Add colour to family history facts to make ancestors lives interesting

 

Census 1861

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

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

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

Erdigg

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

1861 Portsmouth census

 

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

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

St Mary's Portsea

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

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

Coiled rope

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

Ropemaking

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

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

 

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

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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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Family History sent me round the houses today!

IMGP0608

I was back in the area of Jersey where I grew up today.

It was not my family history that I was researching, but ancestors belonging to someone else.

I had received a request to take a photograph of the house in which my contact’s forebears had lived and so I went to my computer and opened TheGenealogist.co.uk and looked up the head of the household in their Channel Island records.

This site has some “Jersey Almanacs” which are very useful trade directories for the islands and soon I was on the trail.

The Genealogist also has the full run of census data and images, which I next used to quickly find the person in question.

Unless you are new, to family history research, then you will be aware that the census collections are also available on Ancestry and Findmypast as well. I tend to use all three sites, as sometimes the transcription on one may help me better locate a person with a difficult name spelling.

 

In the 1901 and 1911 census it was quite plain that the family in question lived around the harbour at St Aubin, in the parish of St Brelade. The census in each case clearly gave the name of the house, though it was different in 1911 from 1901 so there was the possibility that the family had moved a very short distance. Either that or they had changed the name of their house.

So a simple task, you may think. All I had to do was pop along to the road in question and snap a building. Even if the house name was no longer visible, or had changed, there was bound to be a property in the road that had retained its name and I could use as a reference point. All I would need to do is count down the houses from that one.

Oh that it was so easy! You see the harbour front has some alleyways off it and these had different road names today from the ones used in the census. It seems to me that the parish has gone back to using the older French names for these roads from the Anglicised ones used in 1901 and 1911.

Another problem was that off these alleys were some semi-detached cottages, some of which are reached via foot paths. Also there were a set of steps, leading up to the steep Market Hill that rises behind the harbour, on which three more un-named cottages perched.

Both of the census records ignored the Methodist Church, that sat in the middle of the harbour frontage between one of my reference properties, as is to be expected if it had no residents to be counted. But it was also obvious that, in times past, some of the other buildings would have been warehousing, or other uninhabited commercial buildings and so these too were not enumerated. This made my task of counting down the houses to the ones for which I was searching, difficult.

I consulted the “Description of the Enumeration District” as in some cases this can give you a good idea of the enumerator’s walk. In this case it mentioned the names of the roads, in general, but did not explain how he had dealt with buildings set behind each other or to the side.

By finding some more reference buildings, that is those that have retained their names through to today, I was able to tie down the house in the 1901 to being on one plot. I am not certain that it is the actual building as it may well have been built later, it not having many of the period features of its neighbours to give away its age.

So only a partial victory for family history research this week, but the Description of the Enumeration District can be a useful tool elsewhere and browsing through a road on the census can often be illuminating in other ways. Sometimes you may find more members of the family living close by and a child missing from one house in its grandparent’s or Aunt and Uncles. I remember finding this in my own family in Plymouth.

 

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Your Family Tree Magazine goes back to 1066 and beyond!

 

Your Family Tree Magazine issue141 Cover

I’ve been taking a look through my copy of Your Family Tree Magazine for this month.

Seems Adam Rees, the editor, and his team wanted to take their readers out of their comfort zone a little, by trying to help us take our family tree as far back as we can.

From page 20 they have a feature on Earliest Roots showing us how to extend our family tree to 1066 and beyond! For those of you who want to learn more about how to explore this fascinating facet of our pass time then I can highly recommend you take a look.

As YFT magazine says, it can be daunting searching for your family among early records, but as you’ll discover there are so many lines you can pursue, that you’ll soon find yourself engrossed in the detailed information they give on your medieval ancestors and beyond.

 

Also in this issue they continue their look at our families who were involved in WWI, showing us how to learn about their day-to-day actions, and discovering the bitter fighting that raged away from the Western Front, from Africa to Arabia, Greece to Gallipoli.

Then in their How-to-section they also reveal the best tips for using FamilySearch; why hiring a professional might be just what your research needs; how your ancestors used their leisure time; and where to find forebears in Dundee.

April 2014 Issue 141 is quite an edition to help find the ancestors in your family tree.



 

I had a quick chat with Adam at Who Do You Think You Are? Live and he told me what we can expect in the next few months from his magazine.

Check out the interview here and spot the moment at the beginning where I couldn’t quite remember what the magazine is called even though I read it each month!

It’s “Your Family Tree Magazine”, I do know that. Really I do…

 

 


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Who Do You Think You Are? Live: the world largest family history show.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live: the world’s largest family history show is only a few weeks away!

MPU2It is back! The annual genealogy event, sponsored by Ancestry.co.uk, returns to London’s Olympia on 20-22 February, 2014.

I’m getting ready for my first ever time exhibiting there and as the weeks roll on I’m getting more and more excited about it. Come and see me at Table 56 where I shall be promoting my Family History Researcher course in English and Welsh Family History.

Piecing together your family history is a deeply rewarding experience. Nothing can beat the excitement of making new discoveries and identifying lost relatives. However, if you’ve recently hit a brick wall with your research, or you are daunted by all the options available for those starting their family tree, then help is at hand at Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

Every year, hundreds of genealogy experts from the major subscription sites, museums, archives and family history societies descend on Olympia for the world’s largest family history show. If you need a helping hand to uncover your family secrets, there’s no better place to go.

They’ll be new features at the 2014 show including commemorating the centenary of WWI and a new celebrity line-up to add to the usual popular features. You can:

  • Attend over 100 workshops in the Society of Genealogists’ Workshop Programme
  • Investigate family photographs with their experts
  • Spend one-to-one time with an expert in a subject of your choice,
  • Learn how DNA can help with research
  • Visit family history societies from all over the UK
  • Hear how celebrities from the television show felt about their discoveries, starting with Natasha Kaplinsky on the Thursday.
  • Explore over 120 exhibitors all specialising in family history

Don’t miss your chance to extend your research and share in the passion and enthusiasm of thousands of fellow family historians!

 

For more information and the very latest in show news, please visit www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk.

 

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Don’t Ignore Ancestor’s Death Certificates

 

Thorne graves in Dartmouth, DevonMany of us are keen to get on and fill out our family trees with generation after generation of ancestors. We can be in such a rush, to see how far back we can get with a direct line, that we so often ignore the siblings and others in the extended family.

We probably all know that there is a better way to understand our forebears lives. We really should try to include as many others in the family tree as our direct line ancestor usually didn’t live in isolation. They may have had any number of brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, all of whom can help us ascertain who is the correct individual when we hit that problem of two John Smiths born in the same year in the same parish!

One way that we may come up against other family members is when they appear as informants to the registrar on the death of one of our ancestors.

Sometimes we may see names that we don’t recognise in the column, perhaps they are the married daughter whose surname now gives us a clue as to whom she married. Or we find our direct line ancestor’s address, as I did when he reported the death of his father to the registrar and the address he gave was different from the address listed in the census six years earlier. I could now see where he had moved to between the decennial census.

 

I know that we seem to be more naturally drawn to the births and marriages of people, but don’t ignore the deaths. When we are dealing with the period after 1837, in England and Wales and the GRO civil registration, it is so easy to make a decision not to order a death certificate based on the cost. But this can mean you’ll miss something. A death certificate can give us clues and more about our departed ancestor that we will not pick up elsewhere.

When I started out on this hobby I was told by a professional genealogist that I really must “kill off my ancestors!” I was unconvinced, but in the years since I have seen how correct this advice has been.

 

This week I bought a new family history book, written by Celia Heritage, to go in my library.

I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying reading it for the great information that it provides. Tracing Your Ancestors through Death Records  has showed me how to find, read and interpreted death records and also how to garner as much information as possible from them. In many cases, she argues, they can be used as a starting point for developing your family history research into other equally rewarding areas.

Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Tracing-Your-Ancestors-through-Death-Records/p/3710/?aid=1101

 

After reading chapter 1, I was then able to get a snap shot into my past family’s life from the deaths of my 3x great-grandparents and all from taking another look at their death certificates.

 

The husband died in 1866 in Charles Street, Dartmouth and his son reported the death having been “present at the death” meaning that he was in the house. The son (my 2x great-grandfather) gave his address as “Church Path, Dartmouth”.

When the wife and mother died in 1868, she died in the son’s house, in Church Path, but the informant, “present at the death”, was a lady whose address was in the street that the older couple had formally lived. I was able to go back to the census and see that they had been neighbours. Perhaps they were very close, who can tell?

So I am assuming that the son took his mother into his own house, from this. But that a friend, from around the corner, was looking after my 3x great-grandmother when she passed away and it was she who informed the registrar of the death. Now this paints a bit more of a picture, don’t you think?

 

 Disclosure: Links to the book in this post are compensated affiliate links that may mean I get rewarded by the publisher should you buy the book.

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Great-Uncle Clifford’s Unfortunate Death Covered in the Papers

British Neswpaper Collection

I have been aware for some time that my grandfather’s younger brother died when he was only a young man. He is buried in the family’s plot in Paignton cemetery and from the memorial words on his grave it would seem it was tragic.

I recall that a family story had it that a motorbike was involved, and naturally some of the family had assumed that he was riding said motorcycle at his death.

My father, however, knew differently and explained that his Uncle Clifford had been killed when a motorbike had hit him as he stood in the road.

This week I have been looking on the British Newspaper Collection again, from within the findmypast site and was able to find a report in the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette of 31st July 1923 that reported on the accident. It also provided me with a little bit more information that I was previously ignorant of; that his occupation was a dental mechanic.

Another paper (Western Morning News of the 3rd August) gave me the names of those mourners that attended the funeral in St Andrew’s Paignton including those who are listed as uncles, aunts and cousins so giving more useful information for the family historian.

I really do recommend you taking a look at newspapers either on the dedicated British Newspaper Archives site, whose search engine seems to me identify a broader set of results than the sister site.

Or within the findmypast website if you have a subscription.

I am putting together a family history course of my own and will be certainly covering the usefulness of researching your ancestors in the newspapers of the time.

 

If you would like more tips on researching your English or Welsh Family History then why not sign up for my tips and a special FREE report using the box below…

 

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HALF A MILLION HISTORIC WILTSHIRE RECORDS AVAILABLE ONLINE

Ancestry.co.uk

MOONRAKERS, QUAKERS AND CHOCOLATE MAKERS – HALF A MILLION HISTORIC WILTSHIRE RECORDS AVAILABLE ONLINE .

I can remember visiting an uncle and aunt in Wiltshire, as a boy, and remembering how attractive the county looked. Those of you researching your ancestors from this area will be please by the announcement from Ancestry.co.uk that they have expanded their collection online.

Ancestry.co.uk,  has just launched online Wiltshire Church Records, 1538 – 1897 and Wiltshire Quaker Birth & Death records 1542 – 1897, a combined collection of more than half a million historic Anglican and Quaker marriage, birth and death records – offering unique insight into the history of many non-conformists in Wiltshire.

 

Spanning over 350 years, the records include more than 500,000 marriages from all 327 Wiltshire parishes, as well as more than 3,300 Wiltshire Quaker births and deaths.

 

Well-known as the home of ancient Neolithic site Stonehenge and for its wool-producing history, the county of Wiltshire was home to many members of the prominent Quaker family the Frys. Included in the collection are birth records for Cornelius and William Storrs Fry – brothers of chocolate dynasty founder Joseph Fry, whose chocolate company Fry, Vaughan & Co was famed for creating the first ever chocolate Easter egg in the UK.

 

The records are available to search by criteria including name, age and residence and in some cases detail addresses, occupations and parents’ names.

 

Miriam Silverman, Senior Content Manager at Ancestry.co.uk said “These records are a fantastic resource for anyone interested in finding out more about their ancestors in Wiltshire – non-conformist or otherwise. The collection is also a significant addition to the Wiltshire records we currently have on Ancestry.co.uk, including almost 27,000 Wiltshire Extracted Parish Records.”

 

For more information, visit www.ancestry.co.uk

 

 

Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Ancestry.co.uk should you sign up for their subscription.

 

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Family History Can Be Frustrating Looking For A Breakthrough

I’ve hit many brick walls with the research into my Great Uncle and then today a little breakthrough gives me the confidence to go on.

I am sure that there are many of you that have had the same experience. You open up a genealogy search site and enter your ancestor’s name and some details into the search fields. You hit the Search button and hope that the next page will reveal your kin. Back come the results and depressingly none of them seem to be your man or woman.

Well this has been what I have been experiencing recently, after the initial decision to explore more about Harold Perring Matthews, who married my Great Aunt Winnie. He joined the RAF and gained rapid promotion and honours in WWII. To find out more I will probably have to send off for his service record, but at present I just want to establish the main vital records for him.

 

I had already found Harold’s birth registered in the GRO indexes for 1901 and he appeared in the 1901 census as being 1 month old on census night. I’d also found his marriage in the indexes in the 4th quarter of 1936, but could I find his death or anything else? No I could not!

I use a variety of genealogical subscription sites when doing my research and two of the main ones were not giving me any details of his death. I was wondering whether to just put him on the back burner and turn to someone else, when I fired up findmypast and noticed that there was one record for an Overseas Death reported to the GRO.

Eureka! Great Uncle Harold died in 1969 in Palma, Mallorca aged 68, and his death was reported by the consular authorities to the GRO in England. So it is that he appears in their Deaths Abroad Indices and not in the normal GRO index.

Think laterally and try more than one search site!

Find My Past has Overseas Death Records 1818-2005 amongst many other data sets.


Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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The Family History Researcher and Harold P Matthews

Last week I wrote about how a family story had sent me off looking for my great-uncle Harold who served in the RAF during the Second World War and rising from Warrant Officer to Wing Commander in the Technical Branch.

One of my kind readers suggested a lead after they had done a Google search for H.P.Matthews that threw up a person of this name working for the Australian Department of Supply in a document referring to the Blue Streak Missile project. I had also come across something similar in Google Books and so was likewise wondering if there was a connection to Australia.

I set to work doing a trawl of Google search results and found a copy of an article in a 1959 copy of Flight Magazine with a picture of the Australian Government London Representative of the Department of Supply Mr H P Matthews.

http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1959/1959%20-%202503.html

Regretfully I came to the conclusion that it didn’t look to me to be the same man. You see I have a picture of my Great-Uncle in my baby photo album! He and my great-aunt Winnie came to visit me in the late 1950’s (I was born in the summer of 1958) and there is one of them with me as a baby.

A further search of Google books have thrown up some snippet views of books that have Wg. Cdr H P Matthews appointed as the managing director of Zwicky Ltd in 1958. This company was a filters, pumps, airport ground equipment, pressure control valves, and hydraulic equipment manufacturer of Slough and Harold Matthews was also the MD of SkyHi Ltd. a hydraulic jack manufacturers also of Slough and possibly related to the first company.

 

I did a search on the website www.forces-war-records.co.uk and here I could see that H.P.Matthews was awarded the MBE, OBE and BEM, 1939-1945 War Medal, 1939-1945 Star and was Mentioned in Despatches, but not a lot else.

I am still at the beginning of cracking this family story and it is a major regret that I didn’t know Uncle Harold better. It would seem he was some sort of an aviation engineer, but I still don’t know what he did in the war that got him such promotion and honours!

http://www.apimages.com/oneup.aspx?rids=b122ed18743d49238762fd28fd2f913b

 

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