Listening to Family History on Remembrance Sunday

 

Royal British Legion poppy appealI have spent a very unusual Remembrance Sunday reading through some pages that my father has written about his war time experience in the Merchant Navy and meant for his extended family.

As his eyesight is not so good these days he had asked me to edit his “yarns”, as he refers to them and then email them back to him.

I found it a fascinating and moving way to learn more about his time at sea, when every voyage could have been ended by a mine going off, a torpedo from a U-boat, or the bomb dropped by a Nazi bomber.

His ship was a lucky one, surviving the war; but he could so easily have been posted to one of those that did not.

Dad turned 90 this year, but back in 1942 he was a 17 year old serving on board the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship, The Dominion Monarch as she sailed the high seas in convoy moving troops to Europe and transporting cargo such as New Zealand and Australian Butter back to Britain and Gold bars from New York to Liverpool!

JBT Merchant Seaman ID

John Thone’s Merchant Seaman ID

Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS) meant that this former liner had been given Anti-aircraft guns, a 5″ gun on the stern, plus some other smaller guns. She boasted a rocket device that was supposed to fire wires to entangle any Junkers dive bomber that tried to drop a bomb on the ship. She had paravanes, designed to be towed on either side of the bow when approaching a mine field and a de-gauzing cable all round the perimeter of the ship, the purpose of which was to counter the Germans magnetic mines which sat on the bottom waiting to be triggered by the magnetic field of the ship passing over.

QSMV_Dominion_Monarch

QSMV Dominion Monarch in peace time livery

As a civilian Merchant Navy ship the Dominion Monarch was given a contingent of 20 Royal Navy sailors to man the stern gun and some of the smaller armaments, while there was another 20 personnel from the army on board for the Ack Ack guns.

The use of most of these devices my father is very sceptical about in his writings. I can not imagine the danger that his generation lived with during this time. It is for those who did pay the ultimate price that I am wearing my poppy with pride. Click here to go to the Royal British Legion website and donate

 

I have to say that I have learnt more about my father’s war time experience this Sunday than I have ever known before.

The lesson for family historians is to listen to your family’s stories and collect as much as you can from your senior generations while you are able to as these “yarns” add colour to our family history, more than just a dry set of names and dates do.

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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.

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Chris Baker from The Long, Long Trail talks to me at Who Do You Think You Are? Live

Chris Baker from The Long Long Trail Last week in Birmingham I caught up with Chris Baker, from The Long, Long Trail website and FouteenEighteen.co.uk after he had just given one of his very popular talks to a group of enthusiastic family historians on the subject of Military records.

Chris had discovered the rich military records set on TheGenealogist and was thus able to tell his audience about some of what he found useful on that website.

He particularly drew our attention to the Casualty records sourced from the War Office and told us how well done and useful TheGenealogist website was for Military researchers of the First World War with some interesting niche record sets.

 

 

Transcript of the video:

Hi I’m Nick Thorne from the Nosey Genealogist blog
and I’m here on TheGenealogist website’s stand
with Chris Baker a military expert
from Fourteen Eighteen website and he’s just been doing a talk
on military records.

Hi Chris.    Hello Nick.
How did it go?
Great, thank you! Great audience,
tremendous buzz, very nice to be here to give the
talk.

The subject of the talk was the very
fast changing world of
military records and how digitization has really changed
the way people can access information,
understand military records and
work out what happened to their soldier.
And yes it’s a it’s good to run
through what’s going on, but also
to highlight TheGenealogist and the various
unique sets of records. Which is actually how I came to
meet TheGenealogist myself. I found
they’ve got some casualty lists that were newly digitized
from the War Office originals. I personally found it extremely
well done and very helpful and I contacted the
company to say so.
And it just led to us being here and me being invited to give the talk.
That’s really interesting, so you’d recommend TheGenealogist for military research?

Certainly
Military records cover a very wide span of subjects,
as you know, TheGenealogist
has got for itself a very interesting
collection of what you might call niche records,
but they’re the ones that can really
help you unlock the story sometimes, particularly if a man’s
service record is missing or you can’t find him in medal records

These things will help you unlock it and
for that purpose, yes TheGenealogist, for me is a
very important provider now in in the
field of Military History.

Okay, so if our viewers want to contact you
they look for FourteenEighteen on the Internet?

Yes, they can find me, in terms of the professional services at www.14-18.co.uk
but they will also find my free of charge website which has existed for a long
time and is very popular
on the subject of the British Army in
the first world war, it’s called The Long, Long trial
it’s at www.1914-1918.net

And it contains lots of information about
regiments, how to research soldiers
and all that sort of stuff.

Great, thanks very much Chris.

You are very welcome.

————————

 

 

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Soldiers Mentioned in Despatches now online at TheGenealogist

MiD
Soldiers Mentioned in Despatches are now available online

For the first time online, leading British genealogy research website TheGenealogist has released over 81,000 records of records of Mentioned in Despatches from the First World War, linked to citations from the London Gazette.

Find thousands of soldiers and army nurses who had come to the notice of superior officers for an act of gallantry, or meritorious action, in the face of the enemy in these records. The records created, when the recipient’s name appeared in an official report sent to the high command, can now be searched online only at TheGenealogist.

Some soldiers were mentioned in despatches (MiD), but do not receive a medal for their action, they are nevertheless listed in the records as they were entitled to receive a certificate and wear the Oak Leaf decoration on their dress uniform.

Only one such decoration is ever worn, even when a soldier is mentioned in despatches more than once, as was the case in the example of one Captain B.L. Montgomery.

Bernard Law Montgomery served in WWI in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was mentioned in despatches on several occasion so that we can find him no less than four times in the MiD records on TheGenealogist, the first of which is in 1915.

With one mouse click on the link to a transcript we can see the date the citation appeared in The London Gazette and note the date and page number for our research.

Another click of a link takes us straight to the website of the London Gazette so that we can then read the various pages that cover our soldier. By using the information from the transcript we can narrow our research right down to the correct page.

Following a third link on TheGenealogist results page gives us an image of the handwritten card record, showing even the military clerks corrections and crossing outs!

MiD2

Awarded many medals in his time, including the DSO to which his oak leaf is pinned, this officer served between 1915 and 1918 ending the First World War as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was, as history tells us, to go on to become Field Marshall Montgomery and the 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, one of this country’s important Second World War generals.

As a junior officer serving at Méteren near to the Border of France with Belgium he had been shot by a sniper through the right lung in October 1914. With the rich number of military records on TheGenealogist site we can also find him in the casualty lists. One click will then take us to an image of a page from the Times newspaper of October 20th 1914 in which he is listed.

MiD3

Montgomery was hit once more through the knee and was awarded the DSO for his gallant leadership when he turned the enemy out of their trenches with the bayonet.

Once Captain Montgomery had recovered he went back to the Western Front in 1916 as a general staff officer, taking part in the Battle of Arras in spring 1917 and also the Battle of Passchendaele in the autumn of that year and ending his war as chief of staff of the 47th (2nd London) Division.

In World War II he assumed command of the Eight Army from 1942 in the Western Desert and went up against Romeril’s forces in Africa. This time was to include the Battle of El Alamein which was a turning point of the Western Desert Campaign. “Monty” went on to command the Eight Army in its part in the Allied invasion of Sicily and subsequently Italy.

As the war wound on to its close, during Operation Overlord he was in charge of all Allied ground forces and on the 4th May 1945 he took the German surrender at Lüneburg Heath in north Germany. After the war was over Field Marshal Montgomery became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine and then Chief of the Imperial General Staff. From 1948 until 1951 he was chairman of the permanent defence organisation of the Western European Union and in 1951 deputy commander of the Supreme Headquarters of NATO.

Known for his lack of tact, he had upset the American generals Paton and Bradley during WWII and after the hostilities he criticised many of his war-time colleagues, including General Eisenhower who was by now the President of the United States. Monty was, it is safe to say, a complex but brave man who served in the British Army for 50 years. He died on 24 March 1976.

MiD4

Mark Bayley, head of Content at TheGenealogist said “For those people searching for ancestors who had served in World War I, Mentioned in Despatches provide a unique addition to the already strong collection of military records that are offered at TheGenealogist”

 

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Another Brick Wall Crumbles!

Minolta DSC

I was asked this week to find out what I could about a man that was never talked about in the family.

Intriguing, I thought!

The subject had married the contact’s aunt in 1943 and fathered three children before, at some time, becoming estranged and then divorced from the aunt.

What little I had to go on was that in the Second World War the man was a British officer in the Indian Army. We didn’t know his date or place of birth, where in the U.K. he was from or any other family details.

To make things a bit more difficult he had always used a nick name “Ron” that was not the short form for his actual first name. Luckily for me, we did know the full name of the subject and to preserve anonymity I am going to refer to him here as Vincent Martin Edwards (not his real name).

Before the independence of India, in 1947, the Indian Army was an important component of the British Empire’s forces and made a significant contributions to the Second World War effort. After independence the records of officers, such as my man, have been deposited at the British Library in St. Pancras, London and so this was my first port of call.

I know from my visits to the British Library that they have runs of the Indian Army lists on the shelves of  The Asian & African Studies Reading Room on Floor 3. A look in one of these, for the war years, should provide the officer’s number that can then be used to locate his service records that are held there, but not on open access.

From research that I have done in the past at St.Pancras I know that access to the service record for someone of this era would more than likely be restricted to the next of kin. All I wanted, however, was for one of the staff to look inside the document folder and to provide me with the date and place of birth of Vincent Martin Edwards and so I shot off an email request.

In amazingly short order I was emailed back with the answer: Streatham, 22 February 1919.

Meanwhile I had found the marriage details online for the couple at Findmypast in their British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns. The bride and groom were both 24 when they married in a church, in India and so I had confirmation of a birth date of 1919.

Turning to the online Birth, Marriage and Deaths, that are widely available on the internet, I went in search of the birth of Vincent Edwards for that quarter. These should be held in the records for the district of Wandsworth and so all I had to do was find the reference and order the certificate from the GRO.

 

Ever think things are going too well… that they are just a bit too easy?

The rapid reply from the British Library, the exact date and place?

Yes, that’s right! There were no records for Vincent Martin Edwards in that area for that date.

I began to expand my search to the neighbouring districts and found a Vincent Edwards in Camberwell for the first quarter. Perhaps this was my man? Was he born just into this district, I wondered, as it is not that far away on the map.

Now you may have heard the mantra “Always kill off your ancestors” that is try and find their death and in this case it only took me four years in the same Camberwell district to find the death registered of this namesake. This Vincent Edwards only had a life of 4 years, so couldn’t be my man.

So if the district was not wrong what about the date, not withstanding the supposed corroboration of the year from the marriage return?

I went back to the Wandsworth BMDs and began checking for the birth in the years either side for 5 years at a time. Result: a Vincent M Edwards born in 1920, so now we know he had exaggerated his age on his Indian Army records and at his marriage as well! Perhaps he had joined up before he was supposed to, as people did this in war time.

The lesson is to always treat dates with healthy scepticism until you get the primary record to prove them. I have ordered the certificate and await it with interest. From it I will be able to see such details as the Father and Mother’s names (The mother’s maiden name was added to the births, marriages and deaths index (BMD) held by the GRO  from the September quarter of 1911).

 

I have a useful tutorial in my Family History Researcher course on using the General Register Office index and ordering certificates for anyone that is unsure of how these records can help in your English/Welsh family tree research. Click the link below to read more.

 

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