Nonconformist buried in my family tree.

As you may know, if you have been following me for any length of time, that Devon is one of the areas of the U.K. that I research my ancestors in. Some of my Devonian forebears turned away from the established Church of England and became dissenters. There seems to be a rather limited number of nonconformist chapel burial records actually surviving within the county of Devon and so this can be a bit of a brick wall for us. Many family historians may well have found that in their own family trees, ancestors left the Church of England to practice their faith in other Christian churches.

By the law of the land, people of each and every denomination could be laid to rest inside their parish churchyard. Although this was the case, however, the relatives of people who were nonconformists were not allowed to have a Church of England burial service at the graveside. This would be fine if all the deceased’s family were no longer C of E, but I would guess it could be upsetting for family members who had not joined their relation in nonconformity and so would have wanted a service conducted by the local vicar!

I was intrigued to find out that people who held offices within the “establishment” were affected by another piece of legislation. I am talking here about Councillors as well as some other municipal officials. These worthy people were not allowed to put on their robes of office to attend the funeral of a non conformist councillor and this would have included the wearing of a mayoral chain etc. Should they rashly have broken this rule then they were liable to a fine of £100 and in addition they would likely end up being barred from civic office throughout the rest of their lives!

Many nonconformists, however, did not wish to be interred within land held by the Church of England. Quakers, most especially, established their own unique burial grounds. In these, the family historian will discover, plots defined by somewhat plain, uncomplicated stones that usually feature only the initials belonging to the departed.

A number of chapels established their own burial grounds, this included the Independents, Methodists as well as the Baptists. Furthermore, if you go researching your nonconformist ancestors in several country places in England, you will find that burial grounds were opened for all those involved with the various nonconformist denominations and would not specifically be confined to only one or other of the particular religious faith traditions. Around 1880 a welcome change, in the laws of England & Wales, granted the possibility for the family of a person, being laid to rest within a Church of England parish graveyard, to opt for a minister from their own religious beliefs to be able to preside over the burial service. This began the downfall in making use of separate nonconformist burial grounds as they were often less popular because of the fact that, in some cases, they were several miles from the particular village or district from where the deceased’s family resided. In 1853 and following on from the considerable overcrowding of church graveyards and burial grounds, due in some measure to the number of cholera fatalities and so forth, Parliament handed down a further law closing a large number of these areas to fresh internments. The result of the law saw many towns as well as bigger parishes setting up cemeteries, to look after the continued burial of the deceased.

To find earlier burial grounds nowadays isn’t always that simple a task. In an ideal world you would be able to find someone who possesses the required local knowledge of their location and is also willing to assist you in your research. I’ve had the happy experience of this while I was researching my family in Cheltenham, England. The local history society, as well as an amateur historian from one of the bigger churches, were luckily able to help lead me in the right direction to find my ancestor, for which I was very grateful. The basic scarcity of registers, nevertheless, will most likely make it tough if you want to research for names.

A further point, that you may need to take into consideration when researching your forebears, is that if the deceased was very poor and given a “paupers” grave, then the name of the unfortunate will not have been marked down in the burial records except for a numbered peg entered to locate the grave.

Lastly, I’d like to pass on this story that I have found reported in various places about a Church of England husband and a nonconformist wife wishing to be buried together. It is mentioned, for example, on the Bristol Times website thisisbristol.co.uk that in Arnos Vale Cemetery there is an elaborate monument raised for merchant Thomas Gadd Matthews (C of E) and his wife Mary (Congregationalist), which famously straddles both Anglican and nonconformist sections. The story seems to be that Matthews purchased a large grave plot strategically placed so that the two, while wishing to be true to their respective faiths, could be buried in a family plot that sits on the boundary line between the C of E and nonconformist parts of the cemetery. A rather lovely tale!

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Your Family Tree Magazine is a favourite of mine

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Your Family Tree is considered, by many family historians, to be one of the most respected genealogy magazines around. I love the way that they not only feature articles on the various traditional means of researching our family trees but also give advice on using personal computers or Apple Macs to do ancestor research. Their aim is “to make tracing family history accessible and rewarding for everyone” according to their website. Your Family Tree offers practical advice, written by experts, on all areas of family history research and is known as Your Family History outside of the UK. The content, however, is the same in both magazines so don’t feel you will lose out if you are based abroad. The Editor, Russell James, is quoted as saying this: “Each issue covers an array of old documents, answers readers questions, and puts family historians in touch with one another. You’ll also receive a covermounted CD-ROM for Mac and PC containing an array of genealogy resources, as well as a pull-out region research card (contacts, map, plus key local resources and historical facts) and four collectable surname index cards every issue.” I personally can’t wait each month for my copy to arrive. I used to buy it from the newsstand until I realised the convienince and the special price that is offered when taking out a subscription. Take a look at whats on offer by clicking one of the banners on this page and you will be able to try before you buy by looking inside a magazine. Recently I’ve enjoyed reading articles such as these below. Want to join me? 100 vital websites – Bumper online special How To guides including: Research Scottish clans, find old maps online, date wedding photos and organise your records Pass down your family’s story – Make sure your findings are never forgotten Migration records – Discover the best websites to help you trace your ancestors’ movement Royal Mail workers – The stories of your postal ancestors Now I know this looks like I am simply acting as a salesman for them; but I really do read this magazine and I have personally got a lot out of my subscription and so I do not apologise for recommending them! A good genealogist never stops learning. We are all somewhere between Beginner and Advanced Beginner! Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.

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Am I really sure about that ancestor?

Family Tree on a computer

In my ancestor research I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of narrow thinking sometimes. Have you?

What I’m talking about here is the occasions when I’ve focused too strictly on what I am sure are the correct facts about a forebear.  I may have been sure that I knew that his or her name had been spelt in a particular way, or that they came from a particular place. Now here is the warning I am guilty of ignoring: Am I really so sure I know the facts?

When we, as family historians, ignore this question then we can so easily cause ourselves unnecessary grief and so much wasted time. Perhaps we were searching in the right place, but were we guilty of searching in the wrong way? What we need to do is to open up our minds to researching in a smarter fashion and often we will be rewarded by finding that record that we were looking for.

Just think how your on-line research could possibly improve if you were always to:

  • keep handy a list of the known surname variants for your ancestor’s name. For example in my family I have names that could be spelt as Thorn, Thorne, Stephens, Stevens and all manner of spelling of Sissill.
  • think about what common first-name nicknames may apply and also any regularly used shortened forms of names. For example Thomas may be written as Thos. Elizabeth as Eliz. or Eliza. and I have found a John as Jono.
  • have written down some of the capital letters that can easily be confused like J and I, for example
  • remember that place names can be confused – in my Devon branch there are two Galmptons very near each other and I jumped to the conclusion that my great grandmother came from the one near to where they lived. Wrong!
  • think about the length of normal life-spans and don’t chase someone with a similar name thinking they are one and the same. What about the date ranges for their marriages, deaths and births of their children?
  • keep notes, or research logs for your family searches so that you keep track of what you have already done.
  • remain aware of the gaps that there are in any particular record collections. If you are searching a particular period and can’t find an ancestor and this time frame also matches a known gap in the data, then this will stop you wasting more time than necessary looking.

So just remember these seven ways to avoid family research pitfalls and don’t make the mistakes that I did in the past!

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Clandestine Marriages

Today I wanted to look at Clandestine marriages!

Well what are they you cry?

The answer is that “Clandestine” marriages were weddings that perhaps had an element of secrecy attached to them.

They may have taken place in another part of the country away from a home parish, and probably without either banns being read or a marriage licence obtained. The secrecy could have been for all sorts of reasons for example lack of parental consent; or more salaciously where bigamy was involved.

The facts that fees were paid to the clergymen meant that some were willing to conduct such marriage ceremonies. What is more the number of such unions were quite enormous, particularly in London.

You will find that certain churches were important centres for such “trade”and in the 1740s, over half of all London weddings were taking place in the environs of the Fleet Prison and not all the brides and grooms would have been from the capital city.

“Fleet Marriages” were performed by bogus priests and disgraced ordained clergy. Although there were most probably earlier ones, the earliest Fleet Marriage on record is 1613, while the earliest recorded in a Fleet Register took place in 1674.

The Fleet was a jail and so, as such, claimed to be outside the jurisdiction of the church. The prison warders took a share of the profit, even though a statute of 1711 imposed fines upon them for doing so. What this did was move the clandestine marriage trade outside of the prison. It was in the lawless environs of the Fleet that many debtors lived and some of them may well have been disgraced clergymen. Marriage houses or taverns now carried on the trade, encouraged by local hostelry keepers who sought out business by employing touts to actively solicit custom for them.

If you wish to search for these Clandestine marriages on line then you are in luck as you can find them at: www.ancestry.co.uk (Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.)Ancestry.co.uk on a computer screenTheir London Marriage Licences data set allows you access to the details of more than 25,000 marriages in London spanning four centuries.

This collection is not just about “Fleet marriages” but is for unions made outside church approval – those away from the spouses’ normal parish and often you will be able to find the names of brides and grooms, parents and witnesses as well as residence, age of spouses and the occupation of the groom. This collection has marriage licences granted in the dioceses of London by the Bishop’s office from 1521 to 1828, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster’s office from 1599 to 1699 and two offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1543 to 1869 and 1660 to 1679 and so is an important resource for the family historian.

Take a look at Ancestry.co.uk.

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Chelsea Pensioners at findmypast.co.uk

Recently I’ve been researching my family tree using the resources of findmypast.co.uk more than ever. For any one serious about family history this site has a lot to offer. Their recent release in May 2010 of Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1873–1882, is a case in question.

It is possible for you to search 97,515 records for men that had been pensioned out of the British Army in between 1873 and 1882. They and FamilySerach are working in association with The National Archives in a partnership to provide us with these new records. The breakdown of the records data you can find on findmypast.co.uk, together with those which are still to come are the following:

Table taken form http://www.findmypast.co.uk/media/news/news-item.jsp?doc=CHEPmay.html

The point about these is that whilst many other military documents provide details about officer-class soldiers, these records refer to normal, non-officer class soldiers. This makes it more probable that you will be capable of finding details about your ancestors. The connection with ‘Chelsea Pensioners’ is the fact that the pensions had been administered through The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. Typically the large majority of pensioned soldiers were out-pensioners and did not reside at the Hospital itself.

Just what makes these records so special?

The records provide vibrant detail as well as colour to our ancestors’ lives to a level that is difficult to discover elsewhere. There are usually six or seven records per soldier, whilst a man might only get a single line within, for instance, a 19th century census record. Most of the service records note each of the regiments in which a soldier served, with both start and end dates, ranks attained, and the total service rendered, once again in years as well as days, in each rank and regiment. Service within either the East or West Indies will be noted separately.

The reason for the soldier’s discharge (sickness or injuries) is offered, as are remarks upon general conduct whilst in the service, and notations regarding height, complexion, eye as well as hair colour, and civilian occupation. The document is dated and signed by both the soldier and commanding officer. In the absence of pictures, these documents are an indispensable resource in furnishing a good insight into what your own forefathers actually might look like. These records are among the most popular at The National Archives as family historians and genealogists have awakened to the fact exactly how valuable they are. You’ll find much more information about these records in their knowledge base on the site.

The Chelsea Pensioner Service Records are made up of soldiers from all over the British Empire. Beneath is a percentage break down of where the servicemen were born:

England = 68.9%

Ireland = 17.6%

Scotland = 8.3%

Wales = 2.2%

West Indies = .6%

India = .4%

Sark = .00073%

Start searching for your Chelsea Pensioner ancestors now at findmypast.co.uk.

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Source:

http://www.findmypast.co.uk/media/news/news-item.jsp?doc=CHEPmay.html

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My Family Tree is Powered by Others Descended From Common Ancestors

One of the great things about this Family Tree thing is being contacted by others who are descended from common ancestors.

Once I published my first website www.nicholasthorne.info I started to get hits from all over and some of them were ‘cousins’ many times removed who were independently researching our forebears.

From my Devon ancestors I exchanged photographs of Captain Henry Thomas Thorne and got to read a typescript of a newspaper article.

From my Scottish ones I have had emails that disputed some of the lines and others that were supportive of the research. But the most fun were the ones that, with a proviso that the further back we went that some error may have crept in, seem to show that we were descended from various European royals and back to Adam and Eve!

Recently I have had pedigrees and photographs of Castles in the Hay Clan all of which is thrilling for somone who lives modestly in a cottage by the sea!

To anyone who is just thinking about setting out on this journey I would echo what Mark Herber in his book ‘Ancestral Trails’ says, don’t be put off by the fact that you think your family may be modest, you just never know what you are going to find.

Mark Herber’s book is available from all good bookshops: http://www.jerseybookshop.co.uk/promotions.htm

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Skeletons in the Cupboard.

Have you found any skeletons in the cupboard?

If perhaps, like myself, you’ve been doing your family tree research for any length of time then no doubt you’ll have discovered that a number of your own forefathers weren’t quite as you envisioned. The problem occurs in the event that the skeleton, which our forbears have managed to shut away inside the proverbial cupboard, comes tumbling out due to your time and efforts to research your family history. In my own case an ancestor proved to have had a previous wife and children that not one of my relatives knew about. It might appear that this individual conveniently did not seem to remember about his former family when he married into our line! The result of uncovering these facts were that some of my kin were very annoyed with me. They believed that my submitting to them my findings somehow besmirched the fine name of the subsequent wife and our ancestor, whose religious upbringing and moral teaching rejected the concept of any divorce.

It might appear from fresh academic research, carried out at the University of Warwick, that I am one of many. It was while reading on the Reuters internet site that I found the following: “A recent study revealed that people researching their family history often open a Pandora’s Box of secrets that can unsettle and offend relatives, sometimes permanently damaging relations.”

Sociology Professor Anne-Marie Kramer revealed to the British Sociological Association’s yearly conference in Glasgow that in her study, conducted amongst 224 individuals who gave her details of their family history research, around thirty of these mentioned conflict.

In the report, published on Reuters’ website, Kramer noted that the considerable factors behind conflict had been when unwelcome information was uncovered, requesting information from relatives who would prefer not to give it, relatives supplying inaccurate information, expending more time on researching family history rather than with loved ones, and coming into contact with hostile relations.

The Professor explained how men and women in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States were being able to view numerous examples of historical data today caused by the amazing growth in the family history and heritage community both on-line and off.

“But in investigating their family history, researchers could open up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and skeletons, such as finding there are family issues around paternity, illegitimacy or marriage close to birth of children, criminality, health and mental health and previously unknown humble origins,” Kramer said in a statement on Warwick University’s website.

Perhaps we should all bear in mind the need to exercise just a little awareness and diplomacy whenever we set out to interact with our extended family about our genealogical studies. Family historians, endeavouring to research their particular family tree, ought to bear in mind this word of caution that not each and every one will welcome you finding out the truth. Health Warning: Family history research can damage your relationships with your relatives, if you are not careful!

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