Researching family in Jersey, part 9: photos, newspapers and books

To wrap up the series, there’s a miscellany of other potential avenues that are worth exploring.

First of all, there are photographs. If you have family photos you will almost certainly have cursed the elderly relatives who put them in an album and then never got round to labelling who, what and where they were. But… there are some useful tricks to use.

First of all, scan the photograph at the highest resolution you can. If you can be sure the photo was taken and developed in Jersey, you may be able to identify the firm who developed it. A gentleman by the name of Richard Hemery has put years of work into this, and for some of the better known photographers his efforts will allow you to pin the photograph’s date down quite well.

Halkett Place, St Helier, JerseyThis particular photo is a neat example. Richard’s work tells us there were only two firms who put reference numbers on the front of prints, both operating in the 1930s. But there’s more: a high-res scan picks up the name Le Riche over the shop awning behind and left of the lady, and also makes the colonnade on the right clearer. That pins the location down to Halkett Place by the Central Market, and the date has to be after 1932, when Le Riche’s (a long-established island grocer) opened their shop there.

 

“Ah,” you say, “but I don’t have that depth of local knowledge”. But other people do. The Société Jersiaise run an online photographic archive: two of their members are currently going through the massive task of cataloguing every Jersey picture postcard in existence. Talk to them: they could have the information to fill in some gaps. Or use the libraries (see below)

In addition, there’s what the newspapers may have said. The first newspaper on Jersey was published in the late 18th Century, and there have been a number of different publications since, right down to the Jersey Evening Post (usually referred to just as the JEP) of today. The JEP has always been a very parochial paper in the better sense of the word: it reports everything and anything that goes on. If your relative was a prominent member of a local church or a schoolmaster or a farmer, it’s quite possible that they’d get a respectable tribute from the JEP when they passed away.

The central Library in Halkett Place has a very comprehensive collection of microfilmed newspapers – they’re up on the first floor. You need to book a reader – it is worth doing this in advance, particularly if you want the one that will print to paper. E-mail je.library@gov.je and they will sort things out.

While we are talking about libraries, there are collections of reference books at the Coutanche Library (the NoseyGenealogist will be releasing a film guide to what they have shortly) and smaller collections at both the Archive and the Central Library to supplement your knowledge of Jersey’s history and culture.

This is of necessity a scratch at the surface of family history research. I hope you’ve found it helpful. Happy hunting, and – À bétôt!

 

Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society

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Researching family in Jersey, part 7: Property Records and PRIDE

A Jersey Property Deed by Nick Thorne

A Jersey Property Deed

Establishing who owns land or a house on it is important, and pretty well every country has a land registry. Jersey’s is small but perfectly formed because every property transaction goes before one single body, the Royal Court. Apart from a small number of mid-17th century transactions, records are complete back to 1602. The first 150 years of records are on paper, but everything subsequent to about 1800 has been scanned and indexed into a computer system called PRIDE. There are two terminals at the Archive. One is upstairs in the reading room, the other is downstairs in reception – which is exceedingly useful as it can be used between 1pm and 2pm when the reading room is shut. You will need a member of staff to log you on.

PRIDE has a very simple search interface, and for most purposes you need a name to investigate, but it can be a hugely useful tool. Not only do you find sales of property, but after 1841 you will also find wills and details of partages – arrangements which exist to deal with the complexities of Jersey’s Norman-based system of inheritance.

You will also find details of rentes. Rentes are a little like a mortgage – you agree to long-term instalment payments in return for a capital sum – but unlike modern mortgages they are theoretically perpetual, and they can be inherited or traded between individuals, although there are very few left today. Also on PRIDE you will find details of procurations – in other words, appointments of attorneys to act on behalf of an individual – for more recent times.

If you start in modern times – after about 1980 – you can search properties. Any sale contract has to include a recital of title – in other words, who the seller acquired the property from and when. If you are fortunate it is then possible to work back up the chain…

Even if you don’t understand all of the legal niceties, PRIDE can still be hugely informative. A search for Philippe Du Feu threw up a document dated 1826. It didn’t actually concern Philippe so much as his wife Elizabeth Amy: the Amy family had created what we call a partage des heritages to ensure that the five daughters were provided with money for homes by their brother who had inherited the estate. In doing so the document gives us the names of all of Elizabeth Amy’s siblings, the names of their husbands (if they were married at that point), her parents, her brother’s grandparents and several aunts and cousins. None of that detail is on the Du Feu family tree. And study of the contract itself could give a great deal more information to the family historian – how generous the settlement was (or wasn’t) could indicate the social standing of the family.

Next time we’ll be looking at military records. Until then – À bétôt!

Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society

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Researching family in Jersey, part 6: using the rates listings.

There are not many places where the contribution you make to property rates is public knowledge, but Jersey is one of them.

In Jersey rates are paid in two parts: one part is paid by the owner of the property (the foncier rate) and the other is by the occupier (mobilier rate). There are sets of rate books in both the Archive and the Coutanche Library covering about a century up to 1965, plus some more recent data as well (ask for Taxation du Rât)

Jersey Taxation Du Rat BooksThese aren’t the easiest of documents to use, because the listing is an alphabetical list of ratepayers in each vingtaine (a vingtaine is a subdivision of a parish; the smallest parish (St Mary) has two, while St Helier has seven).

Ideally you need a detailed map of Jersey and a lot of patience – but the listings can be very rewarding. They will indicate whether someone owns a property or not: they can also indicate something about the condition or size of the property (someone paying 5 quartiers of mobilier rates a year is going to be living more modestly than someone paying 20 quartiers a year. It’s also indicative, at least to some degree, if the person you are researching is not on the list of ratepayers – that would indicate someone who was probably in a shared tenement and fairly low down the pile (because this became a lot less common as slum housing started to be replaced in the 20th century). Some of the parishes also published lists of people with dog and/or gun licences alongside their rates.

The existence of the rates books is also very handy in tying movement down. I knew that my wife’s family moved from one address to another between the 1891 and 1901 censuses: the fact that they suddenly started paying rates in 1896 or so pinpoints the move more exactly. Equally, my second cousins had a hotel in Grouville, but they disappear from the rate books in about 1905 – only a year after the owner (to whom one of them was married) died.

Property owners have to acquire their property, and next time we’ll be looking at what you can get from Jersey’s land registry system. Until then – À bétôt!

Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society

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Researching family in Jersey, part 4: BMD records after 1842

Jersey FlagAfter 1842 registrations of birth marriage and death were made by Jersey’s twelve civil parishes – a system that carries on to this day. This presents some interesting challenges. Whereas in England records used to be kept by the quarter (meaning you could pin a birth down at least to a year), most Jersey parishes simply run 500- or 1000-entry books for as long as it takes to fill them up. The largest parish in Jersey, St Helier, has (these days) a population of about 30000 and the main hospital – so it fills up a 1000-entry book about every 18 months. The smallest parish, St Mary, has a population of 1500, and takes the better part of a century to fill up a book! The other point with this is that if you don’t know where a birth or death took place, you will have to search twelve indexes…

The indexing of the books is rudimentary. Entries are added by initial letter of surname in the order in which they are added to the book, with a reference to the relevant page number. And for this purpose a name like Du Feu is indexed under letter F. If you think this is bad, spare a thought for anyone researching the (not uncommon) surname Le Vavasseur dit Durell – which goes under D for Durell.

Marriages present the same problems as births and deaths, but rather more so. In time the civil parishes split their registers into Church of England marriages and those carried out by a registrar – the latter covering registry office, Roman Catholic, Methodist and other religions. And as St Helier grew and new churches were opened to serve outlying areas, these churches also came to the point where they took on their own registration books: so you could need to look at anything up to thirty index books.

There is, however, one case where Jersey practice is much better than English, and that’s in how we record deaths. Death register entries are made in the name under which the person died and any previous names they were known by, and the indexes include references for all these names. The grandmother of my wife’s great-aunt died in St Saviour in 1915, and we found an entry in the expected name of Sparkes – but we found three other married names and her maiden name too.

The actual registers are kept by the Superintendent Registrar in an office on the Royal Square in St Helier. The office is open 5 mornings a week – except that as it’s also the civil Registry office, it may be closed if a wedding is taking place. It’s worth a check in advance if you’re coming from a distance.

If you can’t get to the Superintendent Registrar’s office, there are copies of the indexes at the Coutanche Library of the Société Jersiaise in Pier Road and at Jersey Archive – and there are some handy materials In the Archive which may help you get accurate dates without a certificate. More on that next time. À bétôt!

Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society

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