Family History rather than Genealogy?

 

Old Leamington Spa

I love researching my family history – rather than just doing genealogy. If you have got the  bug that makes you want to find out who your ancestors were, then you may feel the same.

A list of names and dates, on a family tree, is a great start – but don’t you just want to know what their story was and where exactly they lived?

Whenever I find myself in a place that I have some sort of ancestral tie to I can’t help but wonder what it was like in their day.

It is often the way for me, as I visit a town I mentally scan my family tree to see if any of my ancestors ever lived there. If I recall that one or more did then I get the itch to go and see where it was that they actually lived. This is even if the street bears no resemblance to how it looked in their day, perhaps as a result of having been redeveloped in the years since. I still, however, get a kick from walking in their footsteps and I wonder how many of you can relate to this? It is probably the reason that genealogical tourism is becoming so popular.

 

Recently I had a very pleasant lunch with some cousins in Leamington Spa. While they went off to look around the shops I hightailed-it to the Leamington library that is situated, along with a museum, in what had once been the Royal Pump Rooms. I wanted to take advantage of the library’s Local History section and see if I could come up with an answer to a question that had been left open in my research for some time.

Where did my great-great grandparents live in the middle 1830s period when they stayed in this English Spa town?

 

With my Leamington ancestors I am lucky enough to know that while they lived here they had one of my great-granduncles baptised in 1836 at All Saint’s Church, just across the road from the Royal Pump Rooms and next to the River Leam. From other research that I had already done it appeared that they were of the ‘middling sort’, possibly deriving their income from ownership of part of a thriving business in Scotland.

The census collections are no good to me in this investigation of where they lived in 1835 as, by the time of 1841 and the taking of first count that is of any use to family historians, the family had moved on!

Now, with an hour or so to spare in Leamington Spa, I was able to search the General Arrivals and Departures of people in the Leamington Spa Courier for 1835. This newspaper is available to search online at the British Newspaper Archive but I was using the Library’s microfilm copy on this occasion. With luck I came across my ancestor fairly quickly when I found that on Saturday December 5th 1835 the family arrived in Leamington and were staying at 41 Grove Street.

With the clock ticking down, for when I had to rejoin my cousins at the end of their shopping session, I quickly found the library assistant and asked how far away Grove Street was. Another bit of luck was that it was in easy walking distance and not that far at all. Using a helpful handy map, that the assistant provided, I marched off to see if the road resembled the street of my ancestors time, or whether it had been rebuilt over the years.

When you go searching for your own ancestors homes it is worth understanding a bit about the social history and geography of their towns or villages. What was the industry and what pressures made the developer build the streets as they did? In Leamington it had been the popularity of the waters and the town establishing itself as a Spa.

 

My ancestors came from a mixture of classes including the working class. Those of my forbears who fell into the poorer categories would have, in this period, lived in terraced houses with an outside privy if they were lucky and in court housing if they were unfortunate. My Leamington Spa family, I assumed, had some money behind them and so I expected to find that they were putting up at a reasonably smart residence.

What I saw was, at first, encouraging. As I turned the corner I was presented with a pleasant row of Georgian villas on one side of the street and I thought that these matched my expectations. A stroll up the street revealed a development of red brick late Victorian or possibly Edwardian houses of two stories with slate roofs and further still a modern Fire station.

Consulting my notes I saw that I was seeking number 41 and began looking at the numbers on the Georgian side of the street. With dismay I found that 41 was missing and turning to the other side of the road I could see that it adorned one of the redbrick terrace houses. My gut feeling was, however, that these properties were from a later period than Georgian. (In truth this period was at the end of short reign of William IV from 1830 to 1837, the last of the Hanoverian Kings before the reign of Victoria. It is still, however, considered by some to be the Georgian period.)

On returning home I hit the internet and began researching the development of Leamington in that time. I found several pages that told me about the history of the town and in particular the Historic England website which has a handy search tool to find listed buildings in England.

 

I didn’t find the actual house in their database but one further down the road. This had the helpful historical information that ‘Grove Street was laid out in 1828, the west side and lower part of the east side were built by 1834’.

So the villas were new houses at the time that my ancestors moved in.

I went on to find several pdfs online about the conservation of the area and discovered that my intuition was right when I assumed that the redbrick houses were later 19th century. I read that there was ‘some Edwardian infill on the East side of the street’ built on land that had once been the garden of a large house belonging to Dr Jephson.

Now I knew that there hadn’t been a 41 on the east side of the road when my great-great grandparents moved in as this had been a garden. It lead me to suppose that the houses in the road had been re-numbered at some stage! While I may never be able to pinpoint which property had been theirs at least I had an inkling of the type of residence that they inhabited.

 

So when you come to look for your own ancestor’s houses, whether on foot or via the Google street view, be aware that the houses may well have been renumbered such as this example below of another of my ancestors, this time in Plymouth, Devon. In this case it retains its old number in the widow light and has its new number screwed above the door.

I wish all were as helpful!

 

 

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How Many People Are You Actually Related To?

Family tree as a wheel

 

A guest article this week as I found this fascinating…

How Many People Are You Actually Related To?
By Connor Kehl

Most people think of a Family Tree like a triangle. It starts with you and then branches out downward from there, starting with your children and then your grandchildren, and so on. The lesser looked at side is the other direction. Starting from you and moving up. This makes an upside down triangle. There’s you, then your two parents above you, then each of their two parents above them, and so forth. As you keep moving up a generation the number of ancestors, or the number of people it took to create you, doubles. If you know anything about exponential growth, you will realize this number can get very large very quickly.

If you were to go back seven generations (your great-great-great-great-great grandparents) you would have 128 ancestors. This generation would have been in their 20’s in approximately 1800-1825, which means if you traveled to the year 1820 there would be 128 people walking around all making up an equal 1/128th of who you will become in 200 years.

Now let’s go back 12 generations. You would have to say “great” 10 times before saying “grandparents”. These people would be in their 20’s, in about the second half of the 1600’s, and again if you traveled to that time, there would be 4,096 people that make up who you are.

Now if you continue to double your ancestors, eventually you will surpass the world population, which obviously isn’t possible. This is why there is a widest part of your family tree. This part of your family tree happens in about the year 1200, where you are related to almost the entire world population. This means that everyone alive today has many common ancestors from that time.

If you continue to go backwards your family tree begins to get smaller. The reason for this is because hundreds of years ago people didn’t tend to meet as many people in their lives. Transportation wasn’t what it is today and big cities weren’t a thing, so the people in the small village you lived in tended to be your only contact. This would mean that someone could have two ancestors that were very closely related to them. For instance, if two cousins got married (which was far more common back then because of the proximity issue) than their child would only have 6 great-grandparents, instead of 8.

So if you think about it, if you are a descendant from that many people, odds are somewhere up your family tree is a king or queen or someone really cool and important. If anyone tries to brag to you that they are somehow related to King Henry VIII or something, you can just tell them that you probably are too. He just might be your 19th cousin or something ridiculous like that.

If you like this article, want to read more articles like this, want to learn some interesting things, or just like random facts, check out Connor’s website – http://www.possiblyusefulinfo.com

Or his favourite/favorite page: http://www.possiblyusefulinfo.com/interesting-things.html

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/expert/Connor_Kehl/2157335
http://EzineArticles.com/?How-Many-People-Are-You-Actually-Related-To?&id=9108290

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Difficulties when ancestors share similar names

I have to say this revelation surprised me!

Sometimes we think we know everything about an ancestor, we have their birth details and have bought the birth certificate. We trace them to their marriage and then their death, adding the proof of these vital events into our family tree. We then flesh out their story by finding some interesting facts about where they went to school, what they did in the war and so on. But sometimes we can get the story wrong when we jump to conclusions or listen to faulty accounts.

This week I was checking a fact about a person in my own family tree, a man who had been born in 1886 and married his first wife in Richmond, Surrey in 1909. I have vivid memories of him from my childhood as my to me he was known as “Grandpa”. In reality he was my step-grand father, having married my grandmother after WWII when they had both lost their respective spouses.

It was while I was trying to find out some more about his time as an architect, in pre and post-war Singapore, that I came across a conundrum. It was a newspaper cutting announcing his wedding to a Monica Mary Evans in 1921 at the Presbyterian church in the British colony. My childhood recollections were that he had divorced his first wife and then, having had a change of heart, remarried her. I never registered that in between this he had been married to another and so the faulty account that I was listening to was my own, internal, telling of his family story!

 

By the time of the Second World War Grandpa was married to his first wife again. In the escape from Singapore I knew that he had managed a perilous journey as a 56 year old civilian, his ship having been sunk by the Japanese. Somehow he got ashore in Sumatra and from there he escaped to India.

Japanese March in Singapore

Mary Ellen Brewer, his wife, however, was not so lucky.

On being ordered to leave Singapore, before the fall, she had joined a ship containing women and children which was sadly sunk. She too made it ashore and with others set out on yet another ship only to be sunk by the Japanese enemy on the night of the 17 February 1942 and so lost her life. If I think really hard, as to what I overheard as a small boy, I do recall him mentioning a Monica in small talk with other adults. The conversation being none of my concern, I just thought that Monica was his first wife’s nickname. My recent research, however, has disproved my previous belief.

Frank Brewer’s first wife had the Christian names of Mary Ellen while my grandmother’s were Mary Helena. I was therefore confused by this marriage to Monica Mary.

At first I wondered if Monica was a pet name, as he always called my grandmother “Nell” and so it would not have surprised me if “Monica” had been a familiar nickname as well. But now I was being presented with the full name of Monica Mary Evans and from my earlier research I knew that he had married Mary Ellen Cousins, not Evans, in England back in 1909. Thus this was not the remarriage I had heard mention of.

Despite some research to try to find the second time round marriage announcement in the Straits Times, I have not yet come up with the date for his remarriage. But now I have found some explanation in a report that I found on the internet about the sinking of the S.S.Tandjong Pinang this was the ship in which his first/third wife Mary Ellen was on board when she lost her life.

The document makes it all more clear when it states in the list of passengers who were lost was one “Mrs. Mary Ellen “Nell” Brewer who married Frank Brewer [born 1886] in London in the early 1900s [ he then appears to have married a Monica Mary Evans in Singapore in 1921 but she died in 1925 – source ‘Straits Times’ – and by 1929 passenger lists show him again married to Mary Ellen, they had a daughter Eileen who married in Singapore in 1933, after the War Frank married again to a Mary Helena according to 1960 passenger lists – source JM]”

I then had an a-ha moment. Mary Ellen was also known as “Nell”. So when I had seen reports of Nell Brewer in Singapore these referred to the first Nell and not the second. Likewise I had thought that some confusion had crept into newspaper reports with the similarities between the names Mary Ellen and Mary Helena, but it was my wrong assumptions!

The first lesson that I have learnt is never assume that a family story is a hundred percent correct, as my own jumbled recollection of my grandfather’s story shows.

Secondly, just because you see one person appearing in reports with the nickname  you expect do not assume that this is the person you think it is as it is perfectly possible for two wives to share the same pet name and even the same, if very slightly different, first names!

 

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New Book: In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors

I was very pleased to hear from Anthony Adolph this week, about his new book In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors: from the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth especially as I had just been reading all about it in Your Family Tree Magazine and was intrigued as the magazine review called it ‘unusual and fascinating’.

In Search of our Ancient Ancestors

 

The following is written by the author:

I am delighted to announce the publication of my new book In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors: from the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth, which is being published by Pen and Sword this month.

According to science, life first appeared on Earth about 3,500 million years ago. Every living thing is descended from that first spark, including all of us. But if we trace a direct line down from those original life-forms to ourselves, what do we find? What is the full story of our family tree over the past 3,500 million years, and how are we able to trace ourselves so far back?

From single celled organisms to sea-dwelling vertebrates; amphibians to reptiles; tiny mammals to primitive man; the first Homo sapiens to the cave-painters of Ice Age Europe and the first farmers down to the Norman Conquest, this book charts not only the extraordinary story of our ancient ancestors but also our 40,000 year-long quest to discover our roots, from ancient origin myths of world-shaping mammoths and great floods down to the scientific discovery of our descent from the Genetic Adam and the Mitochondrial Eve. 

In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors will tell you where you come from, before the earliest generations of your family tree that you can trace using records. It also saves you having to think any harder about what to buy for your family and friends this Christmas!

I do hope you will enjoy it.  Anthony Adolph.

 

Anthony Adolph’s book is available from the publishers, Pen & Sword books, and all good booksellers.

Click here to buy now:

In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors

In Search of our Ancient Ancestors

 

 

 

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Channel Islands ancestors lecture at SoG

Channel IslandsWhile reading the latest news from the Society of Genealogist I came across an announcement for a half day course being held at the society’s head quarters in London called:

“My Ancestors Came from the Channel Islands”

It had previously been scheduled for the end of the month and has now been brought forward to 24/10/2015 10:30 – 13:00 – So anyone who hasn’t realised this yet and who intended to go then make a note in your diary that this course has been moved from its original date of 31 October.

If you have forbears form this part of the world and want to learn more about how to research them then as I write this they still have some space.

Check out the Society of Genealogists’ website:

http://www.sog.org.uk/books-courses

Here is what they say about this half day course:

On which of the Channel Islands did your ancestors originate?

Are your cousins still there?

This half-day course will cover sources of genealogical and historical sources of information about Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. The course will include data that can be accessed in the Society of Genealogists library, online and on the islands in archives, libraries, registries and museums. Relevant contact details of historical and family history organisations will be provided.

with Dr Colin Chapman.

 

Society of Genealogists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Books on Channel Island Ancestors

Tracing Your Channel Island Ancestors Pen & Sword books have the following editions of Marie-Louise Backhurst’s comprehensive book on Tracing Your Channel Island Ancestors for sale. Check out the different editions with these links:

 Paperback     £12.99

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 ePub edition   £4.99

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New Passenger lists now online with unique search facilities

Departure of the RMS Campania from Liverpool

RMS Campania, one of the ships included in the passenger lists.

This is an interesting press release from TheGenealogist

TheGenealogist has just released five million Emigration BT27 records as part of their growing immigration and emigration record set. Uniquely TheGenealogist allows you to track transmigration of people across countries routing through British ports on their way to America. TheGenealogist is the only website with the facility to discover families travelling together on the same voyage using our SmartSearch technology.

The new records contain the historical records of passengers who departed by sea from Britain in the years between 1896 and 1909. These new records significantly boosts the already strong Immigration, Emigration, Naturalisation and passenger list resources on TheGenealogist.

TheGenealogist has further revealed that these records will be shortly followed by the release of many more unique migration records.

The searchable records released today will allow researchers to

  • Find people using British shipping lines and travelling to places such as America, Canada, India, New Zealand and Australia in the Passenger lists of people leaving from, or passing through the United Kingdom, by sea which were kept by the Board of Trade’s Commercial and Statistical Department and its successors.

  • The Homestead Act of 1862 in America gave free land to settlers who developed it for at least five years, and became a particular magnet for Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes, who arrived in their millions. To reach America, it was necessary to travel initially to England in order to then board one of the large transatlantic passenger ships and this preliminary journey has been recorded for many transmigrant passengers within the BT27 records. For the first time these can be easily found using the unique transmigration button.

  • SmartSearch identifies potential family members travelling together. When our system recognises groups of people on the same voyage as a potential family it displays a family icon. This then allows you to easily view the family.Family SmartSearch

  • These fully indexed records enable family historians to search by name, port of embarkation, port of destination, country of departure, country arrival and nationality.

This release adds to TheGenealogist’s Immigration and Emigration records that already include the useful Naturalisation and Denization records.

Those with ancestors who travelled out of Britain will welcome this fascinating new release from TheGenealogist that reveal the details of the coming and going of passengers and is a precursor of a set of unique records joining the collection shortly.

Nigel Bayley, MD of TheGenealogist said: “We intend to make researching migrating ancestors easier with our new smarter interfaces and adding more records covering a growing range of countries.”

An example from the passenger list records:

Within the passenger lists, on TheGenealogist, we can find the passage of the Dunottar Castle from Southampton to Cape Town in South Africa on the 14th October 1899. One of the passengers was the young Winston Churchill who, at that time, was a member of the Press and was going out to report on the start of the Second Boer War.

Two days before his ship’s departure the war had broken out between Britain and the Boer Republic. At the news of this conflict Mr Churchill had obtained a commission to act as a war correspondent for The Morning Post newspaper. In return he was to be paid £250 a month for his services.

After spending a number of weeks in the Colony he managed to get himself onto an armoured train, loaded with British soldiers, performing a reconnoitre between Frere and Chieveley in the British Natal Colony during November 1899. A Boer commando force, however, had placed a big boulder on the track and the train crashed into it. The Boers, having succeeded in stopping the train, then opened up with their field guns and rifle fire from a vantage position.

After a fight a number of the British were taken prisoner, but the locomotive, decoupled from the carriages and ladened with men, managed to escape. Churchill, unfortunately for him, was not one of those on-board the loco. Without his sidearm, which he had left on the train, he had no option but to surrender to the Boers. Churchill was then imprisoned in a POW camp in Pretoria. After being held captive for about four weeks Churchill escaped on the evening of 12th December 1899. He did this by vaulting over the wall to the neighbouring property and taking flight.

Chuchill in Passenger Lists on TheGenealogist

If we look at Churchill’s travelling companions on the ship out to Cape Town, scheduled to take 65 days, we can see that he was sailing with a mixture of merchants, a jeweller, an actor, a Peer of the Realm (Lord Gerard), an optician and a couple of lawyers. The Hon A. Campbell was also listed, he was another member of the press corps who had made it on to that particular Castle Line sailing to the war zone with Churchill.

I like the unique search facilities for these records which makes this release fascinating.

Take a look at TheGenealogist now.

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Find Your Naval Ancestors

Portsmouth Royal Navy dockyard

Having very recently visited the Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth my interest in my seafaring ancestors has been revived.

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.

Tracing Your Naval Ancestors – A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Fowler gives the reader a clear guide on how to use and, importantly, how to access the Naval records which are scattered among numerous repositories around the British Isles with the majority housed at The National Archives in Kew.

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.

Tracing Your Naval Ancestors Paperback Editions available to buy from the following links:

Paperback £12.99

 

Kindle edition £ 4.99

 

ePub edition £ 4.99

 

 

Buy Tracing Your Naval Ancestors

and many other great family history books now from Pen & Sword.

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Frank Gardner’s family history shows a direct line to the Conqueror

William the Conqueror

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.

Read their featured article here about Frank Gardner’s James Bond like father.

 

Read the featured article on Frank Gardner at TheGenealogist.co.uk

 

 

 

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Aristos and Family history

Siberechts-Longleat HouseHave you caught the TV series about Longleat House and the Thynn family on the BBC? Its called All Change at Longleat and had me gripped as we witnessed the tensions that revolve around the eccentric Marquess of Bath and his son and daughter-in-law who have taken over the running of the house and estate.

Lord Bath, we discover, has handed over the control of the £190 million estate to his son, Ceawlin, but the handover isn’t going smoothly. Ceawlin, whose title is Lord Weymouth but only uses this on formal occasions, prefers to be known by his first name. With such an uncommon name as this I am sure that he is never mistaken for one of the members of the lower echelons of society.

In the first programme in the series we find out that Ceawlin has upset his father by removing some of the murals painted by the latter in the apartments where they had all lived once lived and the pair are no longer on speaking terms. In the village on the estate, there’s further unrest after Ceawlin puts up the villagers’ rents.

Meanwhile, Ceawlin’s glamorous wife Emma is settling into life at Longleat as Lady Weymouth.

In the safari park, the animal keepers wonder how Ceawlin will compare to his father. Lord Bath is still a flamboyant, controversial figure and the village fair allows the viewer to witness the awkwardness of  a meeting between the son and his father. Although now in retirement, the Marquess continues to enjoy a famously open marriage. Various ‘wifelets’ still visit when his wife is away.

46 Longleat house (70)

For me the most telling part was when Ceawlin was asked whether his childhood was a happy one, growing up at Longleat. There was quite a pause as he considered what his answer should be, then he tellingly said “Happy bits and not so happy bits.” Another pause and “it was what it was.”

He admitted that as a child he would definitely have preferred to have lived in a cottage in the village like most of his friends did. We heard how, in his teenage years, members of the public traipsed not just through the main house but also through the private apartment where he lived.

For those of us from a less privileged background, who may have occasionally dreamed of life in the upper classes, then this insight into one such family may make us realise that the grass is definitely never greener on the the other side of the hill.

 

Many more of us than we think may be descended from aristocratic ancestors. Be it from junior lines that have fallen away from the main family, to those who are fruits of liaisons between an aristocrat and another.

If you want to explore this fascinating part of family history research then Pen and Sword books have published Anthony Adolph’s book: Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors.

Tracing Your Aristocratic AncestorsClick this link to read more:

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Tracing-Your-Aristocratic-Ancestors/p/3827?aid=1101

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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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