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

 

 

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Investigating my ancestor’s wedding certificate a little more

In the last posting about questions with my ancestor’s wedding certificate I discovered that the parish was not written on the document as I had expected it to be. Instead of St.Mary’s Portsea there was a series of pen strokes that seemed to begin with a P but could not be made out.

If you have read the comments, to that post, then you will see a suggestion from James Mac that it may have been a daughter church of St. Mary’s. He suggested I should try to tie down the incumbent, by using the resources of Crockford’s Clerical Directory. Well this is exactly what I did. In fact I used the 1865 edition that is available to search on Google Books for free.

From the copy of the certificate, that I had obtained from the General Register Office by post, I made out the name of the person marrying my 2x great-grandparents to be W H Rednap. I also noted that the marriage was by “Certificate”.

Ancestor's wedding certificate

Now some folk have pointed out to me that “by certificate” usually means that the marriage was conducted by a Registrar. This is common in nonconformist church weddings and at registry offices. I turned to Mark Herber’s Ancestral Trails and found the line: “From 1837 marriages could also take place before civil registrars, or in chapels licensed under the Civil Registrations Acts. The law permitted the superintendent registrar to issue a certificate (similar to an Anglican licence) authorising marriages (without banns) in licensed places of worship”.

But even though the groom had been baptised in the Presbyterian church in Dartmouth, his wedding certificate indicates that it was carried out according to the Rites of the Established Church by one W H Redknap. Crockford’s confirms that William Henry Redknap was the Perpetual Curate of Milton, Portsea, in the diocese of Winchester from 1859, the year my ancestor’s married and formally the Curate of Portsea.

So then I looked into the history of Milton’s Church and found it was consecrated in 1841 and dedicated to St James, having been carved from the ancient parish of Portsea.

I do not know when in 1859 the Revd. Redknap took up his incumbency at nearby Milton, but my great-great-grandparents married in February 1859, in the early part of the year. So now I am leaning back towards the marriage having taken place in the main church of Portsea, by its curate before he moved to Milton. The Ancient Parish Church is St.Marys; but then this begs the question as to why it was “by certificate”?

I need now to consult the parish records of Portsea to lay this question to rest. Perhaps a trip to the Hampshire Archives is called for!

 

 

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Ancestor’s Marriage Certificate Throws Up Questions.

Copy wedding certificate arrives in postI have been looking more closely at an ancestor’s marriage certificate and have notice some interesting anomalies. When I had first come across the marriage of  my 2x great-grandparents, Henry Thorn and Ellen Malser, on the familysearch.org website I had noted that the marriage was recorded in the register of St.Mary’s Portsea, a parish in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England. The wedding took place on the 5th of February 1859 while Henry was employed in the Naval Dockyard as a ropemaker.

I had assumed that the church, in which they married, was St.Marys and so this is what I recorded in my family tree at the time, but now I am not so sure. As you know, good practice for family historians teaches us to always seek out the original document. Looking at the online indexes I found the information that I would need to order their marriage certificate from the General Register Office.

When I had it in my possession I noticed that it did not say the Parish Church in St Marys Portsea. Instead it reads: Marriage solemnized at “the church” in the Parish of… followed by an indecipherable set of scratches!

The first resembles a “P” and then follows some strong up and down strokes which do not give us the whole picture of the letters. I tried to match them with legible letters in the rest of the certificate but I can not make them spell St.Marys! It is possible, I think, that the word may have been Portsea, but even of that I can not be sure.

Using the map search tool on familysearch.org (http://maps.familysearch.org/) I researched other churches in Portsea. A tip here is to use the town name and not the church, or parish – if I had entered “St Marys Portsea” it would not have worked. The result returned was a number of C of E churches in the area, all carved out of the ancient parish of Portsea.

From the marriage certificate I could see that both the bride and the groom gave their address as Raglan Street, Portsea. Returning to the familysearch.org map tool I was able to see that this road fell into two parishes, the further along its length you traveled. St Marys Portsea was the Parish Church for those living in the west and St Jude’s Southsea in the east.

The trouble is that neither of these fall happily into the pattern of strokes, that are all that can be seen in this particular wedding certificate. Can I assume that as St Marys was the mother church of Portsea that convention dictated it was the Parish of Portsea?

Wedding in the Parish of...There are more questions about this particular certificate which I will deal with in my next post.

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Ancestors not on the database?

A problem that you may have encountered is one where your ancestors do not appear in the online data bases that you are searching through. I have had this problem with several forebears and when this happens I usually decide to look for the missing person in various alternative offline records.

If you too are experiencing the pain, of not finding an ancestor, then have you thought of looking at the original records at a county record office, or at some other repository? True, you may have a long and uphill task, as you methodically work your way back through the images, year by year, but this is how I came across one of my “lost” ancestors recently.

For one reason or another the transcript, which the search engine facility on the subscription site used to throw up likely records for me to consider, had recorded my ancestor’s name incorrectly. Only by browsing a microfiche, in the archive, did I find the person that I had been previously searching for without any luck.

In another and quite unrelated search, I found a transcript of burials to be a godsend to me. It had been created by the Devon Family History Society and I had found that they offered both printed booklets, and downloadable pdf versions, of parish burials for the area that I was interested in.

As I was too impatient to wait for the physical booklet to arrive in the post I opted for the download of the pdf from their website. Now this gave me an advantage. In addition to being instantly able to see my purchase, I was also able to use the really useful search facility that is built into a pdf document reader. By selecting from the tool bar: “Edit” and then on the drop-down menu: “Find”, I could look for a specific word.

I chose to search for my ancestor’s surname and when I couldn’t find him listed, because his family name had been spelled in a strange way by the clerk or vicar  (see the previous post on that subject on this blog), I then tried his first name.

After searching and rejecting many men called “James”, who had been listed in the booklet, I finally hit upon one in this list that seemed to fit the bill. His age matched my ancestor and the surname was indeed a novel interpretation of  the last name that I was looking for. Thus, in my family history quest to fill out my family tree I have encountered both a time when a transcript has helped me find an ancestor and a time when a transcript has hindered!

 

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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.

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