Making Mistakes by Importing Another’s Work

 

Family Tree on a computerIt is a well known fact that you should never import another persons research into your own tree until you have checked it. This weekend I have been looking at a Pedigree chart that was sent to me that, at first glance, seemed to give me some great leads on a branch of my family that I have not got further back than 1805 with.

The kind person who had sent it to me seemed to have identified the parents of the ancestor that I had myself got as far back as, and so I went to check the details myself.

At first I thought that it really did look like they had saved me a lot of work and had helped me with my family tree – until I noticed that there were two sons of the family with the same first name and one was my forbear, while the other purported to be his brother.

With the terrible instances of infant and child mortality, in times past, it is often possible to come across parents giving the names of dead siblings to the children born after the death of the older and now deceased child. In this pedigree, however, both of the supposed brothers lived long lives into adulthood!

Having been alerted by this error I now looked with closer interest at the purported father of my confirmed ancestor and noted that in the parish records collection there were two men baptised in the same city around the time I would have expected and that they had different parents and so were different families. So now I needed proof that the one chosen by my correspondent to be my forebear was indeed the father of my ancestor I had already researched and confirmed in the prime sources of the parish register.

Two siblings of the same name and two possible sets of parents!

 

This is a lesson for those that are new to family research to take on board when they start to search back before the civil records were taken over by the GRO from the parish church records.

It is equally a lesson for me. I was doing a little family research while feeling tired from a heavy week and the temptation was there to cut corners and import wholesale this enticing bit of research into my own tree. Luckily my sense kicked in and I started to check the details as I have been taught to do.

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My Ancestors and The Great Western Railway

I believe myself lucky to have ancestors that hail from very different backgrounds as it makes my research all the more interesting.

On the one hand I have the ubiquitous Ag Labs, some small business men, dressmakers, mariners, landed gentry,  the odd Victorian Army officers of various ranks and if I go back far enough down one branch, Scots Aristocrats who trace their lineage back to Normandy.

Looking at the records of The Great Western Railway, sometimes affectionately refereed to as “God’s Wonderful Railway”, I find that one of my great-great grandfathers was an employee of the company at the end of its Dartmouth link. Henry Thomas Thorne was the Captain of the paddle steam ferry that ran across the Dart from Kingswear, serving the GWR and its predecessor companies for more than 40 years. In today’s world of  job uncertainty this seems like a very long time!

Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth, Devon.
Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth, Devon.

I found him in the Ancestry.co.uk records for UK Railway Employment earning 5 shillings and tuppence in 1897 up from 4/8d in previous years.

In my maternal branch I have discovered one of my other great-great grandfather’s in the list of shareholders of the GWR at findmypast.co.uk as one of the owner’s of the gilt-edged stock.

The Society of Genealogists produced its GWR Shareholders Index from ledgers created by the Great Western Railway and now in the Society’s possession. The Great Western Railway’s original ledgers were compiled by the company for transactions relating to all shareholdings which changed hands other than by simple sale.

The GWR called the ledgers Probate Books, which reflects the fact that the great majority of such share transfers (approximately 95%) were as a result of the death of a shareholder and their shares changing hands during the administration of the deceased’s estate. The proportion of the GWR’s total number of shareholders included in the Society of Genealogists’ GWR Shareholders Index is not known but is estimated to be between 50% and 75%; this is because the railway shares were regarded as gilt-edged stock to be held for the long term. Source:Find My Past

To search the records of shareholders you have to either belong to the Society of Genealogists or they can be viewed at Find My Past website where you can get a 14 day free trial!

 

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Family Tree Stories

I don’t know about you, but I have had lots of people telling me today that it is the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year and this is not going to come around for another hundred years.

As always, I like to think back to my ancestors and so this got me wondering if in 1912, 1812, 1712 or way back in 1612 my forebears were similarly stopping to think about the fact that this date sequence was not going to be repeated for another hundred years!

I wonder about my great-grandfather working as a ship’s carpenter in Devon in 1912. Were his work mates discussing the next time the phenomena would occur in 2012?

 

Family history is all about wrapping some human stories to the bland facts and figures that such and such an ancestor was born on this particular day; that they were married here and died in this particular place on this date.

Whether you are starting out, or have already got an impressive family tree, do talk to your relatives and find out what the older generations can remember about family that are no longer with us.

Do remember, however, to check the facts as stories can get changed in the telling and also from being passed down from one to another.

This week I have been looking at a story from the second world war – and nothing to do with the 12th of the 12th of the 12th!

A close family member served in the Merchant Navy and reputedly was to join a particular ship called the Coptic. Because he was not fully proficient at his job, when the time came, he was held back to finish his training and then assigned to another ship by his bosses. He spent his war sailing on the convoys across the Atlantic and down to Australia and the Pacific ocean.

His story tells that the M.V. Coptic was sunk three days out of Liverpool and all hands were lost while, serendipitously, he made it through the war without being killed on the M.V. Dominion Monarch.

http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/737.html

On checking the facts I found that the Coptic was not sunk on the stormy night of 17th January 1941 and indeed also saw the war out, so what did this do to his story? Well I think he got the ship’s name muddled up in his head as the Zealandic, another ship of the same merchant line, was indeed attacked by a U-boat on that night and none of the crew survived.

So listen to the older generations and then check the facts before adding the tale to your family tree.

 

Tip: I have found it useful to upload my family tree to Genes Reunited as I have been contacted on many occasions by distant cousins working on other branches of our tree, who are also members of this website.

 

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My Ancestor’s Polite Advertisement From

I was researching one Thomas Westlake, an ancestor of mine from Plymouth in the mid 1800s.

I’d found this enterprising forebear, of mine, who had been a Victualler and Brass founder, on the 1861 census. He employed one woman, six men and some boys in this Devon City at this time and so I guess I would find him listed in the trades section.

This had lead me on to use the University of Leicester site, Historical Directories at www.historicaldirectories.org to find him and his advertisement in a Plymouth Trade Directory!

Its great fun to see how polite were the requests of a Victorian era businessman, asking for trade, in an advertisement from this time. My ancestor, Thomas Westlake paid for a half page advertisement in the 1852 edition of the Plymouth directory, whose full title was:

“A Directory of Plymouth, Stonehouse, Devonport, Stoke, and Moricetown, compiled from actual survey.”

Trade advertisement from 1852 Plymouth

Trade advertisement from 1852 Plymouth

 

Thomas Westlake,

Brass Founder, & Manufacturer of Gas Fittings, Beer Engines, Water Closets, Lift Pumps, etc…

 

Begs respectfully to acquaint his Friends and the Public generally that he has, in his Establishment, men of experience in the above branches, from London and Birmingham; and assures them that all orders entrusted to his care, will be executed in first rate style, under his immediate superintendence, and on moderate terms.

 

Now who could resist an advertisement like that, but what would we think of it today?

 

I have also had some luck with other ancestors finding their advertisements in the newspapers of the day. It is worth a look at the British Library Newspapers collection.

Click the ad box below to go to The British Newspaper Archive.


 

The British Newspaper Archive is a joint venture with brightsolid, the company behind findmypast.co.uk and recent developments there are that they have just published millions of pages of local newspapers on their site for the period 1710-1950. More than 200 titles are included and they say they will be adding more all the time.

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

 

 

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Family History Books for Kindle

So this week, in the British Isles, saw Waterstones Booksellers launch the Kindle readers in their shops across the country. In my branch in St Helier, Jersey there is a great new display point and I was drawn immediately towards the Kindle Fire HD. I love the way it looks and the way it works! So much so that I got my debit card out and bought one there and then.

With these devices making more of an inroad into the way that people shop for books and read them I thought that it was timely for me to take a look at what family history titles are available from the Amazon Kindle store.

First off  I found that Peter Christian’s The Genealogist’s Internet is available. I’d seen it reviewed in Your Family Tree magazine in only the last month with a recommend that every family historian should have a copy either in Kindle form or in physical book.

It is a practical guide which that  is great for both beginners and more experienced researchers to use as it explores the most useful online sources and aids its readers to navigate each one. The Genealogist’s Internet features fully updated URLs and all of the recent developments in online genealogy.

This is the fully updated fifth edition and it carries the endorsed by the National Archives. Covering

·Online census records and wills, including the 1911 Census

·Civil registration indexes

·Information on occupations and professions

·DNA matching

·New genealogy websites and search engines

·Surname studies

·Passenger lists and migration records

·Information on digitised historical maps and photographs

Peter Christian’s book also includes the impact of blogging, podcasting and social networking on family history research, that allows the family historian to seek out others with similar research interests and so to share their results. Whether you want to put your family tree online, find distant relatives or access the numerous online genealogical forums, discussion groups and mailing lists, this book is a must-have.

For a selection of other Kindle books, including my own, head over to amazon.co.uk and take a look at these: Must Have Family History Books for your Kindle.

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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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From Flight Sergeant to Wing Commander

I have been talking to senior members of the family again, in the hope of finding out interesting snippets about relatives passed lives and one fascinating character to be spoken about was that of my great-uncle Harold.

I recall Uncle Harold and Auntie Winnie, the sister of my paternal grandfather, coming on holiday to the St Brelades Bay Hotel in Jersey when I was a child growing up in this island. I know that he died in 1969 and so it must have been in the sixties that they would have come over on holiday.

My father recalls that he and his brother would be taken by Uncle Harold to Farnborough, as young men and that their uncle was treated with a great deal of respect by the people there.

It would seem that in the war Harold Matthews joined the RAF technical branch, but what he did no one in the family seems to now recall. It was certain that he didn’t pilot planes. Also known was that at the beginning of the war he was a Flight Sergeant and that when he retired from the RAF he was a Wing Commander.

To start my research I went to the London Gazette online and soon found that on the 9th of July 1940 Warrant Officer 162784 Harold Perring Matthews (43860) was granted a commission for the duration of  hostilities as a Flying Officer.

Another search found that on 1st January 1941 Acting Flight Lieutenant Harold Perring Matthews was admitted as an Additional Member of the Military Division of the said Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. That was one year into the war and it is intriguing to wonder what he had done in the service of the country.

Next was a hit for 18 July 1947 and H P Matthews OBE is being promoted from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander. and then on the 10 February 1956 Wing Commander H P Matthews OBE  BEM (43860) retires from the Royal Air force.

This is an interesting man and would seem to call for more research from me.

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Talking to Older Relations

I’ve not been able to do any family history this week because I had family to stay, in the form of my father, and then visits away to the family’s present home as well!

This, of course, gave me the chance to ask some questions about what he could remember about the generations that came immediately before him. Some of the information was complete news to me and I did wonder how it was that I had never been aware until then of certain points of interest.

I had started out our conversation over a meal and a drink by describing a visit that I had made to the town where many of the branch of our family had lived in the Victorian and Edwardian era and my delight in finding the house in which my 3x great grandparents, Henry and Ellen had lived.

Mentioning the name of the house sparked a memory for my father, but it was not about Henry and Ellen. It would seem that the very same house name had been used by one of his aunts for her house in a different town altogether. Is it plausible that she had fond memories of visiting her great grandparents and so used the name as a link to the past.

I have done something similar in that I named my house after my maternal grandparent’s house and in fact I can see the old place from my front window in the distance.

The practice of using family names as middle names, by parents when naming their children, can often be a huge help to us family historians in identifying our ancestors. This is especially the case when they use a mother’s maiden name as a middle name; or indeed a father’s name as a middle name when the child is illegitimate!

But the re-purposing of a house name and finding it on a census, a birth, marriage or death certificate, can also be a useful check point in tying down the correct individuals to enter into your family tree.Ancestors in Thorne Family tree

 

 

For more tips to get your family tree back before 1837 in England & Wales I would recommend that you buy my CD How To Get Back Before 1837 in England & Wales.

Help Me Get Back Before 1873 in My English Family Tree

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Solving Family Tree Brick Walls

Many of us, researching our family trees, come up against the inevitable brick wall of forebears that don’t appear in the documents in the places where we expect to find them. Sometimes this can be because they have been recorded, but the spelling of the name differs each time an official makes an attempt to write it down.

 

Brick Wall buster tip 1. Can’t find anyone of that name? Try searching for variants as in the past spelling was not an exact science.

 

This week I was revisiting my ancestors who married in Gloucester and then went on to have a daughter baptised in Devon that eventually married a Thorn and so perpetuated the Thorn/Thorne line that leads down the tree to me.

One of the problems that I have with this branch is that they were not literate and had no idea of how to spell their surname. The evidence is in the parish register for Dartmouth, where I first pick up the female line. Both parties, to the marriage between the Thorns and the Sissells made their mark and did not sign. The register gives me the name of the father of the bride as James Sissell as he makes his mark as a witness.

Elizabeth Gardiner Thorn, as she becomes on her marriage, is eventually buried in Dartmouth and I can trace her in the census records and on her death certificate as having been my 2x great-grandmother, from the names of her family in these records. This is how I know that I am investigating the correct person.

Researching the christening of Elizabeth backwards, in the IGI on familysearch.org, I find that she was given the name of Elizabeth Gardiner Sissill and I also find the marriage of a James Sysal to a Sarah Gardiner in 1780 in St Nicholas’ church Gloucester.

St Nicholas', Gloucester Parish Records are at County Record Office

So now I have three versions of the spelling of their surname, Sissell, Sissill and Sysal, but it is only the beginning!

I found that Elizabeth had a brother, Thomas, though at his christening the vicar entered his surname as Sizzall in the parish registers.

Turning my attention to the deaths of Elizabeth’s parents – as any good family historian always will try to kill off their ancestors – I have only just had some luck after my visit to the Devon Family History Society’s Tree House in Exeter and to the County Record Office to look at the microfiche copies of parish records.

I had no idea if James and Sarah had remained in Dartmouth of whether they had moved on, or even back to Gloucester.

With the aid of the various printed booklets of transcripts, from the DFHS, I was able to identify a Sarah Sisell (the fifth version of the surname) buried on March the 17th 1831 in the St Saviour’s burials transcripts and a James Saissell (sixth version of the spelling) buried on the 5th January 1835 in St. Saviour’s Dartmouth. Then I could look at the relevant microfiche copy of the register, in the County Record Office, to confirm the transcript was correct.

Spelling was so much more fluid in our ancestor’s day. Indeed the words “Burials” “Marriages” and “Baptisms”, at the top of the pages in the very same register, changed form throughout the different years!

I can only assume that all the variants of the surname, as recorded above and said with a West Country accent, could have sounded much alike to the hapless vicar whose registers display the fact that spelling was not fixed, as it has become today.

For more tips to get your family tree back before 1837 in England & Wales I would recommend that you buy my CD How To Get Back Before 1837 in England & Wales.

Help Me Get Back Before 1873 in My English Family Tree

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