This week a guest post from Suzie Kolber of obituarieshelp.org
Whether you are a teacher designing a project for your students or a parent helping your child with a class project, tracing family history can be a challenge. It is an educational project that can provide a student with a lot of fun and information, but it can be difficult to find and organize everything. A family tree template can be an invaluable resource if you choose the right one.
Consider the Age
Young children are visual learners, so a template that is colorful and simple is best. Using an actual tree with branches and including only the names and dates of birth may be the ideal choice. Allow space for photos to make it easier to keep track of everyone.
Older kids can handle more information at one time, so you may leave out the photos and include more dates and data. It should still be visually pleasing for easy reference. Consider using colored boxes or a colored background if allowed to make it more interesting. Framed charts add style without interfering with the information. A bonus is the fact that it would look nice enough to be hung up once the project is finished.
Consider Family Situations
Teachers will want to consider the fact that not every family is alike if they choose the template to be used for the family tree. Some kids only know the background and family on one side. Select a family tree template that allows more freedom for various situations.
An example is a pedigree or landscape family chart that only includes the information for one side of the family. The child can choose which parent to focus on and others with only one parent in their lives will not feel different from the others in the class.
A child can also trace the history of a grandparent if he or she lives with them. By using a four or five generation chart, the child will have to do some research but will not have to struggle to find the information as much as with larger templates.
Consider How It Will Be Displayed
When selecting a family tree template for a class project, consider giving kids more than one choice. If these templates will be displayed together in a group, they will be more visually appealing if they do not look the same.
Because they are all different, no single template will stand out. It also allows the child to select the template for the individual family situation. If less information is known about one side or if the child is adopted, the template can be chosen to convey the appropriate information without leaving a lot of blank spaces.
When selecting a template for a class project on family trees, be sensitive to the feelings of the child. This is a very personal project that tells his or her story. Just as the stories will be different, the family trees will not look alike.
Celebrities that will be making an appearance at the NEC on 17 April 2015 for the much anticipated annual family history show Who Do You Think You Are? Live have now all been announced:
First will be Reggie Yates, who appeared on the TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? last year, in an episode which saw him travel to Ghana to trace his grandfather, Harry Philip Yates. Once there, he unravelled a complicated family history in which Ghanaian culture and British colonialism collided.
Born in London in 1983, the presenter knew very little about his father’s side of the family, after his parents separated when he was just four years old. He grew up with his mother and never met his paternal grandparents, but his Who Do Think You Are? experience made him feel more connected to both his own father and his wider family: “I feel like I’m part of something, and being here and learning about our history has made that even more real.”
During his trip to Ghana, the presenter enlisted the help of historian, Carina Ray, to discover more about the men in his family including George Yates, an Englishman who came over to the Gold Coast to work in the mining industry. Reggie also met his adopted uncle, JB, and spoke to Ghanaian chief Nana about his great grandmother.
Reggie will be on Thursday 16th April 10 am till Midday.
Secondly we can look forward to seeing Actor and impressionist Alistair McGowan when he takes the Friday celebrity slot at Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Alistair will be talking about the discovery of his Anglo-Indian heritage and his experiences of filming in India.
Alistair talk about his time on the show. He’s an entertaining speaker so you’ll be in for a treat of witty stories and celebrity voices as he speaks about his colonial origins.
During his episode, in series 4, Alistair traces his father, George McGowan (1928-2003), from Calcutta, India after noticing the birth certificate stated George was Anglo-Indian.
In Calcutta, Alistair visits the red brick family home near the docks with his uncle, Rusty, who hadn’t been back for sixty years. Rusty reveals Alistair’s grandfather, Cecil, was a dock foreman and a dedicated body builder, with the pictures and muscles to prove it.
Local Anglo-Indian expert, Melvin Brown, explains Anglo-Indian ancestry originated from the British East India Company, which encouraged unions between it’s staff and the local populace, most often British men and Indian women, by paying for their marriages.
Eager to find where his mystery Indian ancestor mingled with the McGowans, Alistair visits Allahabad, where his great grandfather, Richard (d.1923), was a telegraph operator. Near the cemetery where Richard lies beneath a simple stone slab amid snakes and long grass, Alistair locates a whole community of McGowans, living together in a large house surrounded by exotic greenery.
Saturday sees the actress Tamzin Outhwaite, who shared her exploration of her Italian roots in her episode of Who Do You Think You Are? which aired in August last year. The organizers of the show say they are thrilled to announce that Tamzin will be talking about her discoveries at Who Do You Think You Are? Live at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre on Saturday 18th April at 10.15 – 12.00.
In her episode of WDYTYA?, Tamzin traced the life of her great grandfather Adelmo and his imprisonment in Palace Camp, Isle of Man, in August 1940 among Italian fascists and other immigrants with his son, Peter.
Adelmo was a proud family man who was never seen without a shirt and tie. His dedication towards providing for his family was extraordinary; he even missed an important wedding to open his ice-cream shop in Manchester. Hearing of her family’s internment left both Tamzin and viewers distraught.
We can look forward to additional behind-the-scenes moments, and more of Tamzin’s family history, during WDYTYA? LIVE show.
Tickets for the show are £16 in advance (£22 on the door) or you can order two for £26 using the code WMS2426 (if ordered before 7 April). You can book online at www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com or by calling 0844 873 7330. There is a transaction fee of £2.25 for each order.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
I was doing some work on an obscure branch of my family tree this week when I came across a family tree online that included the individual that had married into my family.
Great, I thought, I can quickly get a handle on this person and get some clues as to where he had come from and so on. But casting an eye over the family tree I was disappointed to see that many of the details, such as the dates of birth and death were not backed up with any sources quoted.
For anyone, starting out in researching their family history, an early lesson to learn is that you should never import a family tree that someone else has complied, unless you have checked the details yourself. If the author of the tree does not give you the sources, from where they have obtained the information, then you are not going to be able to check them for yourself and so the best you can do is use the information only as a guide for further research.
Being in an optimistic mood I, nonetheless, jotted down on my scrap pad the names and dates so that I could go and look for them myself. But then it hit me that this family tree had been put together by someone in a haphazard and slapdash way. A birth was attributed to Essex in Massachusetts, when the subject had been born in the English County of Essex. A marriage to a lady rejoicing in the first name of Thomasine reputedly had taken place in 1800. This was impossible as the subject was not born until 1837.
The problem can occur on websites that give suggestions that may or may not be your ancestor and that happen to have the same or a similar name. It seems that some people accept the suggestions as leads to be further investigated and so the family tree may be seen only as a work in progress. They don’t mean it to be used by anyone else, even though it left as Public in the settings.
This is all well and good except that it causes a mighty pitfall for the person new to family history who, having started their own tree on the site, then imports the details as fact and ends up tracing up a line that is not their forebears at all!
In the case of the tree I was looking at it was blatantly obvious that mistakes were made, but in some others it could not be so clear. If you are new to family history research beware of believing all that is written on the internet!
If you are serious about discovering your family history, then spend the winter nights looking for your ancestors in the records.
First you need to know where to look and what tips you need to tease them out.
My Family History Researcher Academy offers a simple to understand course on English/Welsh family history.
I have been sending out weekly tutorials to many satisfied members for some time and this month I had the following from a student who had just completed their 52nd lesson.
“Hi Nick. Thank you very much for this series. I have learnt such a lot and it has increased my knowledge considerably. A. Vallis.
Join the now better informed researchers, such as the family historian above.
Try it for yourself with this special offer of one month FREE!
I had identified in the Indexes, to Births Marriages and Deaths for 1919, an entry in Devonport, Devon, for the birth of twins.
The problem was that the family were from London and, as I blogged last week, the head of the family was a Metropolitan Policeman. I had found from the The Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre the stations to which he had been attached and it would seem he had a continuous service until illness forced his retirement in 1928.
A quite big question had worried me about why these children would have been born in the West Country to a couple, only married a year before in London. From my research I had discovered that the father was attached to Marylebone and then Clapham districts; but nothing had been said of any other service in the First World War.
As most of us know in England there is not a national police force. The County and Borough Police Act was passed in 1856 which made policing compulsory throughout England and Wales and made provision for H.M. Treasury to give assistance to local authorities to establish territorial police forces. By 1900, the number of police in England, Wales and Scotland totalled 46,800 working in 243 separate forces. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_law_enforcement_in_the_United_Kingdom#cite_note-UKPMet-6
Many amalgamations of police forces have taken place since then and today policing of England & Wales is mostly run on County lines. Scotland, has in 2013, merged all 8 territorial forces into a single service called Police Scotland, but England has not. The Met, I had always assumed, was only a London force and Devon had its own Police.
“In the 1850s, the Devon County Constabulary and Cornwall County Constabulary were formed, bringing a new professionalism to the policing of the peninsula. These constabularies, along with the Exeter City Police and the Plymouth Borough Police, finally came to together following a series of mergers, which resulted in the formation of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary in 1967.”
This birth of twins, to my Met Police Constable and his wife, was in World War I and so I wondered if war service may have accounted for the move of the family. Devonport was a large Royal Navy port in the City of Plymouth, County of Devon and I thought that, perhaps, the Constable had left the Police and joined the navy. Now it seems that he served his country, in the war, by staying in the Police force.
The resulting birth certificates, for the twins, confirmed that I had the right couple and the occupation of the father is given as: “Metropolitan Police Constable of 14a Auckland Road, Devonport.”
So that raised the question of what was a London policeman doing in Devon, in WWI?
“The Metropolitan Police also had responsibility for the policing of the Royal Dockyards and other military establishments, Portsmouth, Chatham, Devonport, Pembroke and Woolwich from 1860 until 1934, and Rosyth in Scotland from 1914 until 1926.”
Today, the responsibility on forces bases is with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Police; but back then it was with the Metropolitan Police. So this Met Police Officer was enforcing the law at the Royal Navy Dockyard at Plymouth, when his twins were born.
As a general rule a British “Bobbie” is unarmed, even today. True we have Firearms Officers, who attend incidents where weapons are used, and we have police officers on guard at airports, military establishments and the like who carry guns, but the unarmed civilian policeman is part of British psyche. We refer to this as “Policing with the consent of the public.”
From some reading I have done, however, I have discovered that all Met Policeman of the Dockyard divisions were in fact armed. It is most likely that this P.C. carried a .455 calibre Webley & Scott self-loading pistol Mark I Navy. The dockyard police being normally issued with what ever the current side arm of the Royal Navy was at the time, rather than what the Met used on odd occasions in London. http://www.pfoa.co.uk/uploads/asset_file/The%20Met%27s%20Dockyard%20Divisions%20v3.pdf
The thing about family history is that, along with many others, I find I am continuously learning. No matter how much I think I know I am always reminded that we are all advanced beginners. There is always more to learn!
Are you researching your English family tree and have exhausted all the run of the mill records?
Take a course such as Family History Researcher Academy and broaden your research horizons.
This week I was asked to look into a family tree for someone whose family tree had found its roots back to London around the 1900s.
Finding the right person in the birth marriages and death (BMD) indexes had been a little difficult, as the date of birth was a few years out.
Notwithstanding, when the certificate arrived from the General Register Office we were able to see that the father of the child was listed a Police Constable.
As his address was in London we had a choice of two main police forces as his employer, the City of London, or the Metropolitan Police. Taking a guess that it would be the latter, I went in search of what records there may be for Met Policemen and came across the Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre’s website at: http://www.metpolicehistory.co.uk/met-police-heritage-centre.html
From a link on its home page I ended up on the Family History which in turn gave me a link to a Search Sheet with this filled in with the scant information that I had about my Police Constable, I fired it off by email and waited for a reply.
From what I read on their site The Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre research material consists of:-
Central Records of Service from 1911.
54.000 name database from 1829 of which is updated regularly.
Pension cards for pensioners who have died
Police Orders from 1857
Joiners and Leavers Records. (copies from National Archive)
Divisional Ledgers. (consisting of collar Numbers, previous occupation and armed forces service) for certain periods of time for A,B,E,F,G,H,K,L,M,N,R and Y Divisions.
Subject and People files.
Photographs – in the process of being scanned to Hi-Res from a vast collection
It was within a couple of days that I had my reply!
I got the man’s warrant number, his dates of service, that he had joined the Marylebone Division before moving south of the river to the Clapham Division and the various collar numbers that he had held.
Now that surprised me, as I had never really thought about the fact that a copper’s number would change as he moved station, but it does stand to reason.
Other information they could give me was that he retired from ill health, together with the illness and the pension that he got plus a card from an index that recorded his death in Eastbourne in 1969.
The ever helpful people at The Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre advised me that Metropolitan Police officers pension records are held at The National Archives and gave me the index numbers that I will need to investigate this man further.
So if you have a Met Police Officer in your family tree, then it is well worth contacting the heritage centre. It is currently free to request information, but they do encourage donations.
Are you researching your English family tree and have exhausted all the run of the mill records?
Take a course such as Family History Researcher Academy and broaden your research horizons.
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).
This week’s Who Do You Think You Are? on the BBC was a bit more traditional in tracing Mary Berry’s family back through various record sets. From what I can see, on the forums and on facebook, this has please many people who don’t like the recent trend of just one ancestor being looked at in a programme in more depth.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this week’s, with Mary Berry being a great choice to investigate with some interesting ancestors that made use of a large number of resources from the family history researcher’s tool box.
In defence for those other programmes, with the single subject, I would just like to say that one of the points that I was taught (and which I myself now teach in my own family history course) is that family history involves looking at the social context of our ancestors, as well as collecting names, dates and details.
We need to understand the world in which our ancestors lived and what was happening to make them be the people that they were. Perhaps these editions were simply trying to show this and in the confines of an hour long programme this naturally excluded all the other generations that would appear on the celebrity’s family tree.
That said, it would seem that the popular vote is for the later type of WDYTYA? Viewers from the genealogy pages on facebook would prefer to see a family tree being traced back and a little bit of detail being fleshed out on the poor unfortunate person who had fallen on difficult times or who had shown great grit.
As long as when we come to research our own family tree that we don’t make the mistake of simply collecting names, dates, perhaps an occupation and place or two and then move on to the next generation without thinking a little about the social context of our ancestors, then my vote is also with the Mary Berry type of programme, but only narrowly in favour!
As I wrote this post today I was casting my mind back over the show and counting off the data sets and resources used for which I have modules in my Family History Researcher course.
There was also Christopher Berry Junior’s wife and 6 children who ended up in the workhouse with some of the children dying while inmates, but the segregation that would have taken place between children and parent was not mentioned. See my module on the Workhouse.
Mary Berry was shown the Trades Directory and especially the one that her ancestor had published. In my course I have a module on Trade Directories written by Mary Bayley of TheGenelogist that uses that website’s great resources to explain their usefulness to the family historian.
Mary Berry had an ancestor of the same name as her who was identified in the GRO vital records as having had a number of illegitimate children. The Parish Registers also confirmed this fact. I delve into these three areas in separate modules on the Birth Marriage and Death certificates (lesson 2), the Parish Records (5 and 8) and Illegitimate children (21).
Then there was old newspapers (lesson number 42), Bankruptcy (lesson 29), apprentices (lesson 15), death records (lesson 25) and probably more!
If anyone is new to our fascinating subject, or is a seasoned family history researcher who would like to be refreshed on English/Welsh researching then I have a £1 trial for two weeks on offer at the moment.
I’ve got some advice for you to break down a brick wall.
Have you been stuck trying to find an ancestor?
Thought you might have been!
Maybe what I relate below will help you too.
The thing was that some while back, I was getting quite frustrated by being unable to trace a person in the records.
I was completely stuck finding this person’s birth, marriage or death and I had tried looking online and off without any luck.
Maybe you are in this position too?
What broke the problem for me?
Well it was avisit to a Family History websitewhile surfing forkeywordsto do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spentbrowsing the transcripts featured on the platform.
There were some other factors, such as trying different spelling variations of first and second names, as advised by my family history teacher at the time and a visit to an archive.
What it boils down to is using a bit of lateral thinking in our family tree research and most importantly finding out about alternative records to the ones that we might have already used.
The family branch that has presented me with the most frustrating problems has been that from Devon. I was fine going back through the census years, 1911, 1901 and so on back to 1841 but then it became more of a problem.
Perhaps this story resonates with some of you to?
I had figured out that my 3x great-grandfather was called John Thorn. This was provided in the information he had given to the census enumerators over the years, along with the fact that he had been born in about 1795. His wife, Elizabeth, had been born about 1798.
As I belong to The Society of Genealogists I took a trip to their headquarters in Goswell Road, London knowing that they have the largest collection of Parish Records in the country on microfiche. They’ve also got some transcripts of parish registers in their library, which I thought may be worth looking at.
If you are in the area I highly recommend you visit the Society of Genealogists.
Unfortunately for me, at the time of my research, the Dartmouth parish records were not on microfilm at the SoG. But I was over the moon to find a great selection of Devon Family History Society booklets for marriages taking place in the churches of the town, including St. Saviour’s, Dartmouth. Browsing one book for any likely ancestors I spotted that on 13 April 1817 one person called John Thorn got married to an Elizabeth Sissell.
I opened up the internet and began searching using my new lead. My mission was to hunt down any evidence that this was the marriage of my ancestors.
Doing a search-engine query for Dartmouth + family history steered me towards the Dartmouth-history.org.uk website belonging to The Dartmouth Archives. I discovered that this voluntary organisation had a really broad family history section and included a number of transcribed baptisms, burials, marriages and census records.
I could read the very same information, as I had seen at the SoG in London, on this niche site. The data began in 1586 and ran to 1850 and there was the marriage of John Thorn to Elizabeth and this time I noticed that the witness were given as John Adams and Sunass (sic) Sissell.
At the time I made an assumption that this last person was more than likely some member of the bride’s family. Could it perhaps be the father of the bride?
But that name “Sunass” just didn’t seem likely to me. Now I know that it was the best guess by the transcriber as it couldn’t be read properly in the original record.
From the information I knew that they had signed with a mark, thus they were illiterate and so the first name and the second had not been written down by the ancestors themselves.
When you are doing your own research you should bear in mind that our ancestors may not have had the ability to read or write and the minister may have interpreted the name as he had heard it said to him. In my ancestor’s case the surname “Sissell” could possibly have been “Cecil” or something entirely different. Consider saying the name with the regional accent and seeing what you come up with.
As for Sunass – at this point I was clueless!
The Dartmouth Archives website had not got any early enough christening records for John and Elizabeth and so I went over to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website or FamilySearch.org and here I did a search for Elizabeth’s christening.
I was rewarded by a lead to a baptism in one of the other churches in Dartmouth, St Petrox, on the 16 September 1878. This child was the daughter of James and Sarah Sissill and she was christened Elizabeth Gardener Sissill.
You may notice that the spelling had changed to Sissill with an “i” and not an “e” again pointing to the vicar writing it down the way that he heard it.
I now jumped to a conclusion that the witness to Elizabeth’s marriage could have been her father “James” and this has been interpreted as “Sunnas” because a flowing “J” for James had looked like an “S” to the transcriber and the other letters had been misread as a “u” for an “a” and the double “n” as an “m”. All easily done.
So what I am emphasising here and I continue to do so in modules from my Family History Researcher Course, is to be wary of names and the way they were spelt. If you keep this in mind then some of the logjams we find in our research can be got past.
This breakthrough I had was down to finding that Dartmouth has an active family history website and then using their indexes in conjunction with other internet resources, such as the LDS site.
The first learning point is that you should always find out what other research may have been done, for the area your ancestors came from.
If you find a family history society, or local interest group with a website, can any of their publications or website pages help you with your quest?
Secondly, always keep in mind that names were misspelled in many records. In my own family research I have had to think of other spellings for the Sissells, and indeed names that may have sounded like Sissell in order that I may trace this line back further and break down the brick wall.
I have made some fantastic strides in my family tree research and it is mostly down to learning as much as I can from other’s experiences and finding out as much as I can about what records and resources are available.
Last year I put together some modules for a course of 52 guides, aiming at passing on my experience. Perhaps they can help you become a more knowledgeable researcher?
I had some professional genealogists and data providers also contribute to the project to make it well rounded.
As you have come to this page I am sure that you must have an interest in family history and I am betting that you to have some brick walls to knock down as well. So take a look at the report below that is based on some of the material from the Family History Researcher course…
Soldiers Who Died in the First World War added to TheGenealogist
As the anniversary of the beginning of World War I took place recently many new databases have made it online to help us search for our brave ancestors. One such release is from TheGenealogist and is the Soldiers Who Died in this war.
This detailed record set covers over 650,000 individuals who died in the First World War. Details include name, rank, regiment, place of birth, place of residence, place of enlistment, service number and the cause, date and place of death. These records are uniquely linked to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to show you where your ancestor is commemorated.
Soldiers Who Died in the Great War has been added to the huge military collection on TheGenealogist, encompassing many unique record sets from Casualty Lists and War Memorials, to Rolls of Honour and more.
This site is family owned and seems to have a very friendly feel to it. At a time when others are being accused of not listening I have found that the team at TheGenealogist responded rapidly to any glitches I have had with the interface in the past. Indeed one such problem I had a few months back was fixed in minutes!
Atlas shows us how Britain’s landscape has changed over the last 500 years
Looking at this collection of 57 maps and you will be able to find England’s lost counties of Westmorland and Huntingdonshire
Find Parish borders that hark back to when people associated more with their Parish church than town hall
There is a newly published historic atlas of Great Britain online at Ancestry.co.uk that gives the family historian something of a unique view of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales stretching back over 500 years.
Digitised by the family history site Ancestry.co.uk, the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, consists of fifty seven different maps of the counties of the U.K. What is interesting to me about this is it shows how Britain’s ancient parish and county boundaries have changed shape over the centuries.
We have all been there in our research. You may have lost someone from the records of a
particular county and thus you become stuck unless you can see the boundaries as they stood at the time that your ancestor was alive.
I was doing some research for a client whose ancestors came from Northfield. Today that is a suburb of Birmingham and so is in the West Midlands. At the time of their ancestor Northfield was in Worcestershire.
The subject of the research got married about ten miles away in Dudley, which was in Staffordshire at the time and today has its own archive service as it is a Metropolitan Borough. Thus to find the records of a family that lived in quite a small radius needs careful thought as to where to look.
This newly digitised Atlas is navigable online, users are able to scroll over whole counties and then use a zoom tool to go in and out. Useful if you need to identify the various local parishes, towns and the churches.
The original documents used in the atlas are from the resources of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies.
Browsing the maps open up quite an insight into how England’s historical county maps didn’t change much for centuries, before many of the ancient counties were split up to make more governable areas.
In this atlas the county of Middlesex is shown as it was in the 19th century. At that time it consisted of what are today large swathes of modern London and so included the likes of Islington and Chelsea. London itself is a much smaller settlement that is barely more than one mile wide.
The Home Counties appear in their original form before the legislation of the London Government Act 1965 created Greater London. You will also be able to see the original boundary of the counties of Essex and Surrey when viewing the maps.
Other counties that are defunct today but can be traced in the atlas include Westmorland (today a part of Cumbria), and Huntingdonshire, which disappeared into Cambridgeshire following a Government Act in 1971. Lancashire is also to be found here in its original form, comprising of modern day Manchester and Liverpool and also various parts of Cumbria and Cheshire. It was subsequently reorganised and downsized, losing nearly a third of its area in the process.
Before the population of the country grew over the centuries and along with this regional administration developed, people were inclined to identify themselves more with their local parish when considering where they came from. As time moved on and these parish borders changed to such an extent that now it is almost impossible to determine the exact location of some parishes and their records using modern maps.
I have an interest in a small village that sits today in North west Leicestershire, but in years past was divided between Leicestershire but with pockets residing in Derbyshire and completely surrounded by Leicestershire on all sides!
The Atlas is thus an authoritative guide to the drastic changes in Britain’s county and parish borders over the last 500 years and a valuable way of adding geographical context to family history research.
The maps were the brainchild of Cecil Humphery-Smith, a genealogist and heraldist who founded the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, based in Canterbury, which promotes family history both through courses and its extensive library. He is, of course, the author of Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers.
At Ancestry.co.uk, the maps can now be searched and browsed by county. For family historians using Ancestry’s Lancashire Parish records as well as the 1851 Censuses and Free Birth, Marriage and Death Index will discover that every record in these collections links to a relevant map.
In addition, almost eight million new records have been added to the Lancashire Parish records currently available on Ancestry’s site.
Ancestry.co.uk Senior Content Manager Miriam Silverman comments: “The borders of the UK parishes and counties have changed so much over the last 500 years and that really makes these maps the key to navigating the past and progressing with your family history journey.”
To search the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, as well as millions of additional birth, marriage and death records, visit www.Ancestry.co.uk.
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post.