“Give me a tip on how to break down my brick wall!” said the old fashioned letter I received in my post box.
“Just try to focus your attention on one bit of information that you want to find out about and stop chasing all the other results about your ancestor!” I replied in my note back, “at least until you find the answer to your burning question.”
What I meant by this, and explained further in my reply, is that so often we set out to find something about an ancestor but get distracted. When we enter the person’s name, into the search box on the data site, all the other records that are presented to us can be a distraction. Like the proverbial kid in the sweet shop we go off dipping into this one and the next and soon we have strayed from what we went onto the site in the first place for.
So if my correspondent’s brick wall was where their ancestor lived in a certain time period, then that is what they should zoom in on while leaving all the other records to one side and pursue this goal.
The writer of the tips article does advise you to save any other interesting information that you have turned up to go back to and look at later, but they strongly advise against getting sidetracked.
Keep working on the one piece of information only and if the records you are looking through turn up nothing, tweak your search again and again until you are satisfied that you have explored every angle.
I do love the data websites that allow you to Search All Records, as sometimes it is exciting and useful to use this option; but when we have a brick wall to smash down our best option is often to restrict our search to a particular database and then try various spellings and other variations to see if we can tease out the information we require. There are other techniques that you can also use as well, but this is a really good place to start.
I hope this idea helps someone this week get past a logjam in their research.
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Learn how to discover where to find the many records and resources that will help you to find your forebears.
As an island nation I am sure that many of the readers of this blog will have ancestors that have gone to sea, if only for a short time. Many of us will have family who have served in the Royal Navy and so have discovered just how intimidating it is to research a Royal Naval ancestor, especially if we compare it to looking for those of our kin who were in the British Army or the Royal Air Force.
The book begins by giving the reader a short introduction on how to get started in their research. Simon Fowler assumes the reader has little prior knowledge of the navy and its history. His book shows you how to trace an officer, petty officer or rating from the seventeenth century up to the 1960s using records at the National Archives and elsewhere.
The reader will discover that the records of RN officers and ratings can be located back to 1660, often with more success than if you were looking for similar records in the army. As holdings for officers and ratings up to 1914 are different Simon Fowler has separated the two into their own chapters. A separate chapter then addresses the records from 1914 which covers all ranks.
There are additional chapters for the various auxiliary services; the coastguard; the Royal Marines; the WRNS; HM Dockyards; the sick and wounded and researching ships.
Depending on the era in question there are many naval records that the reader can use to discover more about the Royal Navy and its personnel. This well illustrated book shows the reader where to find the records, explains well what they contain and is an excellent addition to anyone’s library if they are interested in Royal Naval ancestors.
Editions available to buy from the following links:
Last Thursday night, on BBC TV, saw what many people on my facebook page are saying was the best programme in the 12th UK series of Who Do You Think You Are so far. The subject was Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent who made the news himself in June 2004 when he was shot six times and seriously wounded by al-Qaeda sympathisers in Saudi Arabia.
It was his maternal family tree, that was the subject of the one hour show. It would seem to have delighted those viewers that have commented on social media because, while it did pick out certain key ancestors to look at in more detail, the episode went on to trace Frank’s line as far back as the research would take them. This happened to be to William the Conqueror himself and so it more than validated the family story, that Frank had heard as a child from his mother, that they were descended from the Normans.
You certainly couldn’t have wanted to find a better ancestor than the Norman King, if you were trying to prove that your family came over with the Normans! Without any shadow of a doubt William, Duke of Normandy, is one Norman that no one can dispute arrived in England at that time.
The satisfaction of being able to trace one generation back to another and then back to another, and so on for 31 generations, is something that very few of us can have the gratification of being able to do. Yet I was asked by a contact this weekend if I had noticed that it was often a pretty zig-zag line that was taken. The lineage, they had spotted from the pedigree shown on the screen, would meander back though the mother of an ancestor and then her mother. The next generation back was again via the female line and then, perhaps, the male branch for a couple of generations before going up the female line again.
“How could the Herald at the College of Arms have told Frank that he was directly descended from William the Conqueror?”
“Because he is!” I replied, nonplussed. “A direct line does not mean everyone has to have the same surname and be descended from the male. Women are just as important as ancestors to us all.”
I believe that this is a mistake that many may make in their family tree research. Unintentionally concentrating on charging back up one line following the father, the grandfather to trace the surname back. This can even happen if our quest started with a woman.
It takes two to create an offspring and the child, we know now, receives half their DNA from each parent. So take time to investigate some of your female lines and see where they take you. You too may be as lucky as Frank Gardner in your discoveries.
TheGenealogist website’s researchers have also turned up an interesting fact about the journalist’s dad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And I could see the tools that Henry would have used everyday, in the exhibition piece there.
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.
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.
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.
The BBC have now revealed the running order in which the Who do You Think You Are? celebrities episodes will be broadcast this coming August, September and October. This is the 12th series in the UK and I for one am intrigued as to what family history stories are going to be revealed.
This perennially popular genealogical TV programme starts with the Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood, whose maternal family will be explored on 13th August. From what I have read it will be concentrating on his grandfather’s war experiences in Tunisia and Africa before jumping back a few generations to a Scottish line of his. Paul’s ancestor was a postman, in the Highlands, who was unable to afford a horse with which to cover his rounds delivering the mail to 30,000 people. Donald McKenzie, instead, ran the 120 miles with the mail every week.
The series will be aired every Thursday evening at 9pm on BBC One, with a one week break in between Derek Jacobi and Jerry Hall’s episodes on 3 September.
Although the schedule may still be subject to change, Frances de la Tour’s story will close the series on 22nd of October.
13 August: Paul Hollywood
20 August: Jane Seymour
27 August: Derek Jacobi
3 September: No episode
10 September: Jerry Hall
17 September: Gareth Malone
24 September: Anne Reid
1 October: Frank Gardner
8 October: Anita Rani
15 October: Mark Gatiss
22 October: Frances de la Tour
Hit a brick wall with your English/Welsh ancestors?
Learn how to discover the many records and resources to find your forebears within
Seems like a great resource for anyone with Jewish ancestors from London.
TheGenealogist has released online 99,500 records of London synagogue seat-holders spanning the years from 1920 to 1939.
Covering the records from 18 Synagogues around London with many connected guilds, societies and charities etc.
Additional information found in these records include names of gentlemen eligible for office, life member of the council, women who are seatholders in their own right and seatholders who are not eligible to vote.
Fully searchable by name, keyword, synagogue and address, the Jewish Synagogue Seatholders has been extracted from various years of: “Seatholders for Synagogues in London”
Those with Jewish ancestors from London will welcome this fascinating new release from TheGenealogist. Revealing details of positions held by forebears, researchers will be able to track ancestors who became wardens, council members, or served on committees of their synagogue, as well as seatholders in synagogues from around the capital city. These fully indexed records allow family historians to search by name, keyword, synagogue and address and with one click see an image taken from the pages of Seatholders for Synagogues in London.
The records include some synagogues that are no longer in existence; for example the Great Synagogue that once stood at Duke’s Place and which was destroyed in the Blitz.
Nigel Bayley, MD of TheGenealogist said: “These records will allow you to search for Jewish relatives amongst the London synagogue seatholders, it is now easier than ever to discover any official positions that your jewish ancestor held.”
Here is an example provided by TheGenealogist to illustrate these records:
Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, OBE (25 January 1882 – 28 January 1942) can be found in these records. De Rothschild was an English banker and a Conservative politician who was well known as the creator of Exbury Gardens near the New Forest in Hampshire. He was the eldest of the three sons of Leopold de Rothschild (1845–1917) and Marie née Perugia (1862–1937) and a part of the illustrious Rothschild banking family of England.
On 25 January 1910 he was elected to the House of Commons for the constituency of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire – his grandfather and namesake had been the first practising Jew to be able to take up his seat in Parliament.
Exbury House from wikipedia
His father, Leopold, died in early 1917 and Lionel and brother Anthony became the managing partners of N M Rothschild & Sons bank. However, Lionel de Rothschild had developed an interest in horticulture at a very young age and is said to have planted his first garden at the age of five. In 1919, he purchased the Mitford estate at Exbury in Hampshire where he devoted a great deal of time and money to transform it into one of the finest gardens in all of England with more than one million plants building Exbury House around an existing structure in a neo-Georgian style. Although he continued to work at the family bank, he is quoted as describing himself as “a banker by hobby — a gardener by profession”. Lionel Nathan de Rothschild died in London, aged sixty, in 1942 and was buried in the Willesden Jewish Cemetery.
Logging into TheGenealogist and selecting Jewish Synagogue Seatholders from the dropdown menu, we enter Lionel as a forename and De Rothschild as the surname. We can filter the results by date. This returns us several positions that De Rothschild held in three different synagogues in London, including the Warden of the Great Synagogue that once stood in Duke’s Place, north of Aldgate, until it was destroyed in the London Blitz. We can also see that he was the President of the United Synagogue in North Finchley.
Selecting that record allows us to view the actual image of the page from the Seatholders for Synagogues in London 1920.
Check out the records with a subscription to this great website…
On finding myself in London with some time on my hands earlier this year I decided to pay a visit to Marylebone to see where it was that my 19th century ancestors lived for a short while.
Having found that they had been resident at 19 Paddington Street in the 1861 census for London, by using TheGenelogist’s Master Search, I was keen to take a look at the shop above which they had lived. My ancestor, George Colwill was listed as a plaster, but it seemed he and his new wife were living above a baker’s shop in London. They would go on to become bakers back in Plymouth, where he had hailed from and then grocers and bakers.
On arriving in the busy London street today I was delighted to find that it still held many of the period buildings that I hoped would have survived, at least at first-floor level an above. Being a commercial area the shops fascias had been updated over the years to give a more modern aspect.
Sadly, number 19 Paddington Street seemed to be a post war building that occupied a plot that was one in from the corner with Luxborough Street and sat next to a somewhat grander Victorian building.
I wondered if the previous structure had been damaged in the bombings of the Second World War. To find out I went online to do a search of the Discovery catalogue on the National Archives website. TNA’s new search engine not only reveals what is in their own collections, but also combines what use to be the Access to Archives(A2A) with records listed for some of what is held at 400 other archives across England.
Here I found that the City of Westminster Archives Centre held a document called STREET INCIDENTS with the reference of: stmarylebonecdu/2 . What interested me was a line in the result for: Luxborough Street Corner with Paddington Street 11 May-19 November 1941 File: 546.
Recently I have also discovered a brilliant online resource at bombsight.org that allows researchers to see an astonishing interactive map that shows every German bomb that fell on London during the WW2 Blitz.
From this I could see that there was indeed an entry for this bomb and another that fell very close by. The shocking thing about this website is when you zoom out and see quite how many bombs were drooped as a whole on the capital.
www.bombsight.org consulted 19th July 2015 version number (1.0).
If you too have ancestors from London and you want to discover if their home or workplace had been destroyed in the Blitz then take a look now at the interactive maps on bombsight.org. You can filter by Satellite view, Street Map, Anti-invasion sites, 1940s bomb maps and bomb incidents.
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Learn how to discover more records and resources to discover your forebears within
I was lucky enough to have some time recently to look around Salisbury Cathedral and in amongst the treasures of that beautiful place of worship I noticed a couple of ancient chests that were being completely ignored by the streams passing visitors.
As a family historian, interested in searching for ancestors in the Parish Records, I am acutely aware that these interesting heavy wooden pieces of furniture also appear in churches up and down the country and at one time performed a vital function in the preservation of documents that we use today in researching our families.
In my English/Welsh family history course, available online at www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com, I cover Parish Chest records in more detail in lesson 8. If you want to know more about how to tease out your elusive ancestors, from the documents that they were recorded in, then perhaps you may like to join me and numerous satisfied students on an online journey to learn more about the resources and records that you could be using.
As a teaser I am reproducing some of the content of that lesson below:
The Parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, were first introduced by Henry VIII’s Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell in 1538 to the English Church. Cromwell, who supervised the church through his position as Henry’s Vicar General and Vice regent, required that every parish church was to acquire a sure coffer (that is, a parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored.
The parish chest was not a new idea, however, they could have been found in churches up and down the land all the way back to medieval times. Often no more than a hollowed out tree trunk that was secured with three locks. The keys to which were to be kept by the Bishop, the Priest and by a religious layman. 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.
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.
As can be seen by the pictures above, The Parish Chest was just that; a chest locked and housed in the church that could now only be opened by the Vicar and two officers of the parish.
It was the place for the parish church to keep safe its documents away from mice, dust and other conditions that may have damaged them. But as the chest filled up with records, then the oldest papers at the bottom would have been disposed of to make room for newer documents to go on top. For this reason alone many records will not have survived to the present day.
That is sad as the various account books, bundles of documents of all different sizes, could be valuable information. You may be able to read some fragments of extra information about your forebears and their lives, if your ancestor had dealings with the church in their parish. It could be that your ancestor was an artisan that was paid for some service by the parish clerk.
Perhaps your ancestor was mentioned in Settlement Examinations? Or Apprenticeship Indentures? What about bastardy examinations and bonds? Maybe the Constables’ and Overseers’ account books?
All of these records are what we call the Parish Chest documents as formally they would have lived in such a container in the church.
The reason why these documents may not have survived through to the present day are many. Some parishes would have been poor at keeping good records, anyway. Others may have consciously destroyed their documents while yet more parishes lost their records accidentally – perhaps through carelessness, water damage, fire, fungus, mold, or by being eaten by insects or animals.
As a consequence, when Parish Chest material has survived, for your parish, then you will definitely want to take a look at what has endured the years as it can open up a fantastic insight into your ancestor’s parish.
Other Parish Records
Here are some other records in the parish chest:
The Churchwardens Accounts
Glebe Terriers and Tithe Records
Charity Accounts (possibly not of a great deal of use to family historians!)
Petty Constables Accounts
Various other miscellaneous records
As I have stressed above, it is by no means certain that these documents will have survived the ravage of time, if they have, however, then the originals should now be stored away safely at the relevant County Record Office for the church in question. You see how the County Record Offices come up time and time again? I love visiting them and I encourage any of you that can to do so too.
In many cases you may be lucky enough to find that a local history society, or a county record society, may have published some of these records in full, if so then do take a look at their publications.
Be warned, however, that it is unusual to find any generally available on the Internet. Despite this caveat, I would still say that it is worth your while doing a search on Google, Bing or some other search engine.
Also it is worth seeing if they have possibly been filmed by the LDS and so made available from your local Family History Centre.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,