If you caught the BBC TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? this week then you too were treated to a really interesting story.
It was that of Billy Connolly and in particular his ancestral links back to India.
His maternal great-great-grandfather was a soldier in British India who married the daughter of another British soldier. One who had seen the atrocities of the Indian Mutiny first hand and who himself was married to a young Indian girl at the time.
The Anglo-Indian aspect is another fascinating subject that could be examined in detail, but today I wanted to concentrate on the 1857 Indian Mutiny, as the British called it, or the First War of Indian Independence, as it is known to Indians.
What was good about this episode of the TV series was that it explained a bit about this historical time. There were brutal killings on both sides and it reminded me to go and look in my notes for an inscription that I had once seen on a headstone in one of the old cemeteries here on the other side of the world in Jersey, Channel Islands. There is no connection to Billy Connolly other than it is a person who also witnessed the brutality that his ancestor had in Northern India and the effect that it had on her.
Last year I was looking at some of the old Victorian monuments in Mont A L’Abbe Old Graveyard in Jersey when I came across this one:
Lavinia Fanny Kelly Hicks
Granddaughter of the above Mary Symons and the beloved wife of Captain W.J. Hicks H.M.E.I.S, who died at sea on her homeward voyage on the 28th of April 1858 in the 19th year of her age. Her constitution having been destroyed by the suffering she experienced during the mutiny at Allahabad.
So many other questions spring to mind from this.
This particular headstone can be viewed in its entirety as part of the Diamond subscription of TheGenealogist. This site has published photographs and transcriptions from several churchyards and cemeteries and I am told by my contacts at TheGenealogist that there are more to come in the future months.
Just search for Lavina Hicks and you can see the actual headstone that I was so moved by.
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used above.
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).
These knowledgeable interviewees include practising professional genealogists, with years and years of experience to offer.
Yet others are from the very highest levels of the online data provider companies, like Ancestry and TheGenealogist.
Listen to the download and learn some plain tips that will simplify the often confusing business of researching English/Welsh ancestors. I am going to give you access to these eight professionals so that you can use their advice to break down several brick walls that you may have.
3. The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) Member. What would the advice be from a professional genealogist practitioner?
Well as many serious professional genealogists belong to this association, I headed over to the AGRA stand and asked a member for his research tips. Points he brought up included the information on documents being only as good as that given by the informant and what to do about conflicting data. There is more to hear in the full interview that you can download here .
4. Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Expert. In family history we often have to think a bit outside the box. Well have you considered that your missing ancestor had moved abroad? With 3 million Brits having gone out to India then if we have a missing forbear it could certainly pay us to take a look at the records from this part of the British Empire. Its not just soldiers, the list of people who went out to work there is long as we hear from this FIBIS expert.
5. Celia Heritage – Professional Genealogist, Author and Family History Teacher introduces us to an often under used set of resources in her piece: Death Records. She explains how to use these records to flesh out the bones of our ancestors lives.
Celia is an excellent and knowledgeable speaker and you can just hear the passion that she has for her subject as she dispenses some gems of advice in the free downloadable audio presentation. Its not just death certificates that Celia brings to our attention in this part of the recording!
6. Dr Ian Galbraith – The National Wills Index explains about one of the best single major sources for family historians when I asked him to talk about Wills and Administrations for this audio.
Ian explains why wills can be an important resource with an average of 10 names per will and with half of them being different from that of the testator. Many people are surprised by the fact that all sorts of people left wills, but you won’t be when you have heard the full interview.
7. Brad Argent – Content Director for Ancestry advises family historians to drill down for the information in the online databases in his contribution to the recording. Brad suggests we use the card catalogue to seek out data sets and then use the advance search facility of “exact”, “soundex” and “wildcards” when we are on this large data provider’s site. His advice is compelling.
8. Mark Bayley – Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, a site that gives really fantastic value and a very wide range of data, introduces us to a great name-rich resource recently published by TheGenealogist, in association with The National Archives.
What is this important resource for England and Wales?
It is, of course, the Tithe collection.
I have been using this set recently to great effect with my own rural ancestors and so I have included a module in my Family History Researcher Guides about the tithes.
The beauty of this data is that it includes both sides of society, with landowners and tenants being recorded and giving names and addresses. As a pre-census data set it is hugely valuable to us! Listen to Mark explain about these exciting records in the free recording you can download now by clicking the link below.
Now you may be asking why I am doing this for free?
Its because I want to introduce you to a set of guides that I have put together. A series of pdf modules that takes the information I gleaned at Who Do You Think You Are? Live and incorporated it, along with much more content into a year’s worth of weekly written guides.
There are extra contributions from various other professional experts who have penned some of the reports, as well as those modules written from my own extensive experience.
I am guessing that, if you have read this far, you are interested in English/Welsh family history and that you have hit at least one of the inevitable brick walls. The solution is to understand more ways to find your ancestors.
So if you would like to dramatically increase your knowledge then I think you will enjoy being a member of my Family History Researcher Guides. This is a 52 weekly series of guides written in an easily accessible form and you can take a two week trial for just £1 by going here:
I have seen elsewhere on the internet today that the comedian Al Murray is not happy with a claim that he is related to David Cameron!
This was just some of the publicity that has surrounded the launch today of 2.5 million records from British India records that provide a fascinating glimpse into life on the Indian subcontinent
Family history website findmypast.co.uk has, in partnership with the British Library,Â added 2.5 million records covering over 200 years of history of the British in India and published them online for the first time today.
These records covering 1698-1947 give real insight into the heart warming and heart breaking stories of British citizens living in India during the tenure of the East India Company and the British Raj.
Debra Chatfield, Brand Manager at findmypast.co.uk said of the release: â€œThe new British in India records at findmypast are a great opportunity to find ancestors that previously were considered missing, as so many of our relatives sought their fortune on the subcontinent. Whether your relatives were clergy, aristocracy, tradespeople, merchants, civil servants or soldiers, the lowest and the landed all have stories to be told with these records.â€
That great institution, The British Library, is joining up with family history website findmypast.co.uk in a project that I find exciting, as some of my Scots ancestors went out to British India to find their fortunes in the 1860s, while others stayed put in the UK.
What has been announced, by these organisations, is their intention to digitise a veritable treasure trove of family history resources held by the British Library and so making them available to us online and fully searchable for the first time.
To be scanned are the United Kingdom electoral registers that span the century which followed on from the Reform Act of 1832, along with records of baptisms, marriages and burials that have been drawn from the archives of the India Office.
These collections are going to allow us the possibility of tracking down details of our forebears from our computers instead of making a trip to London and the British Libraryâ€™s Reading Rooms.
The British Library houses the national collection of electoral registers covering the whole of the United Kingdom and contain a vast range of names, addresses and other genealogical information, so you can see their importance.
â€œDigitisation of the electoral registers will transform the work of people wishing to use them for family history research,â€ said Jennie Grimshaw, the Libraryâ€™s curator for Social Policy and Official Publications. â€œPrinted electoral registers are arranged by polling district within constituency and names are not indexed, so the process of finding an address to confirm names of residents is currently incredibly laborious. Digitisation represents a huge breakthrough as users will be able to search for names and addresses, thereby pinpointing the individuals and ancestors theyâ€™re looking for.â€
Also to look forward to, in this large-scale digitisation, are records taken from the archives of the East India Company and the India Office and thus my excitement as so many of my Scottish ancestors were employed in the H.E.I.C.S. The data that we are promised relate to Britons who lived and worked in the Indian sub-continent during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to Independence in 1948. Including over 1,000 volumes of births, marriages and burials, together with applications for civil and military service, and details of pension payments to individuals.
Antonia Moon, curator of post-1858 India Office Records said, â€œThese records are an outstanding resource for researchers whose ancestors had connections with British India, whether as servants of the administration or as private inhabitants.â€
We can expect to see five million pages of UK electoral registers and India Office records digitised over the next year. The resources will become available via findmypast.co.uk and in the British Libraryâ€™s Reading Rooms from early 2012; online access will be available to findmypast.co.uk subscribers and pay-as-you-go customers â€“ access to users in the British Library Reading Rooms will be free.
Simon Bell, the British Libraryâ€™s Head of Licensing and Product Development, said: â€œWe are delighted to announce this exciting new partnership between the British Library and findmypast.co.uk , which will deliver an online and fully searchable resource that will prove immensely valuable to family history researchers in unlocking a treasure trove of content that up to now has only been available either on microfilm or within the pages of bound volumes. The Library will receive copies of the digitised images created for this project, so as well as transforming access for current researchers, we will also retain digital versions of these collections in perpetuity, for the benefit of future researchers.â€
Elaine Collins, Commercial Director at findmypast.co.uk, said: â€œWeâ€™re very excited to be involved with this fascinating project. The electoral rolls are the great missing link for family historians: after censuses and civil registration indexes, they provide the widest coverage of the whole population. To have Irish and Scottish records alongside England and Wales is also a huge advantage. These records will join the 1911 Census, Chelsea Pensioner Service Records and many more datasets available online at findmypast.co.uk, which enable people to make fantastic discoveries day after day.â€