Middle Names in Family Tree Research

 

Thorne family from Dartmouth, Devon. I’ve been helping an old friend starting out in researching their family history in this week and he had noted that some of his family all had the same middle name.

The question, that he had, was would it be likely that it was a family surname from one of the female lines and being passed down to honour that family connection.

From what research I have done, by reading around, it would seem that  it was quite common for children to be baptised with a second name taken from a family surname that was, perhaps, the mother’s or grandmother’s maiden surname.

Mark Herber, in Ancestral Trials, The History Press; New Ed edition (1 Jun 2005) makes this point when introducing genealogical research in chapter 1 of this comprehensive book. But hold on a minute, before you jump to the conclusion that the name you have found must be attributable to another branch of your family.

In the picture, that I have included here, from a Thorne family bible  just one of that generation were given names that honoured their forebears surnames and that was Ellen Florence Malzer Thorne, the Malzer name being her mother’s maiden name.

The generation before (Henry Thomas Thorne’s siblings)  were given a variety of conventional second names until the family broke with the C of E and became members of the Flavel Memorial (Presbyterian/Independent/Congregational) church.

At this stage several of Henry’s brothers and sisters were baptised with the middle name of Lemon. I am yet to understand who they were being named after so if any of my readers can put me on the right path then post a comment below or on my facebook page: www.facebook.com/NoseGenealogist

Certainly the parents of these children, John Brandon Thorn and Elizabeth Gardiner Thorn, were usefully named after their mothers and so made the search for them in the parish records all the easier.

So the conclusion is that an unusual middle name may point you to the maiden name of your ancestor or, regretfully, it may not!

 

Another point, that I have noticed, is that people may adopt a middle name and later generations begin passing it on as they assume it to be an ancestral name. Perhaps it was someone that they admired greatly, or perhaps it was indeed a family name.

For someone I was researching this week I discovered that they were not given a middle name in the church register when they were baptised and yet they begin to use this middle name and so do the generations that followed. Perhaps it was someone that they admired greatly, but it was certainly not noted in the parish register at the time of their baptism!

My research this week has been greatly helped by the fact that more parish records have made it online. My friend’s family were from the Birmingham area of Northfields. Now very much a suburb of Birmingham but in the years I was researching between 1769 and 1820 part of the county of Worcestershire.

Ancestry.co.uk have many records available for this area including the images of parish records from a partnership with the Library of Birmingham.



Disclosure: The above links are compensated affiliate links.

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Handwritten Lincolnshire Registers now online

findmypast searchA few years back and it was impossible to find any English Church Registers online,  but gradually more and more are appearing now and I take my hat off to the various family history websites that are entering partnerships with County Record Offices to bring us more and more of these very special records. Well done Findmypast and Ancestry to name two!

This week it was findmypast.co.uk that made available online records showing the life and times of some of the most famous figures in the largest county in east England, Lincolnshire, following a new project with Lincolnshire Archives  to create the Lincolnshire Collection.

 

The handwritten registers date back to 1538 and span more than 300 years; they provide insight into baptisms, marriages and burials from 103 parishes across Lincolnshire, from Laughton to Gedney Hill.

 

Some of the incredible details include information on the baptisms of scientist Isaac Newton and poet Lord Tennyson, famous for the Lincoln inspired Victorian ballad, ‘The Lady of Shallot’. The records also include information on the burial of famous hangman William Marwood, renowned for inventing the ‘long drop’ technique that ensured the prisoner’s neck was broken instantly at the end of the drop, considered to be a kinder way to be executed.

 

Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: ‘The Lincolnshire parish records include fascinating information about some of our most noteworthy and infamous figures, not just from Lincolnshire’s history, but the whole of British history.

 

‘Publishing them online so that people can find their ancestors and see whether they are related to Sir Isaac Newton or one of the other celebrities we’ve uncovered, such as poet Lord Tennyson, polar explorer John Franklin, or mathematician George Boole, is really exciting.’

 

Councillor Nick Worth, executive member for libraries and culture, said: “Lincolnshire has a rich cultural heritage, and the county council has long sought to celebrate and enhance this through digital access.  The partnership with findmypast.co.uk is a very positive development that will help bring these records to a wider, global audience, and hopefully encourage people to explore more of the county’s vibrant history.”

 

At present I am yet to find any of my own ancestors came from Lincolnshire, but as I go on researching I am always surprised when someone from outside of the county marries into my family tree and sets me off researching a new line  in a part of the country that I never knew I had kin from. Perhaps one day I will find a forebear from Lincolnshire, but in the meantime I recommend this data collection to any of you that have ancestors from there.

The records are now part of the online parish record collection at findmypast.co.uk and 1.6 billion family history records including censuses, military, newspaper and crime records and can be browsed at http://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/life-events-bmds/lincolnshire/browse-images/.

 

Many resources available on findmypast.co.uk can be accessed for free in Lincolnshire’s libraries.

 Disclosure: The links in this post are compensated affiliate links that may mean I am rewarded by Findmypast should you sign up for their services or products.



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My Ancestor was a Tide Waiter!

Last week I was writing about my findings from a search for one of my ancestors who married in South Devon in 1866. I had taken a look at the Church Register for The New Parish of Christ Church Plymouth and found my ancestor Samuel Stephens marrying Mary Ann Westlake on the 16th December.

What took my interest was that his father, Robert Stephens, was noted under Rank or Profession as being a Tide Waiter. He also lived in Plymouth being born in1805 and to his death.

Tide Waiter Ancestor at www.NoseyGenealogist.comAs many of us pursuing our family history have no doubt found, some of our ancestors had jobs that have disappeared or are now known by different names today.

I immediately wondered what type of occupation this Tide Waiter was, as previously I had seen him mentioned in the census as an “Extra Gent”.

What an ancestor’s occupation was can often give us a greater insight into their life. It is also a useful way of distinguishing between two people who happen to have the same name and between whom you are trying to work out which one belongs to your family tree and which one does not.

We can be interested in a forebear’s occupation for the reason that it may have some relevance in determining a person’s social status, political affiliation, or migration pattern.

Skilled trades were often passed down from father to son and so having regard to an ancestor’s occupation may also be a useful tool in identifying a family relationship with others of the same name. Now Samuel and his father Robert did not seem to share a trade here, but it is important to remember that people could change their occupation over their life.

One of these gentlemen’s descendants changed from being a gunsmith to working in a pawn brokers and another who changed from being a cordwainer (shoemaker) to being a boatman on the river over their working life.

Names for old or unfamiliar local occupations have the potential to cause us to stumble if they are poorly legible in the record we are consulting. I can think of the example of the similarity between the words ostler (a keeper of horses) and a hostler (an innkeeper) that is easily confused.

If you are ever in this position then remember that you too can look for occupational data in several places. It may be found in the records of occupational licenses, tax assessments, the membership records of professional organisations to which our ancestors belonged, trade, city and town directories, census returns, and civil registration vital records.

There are a number of websites available that explain many of the obscure and archaic
trades, here are two that I have found:

http://www.rmhh.co.uk/occup/index.html

or

http://www.occupationalinfo.org/dot_index.html#MENU

So what was my Tide Waiter forebear? He was a Customs Officer who went aboard ships to search them for the revenue. This is made plain on the birth certificate for Samuel as his occupation is simply recorded as Customs Officer.

I found the scanned image of the marriage record in the Parish Records from Plymouth and West Devon at Find My Past.


Disclosure: The Link in the above box is a Compensated Affiliate link. If you click on the ad then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk should you sign up for any of their subscriptions.

 

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Multiple baptisms in Record Office

When I was in the Devon County Record Office the other week looking for ancestors to put in my family tree, I came across a job lot of children bearing my surname and all being baptised on the same day in 1811. Now as far as I can tell this multiple baptismal party are not direct ancestors of mine, but their record interested me all the same.

I had been looking for a John Thorn, at around the turn of the century from 1799 to 1805, and had noted on the familysearch.org website that there was such a christening in 1811 for a child born in 1803. (“England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/J79W-GBY : accessed 16 Sep 2012), John Thorn, 23 Jul 1803; reference , FHL microfilm 917191.)

There can be many reasons for a late christening and indeed some people were not baptised until they were adults.

Archive Church Register
A Church Record from the Archive

While in the DCRO I followed up this lead by looking at their microfiche copies of the original St Petrox, Dartmouth church registers. What I found was that there were actually 5 children, all being the offspring of a John and Mary Thorn, being baptised that day and the original records gave the explanation for this in a note by the vicar.

“The above 5 children were born at Little Bay, Newfoundland.”

Dartmouth, it would seem, has a long history of men sailing across the other side of the Atlantic to the rich cod fishing grounds. A tradition that is mirrored in the island of my birth, Jersey.

While my interest was raised by the partial explanation for the multiple baptism in the records, I searched the web for details of Little Bay, Newfoundland. It would seem that there is still a place with that name in today’s Canada, but there was also a previous settlement in Newfoundland that is now called St Georges, but previously had the same name as well.

Dartmouth-history.org.uk has several documents that explain the development of the town and its harbour. It would seem that the Newfoundland trade was greatly reduced by the the Napoleonic wars, the number of ships annually involved dropping from 120 to 30 by 1808   (see: http://www.dartmouth-history.org.uk/content_images/upload/Nfland_fishing.htm)

Also this same site notes that… “the dominant families in Dartmouth for over 100 years were the Holdsworths and Newmans, both of whom acquired land in Portugal and Newfoundland, and became prosperous in the triangular trade between England, Newfoundland and Spain/Portugal/the Mediterranean.” While my family were humble mariners, much like the family I had identified in these church records.

I have ruled out that this family group are my direct ancestors by the dates given in the parish registers for their births. Of course, often in a church record you only get the baptismal date, but because the vicar was doing a batch of little Thorns at one time he has very usefully included their birth dates!

I wonder if this family, having been making a living in Newfoundland for some years had found the reduction in trade, caused by the Napoleonic wars, forced them back to England? Then, having put up in a small community like Dartmouth, they had come under pressure to christen their brood of children. Or perhaps there was no church at Little Bay that they felt able to use.

Who knows the answer to these questions; but this little example shows how family history, as opposed to genealogy, can be about the stories that are behind the bland statistics of births, marriages and deaths.

 

The websites that I am using the most at the moment are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To take your family history further I highly recommend that you too consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer:

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online


Disclosure: 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 Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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Revist Your Family Tree Brick Walls!

Devon County Record Office
Devon County Record Office

This week I have been musing upon one of my to-do-lists! I am keen to get back a generation of Thorn’s from Devon, but as yet I do not have enough information to make the break through as to who were my 5x great-grandparents and when and where were my 3x great-grandparents, John and Sara, born?

As more and more datasets are released on the various online subscription sites, however, I periodically revisit this brick wall of mine.

 

John Thorn married Sarah Branton on the 12th January 1794 at Charles Church in Plymouth. The bride was of that parish and the groom was a “mariner” with no mention of which parish he was from. I have wondered if this meant that both bride and groom were of the same parish, or did the vicar simply omit to record where John Thorn sailed in from in a busy maritime city such as Plymouth. I have no evidence either way, all I know is that they married after banns had been called and in the Parish Register for Charles Plymouth in the year 1794 and their marriage entry is No: 60.

On the 28 September 1794, however, their first born son John Branton Thorn was baptised at St.Saviours Dartmouth (IGI C050791) which suggests that they moved to this Devon coastal town just after they got married. Was this a case of returning to the groom’s town to live? Or was it where his job took him?

Working back a generation I would now like to identify John’s baptism and then his parents marriage and baptisms. First I need to know John’s age as this information is not given in the marriage register. That is a typical state of affairs for an English Parish Register where very sparse amounts of detail are given. The exception is for the entries to be found in a Dade or Barrington style Church Records, which are named after the clergymen who tried to introduce more fulsome registers, having some success in Yorkshire for a period.

 

Back to the subject of  John and Sarah Thorn in Devon. By searching in the microfiche records of church registers for Dartmouth, at the Devon County Record Office at Moor Hall in Exeter, I have now discovered the burial of one Sarah Thorn of Townstal (the name given to the Parish of St Clement in Dartmouth and the mother church of St Saviours) on June the 21st in 1818 at the age of 50 in the St Saviours register for 1818, entry No:190.

I went back through the registers and the Bishop’s Transcripts for 1811 for Townstal and I then found one John Thorne buried on May the 19th 1811.

I also found a John Thorn buried in St Saviours in 1810 (page 19) who was born in 1769. Could any of these be my ancestors?

Looking at baptisms for any John Thorn around the time of 1768/9 or so I see that Find My Past has some Devon Church Records that can be usefully accessed on line. There is none for the date in question at Dartmouth, but one in Dorset may be a possibility.

My next thought is to check to see if I can find the banns book for Charles in Plymouth and also the one for Dartmouth to see if this provides me with any more clues about where John and Sarah came from and to also check now for baptisms using the microfiche at the County Record office in Exeter.

 

It is a good idea that you periodically revisit any brick walls that you have as new data may have become available and your skills in family history may have improved since the last time you dusted off the problem. In the next few weeks I am planning a visit the County Record Office to see if I am able to push my tree back another generation.

Watch this space!

 

The family history websites that I find really useful are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To take your family history further I recommend that you to consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer

 

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

 


Disclosure: 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 Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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Tracing Ancestors With a Common Surname

Online-Old-Parish-RecordsThe problem of tracing an ancestor, with a common surname, is one of those brick walls that many of us come up against in our family tree research. When it occurs after the introduction of state run vital indexes, in 1837 for England & Wales and eighteen years later, in 1855, when Scotland adopted the idea, it can be difficult to find the exact person that is our forebear, but at least we have a central index to search. The Crown Dependencies followed suit at different times again, so you will see civil registration introduced into Guernsey in 1840, Jersey in 1842, Alderney in 1850 and Sark in 1915. The Isle of Man beginning compulsory civil registration of births and deaths in 1878 and then marriages in 1884.

But what about searching for a Smith or Jones in the years pre-civil indexes? If you are expecting an easy answer I’m afraid I am going to disappoint, as common surnames do present us family historians with great difficulties to overcome. Having said that, however, all may not be lost.

If the ancestor in question has an unusual first, or middle name, then this may help you enormously to single your likely candidate out from the others. In my own research it was not the actual man I was trying to track down who had the unusual middle name, but his son. I had already made the connection to John Branton Thorn via the prime sources and knew him to be my ancestor. I was now on the trail of five or six John and Sarahs who were candidates for his parents, according to his baptismal details. So which of the various John Thorns who married a woman whose first name was Sarah in various parts of Devon jumped out as a strong possibility? It was the one where the bride’s surname was Branton.

The advice I have been given is to try to tie the person with the common name to one with a less than common one. It could be their wife, a brother or sister and so on and perhaps it is an unusual first name, middle name, or maiden name you can use.

If you are not able to find your ancestor for certain in the church registers, then always remember that the Bishop’s Transcripts may possibly harbour more information than the register did. It is not a certainty that it will, but it is worth a look.

Try using Wills and Admons to see if you can find the possible parents (or a brother, sister or other relation) naming your ancestor as a beneficiary.

Another point to be aware of is that even with a less common surname there can be many problems to overcome in family history research. As spelling of surnames varied so much, until the mid 19th century or later when they became more fixed, and with many of our ancestors not being literate, the clergy often recorded the name as they thought they heard it and so a regional accent is probably responsible for one line of my ancestors being recorded as Sysal, Sissell, Sissill and Sizzall in the church records from 1780 to 1798.

If the person you are researching was born in the years just before civil registration began, but was likely to have died after the death registers began, how about looking for them in these records. You can also use the church burial records, if you know the parish they died in. What about trying the National Burial Index? If you just have a first name and a common surname I grant you that this is not going to be much help to you but if you know the place that they lived then you may be able to narrow down you likely forebears.

On the subject of places, some names can be very common in one area, for example Thorn/Thorne in Devon, but a common name may not be so common in another place.

Advice that I have seen given on other blogs and forums say that you should:

  • Learn as much identifying information as you can about the ancestor you are researching.

So look for family bibles, they can list the names of children. Think about whether there are any other records for the district where your ancestor lived that they may have been recorded within? Taxes, land records, muster rolls, etc.

  • Make a chronology of the ancestor’s life if you can; where did they live for the various events in their lives? Can you identify the street, the town or hamlet for the significant moments in their time-line? If you can then you have a framework to work with.

Common surnames are certainly a problem for family history researchers trying to populate their family tree and sometimes there will be no easy answer. Persevere, however, as more and more records become available there is always a chance that your ancestor may be within one of them.

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