I watched the Sir Derek Jacobi episode of Who Do You think You Are? with great interest this week. The television researchers showed us that although the famous actor was born into a South London family of humble stock, he was descended from a Huguenot ancestor of status. Joseph De La Plaigne had been imprisoned in France for his protestant beliefs, before making his escape to England in his sixties.
It gave me great delight to find the TV programme showed Sir Derek a copy of his illustrious forebear’s will, as I too had discovered this very same document when looking around the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills on TheGenealogist’s website.
Many people from all stations of society, including some whom we would not have expected to have, made wills and so it is certainly worth taking a look to see if your ancestors left one.
Before 1858, England and Wales were divided into two provinces. The largest and most influential was Canterbury, which covered the South of England up to the Midlands and also Wales. The other was York, which covered Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and the Isle of Man. The two provinces of Canterbury and York each had their own Archbishop, and were divided into several dioceses. Each diocese had a minimum of two bishops, and these dioceses were also divided again into archdeaconries.
All wills, up until 12 January 1858, had to be proven in a church court to ensure that the will was legal. Wills were proven in over 250 church courts across the country, and the records of these are now stored mostly in local record offices.
For more on wills there is a module that reveals more about the subject inside the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History that is available from the link below. The course takes the student from beginning researching their English/Welsh ancestor to deal with many intermediate level lessons such as wills and much more.
On finding myself in London with some time on my hands earlier this year I decided to pay a visit to Marylebone to see where it was that my 19th century ancestors lived for a short while.
Having found that they had been resident at 19 Paddington Street in the 1861 census for London, by using TheGenelogist’s Master Search, I was keen to take a look at the shop above which they had lived. My ancestor, George Colwill was listed as a plaster, but it seemed he and his new wife were living above a baker’s shop in London. They would go on to become bakers back in Plymouth, where he had hailed from and then grocers and bakers.
On arriving in the busy London street today I was delighted to find that it still held many of the period buildings that I hoped would have survived, at least at first-floor level an above. Being a commercial area the shops fascias had been updated over the years to give a more modern aspect.
Sadly, number 19 Paddington Street seemed to be a post war building that occupied a plot that was one in from the corner with Luxborough Street and sat next to a somewhat grander Victorian building.
I wondered if the previous structure had been damaged in the bombings of the Second World War. To find out I went online to do a search of the Discovery catalogue on the National Archives website. TNA’s new search engine not only reveals what is in their own collections, but also combines what use to be the Access to Archives(A2A) with records listed for some of what is held at 400 other archives across England.
Here I found that the City of Westminster Archives Centre held a document called STREET INCIDENTS with the reference of: stmarylebonecdu/2 . What interested me was a line in the result for: Luxborough Street Corner with Paddington Street 11 May-19 November 1941 File: 546.
Recently I have also discovered a brilliant online resource at bombsight.org that allows researchers to see an astonishing interactive map that shows every German bomb that fell on London during the WW2 Blitz.
From this I could see that there was indeed an entry for this bomb and another that fell very close by. The shocking thing about this website is when you zoom out and see quite how many bombs were drooped as a whole on the capital.
www.bombsight.org consulted 19th July 2015 version number (1.0).
If you too have ancestors from London and you want to discover if their home or workplace had been destroyed in the Blitz then take a look now at the interactive maps on bombsight.org. You can filter by Satellite view, Street Map, Anti-invasion sites, 1940s bomb maps and bomb incidents.
Hit a brick wall with your English/Welsh ancestors?
Learn how to discover more records and resources to discover your forebears within
Following on from my piece, earlier in the week, when I posted the Press Release issued by TheGenealogist, I’ve now had time to play a bit with the tithe apportionment records and accompanying maps to see what I could find.
In the parish of Ealing, in Middlesex, I came across the land owned by Sir Felix Booth, a wealthy Gin distiller in Old Brentwood High Street. His family had, you may realize from the name, been the founders of Booths Gin back in 1740. Its a brand that is still being marketed to this day. Sir Felix was pretty wealthy; indeed he had enough money to have financed John Ross’ expedition to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean.
Booth’s distillery was in this part of London, next to the Thames. From the tithe apportionment document, accessed on TheGenealogist website, we can see that Sir Felix owned and occupied quite a bit of the land in Brentwood, including plot 230 that accounted for his distillery. There was also a house which may have been occupied by one of the family, a John Booth. If we turn to the census collection, also on TheGenealogist, John Booth is listed as being 35 and of Independent means in the 1841 census of Old Brentwood High Street.
To my amusement I found that the Booth’s distillery, was cheek by jowl with a brewery and a large number of pubs and hotels meaning that there were many places to get a tipple in this neighbourhood. A feature of this particular map was that the surveyor had chosen to write some of the names of the pubs on the plan so that we can see that within a few yards were The Barge Aground, The Bull, The Running Horse, The Half Moon and Seven Stars, The Royal Hotel, The Drum, The Red Lion and also The King George!
A bit further west, on the High Street, was the Lock Up House and I have to wonder at how many ended up there after a pub crawl down this particular 1840 London street?
To view the Tithe maps for Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire go to TheGenealogist.co.uk
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post.
You may have been watching the BBC’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” on television. The lead character in the book and television series, is Thomas Cromwell a man born into a working class family who rises to be the right hand man of Cardinal Wolsey, at one time King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. Cromwell managed to survive the fall from grace of Wolsey and went on to become the King’s Chief Minister until his own downfall.
The connection between this man and we family historians, with ancestors in England and Wales, is that Thomas Cromwell is responsible for the fact that we are able to trace many of our ancestors back in the documents created by the parish churches across the land.
The Parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, were first introduced into the Church of England in 1538 by Cromwell as Henry VIII’s Vicar General and Vice regent, a position that gave him power to supervise the church.
Cromwell required that every parish church was to acquire a sure coffer (that is, a parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored. While the parish chest was not a new idea, they could have been found in churches up and down the land all the way back to medieval times, what was new, in Tudor times, was the notion that Cromwell dictated that accurate records were to be kept and the responsibility to do so was placed on the parish officials to keep these records safe.
The parish chest were often no more than a hollowed out tree trunk that was secured with three locks. The keys were to be kept by the Bishop, the Priest and by a religious layman.
By the mid-1500’s the parishioners in every parish of the land were instructed by law to provide a strong chest with a hole in the upper part thereof, and having three keys, for holding the alms for the poor. Another chest may have been used to keep safe the church’s plate and this or the first chest would also double up as a place where the parish registers and other parish documents could be kept safe. In some places only one chest would have sufficed for both purposes, while in other parishes two or more may have been used.
So the debt we owe to Thomas Cromwell is that he introduced parish registers, some of which have survived pests, fire and flood back through the generations and provide us today with names of ancestors stretching back generations.
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).
Summer holiday time can be a great opportunity to look at the places where your ancestors lived.
Quite often I have used time visiting an area to walk down the streets where my ancestors footsteps went before me and just imagining how it would have been in their day.
I will have often have prepared for such a trip beforehand. In most cases using the census collections and copies of trade directories to”get a feel” for the location in their era.
It is important to try and understand the social history of the town or area where our forebears lived, but what about our own history? Shouldn’t we try and document our times for those who follow?
As we grow older we constantly find that things have moved on, streets have changed, businesses have closed up, buildings demolished.
This week I was reminded of this fact by a visit from several cousins of mine to Jersey. A first cousin, his daughter plus fiancé, flew in from Canada, while a first cousin once removed, plus husband, came from the Midlands by plane. (If you find cousin relationships difficult to understand then check out my free report here.)
My elder cousin from Canada had memories of certain shops, that he had gone to with our grandparents and would have liked to have taken a trip to. The problem was that they had long since gone or changed in the intervening years.
We managed, however, to do many of the sites that had family associations for us; but I was still struck at how change in my own lifetime had crept up on my local environment. From the reclamation of land for a cinema, swimming-pool complex, 5 star hotel and housing apartments, which now replaces the beach where my science teacher had taken the class to learn some hands-on Marine Biology, to the house by the airport where my younger cousin (now based in England) had once lived as a child.
This was to be a great story as the Georgian farmhouse had been demolished, as new regulations deemed it to be too close to the airport runway. In actual fact there had been a dreadful air crash when my cousins lived in it, but she and her mother were thankfully away from the house at the time. In the fog a light aircraft had flown into said building with the loss of the pilot’s life.
Yesterday we took a trip to the site of the demolished house and walked around the footprint of the building. It was an eerie feeling as we picked our way over the old foundations.
I noticed the former garden still had flowers and plant bushes in it that indicted its past life as a formal front garden. These hardy specimens fighting through the weeds and wild foliage that aimed to sometime soon take control.
The happy ending to this piece is that the house was demolished stone-by-stone and it has sprung up again in restored Georgian glory as the cladding to a replica house a few miles down the road! The project is ongoing and the people behind it have a website here: http://savethelistedbuilding.com/
Yesterday we were privileged to be allowed to visit the house’s new site and my cousin, who had once lived within its granite structure, was delighted with the restoration and the positive ambience of its new location.
Think of those who will come after us, what stories can we leave them about our times?
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.
I was having a chat with a professional genealogist recently.
During the discussion I mentioned a particular brick wall that I had in my family tree.
“When was the last time you reviewed it?” he asked.
“Ah, I see what you mean!” I replied. “It is over six months since I sent it to the back burner and concentrated on other easier to find people.”
It is a lesson that even I forget to do and that is to periodically go back and see if, with new information you can now make some progress.
New record sets may have become available in the time since you last looked at your ancestor. It may be the release of yet more transcripts by Family History Societies, or those of the genealogical retailers that can now aid you. New parish records may have been uploaded to the likes of Ancestry, TheGenealogist or Findmypast.
Your ancestor may appear in one of the more diverse data sets that the subscription sites are releasing such as the Tithe Records on TheGenealogist, new occupational records on Ancestry, or The British in India records on Findmypast.
It is not just the case of reviewing the recently released documents on the subscription sites, that I am advocating. Take a look again at sets you may already have used. Perhaps, in the light of your experience and any new found knowledge that you have gained since last you looked, the answers may now be clear.
With my friend’s advice I set about looking again at a brick wall that I had in Devon.
In 1794 I have a John Thorn marrying a Sarah Branton in Plymouth in the parish of Charles on the 12th January. This John Thorn is not listed as being of the parish, yet his wife is.
They then move quickly to Dartmouth where their son, also called John is born with the child being baptised on the 28th September of the same year. In the marriage register, in Plymouth, John Thorn Senior was listed as a mariner and so it does not surprise me much that they pitch up along the coast at another port. But then what happens to them?
We are taught to always kill off our ancestors as good practice. In my case I had not found the death records for John Thorn Senior, nor of his wife Sarah. I had an inkling that they probably settled in Dartmouth, as the line remains there for another two to three generations, but I did not know if they stayed or not.
Since reviewing my notes on the searches I made, in the parish records at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter, I have now realized that I had indeed found a possible burial of a John Thorn in Dartmouth in January 1810, but had not entered it into my family tree.
The page from the parish of St Saviour’s, Dartmouth, had helpfully given me the information that this particular John Thorn was only 41 at his death This means he could be a candidate for the marriage in 1794, as he would have been 25 in that year.
When I last looked at the parish records, on the visit to the Devon Heritage Centre (previously the County Record Office), I had been disappointed not to have found the burial entry for his wife Sarah in the same parish and so I had put this line of enquiry aside.
But now, as I looked back at my notes, I see that I had also done a thorough job and looked at all the other churches in the town. I had found, among all the people buried in Dartmouth, and with the correct surname, one Sarah Thorn aged 50.
This Sarah Thorn is buried at the Parish church of St Clement’s, Townstall, Dartmouth on the 21st June 1818. At 50 she would have been born in 1768 and so she may well have been the wife of John, who was buried 8 years prior in the daughter church of St Saviour’s that is closer to the port.
Looking back at my visit to the record office I can recall that I finished my trawl of the parish record microfiche as a deadline for me to leave approached. I had a flight to catch from Exeter Airport and a connecting bus from outside of the Met Office to get me there. In my rush I had noted down the finding but had not looked at it in the right frame of mind. So perhaps here is another reason for reviewing your brick walls.
Now that the Devon Parish Records are on Findmypast I was recently able to go back and look at them at my leisure. This time without the pressure of missing a flight and so I can hypothesize that these two individuals are very possibly my direct ancestors.
Regretfully, with the paucity of information to identify someone contained in the pages of most parish records, I can not be completely sure. As with anyone with a common name there is always the possibility that they are simply namesakes.
If you would like to learn more about Death records, parish registers or good practice in doing English/Welsh family history then take a look at joining the Family History Researcher.
There is a special trial offer price of £1 for the first 2 weeks at the moment. Click the banner below.
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:
This just came through to me from the boys and girls at Findmypast…
600,000 new names added for the first time
Records contain physical descriptions, details of postings and remarks on conduct and character
Today findmypast released as part of their 100in100 campaign to release 100 record sets in 100 days the largest and most comprehensive collection of British World War 1 service records online, giving family historians a greater chance than ever before of finding their World War 1 ancestors. The newly re-indexed records contain details of millions of the men who fought for their country in one of the largest conflicts in history. As well as a more thorough transcription process which involved an individual examination of over 35 million pages of documentation, findmypast has also identified and indexed lists of names that were tucked away in individual service papers.
The record sets (WO363 and WO64, also colloquially known as the “burnt records”) are all that remain of records caught up in a fire caused by a German incendiary bomb during World War. As only around 40% of the original records survive, the addition of these 600,000 new names taken from extra lists and pages previously not indexed are a real boon to family historians with British military ancestors, as well as to military historians in general.