Family History records for Portsea Island workhouse ancestors

 

Portsmouth Library and History Centre

Last week I was in Portsmouth and took advantage of an opportunity to pop into The Portsmouth History Centre which is on the second floor of the Portsmouth Central Library near the Guildhall.

It comprises of the City Records Office Archive as well as holding the library resources on Portsmouth family, local and naval history plus the Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens collections.

My interest was in the Portsea Workhouse, an institution in which my 3 x great-grandmother, Martha Malser, had died as an inmate in February 1870 aged 70. While the History Centre have the workhouse Creed registers from 1879 to 1953, which served as admission registers, the earlier records have very sadly not survived. This being the case meant I was unable to do any personal family history research this time.

Portsea Workhouse

© Copyright Basher Eyre and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

I was, however, able to call up the Board of Guardians minute books for the time that my ancestor was living under their care in her old age. While not giving me any direct references to Martha it was an extremely interesting bit of research as it gave me a flavour of the organisation and an insight into its operation. For others, this could be a goldmine of family information.

These Board of Guardians minute books are a very name rich set of documents for those with ancestors who were officials, or who worked for the workhouse. Names were also recorded for suppliers to the institution of food, clothing, coal etc. This could be another opportunity for some researchers to find their family members mentioned, although often the supplier was simply noted by his surname alone. So you may see Jones £2 3s 6d, or Smith £0 4s 8d.

 

I read about the appointments made for named schoolmasters, matrons and various other officials to the workhouse. The records detail the taking of references for these people and the salaries that the Union would pay the successful candidates.

There was an interesting entry where the Board set out the duties they expected of the new clergyman. The number of days he was required to attend to the inmates spiritual needs, inside the workhouse, and the Eucharist services that he should provide for the workhouse inmates on the Sabbath.

Perhaps the most useful information for family historians, contained within these Board of Guardians minute books, was the records of people receiving “out relief”. Those who had become sick and were able to get some parish relief while not having to enter the workhouse. If your ancestor had fallen on hard times then these entries would give you both a surname and a first name, a place, the amount of out relief and also the reason for receiving the payment.

Most of the sicknesses that I read were general, such as “confinement”. I did read of some injuries such as back and leg, which would be expected of working men and women, though I did note one case of syphilis! Presumably this person was considered to be worthy of the care of the parish, so perhaps they were innocently infected with the disease.

To read more about the workhouse I recommend Peter Higginbotham’s site:
http://www.workhouses.org.uk/

There are also some modules on the workhouses and the Poor laws within the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History See the special Trial Offer running currently by clicking this link: http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/trialoffer.

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Tracing Ancestors With a Common Surname

Online-Old-Parish-RecordsThe problem of tracing an ancestor, with a common surname, is one of those brick walls that many of us come up against in our family tree research. When it occurs after the introduction of state run vital indexes, in 1837 for England & Wales and eighteen years later, in 1855, when Scotland adopted the idea, it can be difficult to find the exact person that is our forebear, but at least we have a central index to search. The Crown Dependencies followed suit at different times again, so you will see civil registration introduced into Guernsey in 1840, Jersey in 1842, Alderney in 1850 and Sark in 1915. The Isle of Man beginning compulsory civil registration of births and deaths in 1878 and then marriages in 1884.

But what about searching for a Smith or Jones in the years pre-civil indexes? If you are expecting an easy answer I’m afraid I am going to disappoint, as common surnames do present us family historians with great difficulties to overcome. Having said that, however, all may not be lost.

If the ancestor in question has an unusual first, or middle name, then this may help you enormously to single your likely candidate out from the others. In my own research it was not the actual man I was trying to track down who had the unusual middle name, but his son. I had already made the connection to John Branton Thorn via the prime sources and knew him to be my ancestor. I was now on the trail of five or six John and Sarahs who were candidates for his parents, according to his baptismal details. So which of the various John Thorns who married a woman whose first name was Sarah in various parts of Devon jumped out as a strong possibility? It was the one where the bride’s surname was Branton.

The advice I have been given is to try to tie the person with the common name to one with a less than common one. It could be their wife, a brother or sister and so on and perhaps it is an unusual first name, middle name, or maiden name you can use.

If you are not able to find your ancestor for certain in the church registers, then always remember that the Bishop’s Transcripts may possibly harbour more information than the register did. It is not a certainty that it will, but it is worth a look.

Try using Wills and Admons to see if you can find the possible parents (or a brother, sister or other relation) naming your ancestor as a beneficiary.

Another point to be aware of is that even with a less common surname there can be many problems to overcome in family history research. As spelling of surnames varied so much, until the mid 19th century or later when they became more fixed, and with many of our ancestors not being literate, the clergy often recorded the name as they thought they heard it and so a regional accent is probably responsible for one line of my ancestors being recorded as Sysal, Sissell, Sissill and Sizzall in the church records from 1780 to 1798.

If the person you are researching was born in the years just before civil registration began, but was likely to have died after the death registers began, how about looking for them in these records. You can also use the church burial records, if you know the parish they died in. What about trying the National Burial Index? If you just have a first name and a common surname I grant you that this is not going to be much help to you but if you know the place that they lived then you may be able to narrow down you likely forebears.

On the subject of places, some names can be very common in one area, for example Thorn/Thorne in Devon, but a common name may not be so common in another place.

Advice that I have seen given on other blogs and forums say that you should:

  • Learn as much identifying information as you can about the ancestor you are researching.

So look for family bibles, they can list the names of children. Think about whether there are any other records for the district where your ancestor lived that they may have been recorded within? Taxes, land records, muster rolls, etc.

  • Make a chronology of the ancestor’s life if you can; where did they live for the various events in their lives? Can you identify the street, the town or hamlet for the significant moments in their time-line? If you can then you have a framework to work with.

Common surnames are certainly a problem for family history researchers trying to populate their family tree and sometimes there will be no easy answer. Persevere, however, as more and more records become available there is always a chance that your ancestor may be within one of them.

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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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What to expect from ancestry.co.uk in 2011

At the 2011 family history show “Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE” I was fortunate to grab a chat with Dan Jones from ancestry.co.uk.

For Dan Jones of ancestry.co.uk interview click here

Family historians will find out by watching my interview with Dan, where this important family tree research site will be heading in the next few months and it seems that Ancestry’s focus will be on continuing the development of parish records on ancestry.co.uk that they had started with London and the registers from LMA and also bringing us more occupational records.

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The interview is just one of a number recorded at the UK’s largest family history show: Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE at London’s Olympia. The event is a fantastic mix of workshops, exhibitors and more for those of us passionate about family tree research.

To watch the other videos navigate to the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE 2011 button on the bar above, or simply watch at my YouTube channel: www.YouTube.com/NoseyGenealogist

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England and Wales Wills on-line

Ancestry.co.uk on a computer screen

Ancestry.co.uk -         (Disclosure: Image is a Compensated affiliate link)

Ancestry.co.uk has launched online the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 – an index to more than six million wills proven across the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ancestry has said that the combined value of the 6,079,000 estates in the index reveals a fortune that today would be worth more than £20 billion! On the flip side, however, the average value of our ancestors’ estates is a rather modest £3,400.

Now not all of us will be able to find our ancestors in this collection, but if you are lucky enough to do then they can be wonderful resource for family historians. The value of the index is that each entry may also include the name of the departed, the date and place of your forebear’s death, the name of the executer and also, in a few instances, bequest recipients.

So what is Probate? This is the term given to the court’s authority to administer a deceased person’s estate and including the granting representation to a person or persons to administer that estate.

It was in 1857 that the Court of Probate Act came in to force and with it the power to administer estates were transfer from the Church of England to the state. It is the probate calendar books, in which are summarised and collated annually the grants, that are now to be found on Ancestry.co.uk.

Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “The probate calendar books provide countless new leads for family historians to explore as they move beyond being about family members to long-gone fortunes, mysterious beneficiaries and valuable objects – all with connections back to our ancestors just waiting to be explored.

“Anyone able to find an ancestor in the probate calendar books will be able to find out a great deal about how their ancestor lived, what they bequeathed and to whom – meaning we will be able to find out so much more about what their lives would have been like.”

All wills and administrations were proved in England and Wales however the places of death vary enormously and include more than 107,000 people who died in Scotland, around 20,000 in France and 18,000 in the USA.

To take a look go to Ancestry.co.uk (Disclosure: This is a compensated affiliate link)

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