Help Me To Get Back Before 1837 In English & Welsh Genealogy

A great many people who are researching their forebears from the British Isles, discover that there is a massive amount of family history information on the internet for the years going back as far as 1837 in England & Wales. Then, as I pointed out before in a previous article of mine about tracing an English family tree before 1837, it would seem to become more difficult for us researchers. What is the significance or the year 1837? This is the date when civil registration started in England & Wales. The state took over from the established church the registering of all the citizen’s vital records.

You may have been amazed at the ease you had finding later records of your ancestors on the subscription websites like Ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk, but then as you go back before the census records and the government run data for Births, Deaths and Marriages, you will have found that only a small number of all the genealogical records, that there actually are, have made it on to the net.

Parish Records can usually be found in the County Record office, or in a few cases the incumbent minister may still have retained them at the parish church. How do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This is the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the relevant counties that you are researching. These maps will not only show the boundaries of each parish, but also those of the adjacent parishes, which can be extremely useful for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about!

Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in regime, such as the English Civil War. Yet another political reason for missing parish records is the effect a tax can have on them. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day – although paupers were exempt. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so, with the collusion of many church ministers, you will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials. In contrast there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act was repealed in 1794, having been found to be largely unsuccessful.

An Act of Parliament, in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.

Baptismal entries now included the Father’s occupation and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, henceforth, included the parish of origin of both parties, their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also those of two witnesses.

Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of £5 was payable.

Marriages could have been solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for their ancestors, will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of bans was the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived, just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.

These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales.

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Small Errors In My Great-Great Grandfather’s Will

I am a bit of a pedant and so I got slightly annoyed recently with a number of small inaccuracies that I found in a copy of a 1908 will and have wondered if the solicitor for my great-great-grandfather knew him at all and whether my ancestor actually read the will that he signed three months before his death!

Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth, Devon.
Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth.

 

I have got hot under the collar because I had sent off for my forebear’s will. The story is that recently, while looking around the Ancestry.co.uk site, I discovered, within the National Probate Calendar for England & Wales, a listing for my 2x great-grandfather Henry Thomas Thorne. I was aware that he had died in 1908 in Dartmouth, Devon, but until then I had no idea that he had left a will. He was the son of a boatman and one time cordwainer from Dartmouth. Henry had moved, in his youth, to Portsmouth to work in the Royal Naval dockyard as a ropemaker.

It was here that he met and married his wife Ellen Malser, the daughter of a Master Mariner if the records are to be believed. Henry and Ellen soon moved back to Dartmouth where Henry obtained a job, in 1864, as the steersman of the railway ferry that crossed the Dart from Kingswear to Dartmouth. He was to eventually became the Captain of the steamer, called the Dolphin, that replaced it.

Henry Thomas Thorne spent 40 years working on that vessel and even had the privilege of sailing King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra across the Dart, when they came to lay the foundation stone for the Royal Naval College. From that time on the townsfolk nicknamed Henry “The Admiral”, according to sources that I have read.

With the details, from the National Probate Calendar, I was able to download a form (PA1S) from the Government’s Justice website and send off my cheque to the Postal Searches and Copies Department, which is in Leeds.

http://hmctscourtfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/GetForm.do?court_forms_id=739

When the will arrived, on my door mat, I was somewhat confused to find that it contained some interesting errors.

Henry Thomas Thorne was listed as a retired “Ropemaker”, an occupation that he had pursued in his youth in Portsmouth. But surely, with 44 years as the steersman and then Captain of the railway steamer across the Dart, it would have been more appropriate for the solicitor to have identified him as a retired mariner? No matter, I thought, and read on.

Next Henry appoints his wife Helen, along with the solicitor to be executors.

Helen, I wonder, who was this wife called Helen? It was, of course Ellen.

The will goes on to mention his “free-hold house situate at Victoria Road, Dartmouth, which had me looking on a map as all his census records show him living on South Ford Road and his death certificate mentions Fernleigh. From the map I can see that a Ferndale is an extension of South Ford Street and it overlooks Victoria Road. Using Google Street View I could see that Ferndale was not navigable by the Street View car and is a sort of walk rising up the hill. So perhaps I can assume that his house at Fernleigh was indeed in the area of Ferndale, but was it on Victoria Road?

He bequeaths money, in trust, to his daughter Florence Melzer Thorne. She was named after her mother’s family, Malser and not Melzer. In fact she was actually named Ellen Florence Malser Thorne, but I digress!

So it is a lesson to us all to take what is written down in any record that we find, even a will, as not necessarily being completely accurate. Check several sources before you can be sure of any fact.

In this case I wondered if the solicitor was new to the area. However a check of the census, in 1901, shows me that he would have been 33 in 1908 and had been born in the town. As such he would have, no doubt, been ferried across the river by my 2x great-grandfather on any occasions that he had need of catching the GWR train as Dartmouth had no railway lines itself. He must have been familiar with the character called The Admiral, who had been in the same job on the water from before the solicitor’s birth!

 

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Finding Ancestors Up To 1837 In An English & Welsh Family Tree

The National Archives at Kew

The National Archives at Kew

Why do we talk about the year 1837 in English & Welsh Family Tree research? Well this is when the General Register office or GRO was founded and That’s when and civil registration took over from the church in England and Wales.

The reasoning behind it was that the powers that be wanted to centralise data on the population. Consequently two Acts of Parliament were brought in to law by the Whig Government of the time.

1. The Marriage Act – which amended existing legislation for marriage procedures and brought in the addition of the registry office marriage; that allowed non conformist to marry in a civil ceremony. It is for that reason that you may sometimes see this piece of legislation referred to as the “Dissenters Marriage Bill”

2. Act for Registering Births Marriages & Deaths in England – which repealed previous legislation that regulated parish and other registers.

The new laws brought with them a change with 619 registration districts coming into force. These districts were based on the old poor law unions and so England & Wales were divided up into these districts for the purpose of civil registration.

For each of these districts a superintendent registrar was appointed. Further sub-districts being created within the larger unit and so from the 1 July 1837 all births, civil marriages and deaths had to be reported to the local registrars, who in turn sent the details on to their superintendent.

Every three months the superintendent-registrars would then send on the details gathered in their own returns to the Registrar General at the General Register Office.

So what was the case for church marriages? Well the minister was, in a similar manner, charged with sending his own lists to the GRO where the index of vital events were complied. This system means that many of us are able to simply find our ancestors in indexes and order copies of certificates back as far as the third quarter of 1837.

But how do we get back before 1837? That is a subject for another time.

Help Me Get Back Before 1837 in England & WalesHow To Get Back Before 1837 in England & Wales Audio CD is available now for £12.47.

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Average London Property in 1910 Valued at Just £14,000, Compared to £430,500 Today

Recently I have seen that Ancestry.co.uk has launched on-line the Land Tax Valuations from 1910 London. Now we all know that property goes up and down, with most home owners expecting that the long term trend is up. Well this data collection reveals that the historic values of some of the capital’s most famous streets and landmarks from just over a century ago and no surprises that they were lower then than they are today.

Originally the records were compiled in 1910, from across the UK as part of David Lloyd George’s 1910 Finance Act and later refereed to as the ‘Domesday Survey’. The reason behind the government gathering this information was as a means to redistribute wealth through the assessment of land value.

What do the records contain for family historians? There is a listing of the owners and occupiers of the properties and it includes the address, value and annual rental yield for the properties in London in the early 20th century.

The average 1910 property could be purchased for a price tag of just £14,000, it would seem – almost 3,000 per cent less than today.

Of particular interest are the values of famous landmarks included in the collection. The Bank of England; worth a mere £110,000 in 1910, the Old Bailey; worth just £6,600, and Mansion House; which contrastingly was valued at an impressive £992,000. St Paul’s Cathedral also features, but without a valuation as it is listed as ‘exempt’ from tax.

Perhaps more surprising is that the media-hub Fleet Street, was then home to numerous newspapers from outside of London including the Liverpool Courier, Yorkshire Evening News and the Newcastle Chronicle! A property on Fleet Street cost an average of £25,000 in 1910, compared to £1.2 million today.
The records provide us with a valuable snapshot of the ownership of land at the beginning of the 20th century. It may help those with ancestors who appear in the collection to find out more about their forebears respective financial situations and the lives they led a hundred years ago.

Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones, whom I interviewed recently at Who Do You Think You Are? Live about their website, comments: “These records are especially useful as a census substitute for people tracing their London ancestors who may not have been captured in the England and Wales 1911 Census.

“The collection offers a fascinating insight into our capital at the beginning of the 20th century – a time when Britain was on the verge of major social, political and economic change.”

The collection complements the extensive census records, ranging from 1841 to 1901, already online at Ancestry.co.uk.

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Getting Back Before 1837 In An English or Welsh Family Tree

Online-Old-Parish-RecordsThere is a large amount of information for family history researchers, tracing their English or Welsh family tree, for the years as far back as 1837 on the web and then nothing! I know that many people, that are researching their Family tree for ancestors from the British Isles, find that they have this problem. As I wrote about, in a previous article on tracing and English family tree before 1837, it seems to become harder for us. 1837 is when civil registration started in England & Wales and the state took over from the established church the registering the citizen’s vital records.

You possibly have been amazed at the ease you had finding those later records of your forebears by using the usual subscription websites. For example the likes of ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk for these dates. Then, however, when you come to trying to get back well before the census records and the government run Births, Deaths and Marriages data, you’ll no doubt have found that it is only a very small number of the total genealogical records, that there are, will have actually make it on to the internet.

So you need to go looking for the old Parish Records and they are usually to be found securely in the relevant County Record office. In a very few cases, however, the incumbent minister of the parish may still have kept hold of them at the parish church. A problem that you need to address from the outset is how do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This leads me on to the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the counties that your ancestors lived in. The maps will be of use in not only showing the boundaries of each parish, but also in giving you those of the adjacent parishes as well. Think how useful this may be for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about somewhat!

Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in political regime. One such important example is the English Civil War. Think also about how the politics of raising a tax can be a reason for missing parish records. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day on its citizens – although an exemption was if a person was a pauper. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so you won’t be surprised that your ancestors did this as well. What is more they did it with the collusion of many church ministers! You will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials at this time. On the other hand there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act, itself, was repealed in 1794 as it had been found to be largely unsuccessful in its aim.

Another Act of Parliament (Rose’s Act) in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.

Baptismal entries now had to include the occupation of the child’s Father and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, from now on, included the parish of origin of both parties to the wedding, also recorded were their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also the marks or signatures of two witnesses.

Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of £5 was payable.

When looking for marriages you should be aware that they can be solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for ancestors will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of banns is the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties and it is this which is recorded for us to find. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.

These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales. I have released a useful Audio CD on the subject called Getting Back Before 1837 in England & Wales, have a look at the page on my main website http://www.NoseyGenealogist.com

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Military Records in Family Tree Research

With Remembrance Sunday just passed yesterday, I guess many of you may have turned your minds, like I did, to where can we find our ancestors who fought in the wars and conflicts that have taken place.

It seems, rather sadly, that it is easier to find records for British service personnel that died in action than the survivors. There is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, local war memorials and rolls of honour, local newspaper archives amongst other places to find “The Glorious Dead”.

If, like me, you had a father who served in the Merchant Navy in the Second World War, then you can find the details of merchant seamen’s medal cards at the National Archives documents online.

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/seamens-medals.asp

The official journals of the the British Government, the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes are great places to start looking for promotions, awards of gallantry medals and honours and the details of the commissioning and promotions of officers in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Service Records are more difficult to find. A large number of WWI records have been lost to bombing in the Second World War, but as officer’s records were not stored in the same place, you have a better chance of uncovering these. To find a soldier requires the researcher to know the regiment and service number of their ancestor. A tip I read in the Your Family Tree Magazine last month  (Issue 96 November 2010) was that as most service men were awarded at least one medal then the name indexes to the medal rolls are a good place to start researching.


Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.

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North American Family History

Those family historians, who are researching their family trees back before the start of the census collections in North America, will be aware that they have to find some alternative records sets to find their ancestors. So what suggestions can we make?

Luckily I was reading up on this subject in last month’s Your Family Tree Magazine.. Issue 96 November 2010.

The article points out that first nominal census took place in 1850 in the USA and 1851 in Canada and so for those of you trying to find ancestors from before these census took place, then the best option available to you is to use the tax records.

What you are quickly going to find is that mostly only adult males are going to be listed in these records. Questions to consider are what age did a person have to be to be included in the poll tax and also what type of property were subject to tax? Best advice is to check out the relevant government regulations so that you can interpret accurately what the data is revealing.

Regretfully there are very few records of these taxes online, but Cyndi’s list is a good place to find links when they exist. www.cyndislist.com

Here you should find links to Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.

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Family History Information Scanned So That We Can Research Our Family Trees

Have you ever wondered how a website like findmypast.co.uk goes about scanning the information for us family historians to use before they put up online?

I mean what do they have to do to actually extract all that information from the government documents so that eventually we can go online and type in our search criteria and then get to see the results?

I watched this film and was fascinated by the facts…

  • There are 18 million pages of the 1911 census of England & Wales.
  • 36 million people made up the population then, just before the First World War.
  • 10 times the number of images than the 1901 census.
  • A team of 350 people worked on the transcriptions.
  • 7 billion keystrokes were made by the transcribers!
  • 2 Kilometres of shelving housed the 1911 census before the process of scanning started.
  • Watch it here.


    Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate of findmypast.co.uk

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What is the Biggest Family History Problem for Those Of Us With British Ancestors?

I put up an online survey to find out what major brick walls people had in British Isles ancestor research and the largest cry that came back was the following:

Help me with my family tree research, especially back before 1837.

Perhaps this resonates with you? You’ve traced your forebears back in the census collections as far back as the 1841 census? Then you have used the Births Marriages and Deaths on the web and found that the nice and easy indexes only go back as far as 1837?

It was, you see, that in 1837 the General Register Office was set up for England and Wales and took over the registration of vital records from the Church of England.

In Scotland it was in 1855 that the General Register Office for Scotland took the same powers from the Church of Scotland. So from those years backwards we all have to use the records kept by the state church and these are known as Parish records in both jurisdictions.

Baptismal registers will normally give you the name of the child and that of its father, plus the date of the christening. Occasionally you may also see the mother’s name, most particularly if the child was illegitimate. In this case you could see the terms “base born” “bastard” or “natural born” on the record. Sometimes the godparents or witnesses also appear. This all goes to show how there was no standard format to baptismal registers until in 1812 Rose’s Act became law in England and Wales and standardised the information to be recorded on specially printed registers. It should be noted, however, that Rose’s Act did not apply to Scotland or Ireland. These new standardised registers asked for more details than before and so now the clergy had to obtain the mother’s Christian name, the father’s occupation and his abode.

Churches kept parish registers locally. They were not collated or sent to any central depository but were retained by the churches themselves. From the 16th century up until 1837 the parish church carried the responsibility of collecting records of its parishioners. While baptism was more important to the church than actual birth dates and burials were noted as opposed to deaths, the church was essentially an arm of local government.

A strong lockable box, known as the parish chest and into which were deposited records were kept. We refer to all those records, that may now be found deposited in the county record office but were once in the keeping of the parish church, as Parish Chest documents. They don’t just include the well known parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials of our forebears. You will find there are all sorts of other records that together are sometimes referred to as the parish chest.

In England and Wales you have the vestry meeting minutes while in Scotland you have the Kirk Sessions. There are also odd records such as the report of the parish surveyor! Many of you may not have even heard of such records that may just contain your ancestor’s name and if you are restricting your searching to the online environment then you are more than likely frustrated by the inability to locate them.

In most cases you are going to have to visit the county record office to get to see microfiche copies of these English and Welsh records, as they are not online. For the baptisms, marriages and burials you could go to your local LDS centre and order the films there. Scotland’s old parish registers, however, can be accessed at the ScotlandsPeople website for a fee. Oh that we could do the same south of the border!

The NoseyGenealogist.com website
The NoseyGenealogist.com website
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Family Tree Research Before 1837 in England & Wales

St Nicholas', Gloucester Parish Records are at County Record OfficeIn 1837 the General Register Office (GRO) was founded in England and Wales and civil registration took over from the church in this part of the UK. Two acts of Parliament were brought into law by the Whig Government of the time as they wanted to centralise data on the population…

1. The Marriage Act – which amended existing legislation for marriage procedures and brought in the addition of the registry office marriage that now allowed non conformist to marry in a civil ceremony instead of in the Church of England as previously required of all but Quakers and Jews. It is for this reason that sometimes you will see it referred to as the “Dissenters Marriage Bill”

2. An Act for Registering Births Marriages & Deaths in England – which repealed previous legislation that regulated parish and other registers.

The new laws brought with them a change whereby 619 registration districts came into force across the land. Based on old poor law unions that existed they divided up England & Wales into these various districts. A superintendent registrar was appointed for each district, with sub-districts created within the larger unit. And so from the 1 July 1837 all births, civil marriages and deaths had to be reported to local registrars, who in turn then sent the details on to their superintendent. Every three months the superintendent-registrars then sent their returns to the Registrar General at the General Register Office.

In a similar manner for church marriages, the minister was charged with sending his own lists to the GRO where the index of vital events were complied. This system means that many of us are able to simply find our ancestors in indexes and order copies of certificates back as far as the third quarter of 1837.

But if you want to get back before 1837 without the benefits of the centralised government records, then here are some pointers for you.

From the 16th century up until 1837 the parish church carried the responsibility of collecting records of its parishioners. While baptism was more important to the church than actual birth dates and burials were noted as opposed to deaths, the church was essentially an arm of local government collecting information.

Baptismal registers will normally give you the name of the child and that of its father, plus the date of the christening. Occasionally you may also see the mother’s name, most particularly if the child was illegitimate. In this case you could see the terms “base born” “bastard” or “natural born” on the record. Sometimes the godparents or witnesses also appear. This all goes to show how there was no standard format to baptismal registers until in 1812 Rose’s Act became law in England and Wales and standardised the information to be recorded on specially printed registers.

It should be noted, however, that Rose’s Act did not apply to Scotland or Ireland. These new standardised registers asked for more details than before and so now the clergy had to obtain the mother’s Christian name, the father’s occupation and his abode.

Churches kept parish registers locally. They were not collated or sent to any central depository but were retained by the churches themselves. In some cases, now, the registers have now been left to the county record offices and so you would be well advised to take a visit to the relevant record office to further your research and see the records most probably on microfilm or fiche.

The churches had a strong lockable box, known as the parish chest and into which it deposited its records. It was not just the registers that were kept in the parish chests, however, as the church was responsible for other types local government  and so various other interesting documents that may contain your ancestors’ names could have been locked away in these chests.

If you a beginning to trace your family tree before this then prepare your self for some brick walls. I found it frustrating that the Parish Records listed one of my ancestors marrying in Plymouth as a Mariner and gave no Parish from where he came. Presumably he sailed into Plymouth and married the girl, but where did he come form?

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