-submariners themselves – you get a very personal viewpoint of what it was like to serve with 64 other men on patrol during the cold war period and I take me hat of to them.

On board HMS Alliance



Living quarters on board HMS Alliance


The ‘Submarine Service Movement Record Index Cards’ can be used to give the researcher some background information, which can include the movements of submarine personnel during World War II. These records had previously been kept by the submarine drafting office at HMS Centurion in Gosport, but with the opening of the Submarine museum they were transferred there.

A word of warning for those researching their submariner ancestors, the card records are not a complete record of everybody who served in submarines, but they are the best place to start covering the period 1918-1969 for naval ratings and 1935-1969 for the officers.

These records can be searched using simply by name. If a card is located on file at the museum archive then you may be able to find out such information as where your submariner relative served during his time in the submarine service. You must be aware, however, that they are not indexed nor are they digitised.

Other holdings at the museum include photographs, ship plans and artefacts. You will, however, need to provide at least two weeks’ notice for an archive visit, having first submitted a research request form. See the information on their website:

Reading Simon Fowler’s book “Tracinging your Naval Ancestors’, tells us that information on ancestors who may have served in this branch can be found in similar places to other Royal Navy records, as sometimes they don’t have a special category. However, it is worth looking at the surviving log books of submarines from 1914 to 1987 which can be found in ADM 173– “Admiralty and Ministry of Defence, Navy Department: Submarine Logs” at The National Archives in Kew. This is the only open access set of records you will find there, as most other relevant records they hold are classified at present.

Tracing Your Naval Ancestors ePub

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The fear of the Workhouse – New Poor Law of 1834


Poor Law

I wanted to share with you today a little about the Poor Law of England and Wales before I incorporate this into an expanded new module in my English/Welsh family history tutorials.

For years the ecclesiastic houses up and down the country were responsible for looking after the poor and so as consequence of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, the problem passed to the government.

The old Elizabethan Poor Law was devolved to the Parish Vestry to administer. This was a council of officials from the parish and an arm of local government with responsibilities that covered more than just the church whose vestry they may have used in which to meet.

While the funds used to support the poor of England and Wales were collected in a standard manner, by charging rates to land holders, the individual parishes had discretion in how to deal with their paupers. This is explained in more detail at the beginning of a fascinating webinar by Paul Carter, from the National Archives, in his online seminar:

The expense of looking after the poor had been growing year by year up to 1834 and as it was being funded by the middle and upper classes in each town there was a real suspicion amongst this section of society that they were paying the poor to be lazy and avoid work.

After some years of annoyance to the rate payers, a new Poor Law was introduced by the government in 1834 and this new Poor Law was meant to reduce the cost of looking after the poor and also bring in a universal system across all the country.

Under the new Poor Law, parishes were grouped into unions and, if they hadn’t already got one, then each union was required to build a workhouse to serve its area. Except in special circumstances, poor people could now only get help if they were prepared to leave their homes and ask to go into a workhouse.

Conditions inside the workhouse were made to be unpleasant and deliberately harsh, so that only those who were so desperate for help would ask to be admitted. Families were split up and housed in different parts of the workhouse, males and females in different wings. The inmates were made to wear a uniform and the diet was monotonous, while breaking the rules could deprive a person of the normal rations as a punishment.

Southwell Workhouse

Inmates, male and female, young and old were made to work hard, often doing unpleasant jobs such as picking oakum or breaking stones. To get an impression of what it was like you can visit the National Trust’s Southwell Workhouse as I did. The damage that unpicking old ropes, to recycle the oakum, did to the hands of people who may once have worked in Nottinghamshire’s silk and lace industry meant that they would not be able to get work again and seems rather harsh. You can see what picking oakum looked like from my picture in the post I wrote after my visit to Southwell.

Children or the poor may have been hired out to work in factories or mines by the Board of Guardians of the workhouse, something that we find hard to understand today.

As many of our ancestors would have been poor, it is a sobering thought that this feared institution was a huge threat hanging over a worker should they became unemployed, sick or old. Not surprisingly the new Poor Law was hated by the poor as it seemed to punish people for falling on hard times even when it was through no fault of their own.


A well recommended website for doing more research is Peter Higginbotham’s


If you would like to learn more about English and Welsh ancestor research then you may be interested in taking a look at my family history course.

English/Welsh family history course on tablet computer

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Genealogy: Effective Searching

While this is not a brand new title (it was published in 2012) I have just begun to re-read Helen Osborn’s book Genealogy: Essential Research Methods and so far I find myself nodding in agreement with the author’s viewpoint on a number of things.

The first statement that I line up behind is when in Chapter 2 she talks about the nature of that the well worn phrase the “brick wall”.

“Your brick wall may not be my brick wall” Ms Osborn writes and later: “Brick walls are only met when you have truly exhausted all the available options.”

All to often a person new to our pass time will find a brick wall in their research, but they have only come to the end of their own competence and lack the knowledge to find out more. In some cases they may just have searched the easy records, or used the basic search on a website and so failed to have found their ancestors. With a bit more know how the researcher may learn techniques, such as simply searching more widely  – as Helen Osborn highlights in this book.

The next major statement that I found myself wholeheartedly in agreement with was that the family history researcher has to understand something about the legal and administrative setting of the period in question, plus putting our ancestors into the geographical and historical environment in which they lived. Laws passed inevitably created records and these documents may contain record our ancestors.

We really need to understand why a record was created and what they included or excluded. For example if we are to look at the tithe records for England and Wales (searchable on TheGenealogist) do we know who was included and who was not, and also what exemptions might there have been?

With the tithes the owner and the occupier of the land was recorded in a period from 1837 to the mid 1850s, so while you may find your ancestor from any level of society included, you will not find all the names of their household.

At the time of the survey approximately 25 percent of England and Wales had no liability to tithes, as they either had been bought out earlier or for historical reasons had never been subject to the tithe and so you will not find your ancestor in the records if they lived in one of these areas. This is just one example, but the same principle has to be applied to other records by family historians. We must find out what we can expect to find in a record set and what we can’t.

When we are dealing with the last will and testament of an ancestor we need to pay attention to the places that we are likely to find their will – what is the ecclesiastical jurisdiction for will?  Do we know the archdeaconry or deanery that they may have been proved in and what were the conditions for the will to be proved there?

I do recommend this title.


Or as a Kindle book…

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Tudor sailors and the Mary Rose


The hull of the Mary Rose
The hull of the Mary Rose


I am just back from a visit to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

I was there last summer and went around the Mary Rose museum when the wreckage of this Tudor ship was still completely encased in a hot box chamber and slightly obscured by the ducts being used to dry her out after preservation.

As someone with a deep love of history, and a great respect for artefacts that can make a connection for us back to our ancestors, to get this close to a 506 year old ship that served in King Henry VIII’s navy and which was sunk 470 years ago, was a very special experience.

I have no idea if any of my ancestors had any connection to her. I know that many of my paternal line were sailors, some from Devon and others from Hampshire (on both sides of the inlet that makes up Portsmouth Harbour).

It is just possible, therefore, that my ancestors may have served on her. If not then they would surely have been aware of her terrible loss in July 1545 as she sank just off their shore in the Battle of the Solent.

Hundreds of men aboard the Mary Rose drowned as she went down, with only around 34 survivors. Little is known of who served on this ship, apart from the only positively identified person who went down with the ship, Vice-Admiral George Carew.

From the personal effects that have been recovered, however, the museum reveals so much information about the crew that is fascinating in the details.

Take the Master Carpenter, for example…

One cabin in the ship contained a range of tools for carpentry, including a mallet, brace, planes, rulers and a mortise gauge. It seems that the ship’s carpenter also had his prized pewter safely stored away in his sea-chest, along with some valuables such as silver coins, jewellery and an embroidered leather pouch.

Pointing to him being an educated man was the fact he had a book and a sundial in an embossed leather case.

All of this suggests that the carpenter was wealthy. The Mary Rose website states that “Only someone with wealth and status would have owned such items, and have been able to justify having a personal chest which would have taken up precious room on the crowded ship.”

Mary Rose Master Carpenter Master Carpenter's Chest

The Mary Rose website also tells us more about the ship:

“When Henry VIII became king in 1509 he only had a handful of warships at his disposal – usually, in times of war, merchant vessels would be loaded with guns and used. However, with threats both from the Scots to the north and the French to the south, Henry knew he needed a standing navy, available at a moment’s notice. Thus, he got to work building his ‘Army by Sea’, starting with two carracks, the Peter Pomegranate and her larger sister ship, the Mary Rose.


and this about the crew:


The first recorded crew list for the Mary Rose dates back to 1513 and consists of mariners, soldiers and gunners, although their names were not given. Servants also appear on some of the later pay rolls. The artefacts found on board give us a unique insight into what their life was like.

There were 415 crew members listed in 1513, but during wartime operations there would have been more soldiers on board, with numbers perhaps swelling to around 700 men in total. Even with the normal crew size of around 400, conditions would have been very crowded.


The Mary Rose was the crew’s home and their workspace. As the ship was rapidly buried in very fine silt, a lot of their possessions are very well preserved, including wood, leather, human and animal bones.

We were able to recover a number of chests from the site, so we could study collections of objects and ascertain which crew members might own which possessions. There were a number of professional objects, such as the tools owned by onboard carpenters, or the ointments and medicine flasks used by the surgeon.

One other unique aspect of the objects found on board is the huge numbers of identical objects, such as 6,600 arrow bits, or the large number of wooden dishes. Having so many similar artefacts enables historians to study the standards of production and the quality of goods manufactured at a specific time.

Find out more about the Men of the Mary Rose here”



I thoroughly enjoyed my second visit to the Mary Rose, coming away much more enthused than before. I was impressed by the special effects of the crew carrying out their daily tasks being projected onto the timbers of the hull before the lights came up to reveal the wreck in all her glory. I was mesmerised by the artefacts recovered from the sea floor that gave huge insight into the lives of these men. And to be able to look down on her from the top floor of the galleries, without any obstruction was amazing.

10 out of 10 from me…

I would highly recommend a visit.


The Mary Rose in 2016
The Mary Rose in 2016
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