3 tips for finding lost ancestors

Disclosure: Please note this post contains affiliate links.

 

Family History Researcher Academy My research this week has hit a number of the inevitable brick walls that most family history researchers find litter the path to seeking out our elusive ancestors in the records.

I know just how frustrating it can be when we are trying to add people to our family tree and the wretched people just don’t seem to be anywhere to be found.

If you find yourself in that situation then my advice to you is, 1 – Don’t panic! 2 – Take a deep breath and 3 – Take a step back.

I was asked to write a piece for TheGenealogist on the actor Sir Ian McKellen to be live on their website before the Who Do You Think You Are? programme went out.

The very first thing I did was to see if I could find his birth in the General Register Office (GRO) birth records. To my frustration he was not there!

What did I do? I calmly considered what was the likelihood of him not being recorded, against there having been a mistake made in the records (I didn’t panic, or curse the online portal that I was using). I took a deep breath (point 2) and ran the same search at a second site to see if the record would be returned there. Unfortunately, there was no sign of him there either. It was time to take a step back (tip 3).

Often, when we can not find an ancestor, it can be for the reason that some sort off error has crept into the data; or the record was incorrectly written down at the time it was created. A little lateral thinking and Ian McKellen was eventually found to have been mistakenly recorded in the GRO Index for the April-June quarter of 1939 under the surname McKellar.

This neatly illustrates what can happen in the official birth, marriages and death records, as well as in other sources. The birth would have been reported to a local registrar shortly after Ian McKellen was born on the 25 May, 1939. Perhaps the writing was not clear at that stage? With census records, or baptisms, we have to also consider that the official, such as a census enumerator or the vicar in the church, misheard the name.

Even if the surname had been given correctly to the local registrar and faithfully noted in their records, they would have copied their information and sent it on to the GRO – did they make a mistake at that stage? Or was it when the GRO collated it into the index that most of us will use to order a certificate from?

Another stage that mistakes can happen, although not in this particular case, is when these indexes go online. The website will have created a transcription of the data in order that their search engine can find the entries when we type a name into their search box.

This week I came across an example of a transcription error, one that can be easily forgiven when I opened up the image of the census to see a florid capital J that looked exactly like an S. I was searching for someone with the first and middle names of Frederick and John. For some reason, however, they had been enumerated by only their initials F.J. and then their surname. The top of the J had a short twist to the right and nothing to the left so making it look for all the world like an S.

My advice for family history researchers, who are having difficulty finding their ancestors in the records, is to stop; breathe; and think. Consider the possibility that your ancestor really is there in the records, just not quite correctly recorded as you, or probably they, would have liked.

 

 

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Compensated affiliate links have been used on this page

Send to Kindle

Jersey Baptisms, Marriages and Burials now available on Ancestry

Jersey FlagThe Channel Island of Jersey’s Baptisms, Marriages and Burials are now available on Ancestry

Here is a press release that I got yesterday. As a Jersey born family historian I think that this is quite important news for those people that can’t get to the island to do research into their ancestors – although this is not the only online resource, in which you can find Jersey men and women within, it is the first time that these particular records have been published on the internet.

 

Jersey Heritage is delighted to announce that, as a result of a collaboration with Ancestry and with the kind permission of the Dean of Jersey, the Island’s Church of England baptism, marriage and burial records from 1540 – 1940 are now available to search online for the first time.

 

The collection includes over 72,000 images covering the key milestones in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Islanders from Tudor times to the beginning of the Second World War.

The records are searchable by name, birth date, parish, baptism, marriage and burial date, name of spouse and name/s of parents, and these records contain vital information for anybody looking to find out more about an ancestor who lived in Jersey.

 

Local Personalities

A number of famous names can be found in this important collection from philanthropists and artists of the 20th century to well-known sporting figures, including:

  • Jesse Boot – 1st Lord Trent, of Boots the Chemist, businessman and philanthropist, who transformed the small business founded by his father into an international retail company. Jesse came to Jersey to convalesce after an illness in 1886 and met his future wife, Florence Rowe. The couple were married at the St Helier Town Church on the 30th August 1886 and on their marriage record Jesse’s occupation is described as a ’wholesale druggist’. The couple retired in Jersey, where they made a number of very generous donations to help improve the lives of Islanders such as FB Fields.
  • Lillie Langtry – actress, renowned beauty and mistress of King Edward VII. Lillie, who was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was baptised in the Parish Church of St Saviour on the 9th November 1853, by her father Reverend William Corbet Le Breton. Lillie married her first husband, Edward Langtry in this same parish church on the 9th March 1874 and was eventually laid to rest in the cemetery on the 23rd February 1929, following her death in Monaco.
  • Harry Vardon – golfer, six times winner of the British Open. Henry William Vardon was baptised in the Parish Church of Grouville on 12th June 1870. Harry did not take up golf until his late teens, as he needed to work from a young age to help support his family. When he decided he could make a career from the sport his natural talent shone through and it was not long before the young man from Jersey who had been too poor to buy his own golf clubs went on to become acknowledged as the world number one. Vardon won the British Open Championship six times, which is a record that still hasn’t been broken. He also toured America, winning the US Open in 1900, and becoming golf’s first international superstar.

 

The records are predominantly recorded in French, this being the written language at that time, but they follow a standard format and with some French knowledge they are relatively easy to interpret.

 

Linda Romeril, Archives and Collections Director at Jersey Heritage said; “The publication of the Church of England registers by Ancestry is a significant step forward in opening up access to Jersey’s records. These unique images can now be accessed by individuals with Jersey connections around the world.

”We know that a number of people left Jersey over the centuries and believe that their descendants will now be able to find their connections to our unique Island. We hope that this will encourage individuals to continue the stories of their Jersey ancestors by searching our catalogue www.jerseyheritage.org/aco for more information and ultimately visiting the Island to discover their roots.”

 

Rhona Murray, Content Manager at Ancestry, adds: “We are delighted to be working with Jersey Heritage to provide online access for people all around the world to these valuable parish records. The large-scale historic migration from the Island has resulted in a broad Jersey diaspora across the globe, so whether you’re aware of having heritage from the Island or are curious to discover if you have ancestors from the Channel Islands, now is the perfect time to search these collections on Ancestry and find out.”

 

The images can be searched by visiting www.ancestry.co.uk. As part of the agreement with Ancestry there is now free access to search the Ancestry catalogue at Jersey Archive.

Send to Kindle

5 favourite map resources for family history

Disclosure: Please note this post contains affiliate links.

 

By William Westley (Source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Plan of Birmingham By William Westley (Source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I love looking at maps, when it comes to thinking about my ancestors and working out where they lived.

I know that I am not alone in this, but that other people just don’t seem to get it.

What is it that we, who find maps interesting, see in them?

For me it is seeing the layout of places compared to how they have developed today, for one.

I also love the ability to sometimes be able to work out why an ancestor lived where they did – perhaps it is the nearness of an industry, or some other place of work, that becomes blindingly obvious when you find that their street was a five minute walk from the factory or the dockyard where your rope-maker ancestor was employed.

I find it exciting to see how, in 1731, people who lived in Birmingham would have had a five minute walk from the centre of their town to see countryside. That there were fields on the other side of the road to St Philips’ Church (now the Cathedral) and there was no Victoria Square, Town hall or the Council House at the top of New Street and that Colmore Row was then called New Hill Lane!

detail from By William Westley (Source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Birmingham 1731

 

Maps can be very useful for the researcher, looking into their family tree and so I have put together my personal list of the top five resources that I would recommend.

 

In reverse order…

Number 5: The Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers.   The maps in this book can help you identify contiguous parishes to your ancestors’ parish. Useful when you have a brick wall finding christenings, marriages and burials of your kin in their original parish, consider looking at the surrounding area and researching in the neighbouring parish records to see if you can find them.

The Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish RegistersThe Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers

 

Number 4: The Interactive Bomb Map of London online at bombsight.org.

The Bomb Sight Project has scanned original 1940s bomb census maps, geo-referenced the maps and digitally captured the geographical locations of all the falling bombs recorded and made it available online. You can use their interactive map to explore and search for different bomb locations all over London. I have used it to find where an ancestor’s shop was on the street. As a post war building now stands on the site I wondered if it had been destroyed in the blitz. Using this application I was able to discover that it had indeed been destroyed by a German bomb.

You can click on individual bombs on the map and find out information relating to the neighbouring area by reviewing contextual images and also read memories from the Blitz.

www.bombsight.org consulted 19th July 2015 v 1.0www.bombsight.org

 

Number 3: FamilySearch’s maps at   http://maps.familysearch.org

When I am trying to find out which other Church of England parishes exist in an area, as an online alternative to the Phillimores (mentioned above), I often use the maps.familysearch.org resource. It can be useful if you want to discover which county a parish is in, which diocese it is part of, or which civil registration region it was in. You can also use the drop down menu to find its rural deanery, poor law union, hundred, C of E province (Canterbury or York) or division.

maps.familysearch.orgmaps.familysearch.org

 

Number 2: National Library of Scotland NLS Maps

This website gives you access to over 160,000 maps from all the countries of the United Kingdom and not just Scotland! With maps dating from between 1560 and 1964 this is one of my ‘go to’ websites when I want to see a map of a place that my ancestors lived. I often turn to a map over laid on a modern map or satellite view or chose to view an old map side by side with a modern version.

http://www.nls.uk/http://maps.nls.uk/

 

Number 1: National Tithe Maps online via TheGenealogist.co.uk

My top map resource is that of the collection of surviving tithe maps that have been digitised by TheGenealogist for the ability to often find ancestors actual plots of land and houses from the time of the tithe survey (1837 to the mid 1850s and sometimes later when an altered apportionment map was drawn up). While the accompanying Tithe Apportionment books detail the land that they either owned or occupied, these records can be so revealing as to where our forbears lived and whether they had some land to grow produce or keep animals. All levels of society are included and surprisingly some streets in major cities were included. The collection covers approximately 75% of England & Wales – as a minority of land was not subject to tithes by this time.

Tithe map of Ealing MiddlesexTheGenealogist.co.uk

 


Disclosure – I do have a business relationship with TheGenealogist as I write articles on using their records and resources that can be found in family history magazines such as Discover Your Ancestors, Your Family History and Family Tree for which I receive remuneration. Not withstanding this fact I stand by my selection of the tithe maps as my personal number one map resource for the ability to use them to discover the plot where an ancestor lived and what they may have grown there.

In addition some, but not all, of the links in this post are compensated affiliate links.

Send to Kindle

How to handle documents at the archive

 

How not to hand back documents at the national archive
Photos of how NOT to return documents at The National Archive taken from a display in one of the reading rooms at TNA.

 

I found myself at The National Archives this week renewing my reader’s ticket which had expired.

The process requires researchers to fill out a form online at a computer terminal and then watch a 5 minute video about how to handle TNA’s documents. I was surprised that, even to someone who thought that they knew all that stuff, the presentation taught me something!

It was how to examine a document with a seal attached that stopped me in my tracks. It was pointed out that the process for looking at the other side of the seal required the reader to deftly turn the entire document over, while turning the seal at the same time. The video suggested asking a member of staff for help, if the process was to daunting for the researcher to carry out themselves.

There were many other tips on how to unpack, look at and repack documents without damaging them – including how to deal with those tagged together with, what I recall from my days in stationery retailing, as ‘Treasury tags’.

When I finally got to the reading room, to collect my bundles of documents and start making my exciting discoveries from within the records that have not made it online at any of the subscription sites, I was fascinated to see that not everyone heeds the advice. In a display cabinet, by the service point, was a set of horrifying photographs of how some documents had been returned. It made me wonder at how unthinking some people can be. Having, presumably, extracted the benefit for them selves from viewing the papers, they had little concern as to the preservation of these records for anyone else.

 

The National Archives


If you’d like to learn more about how to tease out your elusive English or Welsh ancestors then go to:
www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com

Send to Kindle