Got a Met Policeman in your Family Tree?

MetPoliceHeritage

This week I was asked to look into a family tree for someone whose family tree had found its roots back to London around the 1900s.

Finding the right person in the birth marriages and death (BMD) indexes had been a little difficult, as the date of birth was a few years out.

Notwithstanding, when the certificate arrived from the General Register Office we were able to see that the father of the child was listed a Police Constable.

As his address was in London we had a choice of two main police forces as his employer, the City of London, or the Metropolitan Police.  Taking a guess that it would be the latter, I went in search of what records there may be for Met Policemen and came across the Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre’s website at: http://www.metpolicehistory.co.uk/met-police-heritage-centre.html

From a link on its home page I ended up on the Family History which in turn gave me a link to a Search Sheet with this filled in with the scant information that I had about my Police Constable, I fired it off by email and waited for a reply.

From what I read on their site The Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre research material consists of:-

  • Central Records of Service from 1911.
  • 54.000 name database from 1829 of which is updated regularly.
  • Pension cards for pensioners who have died
  • Police Orders from 1857
  • Joiners and Leavers Records.  (copies from National Archive)
  • Divisional Ledgers. (consisting of  collar Numbers, previous occupation and armed forces service) for certain periods of time for A,B,E,F,G,H,K,L,M,N,R and Y Divisions.
  • Subject and People files.
  • Photographs –  in the process of being scanned to Hi-Res from a vast collection

It was within a couple of days that I had my reply!

I got the man’s warrant number, his dates of service, that he had joined the Marylebone Division before moving south of the river to the Clapham Division and the various collar numbers that he had held.

Now that surprised me, as I had never really thought about the fact that a copper’s number would change as he moved station, but it does stand to reason.

Other information they could give me was that he retired from ill health, together with the illness and the pension that he got plus a card from an index that recorded his death in Eastbourne in 1969.

The ever helpful people at The Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre advised me that Metropolitan Police officers pension records are held at The National Archives and gave me the index numbers that I will need to investigate this man further.

So if you have a Met Police Officer in your family tree, then it is well worth contacting the heritage centre. It is currently free to request information, but they do encourage donations.

 

 

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Who Do You Think You Are Magazine Review of Websites

 

Nick ThorneI have to say that when I read this month’s Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine that I was a bit taken aback with the review of the four major sites.

Ancestry.co.uk, Findmypast.co.uk, GenesReunited.co.uk and TheGenealogist.co.uk are tested by a panel for the magazine.

I am a regular user of three of the websites as there are times when data can be found on one that is not on the others. Also, when searching for a person who has been illegibly recorded in the original records, and so posing a headache for the transcribers, one site may better identify your ancestor than on the others.

Sometimes Ancestry’s interface can be a bit overwhelming, as I have found in showing new users how to find their ancestors using this platform. Drilling down with the Card Index helps greatly.

I was very surprised, however, that Findmypast got such a high rating in the magazine review, after all the problems it has had this year with its new interface. I completely understand that there are good reasons for the new platform, which enables them to continue to expand the records available. Yet we have all seen the reports of disgruntled customers who feel the customer service was not what they had expected when they voiced their concerns. So why wasn’t this reflected in the article? FMP actually comes out highly for Navigation and search in the piece.

As a blogger I continue to post news about FMP’s data set releases on my site, along with those of the other providers, only to then receive emails and comments from FMP users expressing their frustration with the site. And I am completely independent of FMP!

Returning to the review article, I was also disappointed to see several wrong statements made about The Genealogist website which I feel I have to mention in the cause of fairness.

Firstly, it has been possible for as long as I can remember to simply use the “?” icon on this website to report an error and yet the reviewer states bluntly that it “wasn’t possible to flag up transcription errors”. On the contrary!

I also can not agree with the reviewers, who indicate that this website “promises more than it delivers” and that it is “possible to form an inflated impression of the content contained based on the marketing”.

An example given by one reviewer is the number of newspapers and magazines on the site. The article erroneously makes out that the data is less than it really is. I have found that TheGenealogist site has a lot more than just the two newspapers that their reviewer was able to find. I make it 15!

One of the contributors reported that, when searching,  you couldn’t group all the census years together and she says that you have to examine them year by year. Again this is just plain wrong as all you need to do is use the Master Search which will allow you to do this!

I have always enjoyed reading Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, but this article perplexes me in its bias. What is going on here?

 

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Another Brick Wall Crumbles!

Minolta DSC

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).

 

I have a useful tutorial in my Family History Researcher course on using the General Register Office index and ordering certificates for anyone that is unsure of how these records can help in your English/Welsh family tree research. Click the link below to read more.

 

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How To Break Down A Family History Brick Wall

 

Break Down Your Family History Brick Walls

Family History Brick Wall

I’ve got some advice for you to break down a brick wall.

Have you been stuck trying to find an ancestor?

Thought you might have been!

Maybe what I relate below will help you too.

 

The thing was that some while back, I was getting quite frustrated by being unable to trace a person in the records.
I was completely stuck finding this person’s birth, marriage or death and I had tried looking online and off without any luck.

Maybe you are in this position too?

What broke the problem for me?

Well it was a visit to a Family History website while surfing for keywords to do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spent browsing the transcripts featured on the platform.

Dartmouth-Archives-onscreen

There were some other factors, such as trying different spelling variations of first and second names, as advised by my family history teacher at the time and a visit to an archive.

What it boils down to is using a bit of lateral thinking in our family tree research and most importantly finding out about alternative records to the ones that we might have already used.

This is one of the themes of the Family History Researcher course that I market online.

Thorne-family-tree-web-site

The family branch that has presented me with the most frustrating problems has been that from Devon. I was fine going back through the census years, 1911, 1901 and so on back to 1841 but then it became more of a problem.

Perhaps this story resonates with some of you to?

I had figured out that my 3x great-grandfather was called John Thorn. This was provided in the information he had given to the census enumerators over the years, along with the fact that he had been born in about 1795. His wife, Elizabeth, had been born about 1798.

As I belong to The Society of Genealogists I took a trip to their headquarters in Goswell Road, London knowing that they have the largest collection of Parish Records in the country on microfiche. They’ve also got some transcripts of parish registers in their library, which I thought may be worth looking at.

If you are in the area I highly recommend you visit the Society of Genealogists.

SoG library

The SoG library is a treasure trove and it features often in the Family History Researcher Course and one complete module takes us inside their doors.

Unfortunately for me, at the time of my research, the Dartmouth parish records were not on microfilm at the SoG. But I was over the moon to find a great selection of Devon Family History Society booklets for marriages taking place in the churches of the town, including St. Saviour’s, Dartmouth. Browsing one book for any likely ancestors I spotted that on 13 April 1817 one person called John Thorn got married to an Elizabeth Sissell.

I opened up the internet and began searching using my new lead. My mission was to hunt down any evidence that this was the marriage of my ancestors.

Doing a search-engine query for Dartmouth + family history steered me towards the Dartmouth-history.org.uk website belonging to The Dartmouth Archives. I discovered that this voluntary organisation had a really broad family history section and included a number of transcribed baptisms, burials, marriages and census records.

I could read the very same information, as I had seen at the SoG in London, on this niche site. The data began in 1586 and ran to 1850 and there was the marriage of John Thorn to Elizabeth and this time I noticed that the witness were given as John Adams and Sunass (sic) Sissell.

Funny name, I thought, and today I understand taking transcribed names with a pinch of salt. If you decide to join the Family History Researcher Academy you will learn more.

At the time I made an assumption that this last person was more than likely some member of the bride’s family. Could it perhaps be the father of the bride?

But that name “Sunass” just didn’t seem likely to me. Now I know that it was the best guess by the transcriber as it couldn’t be read properly in the original record.

From the information I knew that they had signed with a mark, thus they were illiterate and so the first name and the second had not been written down by the ancestors themselves.

When you are doing your own research you should bear in mind that our ancestors may not have had the ability to read or write and the minister may have interpreted the name as he had heard it said to him. In my ancestor’s case the surname “Sissell” could possibly have been “Cecil” or something entirely different. Consider saying the name with the regional accent and seeing what you come up with.

As for Sunass – at this point I was clueless!

The Dartmouth Archives website had not got any early enough christening records for John and Elizabeth and so I went over to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website or FamilySearch.org and here I did a search for Elizabeth’s christening.

St Petrox, Dartmouth font

I was rewarded by a lead to a baptism in one of the other churches in Dartmouth, St Petrox, on the 16 September 1878. This child was the daughter of James and Sarah Sissill and she was christened Elizabeth Gardener Sissill.

You may notice that the spelling had changed to Sissill with an “i” and not an “e” again pointing to the vicar writing it down the way that he heard it.

I now jumped to a conclusion that the witness to Elizabeth’s marriage could have been her father “James” and this has been interpreted as “Sunnas” because a flowing “J” for James had looked like an “S” to the transcriber and the other letters had been misread as a “u” for an “a” and the double “n” as an “m”. All easily done.

So what I am emphasising here and I continue to do so in modules from my Family History Researcher Course, is to be wary of names and the way they were spelt. If you keep this in mind then some of the logjams we find in our research can be got past.

This breakthrough I had was down to finding that Dartmouth has an active family history website and then using their indexes in conjunction with other internet resources, such as the LDS site.

The first learning point is that you should always find out what other research may have been done, for the area your ancestors came from.

If you find a family history society, or local interest group with a website, can any of their publications or website pages help you with your quest?

Secondly, always keep in mind that names were misspelled in many records. In my own family research I have had to think of other spellings for the Sissells, and indeed names that may have sounded like Sissell in order that I may trace this line back further and break down the brick wall.

Ancestors in Thorne Family tree

I have made some fantastic strides in my family tree research and it is mostly down to learning as much as I can from other’s experiences and finding out as much as I can about what records and resources are available.

Last year I put together some modules for a course of 52 guides, aiming at passing on my experience. Perhaps they can help you become a more knowledgeable researcher?

I had some professional genealogists and data providers also contribute to the project to make it well rounded.

There is a special offer running for readers of this page of a £1 trail for four weeks membership of the Family History Researcher Academy. Click here to learn more.

As you have come to this page I am sure that you must have an interest in family history and I am betting that you to have some brick walls to knock down as well. So take a look at the report below that is based on some of the material from the Family History Researcher course…

 

 

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Exceptional new records from Findmypast uncover the diversity that formed the Royal Air Force in the First World War

Press Release from Findmypast that those of us with RFC/RAF servicemen in the family may be interested in.

 

Findmypast.co.uk, in partnership with The National Archives has released close to 450,000 service records of men of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force including 342,000 Airmen’s records never seen online before. Tales of derring-do brought to life so vividly by W.E. Johns in his Biggles series are well-known, but today’s release tells, for the first time, the stories of the unsung heroes from across the world and from the lower ranks that made up the RAF on its inception.

The majority of records in this collection date from 1912 with the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and include men who continued to serve in the RAF up until 1939. The earliest records date from 1899 with the Royal Engineers Balloon Service in the Boer War. With these fascinating records now available online, Findmypast offers the most comprehensive collection of British military service records in the early twentieth century.

Drawn from across the world…
The records reveal for the first time how World War One brought together men from across the world to serve alongside each other. Over 58 nationalities served in the RAF during World War One, with men signing up from as far afield as India, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Poland, Mexico, Romania and Germany. Included in the records is the first Indian to fly into combat, Hardutt Singh Malik, who became the only Indian aviator to survive the war, despite coming under significant attack and ending up with bullet wounds to his legs that required several months’ treatment in hospital. After the war, Malik joined the Indian Civil Service, serving as the Indian ambassador to France, and following his retirement became India’s finest golf player, even with two German bullets still embedded in his leg.

… and from across society
Despite the RAF’s reputation as the perfect playground for the upper classes, today’s records reveal how those from the working-class flew wing tip to wing tip with the officers, and became highly celebrated for their superior flying ability. One well-regarded flying ace, Arthur Ernest Newland, had humble origins as one of at least nine children from Enfield, north London, but the records show how he went on to twice receive the Distinguished Flying Medal for his prowess in the air, ending the war having destroyed 19 enemy aircraft, 17 of those single-handedly. One of ten children from a poor family in Limerick, John Cowell also became a celebrated airman during the war. Beginning on 5 May 1917, and extending through 28 July, Cowell scored fifteen victories as a gunner, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on 11 June 1918, as well as the Military Medal with Bar. Returning as a pilot in 20 Squadron he scored his final victory a year and a day after his fifteenth but sadly was shot down and killed the next day by balloon buster Friedrich Ritter von Röth of Jasta 16.

The air’s a stage
With the records containing information about an individual’s peacetime occupation, as well as their military prowess, it’s perhaps no surprise that the RAF appealed to the more dramatic members of society with records showing 104 actors, nine comedians and even one music hall artiste made up the RAF ranks.

“It’s a real treat to have such an extensive set of records about the everyday airmen of World War One” said Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast.co.uk. “These people, drawn from all walks of life, and from all over the world, played an incredibly important part in shaping our history, particularly in the development of aerial warfare. To have many of these hitherto unseen records easily accessible online for the first time mean that now many people can discover the Biggles in their own family.”

William Spencer, author and principal military records specialist at The National Archives continued: “These records reveal the many nationalities of airmen that joined forces to fight in the First World War. Now these records are online, people can discover the history of their ancestors, with everything from their physical appearance right through to their conduct and the brave acts they carried out which helped to win the war.”

The records, comprising National Archives series AIR 76 (Officers’ service records) and AIR 79 (Airmen’s records) contain information about an individual’s peacetime and military career, as well as his physical description, religious denomination and family status. Next of kin are often mentioned and this too has been fully indexed and is easily searchable. These records form part of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to deliver 100 record sets in 100 days. To learn more about the records, visit www.Findmypast.co.uk.

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