Family History records for Portsea Island workhouse ancestors

 

Portsmouth Library and History Centre

Last week I was in Portsmouth and took advantage of an opportunity to pop into The Portsmouth History Centre which is on the second floor of the Portsmouth Central Library near the Guildhall.

It comprises of the City Records Office Archive as well as holding the library resources on Portsmouth family, local and naval history plus the Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens collections.

My interest was in the Portsea Workhouse, an institution in which my 3 x great-grandmother, Martha Malser, had died as an inmate in February 1870 aged 70. While the History Centre have the workhouse Creed registers from 1879 to 1953, which served as admission registers, the earlier records have very sadly not survived. This being the case meant I was unable to do any personal family history research this time.

Portsea Workhouse

© Copyright Basher Eyre and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

I was, however, able to call up the Board of Guardians minute books for the time that my ancestor was living under their care in her old age. While not giving me any direct references to Martha it was an extremely interesting bit of research as it gave me a flavour of the organisation and an insight into its operation. For others, this could be a goldmine of family information.

These Board of Guardians minute books are a very name rich set of documents for those with ancestors who were officials, or who worked for the workhouse. Names were also recorded for suppliers to the institution of food, clothing, coal etc. This could be another opportunity for some researchers to find their family members mentioned, although often the supplier was simply noted by his surname alone. So you may see Jones £2 3s 6d, or Smith £0 4s 8d.

 

I read about the appointments made for named schoolmasters, matrons and various other officials to the workhouse. The records detail the taking of references for these people and the salaries that the Union would pay the successful candidates.

There was an interesting entry where the Board set out the duties they expected of the new clergyman. The number of days he was required to attend to the inmates spiritual needs, inside the workhouse, and the Eucharist services that he should provide for the workhouse inmates on the Sabbath.

Perhaps the most useful information for family historians, contained within these Board of Guardians minute books, was the records of people receiving “out relief”. Those who had become sick and were able to get some parish relief while not having to enter the workhouse. If your ancestor had fallen on hard times then these entries would give you both a surname and a first name, a place, the amount of out relief and also the reason for receiving the payment.

Most of the sicknesses that I read were general, such as “confinement”. I did read of some injuries such as back and leg, which would be expected of working men and women, though I did note one case of syphilis! Presumably this person was considered to be worthy of the care of the parish, so perhaps they were innocently infected with the disease.

To read more about the workhouse I recommend Peter Higginbotham’s site:
http://www.workhouses.org.uk/

There are also some modules on the workhouses and the Poor laws within the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History See the special Trial Offer running currently by clicking this link: http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/trialoffer.

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Add colour to family history facts to make ancestors lives interesting

 

Census 1861

I was at a function recently and on my table was an enthusiastic family historian who had been tracing his family tree for many years. Next to him was the inevitable sceptic who tried to put us both in our place by saying just how boring she thought “gathering a load of names and dates was”. I didn’t enquire what her hobby was, or even if she had one at all.

I did surprised her, however, by agreeing and saying that one of my mantras that I repeat often in my contributions to the Family History Researcher Academy course is to find out about the lives, work, environment and social conditions that existed at the time that your forebears were alive.

If you have discovered, from a search of the census, that your Great Aunt Jane was in service in a large house then I would make an effort to go and visit the below stairs of a similar property. There are quite a few National Trust houses that meet the bill. On a visit to Erdigg in North Wales, this was exactly what I did. There the upstairs and downstairs were beautifully presented to give a feel for what life was like for our ancestors living in both levels of society.

Erdigg

As a worked example of what I teach, let’s consider my ancestor Henry Thomas Thorne. From the census of 1861, accessed on TheGenealogist  I am able to discover him working in the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth where he is employed as a rope-maker at H.M.Dockyard.

1861 Portsmouth census

 

This weekend I had the chance to visit Portsmouth and not only go to the church where he married, but also to tour the Historic Dockyard and see an exhibit explaining how men like my 2x great-grandfather and his colleagues created the cordage that the Royal Navy of the time required for its ships.

I had previously obtained a copy of my ancestors’ wedding certificate from the GRO, having found their details in the Births, Marriages and Death Indexes that are available on various websites.

St Mary's Portsea

On this visit to Portsmouth I could now walk in the footsteps of my forebears on their wedding day the 5th February 1859 at St Mary’s, Portsea Island.HMS Warrior 1860

I could go on board H.M.S. Warrior, an actual warship from the time period (1860) and see how the cordage that he made was used on this ironclad steam and sail man-of-war.

Coiled rope

And I could see the tools that Henry would have used everyday, in the exhibition piece there.

Ropemaking

This story of my weekend excursion illustrates how I use the information that I discover in the records as a springboard to go on and find social history museums, or even the actual places that my ancestors would have gone to, and so build my family’s story.

If you haven’t moved past the gathering of names and dates stage in your family tree research, then I urge you to start doing so now.

 

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

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Who Do You Think You Are? Sir Derek Jacobi – Wills and more

 

Derek Jacobi from TheGenealogist

I watched the Sir Derek Jacobi episode of Who Do You think You Are? with great interest this week. The television researchers showed us that although the famous actor was born into a South London family of humble stock, he was descended from a Huguenot ancestor of status. Joseph De La Plaigne had been imprisoned in France for his protestant beliefs, before making his escape to England in his sixties.

It gave me great delight to find the TV programme showed Sir Derek a copy of his illustrious forebear’s will, as I too had discovered this very same document when looking around the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills on TheGenealogist’s website.

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

If you want to read more about this and some of Sir Derek’s other ancestors’ last wishes, then there is an article on TheGenealogist’s website that I helped put together.

TheGenealogist Wills of ancestor of Sir Derek Jacobi

Many people from all stations of society, including some whom we would not have expected to have, made wills and so it is certainly worth taking a look to see if your ancestors left one.

Before 1858, England and Wales were divided into two provinces. The largest and most influential was Canterbury, which covered the South of England up to the Midlands and also Wales. The other was York, which covered Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and the Isle of Man. The two provinces of Canterbury and York each had their own Archbishop, and were divided into several dioceses. Each diocese had a minimum of two bishops, and these dioceses were also divided again into archdeaconries.

All wills, up until 12 January 1858, had to be proven in a church court to ensure that the will was legal. Wills were proven in over 250 church courts across the country, and the records of these are now stored mostly in local record offices.

For more on wills there is a module that reveals more about the subject inside the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History that is available from the link below. The course takes the student from beginning researching their English/Welsh ancestor to deal with many intermediate level lessons such as wills and much more.

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Fantastic Map Resource for Family Historians

http://www.nls.uk/ I’ve been having a lot of interesting fun playing with the many maps on the National Library of Scotland site. NLS give access to some historic high-resolution zoomable images of over 91,000 maps of Scotland and beyond.

Initially I was using it to superimpose the old OS 1:10K 1900 map on to the modern satellite image of the plot of a long demolished ancestors house in Fife (see the hatched building in the image on this page). By using the slider, that changes the opacity, I was able to see exactly where the house had been in relation to the ground today. All that remains are the stables and the farm buildings that make up part of the modern farm and no sign from the air of the villa that once stood on the plot.

It is not just maps of Scotland that can be found on this brilliant website as I was able to select an English county and chose between different series of the Ordnance Survey and the modern hybrid view from the air for a village in Leicestershire that I was interested in not to mention the coverage for London.

The better family historians will always try to gather together as much information on their ancestors as possible so as to be able to place their forebears squarely into the contemporary environment in which they lived.

The bare genealogical facts of names, dates and places go only so far to build a family tree, whereas finding out about the social and physical landscapes of your past family’s lives can help you to understand the challenges that faced them.

Landscapes can and did change over time. The enclosure of land and the movement from rural employment to working in the cities, as the industrial process grew had an affect on past generations. The building of the railways and roads, which may have disrupted their lives as well as provided new communication routes for them to travel down can often be seen by looking at various map series over time.

For those of you researching your English/Welsh family history and have hit a brick wall, maps are covered in more detail in a module of the Family History Researcher Academy.

 

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Wolf Hall and family history

Thomas Cromwell

You may have been watching the BBC’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” on television. The lead character in the book and television series, is Thomas Cromwell a man born into a working class family who rises to be the right hand man of Cardinal Wolsey, at one time King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. Cromwell managed to survive the fall from grace of Wolsey and went on to become the King’s Chief Minister until his own downfall.

The connection between this man and we family historians, with ancestors in England and Wales, is that Thomas Cromwell is responsible for the fact that we are able to trace many of our ancestors back in the documents created by the parish churches across the land.

The Parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, were first introduced into the Church of England in 1538 by Cromwell as Henry VIII’s Vicar General and Vice regent, a position that gave him power to supervise the church.

Cromwell required that every parish church was to acquire a sure coffer (that is, a parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored. While the parish chest was not a new idea, they could have been found in churches up and down the land all the way back to medieval times, what was new, in Tudor times, was the notion that Cromwell dictated that accurate records were to be kept and the responsibility to do so was placed on the parish officials to keep these records safe.

The parish chest were often no more than a hollowed out tree trunk that was secured with three locks. The keys were to be kept by the Bishop, the Priest and by a religious layman.

By the mid-1500’s the parishioners in every parish of the land were instructed by law to provide a strong chest with a hole in the upper part thereof, and having three keys, for holding the alms for the poor. Another chest may have been used to keep safe the church’s plate and this or the first chest would also double up as a place where the parish registers and other parish documents could be kept safe. In some places only one chest would have sufficed for both purposes, while in other parishes two or more may have been used.

So the debt we owe to Thomas Cromwell is that he introduced parish registers, some of which have survived pests, fire and flood back through the generations and provide us today with names of ancestors stretching back generations.

If you want to know more about what documents to use to find your elusive ancestors then join the Family History Researcher Academy to learn where to look and what resources to use.

 

If you are new to English/Welsh family history research then I’ve got a FREE quick read tip sheet for you.

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