Nonconformist buried in my family tree.

As you may know, if you have been following me for any length of time, that Devon is one of the areas of the U.K. that I research my ancestors in. Some of my Devonian forebears turned away from the established Church of England and became dissenters. There seems to be a rather limited number of nonconformist chapel burial records actually surviving within the county of Devon and so this can be a bit of a brick wall for us. Many family historians may well have found that in their own family trees, ancestors left the Church of England to practice their faith in other Christian churches.

By the law of the land, people of each and every denomination could be laid to rest inside their parish churchyard. Although this was the case, however, the relatives of people who were nonconformists were not allowed to have a Church of England burial service at the graveside. This would be fine if all the deceased’s family were no longer C of E, but I would guess it could be upsetting for family members who had not joined their relation in nonconformity and so would have wanted a service conducted by the local vicar!

I was intrigued to find out that people who held offices within the “establishment” were affected by another piece of legislation. I am talking here about Councillors as well as some other municipal officials. These worthy people were not allowed to put on their robes of office to attend the funeral of a non conformist councillor and this would have included the wearing of a mayoral chain etc. Should they rashly have broken this rule then they were liable to a fine of £100 and in addition they would likely end up being barred from civic office throughout the rest of their lives!

Many nonconformists, however, did not wish to be interred within land held by the Church of England. Quakers, most especially, established their own unique burial grounds. In these, the family historian will discover, plots defined by somewhat plain, uncomplicated stones that usually feature only the initials belonging to the departed.

A number of chapels established their own burial grounds, this included the Independents, Methodists as well as the Baptists. Furthermore, if you go researching your nonconformist ancestors in several country places in England, you will find that burial grounds were opened for all those involved with the various nonconformist denominations and would not specifically be confined to only one or other of the particular religious faith traditions. Around 1880 a welcome change, in the laws of England & Wales, granted the possibility for the family of a person, being laid to rest within a Church of England parish graveyard, to opt for a minister from their own religious beliefs to be able to preside over the burial service. This began the downfall in making use of separate nonconformist burial grounds as they were often less popular because of the fact that, in some cases, they were several miles from the particular village or district from where the deceased’s family resided. In 1853 and following on from the considerable overcrowding of church graveyards and burial grounds, due in some measure to the number of cholera fatalities and so forth, Parliament handed down a further law closing a large number of these areas to fresh internments. The result of the law saw many towns as well as bigger parishes setting up cemeteries, to look after the continued burial of the deceased.

To find earlier burial grounds nowadays isn’t always that simple a task. In an ideal world you would be able to find someone who possesses the required local knowledge of their location and is also willing to assist you in your research. I’ve had the happy experience of this while I was researching my family in Cheltenham, England. The local history society, as well as an amateur historian from one of the bigger churches, were luckily able to help lead me in the right direction to find my ancestor, for which I was very grateful. The basic scarcity of registers, nevertheless, will most likely make it tough if you want to research for names.

A further point, that you may need to take into consideration when researching your forebears, is that if the deceased was very poor and given a “paupers” grave, then the name of the unfortunate will not have been marked down in the burial records except for a numbered peg entered to locate the grave.

Lastly, I’d like to pass on this story that I have found reported in various places about a Church of England husband and a nonconformist wife wishing to be buried together. It is mentioned, for example, on the Bristol Times website thisisbristol.co.uk that in Arnos Vale Cemetery there is an elaborate monument raised for merchant Thomas Gadd Matthews (C of E) and his wife Mary (Congregationalist), which famously straddles both Anglican and nonconformist sections. The story seems to be that Matthews purchased a large grave plot strategically placed so that the two, while wishing to be true to their respective faiths, could be buried in a family plot that sits on the boundary line between the C of E and nonconformist parts of the cemetery. A rather lovely tale!

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Family Search and the Family Historian

I have been on my own family search quest for several years now. Some of the foremost websites that I have used in this time include the world famous familysearch.org, run by the Latter Day Saints and often referred to as LDS; Ancestry, operated by the Generations Network;  The Genealogist.co.uk;  Genes Reunited and   Findmypast.com. (Disclosure re these links: Compensated Affiliate.)

FamilySesarch, however, is one of the biggest genealogy organizations in the world and as such is an important on-line tool for any family historian. Countless millions of us will search the records, resources, and services of this website to learn more about our family history each year. For more than a century the people behind it have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide. Today, the users of the site are able to freely access the database, including the International Genealogical Index as well as church member contributed material, on-line at FamilySearch.org, or through over 4,500 family history centres in 70 countries.

The Internet resource is provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whom you may be more familiar with as the Mormon Church. Their commitment to helping people make a connection with their ancestors comes from their belief that families are meant to be central to our lives and that family relationships are intended to continue into the after life. From this they therefore believe that all family members including those living, past, and those from the future, share an enduring bond which stretches across the generations.

Their website does not require you to share their beliefs at all, but is open to all of us to use what ever our creed, or culture is. It is a very useful resource for anyone engaged in the detective work involved in tracing one’s family tree.

The International Genealogical Index and Hugh Wallis.

Once you have keyed in your ancestor’s name into the search box you will be accessing a compilation of entries from baptism and marriage registers drawn from parishes and their equivalent from all over the world. Although it is a site run from the USA, for those of us with UK roots it still very relevant as it represents us well with index records. Some English counties in particular having excellent coverage.

The site, however, has certain issues in the way that you can search it. One of which is it is not always simple to find your ancestors even when they are there to be found in the IGI – which, of course, is not always the case. The reason why you may not find them is because to search by last name only is not permitted by the site’s search engine, unless you search within a single batch of records at a time or, across the entire country! You will probably understand that a search for a last name across the whole of England is a very tall order indeed. Remember it is not even a search of a single county, let alone a town that we are talking about here. If you have a rare name then perhaps it might be OK to do, but if you are looking for a Smith or a Jones then you are asking the impossible.

I have learnt that there is a way around this problem. It is to use a really handy website set up by an enthusiast to aid the family history researcher find their way around the FamilySearch site. What is more, it helps us know what registers are available on the IGI. The secret weapon to crack open the Family Search site is the website maintained by Hugh Wallis: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~hughwallis/IGIBatchNumbers.htm

The possible ranges he allows you to access are the Births/Christenings and Marriages for the British Isles, Canada and the USA. I really cannot recommend this tool highly enough to you. With it you may select a geographic location, see the churches and chapels for that area and then, by typing in the last name of your ancestor, it will use the search engine on FamilySearch to allow you to easily examine all the batches for that surname in the town or area that you are concentrating on.

Some Issues With the IGI.

Please remember, when doing your research, that the International Genealogical Index:

is incomplete – and this applies not only on a parish by parish basis, but to within parishes as well where gaps may also be found to confound you

– is compiled from several different types of record including information submitted by members of the LDS church supplying information that can sometimes be plain inaccurate and not having come from the original parish register

– has countless mistakes caused by problems associated with interpreting handwriting and also the previously noted member submitted entries

– does not, except for a few cases, cover burials;

– is only an index and so you really should not ever considered it to be a substitute for looking at the original record.

A short while ago, as I tried to get back a generation from where the census records on line had stopped in 1841, I found I was having to turn to the Parish Records. For my Scottish line I was able to use the easily accessed old parish records (OPR) on Scotlandspeople.gov.uk website, but for my English line the lack of scanned records meant the challenge of learning how to break into this area of family history research was a fascinating test for me.

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Clandestine Marriages

Today I wanted to look at Clandestine marriages!

Well what are they you cry?

The answer is that “Clandestine” marriages were weddings that perhaps had an element of secrecy attached to them.

They may have taken place in another part of the country away from a home parish, and probably without either banns being read or a marriage licence obtained. The secrecy could have been for all sorts of reasons for example lack of parental consent; or more salaciously where bigamy was involved.

The facts that fees were paid to the clergymen meant that some were willing to conduct such marriage ceremonies. What is more the number of such unions were quite enormous, particularly in London.

You will find that certain churches were important centres for such “trade”and in the 1740s, over half of all London weddings were taking place in the environs of the Fleet Prison and not all the brides and grooms would have been from the capital city.

“Fleet Marriages” were performed by bogus priests and disgraced ordained clergy. Although there were most probably earlier ones, the earliest Fleet Marriage on record is 1613, while the earliest recorded in a Fleet Register took place in 1674.

The Fleet was a jail and so, as such, claimed to be outside the jurisdiction of the church. The prison warders took a share of the profit, even though a statute of 1711 imposed fines upon them for doing so. What this did was move the clandestine marriage trade outside of the prison. It was in the lawless environs of the Fleet that many debtors lived and some of them may well have been disgraced clergymen. Marriage houses or taverns now carried on the trade, encouraged by local hostelry keepers who sought out business by employing touts to actively solicit custom for them.

If you wish to search for these Clandestine marriages on line then you are in luck as you can find them at: www.ancestry.co.uk (Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.)Ancestry.co.uk on a computer screenTheir London Marriage Licences data set allows you access to the details of more than 25,000 marriages in London spanning four centuries.

This collection is not just about “Fleet marriages” but is for unions made outside church approval – those away from the spouses’ normal parish and often you will be able to find the names of brides and grooms, parents and witnesses as well as residence, age of spouses and the occupation of the groom. This collection has marriage licences granted in the dioceses of London by the Bishop’s office from 1521 to 1828, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster’s office from 1599 to 1699 and two offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1543 to 1869 and 1660 to 1679 and so is an important resource for the family historian.

Take a look at Ancestry.co.uk.

Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.

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Search Lost Relatives! How To Easily And Effortlessly Look For Someone You Lost Contact With

Lately my wife’s sister got curious about what
had happened to her first husband after they broken up. That marriage had
finished badly and they hadn’t been in touch for almost
thirty years. She tried hunting for her ex-husband’s name on Google and
Yahoo but didn’t get any hits. Knowing I do research online in my work as a
qualified writer, she asked if I might discover
anything.

I write for business and technical magazines, so I
use numerous high-priced databases for in-
depth research. However I suggested she
try an easier alternative- a way out I use myself when I want to
search for somebody quickly and without difficulty. I
recommended she try one of the people search database services. Even the
better ones cost so little, they’re practically free. Most offer a trial
period. I gave her the name of one to try.

She was dubious. She’s not very comfortable using her computer for much
more than email. Her stab at the search engines had already left her
upset. Now she was going to have to “sign up for something and
learn something completely new… oh my goodness,” was the way
she put it.

Yet, later the same day I suggested it, she emailed back excitedly.
In a few minutes, she’d discovered all kinds of information
regarding her ex. It turned out that he’d done something of a turnaround after they’d
broken up. Their divorce resulted from
clashes over his severe drinking problem. After they got separated,
though, he’d ultimately gone back to med school, gotten his MD and become an
orthopaedic surgeon. He’d even been instrumental in
developing some kind of device used by other
physicians in his field.

Regrettably, the poor fellow had passed, but at least my sister-
in-law discovered reassure in knowing that things had
worked out for him in spite of everything. She remarked that even if their relationship ended in the most awful imaginable way,
it had began from a good point. She said she hadn’t actually wanted to contact
him. She just wanted to know what had happened to him.
At times all we want is only to satisfy our  inquisitiveness about what happened to someone we’ve lost
track of. Many of us have an old pal or associate we still think about.
A Better Way to Find People

I suspect that’s what makes people searching so hot. As many as half a million
times a month, somebody searches on Google alone, hunting for
a way to find a lost person. Whether it’s someone from the past with
whom we’ve lost touch, or somebody we met last weekend and
desire to see again, were always hunting for others.

Unluckily, many general searches fail. Just like Googling
failed for my sister-in-law. The information is out there, somewhere. But being
forced to sift through so many unrelated results makes it nearly
impossible.

By the way – majority of searchers don’t know this –
search engine results don’t really extend beyond about a thousand entries. Even
when the search engine results page says they found millions and millions of hits, they don’t
really bother to expose it and give you access to all of it. They’re
actually only estimating from their own database tables. Even they
understand it’s a waste of time.

When You Choose a Personal Search Service, Here’s What to Seek

If you choose to try out a personal search database, here are the things I’ve
found essential to mull over during a review

Free versus Paid

I’ve been dissatisfied by the free services. Their main concern
seems to be to try and get you to click on some of the pay-per-click ads
they’re presenting.

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Skeletons in the Cupboard.

Have you found any skeletons in the cupboard?

If perhaps, like myself, you’ve been doing your family tree research for any length of time then no doubt you’ll have discovered that a number of your own forefathers weren’t quite as you envisioned. The problem occurs in the event that the skeleton, which our forbears have managed to shut away inside the proverbial cupboard, comes tumbling out due to your time and efforts to research your family history. In my own case an ancestor proved to have had a previous wife and children that not one of my relatives knew about. It might appear that this individual conveniently did not seem to remember about his former family when he married into our line! The result of uncovering these facts were that some of my kin were very annoyed with me. They believed that my submitting to them my findings somehow besmirched the fine name of the subsequent wife and our ancestor, whose religious upbringing and moral teaching rejected the concept of any divorce.

It might appear from fresh academic research, carried out at the University of Warwick, that I am one of many. It was while reading on the Reuters internet site that I found the following: “A recent study revealed that people researching their family history often open a Pandora’s Box of secrets that can unsettle and offend relatives, sometimes permanently damaging relations.”

Sociology Professor Anne-Marie Kramer revealed to the British Sociological Association’s yearly conference in Glasgow that in her study, conducted amongst 224 individuals who gave her details of their family history research, around thirty of these mentioned conflict.

In the report, published on Reuters’ website, Kramer noted that the considerable factors behind conflict had been when unwelcome information was uncovered, requesting information from relatives who would prefer not to give it, relatives supplying inaccurate information, expending more time on researching family history rather than with loved ones, and coming into contact with hostile relations.

The Professor explained how men and women in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States were being able to view numerous examples of historical data today caused by the amazing growth in the family history and heritage community both on-line and off.

“But in investigating their family history, researchers could open up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and skeletons, such as finding there are family issues around paternity, illegitimacy or marriage close to birth of children, criminality, health and mental health and previously unknown humble origins,” Kramer said in a statement on Warwick University’s website.

Perhaps we should all bear in mind the need to exercise just a little awareness and diplomacy whenever we set out to interact with our extended family about our genealogical studies. Family historians, endeavouring to research their particular family tree, ought to bear in mind this word of caution that not each and every one will welcome you finding out the truth. Health Warning: Family history research can damage your relationships with your relatives, if you are not careful!

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Help Me Understand the Census Images

1871 Census on Computer ScreenThe censuses can baffle people beginning family history, when they first encounter them. You go on to a commercial site and pay to download the image of your long lost ancestors and you are presented with an official form covered in sometimes difficult to read handwriting and what looks like lots of lines crossing out some of the data.

Lets start at the top!

The Header.

The Header contains the Location. That is broken down into sub sections, for example: the administrative county; the civil parish, etc. Boundaries were constantly changing and although it may appear that your ancestor has moved between the census, it could just have been a change in administrative division that had taken place. Also beware of house number changes or street name changes. I had one in my tree where 2 Densham Terrace, was 80 North Road and is now 199 North West Road, Plymouth!

Schedule Numbers.

The column on the far left of the document is the Schedule Number and NOT the house number! With the exception of the 1911 census, what we are looking at, when we download a census, is a page from the Enumerator’s book. The far left column, then, lists the number of the original schedule filled in by the head of the household. These schedules are not available any more with the exception of the 1911, which is why you can get to see the handwriting of the person that filled it in!

Names.

Beware that ancestors can vary their names across census! My Great Aunt Winnie appears as Eveline Winnifred and Winnifred Eveline on different census. A middle name may make an appearance after the death of a mother and if someone was know by a pet name, like one of my grandmothers, then this may be put down instead of her actual name. One more thing, north of the border it was usual for Scottish widows to revert to their maiden names.

Professions.

We all like to exaggerate a bit and so did our ancestors. A carpenter may become a Cabinet Maker or a merchant seaman a master mariner. Another thing to think about is where your ancestor had two or more jobs. Which went down on the schedule?

Place of Birth.

This could change depending on your ancestor actually knowing it. But also consider when a county changed its name or its boundaries moved, your ancestor’s place of birth has just changed.

If Deaf and Dumb; Blind, Lunatic, Imbecile or Feeble Minded.

Don’t fear the worst as this covers a variety of medical conditions with little option for degree of ailment. The options offered are a bit stark to the modern politically correct twenty-first century dweller.

Double strokes.

As you scroll down the page you will notice someone has inserted two parallel lines next to the names of some people. What does this mean? This indicates where the next household starts. So between the first // and the second all those names are considered to be part of the same household.

So, the downloadable census collections are a great tool for the family historian, providing us with fantastic insight into our departed family, but the information has the ability to confuse as well as to inform.

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