As an island nation I am sure that many of the readers of this blog will have ancestors that have gone to sea, if only for a short time. Many of us will have family who have served in the Royal Navy and so have discovered just how intimidating it is to research a Royal Naval ancestor, especially if we compare it to looking for those of our kin who were in the British Army or the Royal Air Force.
The book begins by giving the reader a short introduction on how to get started in their research. Simon Fowler assumes the reader has little prior knowledge of the navy and its history. His book shows you how to trace an officer, petty officer or rating from the seventeenth century up to the 1960s using records at the National Archives and elsewhere.
The reader will discover that the records of RN officers and ratings can be located back to 1660, often with more success than if you were looking for similar records in the army. As holdings for officers and ratings up to 1914 are different Simon Fowler has separated the two into their own chapters. A separate chapter then addresses the records from 1914 which covers all ranks.
There are additional chapters for the various auxiliary services; the coastguard; the Royal Marines; the WRNS; HM Dockyards; the sick and wounded and researching ships.
Depending on the era in question there are many naval records that the reader can use to discover more about the Royal Navy and its personnel. This well illustrated book shows the reader where to find the records, explains well what they contain and is an excellent addition to anyone’s library if they are interested in Royal Naval ancestors.
Editions available to buy from the following links:
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’ve heard from the team at TheGenealogist about their new medal release that gives full details of heroic soldiers and their deeds in the First World War and The Second Boer War to aid you in your search for more information on your ancestor’s war exploits.
Analysis of these newly released Distinguished Conduct Medal records uncovers stories of heroism and exceptional bravery from ordinary soldiers. The medal was instituted in 1854, but the desperate fighting and struggle of the First World War saw the medal awarded to a larger amount of soldiers for the first time.
TheGenealogist.co.uk has released complete new records of Non Commissioned Officer’s and Other Ranks who were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in The First World War and The Second Boer War.
Uniquely these new records show full details of the Recipients Medal Card combined with a link to The London Gazette which in numerous cases contains full details of the heroic deed that won them the medal. The Gazette is the one of the official journals of the British Government and can be classed as one of the oldest surviving English newspapers.
The records contain full details of the soldier awarded the medal –their name, rank, regiment, date of medal citation and details of their heroism in battle, all easily found using ‘SmartSearch’ on TheGenealogist.
Men from all walks of life found the strength and resilience to summon up acts of courage to go above and beyond the call of duty.
The first Battle of Ypres reached a crisis point for the British at the end of October 1914. The 1st Division were being driven back and the 1st Coldstream Guards had been wiped out in the fighting. At a critical moment, Sergeant J. Kirkcaldy of the 26th (Heavy) Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (as seen in the illustration), brought up fresh horses under a terrific shellfire to replace those already killed. His gallant conduct saved a transport wagon. Details of his DCM Medal award can be found on TheGenealogist:
On October 20th 1914 at Chateau de Flandre, Sergeant Forwood of the 3rd East Kents (The Buffs) found himself in a desperate situation. Initially buried alive when a German shell hit his machine gun position killing or wounding his comrades, despite receiving numerous wounds himself, he managed to escape and report the situation to his headquarters to ensure their position was covered. His DCM award appeared in the London Gazette in early 1915 and an artist’s impression of the trauma he suffered is illustrated here.
His full details and link to the London Gazette are all found in the new DCM records on TheGenealogist.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist concludes: “We are continually making more historic military records available and our new DCM Collection with its link to the London Gazette brings all the information together for the family historian. Our collection of military records goes from strength to strength with more to come.”
To find out the extreme bravery of our soldiers and their courage in the line of duty see the dedicated page on TheGenealogist.co.uk/DCM. There you will find photographs, stories, statistics and a free search facility.
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used in this post.
Last night’s ITV programme on Secrets from the Asylum was fascinating from a family history point of view.
It showed vividly how emotional a finding that one or other of your ancestors spent some time, or indeed died, behind the doors of an asylum can be.
One of the things that I always advise people, thinking about researching their family tree, is to be aware that they may find skeletons in the cupboard. Also that once the skeleton is out this can cause other members of your family to get upset with you for opening the door into the past. Its particularly difficult if you dispel a carefully constructed family story that has been woven to protect the family from a perceived disgrace.
Another maxim, that I tell people new to family history, is not to judge their family for making up these stories and to try to understand your ancestor in the era in which they lived and in the social context of their times.
Both these “rules” had to be applied when I found a cause of death for a client whose family tree I was researching. Just like Christopher Biggins, one of the celebrities on the show, he to discovered that his ancestor died from “general paralysis of the insane”.
The client’s ancestor was said to have fallen from his horse as a relatively young man. My client had become suspicious of this story, perhaps subconsciously having picked up that the received wisdom was not told convincingly enough. His theory, however, was that his ancestor had perhaps run away from his wife and family. The truth was more of a shock when the certificate was delivered to him by me.
In the programme last night actress Sue Johnston was also featured as she revisited the hospital where she had worked in the 1960’s. Her experience was of wheeling patients down to have Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which was invented in the 1930s to treat schizophrenia but was used on a variety of illnesses by the 1960s. Her memories of the patients getting the treatment were quite distressing for her.
I have found people who had this treatment and went on to live normal lives but for researchers who discover this in their family tree, this can sometimes be upsetting.
So, as long as you are aware that not everything that you may find out about ancestors will be “rosy” then family history research is a compelling pastime that gets better with the more records and resources that you can get to use.
If you are just starting out and want to build your knowledge of English/Welsh family history so that you are able to track down elusive ancestors then take a look at my course at Family History Researcher Academy.
For another couple of weeks I am offering my Summer Sale of a month’s trial for free in conjunction with S&N Geneology Supplies! Click the image below.
I am going to be at The Midlands Family History Fair tomorrow Saturday 9th August 2014 between 10:00 – 4:00.
I’ll be introducing people to my Family History Researcher Course and selling some of my Genealogy help audios at very special prices.
If you are going to the fair, then come over and say hello.
Its on at the Worcester Rugby Club, Sixways Stadium, Worcester, WR3 8ZE
Admission: £3.00, Children FREE
There is free parking at the Rugby Club, or a shuttle bus from Foregate Street Railway Station.
With Monday being the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War there are many new records online.
With all the websites highlighting their records for the war that was meant to be “the war to end all wars” we have quite a choice.
So I was looking for something distinct to look at this week.
Luckily I’ve heard from the team at TheGenealogist about some new records that approach WWI from a slightly different angle.
TheGenealogist has just released for the first time two million military records that have uncovered the determined Allied servicemen who escaped from First World War POW Camps.
These new records include both officers and other ranks, listing those men who endured the hardships and often brutal regimes as a prisoner of war. It’s an area of the Great War that is very rarely looked at.
The hardship and disease that became rife in the camps made many men look to escape. The Allied Officers, although held in slightly better conditions, also had an unwritten code that it was every officer’s duty to try to escape and many tried and failed.
The new release gives details of the Allied Officers behind the escape attempt at Holzminden Camp, near Hannover in 1918, where a tunnel was dug for 8 months using cutlery as digging tools. 29 men escaped, 19 were eventually caught but 10 got away and returned to England. Their daring escape inspired the prisoners in the famous ‘Great Escape’ of The Second World War.
Holzminden Camp held a number of high profile Allied servicemen. Conditions were harsh as it was used for the most troublesome prisoners, who made regular escape attempts. Prisoners listed on TheGenealogist’s records include Michael Claude Hamilton-Bowes-Lyon (The Queen’s Uncle), William Leefe Robinson (who shot the first German airship down over London and who was kept in solitary confinement for repeated escape attempts) and James Whale (future Hollywood Director of ‘Frankenstein’).
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, commented:
“Our new unique records are a great resource to track down those First World War ancestors. With our extensive range of military records it’s now possible to find out if your ancestor was a casualty or taken prisoner of war of if they were one of the lucky ones who made it through unscathed. With this being the centenary year of the outbreak of The First World War, it is the perfect time to explore your family tree and discover the war service of your ancestors.”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used above.
One of my clients has family from Staffordshire and he was bemoaning the lack of records he could find online.
Well now the UK family history website findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time over 2.8 million parish records in partnership with Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service as the final instalment of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to release 100 record sets in 100 days.
Spanning 1538 to 1900, the parish records launched today mark the start of an exciting project to create the Staffordshire Collection on Findmypast – a rich source, which on completion will comprise around 6 million fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of handwritten parish records.
The Collection covers all Staffordshire Anglican parish registers up to 1900 deposited with the Archive Service and includes over 3,400 registers recording the baptisms, marriages and burials carried out in the ancient county. This will include the City of Stoke on Trent and parishes now within the City of Wolverhampton, as well as the Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall.
The lives of many notable Potteries folk are recorded in the Collection. Captain of industry and prominent abolitionist, Josiah Wedgwood, the man who established the Wedgwood company in 1754, industrialised the manufacture of pottery for the first time and created the famous “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” anti-slavery medallion, appears in a baptism register. Born on 12 July 1730, Josiah was baptised the same day at St John’s church in Burslem. His grand-daughter Emma Wedgwood, the future wife of Charles Darwin, also appears in the Collection.
These church records also provide some unexpected insights into significant events in Staffordshire’s colourful history. In a late 18th century register of baptisms from the parish of Alrewas, curate John Edmonds took it upon himself to record a narrative of local happenings, and this too can now be read online for the first time. Edmonds recounts details of a flood that swept two bridges away, an earthquake that rocked the parish in 1795, a series of local riots over food shortages and even a lightning strike that killed 3 cows and 2 horses. He also recorded events of national significance, such as King George III being fired upon with an air gun on his way to parliament.
The Potteries proud manufacturing history is well represented in the Collection. Other important potters in the records include William Moorcroft, Potter to the Queen by Royal Warrant, and founder of the Moorcroft pottery that supplied stores such as Liberty & Co and Tiffany New York. There’s also Thomas William Twyford, inventor of the single piece ceramic flush toilet and co-founder of Twyford Bathrooms, and John Aynsley, the founder of Aynsley China, one of the last remaining producers of bone china in Stoke on Trent.
Manufacturers are not the only famous Staffordians to be found in the records. Admiral of the Fleet and 1st Earl of St Vincent John Jervis, best remembered for his defeat of the Spanish fleet at the 1797 Battle of Cape Saint Vincent and his patronage of Horatio Nelson, was born at Meaford Hall in 1735.
Marriage registers from 1835 contain Burton upon Trent brewer and politician Michael Thomas Bass Jr, whose clever leadership saw Bass become the best known brand in Britain and the largest brewery in the world. Other famous figures include Francis Barber, a freed Jamaican slave, who became the manservant and beneficiary of Dr Johnson; William Thomas Astbury, the pioneering X-ray scientist; and legendary classical composer Havergal Brian.
The Staffordshire Collection adds to Findmypast’s already extensive cache of parish records, the largest available online. These records allow family historians to research as far back as the 1500s, and with more Staffordshire records still to be added to Findmypast, family historians from all over the world can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before, and uncover their Staffordshire, Black Country and Potteries ancestors.
The records were launched at an event at the Staffordshire Record Office by Findmypast, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service and Staffordshire County Council Cabinet member for Children, Communities and Localism, Mike Lawrence.
Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “From today, anyone, wherever they are in the world, will be able to go online and discover whether they have Staffordshire roots. These really are fascinating parish records, full of colourful insights, and you might even be able to get your family tree as far back as 1538, when Henry VIII was on the throne!“
Mike Lawrence, Cabinet member for Community at Staffordshire County Council said: “We are very proud of our heritage here in Staffordshire and this is the start of an exciting partnership with Findmypast to bring 6 million names online for people to search through. The project will give family historians from across the world an opportunity to delve into our rich past and learn more about our great county.
“We also want to encourage more people from the county to explore their own family history, and access to the Staffordshire Parish Registers on Findmypast will be free in Archive Service offices and libraries across Staffordshire.”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post
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 avisit to a Family History websitewhile surfing forkeywordsto do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spentbrowsing the transcripts featured on the platform.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Atlas shows us how Britain’s landscape has changed over the last 500 years
Looking at this collection of 57 maps and you will be able to find England’s lost counties of Westmorland and Huntingdonshire
Find Parish borders that hark back to when people associated more with their Parish church than town hall
There is a newly published historic atlas of Great Britain online at Ancestry.co.uk that gives the family historian something of a unique view of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales stretching back over 500 years.
Digitised by the family history site Ancestry.co.uk, the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, consists of fifty seven different maps of the counties of the U.K. What is interesting to me about this is it shows how Britain’s ancient parish and county boundaries have changed shape over the centuries.
We have all been there in our research. You may have lost someone from the records of a
particular county and thus you become stuck unless you can see the boundaries as they stood at the time that your ancestor was alive.
I was doing some research for a client whose ancestors came from Northfield. Today that is a suburb of Birmingham and so is in the West Midlands. At the time of their ancestor Northfield was in Worcestershire.
The subject of the research got married about ten miles away in Dudley, which was in Staffordshire at the time and today has its own archive service as it is a Metropolitan Borough. Thus to find the records of a family that lived in quite a small radius needs careful thought as to where to look.
This newly digitised Atlas is navigable online, users are able to scroll over whole counties and then use a zoom tool to go in and out. Useful if you need to identify the various local parishes, towns and the churches.
The original documents used in the atlas are from the resources of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies.
Browsing the maps open up quite an insight into how England’s historical county maps didn’t change much for centuries, before many of the ancient counties were split up to make more governable areas.
In this atlas the county of Middlesex is shown as it was in the 19th century. At that time it consisted of what are today large swathes of modern London and so included the likes of Islington and Chelsea. London itself is a much smaller settlement that is barely more than one mile wide.
The Home Counties appear in their original form before the legislation of the London Government Act 1965 created Greater London. You will also be able to see the original boundary of the counties of Essex and Surrey when viewing the maps.
Other counties that are defunct today but can be traced in the atlas include Westmorland (today a part of Cumbria), and Huntingdonshire, which disappeared into Cambridgeshire following a Government Act in 1971. Lancashire is also to be found here in its original form, comprising of modern day Manchester and Liverpool and also various parts of Cumbria and Cheshire. It was subsequently reorganised and downsized, losing nearly a third of its area in the process.
Before the population of the country grew over the centuries and along with this regional administration developed, people were inclined to identify themselves more with their local parish when considering where they came from. As time moved on and these parish borders changed to such an extent that now it is almost impossible to determine the exact location of some parishes and their records using modern maps.
I have an interest in a small village that sits today in North west Leicestershire, but in years past was divided between Leicestershire but with pockets residing in Derbyshire and completely surrounded by Leicestershire on all sides!
The Atlas is thus an authoritative guide to the drastic changes in Britain’s county and parish borders over the last 500 years and a valuable way of adding geographical context to family history research.
The maps were the brainchild of Cecil Humphery-Smith, a genealogist and heraldist who founded the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, based in Canterbury, which promotes family history both through courses and its extensive library. He is, of course, the author of Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers.
At Ancestry.co.uk, the maps can now be searched and browsed by county. For family historians using Ancestry’s Lancashire Parish records as well as the 1851 Censuses and Free Birth, Marriage and Death Index will discover that every record in these collections links to a relevant map.
In addition, almost eight million new records have been added to the Lancashire Parish records currently available on Ancestry’s site.
Ancestry.co.uk Senior Content Manager Miriam Silverman comments: “The borders of the UK parishes and counties have changed so much over the last 500 years and that really makes these maps the key to navigating the past and progressing with your family history journey.”
To search the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, as well as millions of additional birth, marriage and death records, visit www.Ancestry.co.uk.
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post.