This week, on Thursday 16th, Friday 17th and Saturday 18th of April the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show rolls into the National Exhibition Centre for the first time. The largest Family History Show in the U.K. it has moved up to the Midlands from London.
For those of us seeking answers, to family history brick walls, this is one of the most exciting times of the calendar as it allows us a chance to get to listen to all manner of experts gathered under one roof.
Apart from the main celebrity speakers, such as Reggie Yates, Tamzin Outhwaite and Alistair McGowan there are many other presentations that I am looking forward to.
One talk that I spotted in the email news from S&N Genealogy supplies is Our Ancestors’ Working Lives by Celia Heritage, Professional Genealogist & Author. Celia will be explaining how we can find out more about an ancestor through the records of their working life in TheGenealogist’s talk theatre, situated just by the entrance.
There are, of course, so many other workshops to take in that a little bit of planning may be needed to fit in what appeals to your particular interest. Take a look at the Society of Genealogists Workshop programme online. One of the other great strengths of the show is being able to chat with the knowledgeable people from the various family history societies, or to sit down with a Society of Genealogist expert. Maybe you will be in luck and meet a person that is researching a collateral line to yours!
To emphasize just how much of a breakthrough a chance meeting such as this can be, here is a little story to end with.
This weekend I was taking a break in a small Leicestershire Bed & Breakfast and was talking to another guest who had discovered a whole batch of new ancestors by meeting someone whose ancestor had been employed as a ship’s captain by my fellow guest’s ship owning ancestor. The Captain’s descendent was able to fill in the ship owner’s descendent about people that, until then, he was completely unaware of. This just emphasises how making connections at events such as Who Do You Think You Are? Live can be priceless.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
This week’s Who Do You Think You Are? on the BBC was a bit more traditional in tracing Mary Berry’s family back through various record sets. From what I can see, on the forums and on facebook, this has please many people who don’t like the recent trend of just one ancestor being looked at in a programme in more depth.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this week’s, with Mary Berry being a great choice to investigate with some interesting ancestors that made use of a large number of resources from the family history researcher’s tool box.
In defence for those other programmes, with the single subject, I would just like to say that one of the points that I was taught (and which I myself now teach in my own family history course) is that family history involves looking at the social context of our ancestors, as well as collecting names, dates and details.
We need to understand the world in which our ancestors lived and what was happening to make them be the people that they were. Perhaps these editions were simply trying to show this and in the confines of an hour long programme this naturally excluded all the other generations that would appear on the celebrity’s family tree.
That said, it would seem that the popular vote is for the later type of WDYTYA? Viewers from the genealogy pages on facebook would prefer to see a family tree being traced back and a little bit of detail being fleshed out on the poor unfortunate person who had fallen on difficult times or who had shown great grit.
As long as when we come to research our own family tree that we don’t make the mistake of simply collecting names, dates, perhaps an occupation and place or two and then move on to the next generation without thinking a little about the social context of our ancestors, then my vote is also with the Mary Berry type of programme, but only narrowly in favour!
As I wrote this post today I was casting my mind back over the show and counting off the data sets and resources used for which I have modules in my Family History Researcher course.
There was also Christopher Berry Junior’s wife and 6 children who ended up in the workhouse with some of the children dying while inmates, but the segregation that would have taken place between children and parent was not mentioned. See my module on the Workhouse.
Mary Berry was shown the Trades Directory and especially the one that her ancestor had published. In my course I have a module on Trade Directories written by Mary Bayley of TheGenelogist that uses that website’s great resources to explain their usefulness to the family historian.
Mary Berry had an ancestor of the same name as her who was identified in the GRO vital records as having had a number of illegitimate children. The Parish Registers also confirmed this fact. I delve into these three areas in separate modules on the Birth Marriage and Death certificates (lesson 2), the Parish Records (5 and 8) and Illegitimate children (21).
Then there was old newspapers (lesson number 42), Bankruptcy (lesson 29), apprentices (lesson 15), death records (lesson 25) and probably more!
If anyone is new to our fascinating subject, or is a seasoned family history researcher who would like to be refreshed on English/Welsh researching then I have a £1 trial for two weeks on offer at the moment.
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…
At the largest Family history show in the world, Who Do You Think You Are? Live in London, I decided to ask the expert on the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives for his tips on researching your family tree. I was looking for some material to include in a module of my courses on English/Welsh family history in which several experts advice will be collated for students.
As I’m feeling generous I’m going to share this piece with you for free here in this blog post today.
For those people who are starting to do family history, then one of the most important things is to take notice of anything that you are told by your relatives. Because, although the information may not be 100 percent true, there is always something that somebody will know that can help give you an idea as to where to go on and find other records.
It’s important that you afford the information in official documents with a certain level of importance. Although that information recorded is only as good as that given by the informant at the time. So beware that any information on a birth certificate, or a census record, can be wrong from day one because the person supplying it didn’t want the officials to know the real truth.
This can confuse people doing their family tree research. The best way of proceeding is to make sure that you look at every type of document available to you. So look at a civil registration certificate. Look at a parish register. Look at a census; try and get a will and look at anything else that will give you the full details relevant to that particular individual.
Doing your family history research that way you’re able to build up a fuller picture.
As you progress you will find that it becomes more complex and you’ll find that you may hit brick walls. You may find that you have conflicting information on an ancestor and that in some instances it’s going to be necessary for you to actually go along and work different lines of the family, investigate different individuals.
What you have got to do is make sure that you eliminate those people that aren’t part of your family. Its ever so easy to go down a wrong line because you haven’t been clear enough in making sure the family or the individual that you have is the right person. And sometimes that’s beyond the experience and the expertise of the average family historian and that’s where you need to talk to the professionals.
That’s where members of ARGA, The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives can help because they are accredited researchers. They have proven their ability to do this type of family research and while they might not be able to find all the answers, they are better placed than many of us to do so.
The reason why even a professional may draw a blank is that if an ancestor didn’t want to be found in officialdom, then they wont be! Irrespective of how good you are and how through you are, this may sadly be the case. Having said that, however, you stand a better chance with using a professional because they perhaps know a little bit more of the overall number documents that they can use to do just that.
To all readers of this blog I’d like to wish a very Happy Christmas.
Remember to keep your ears open, at this time of year when families come together, for any stories that can be useful when investigating your family tree.
I’ve already experiences a few reminiscences this week, some I am sure are a little bit exaggerated, but all worth a bit of investigation. These tales can often point you in a general direction and then you need to find out if they are correct by checking the primary sources. There is always the chance that the stories have grown over the years into the “received truth” with embellishments made for the telling or plain misremembering of the situation.
For some family history researchers Christmas time may be the only opportunity they get to gently question their senior family members about times past; but just as moderation in all things is a good motto to try and live by, don’t over do the questioning and end up making parents and grandparents think that they are being interrogated!
I have been aware for some time that my grandfather’s younger brother died when he was only a young man. He is buried in the family’s plot in Paignton cemetery and from the memorial words on his grave it would seem it was tragic.
I recall that a family story had it that a motorbike was involved, and naturally some of the family had assumed that he was riding said motorcycle at his death.
My father, however, knew differently and explained that his Uncle Clifford had been killed when a motorbike had hit him as he stood in the road.
This week I have been looking on the British Newspaper Collection again, from within the findmypast site and was able to find a report in the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette of 31st July 1923 that reported on the accident. It also provided me with a little bit more information that I was previously ignorant of; that his occupation was a dental mechanic.
Another paper (Western Morning News of the 3rd August) gave me the names of those mourners that attended the funeral in St Andrew’s Paignton including those who are listed as uncles, aunts and cousins so giving more useful information for the family historian.
I really do recommend you taking a look at newspapers either on the dedicated British Newspaper Archives site, whose search engine seems to me identify a broader set of results than the sister site.
Or within the findmypast website if you have a subscription.
I am putting together a family history course of my own and will be certainly covering the usefulness of researching your ancestors in the newspapers of the time.
If you would like more tips on researching your English or Welsh Family History then why not sign up for my tips and a special FREE report using the box below…
It looks like it has been a pretty busy month for The British Newspaper Archive website. They have introduced lots of new titles to expand their database and have also broadened the year ranges of their existing titles. The website is a wonderful source for family tree research to flesh out the story of your ancestors.
So even if you have used The British Newspaper Archive website in the past, you may still want to re-vist them to see if you can track down your ancestors in the extra pages and titles that have been recently added.
To check which new titles and issues have been added to the site in the past 30 days you only need to visit the ‘Newspaper Titles’ page at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk !
Here are a few of the many new titles and issues that have just been added to the site.
New Title – ‘The Staffordshire Advertiser’
The latest newspaper to be added to the website for the Midlands is ‘The Staffordshire Advertiser’, from 1801 to 1839. While I haven’t found any of my ancestors came from this region I have found adverts placed by some of my forebears who were in business in many regional titles. This paper was established by Joshua Drewry (c.1773-1841) in Stafford in 1795, the paper went on to become the main county newspaper for Staffordshire.
New Title – ‘The Shoreditch Observer’
For those of us with ancestors that went up to the London area, the addition of ‘The Shoreditch Observer’ for 1863 to the website is to be welcomed. It rejoiced in the strapline of: ‘A journal of local intelligence for Bishopsgate, St. Luke, Hackney, Kingsland, Bethnal-Green, and the Tower Hamlets’, ‘The Shoreditch Observer’ contains an excellent round-up of local news, adverts and notices so worth a trawl.
New Issues – ‘The Western Gazette’ (1950)
With some of my family tree being in the west of England this latest addition to the website now meas that I can search the ‘The Western Gazette’ from 1863 right through to 1950 for family members. If, like me, you’re carrying out historical research in any of Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Berkshire, then this weekly newspaper will certainly help you with your searches.
New Issues – ‘The Evening Telegraph’ of Dundee (1904)
I have some Scots roots as well and so I am pleased to see that north of the border is not being left out. Still in publication, The Evening Telegraph is affectionately known by Dundonians as ‘The Tully’. With the addition of the 1904 issues, it’s now possible to read this Dundee institution from 1877 to 1904.
We have just had the Olympic torch go by today where I live. With a little bit of history being made makes me think about the games in years gone by. The Archive contains a terrific collection of stories about past Olympics, spanning the years 1894 to 1948.
Because there are also dozens of stories about the planning for the first Modern Games in 1896. From the lost luggage (and wine!) of the French Team in 1948 to worries about the Greek government’s finances for the 1896 Games – all Olympian life is there to be found.
What ever it is that you are researching, why not look at what can be found in The British Newspaper Archive website. Take a look today!
Who Do You Think You Are? Live is now just a few days away, and I am looking forward to seeing what the organisers promises to be “the biggest family history event the country has ever seen”.
The show takes place this weekend (24-26 February) in Olympia, London, and as ever will bring together exhibitors and organisations from the world of genealogy.
One of the biggest attractions that they promise at this yearâ€™s show will be the Irish section. So any of you out there with roots from the Emerald Isle should pop along to Olympia and discover some creative techniques to uncover new connections in that country that has always been just a little bit difficult to do research in before.
I’m also very much looking forward to the popular Celebrity Theatre which will see talks from the likes of actors Larry Lamb and Emilia Fox, and presenter Richard Madeley.
For those of us that are interested in our ancestor’s occupations the new section called Our Walking Past reveals ancestorsâ€™ trades to visitors. In the press release that I saw it promises that whether our forebears worked down a mine or owned it, built ships or sailed on them, weâ€™re sure to find invaluable information from the experts on hand.
On Saturday there is the chance to book oneself a seat for the new Keynote Workshop which is due to start at 1pm. This informative talk will focus on recent issues in the world of genealogy, specifically the advancement of social media and how it can help you with your research.
Also to look out for are the Military Pavilion and the Society of Genealogistsâ€™ Workshop Programme ofÂ experts advice and demonstrations and you can find a complete schedule at www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com. Make sure you book yourself a place on the one you want as they tend to fill up quickly. The website and show Facebook page also have all the latest news, as well as great competitions and offers.
I’ve used trade directories before, when I was tracing my tradesmen ancestors down in Plymouth. At that time I’d found one enterprising forebear, of mine, who had been a Victualler and Brass founder on the 1861 census employingÂ one woman, six men and some boys in this Devon City. This had lead me on to use the University of Leicester’s site, Historical Directories at www.historicaldirectories.org to find him and his advertisement in a Plymouth Trade Directory. Its great fun to see how polite were the requests of a Victorian era businessman, asking for trade, in an advertisement from this time.
This week I had turned my attention to my maternal great-grandfather. In a book, complied on the family, that I was lucky enough to have found on the shelves of the Society of Genealogists, in Goswell Road, London, my ancestor was given a brief mention in between his more illustrious brother’s, cousin’s and forefather’s. What I was able to glean, from this book, was that Edward Massy Hay had been a merchant in London for a period in the 1860’s, after a short spell in the army.
The book had been complied by his Father, Charles Crosland Hay and completed by his cousin on the death of the former. It gave me a clue that all was not well in the business world of Edward, as a line simply said: “Partner in the firm of Stevens & Hay, Merchants in London; on its failure he became a tea-planter in Ceylon.”
My first reaction was to see if the business went bankrupt and was mentioned in the London Gazette. I checked the website at www.london-gazette.co.uk, where it is possible to search back through the archives for free, but I found nothing on the business. I’d read a tip that it was always worth checking the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes, in case the bankruptcy had been hidden in one of these publications. The results came back negative and so it looks as if the business was wound up without going bankrupt.
Recently, on taking a look around TheGenealogist.co.uk‘s data sets, I came across the 1869 Kelly’s Post Office Directory for London on their site. By entering “Stevens and Hay” I was eventually able to locate their business to an office at 65 Fenchurch Street, London. EC3
Moving on, to a Kelly’s Directory for 1880 London, I found my great-grandfather listed as living in Princes Square, Bayswater, London. Also at that address was his sister, Mrs Mary Ann Webster, whose husband was in the Madras Civil Service. But I had already begun investigating the move to Ceylon (today known as Sri Lanka), by my ancestor. By 1880 he was appearing in a directory for that island, as well as at Bayswater!
From a website, dedicated to the history of Ceylon Tea (www.historyofceylontea.com), I found there are links to many years of the Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory. In 1880 Edward M. Hay was an Assistant for R.Books & Co of London, in the British Colony. He appears in several of the directories, one of which has him as Chairman of his local area’s planters association and in 1905 he was listed as the owner of a tea estate called Denmark in Dolosbage, Ceylon.
This little peep into my great-grandfather’s life was made possible by the use of various trade directories and the fact that they have been scanned and uploaded to websites on the internet. But before I turned off my computer, on a whim I decided to enter the address that he had shared with his sister in London into Google street view. I was rewarded with the Georgian fronts of Princes Square and easily found the house where he lived. It is now a small hotel and so its address is on the internet.
A search for 65 Fenchurch Street, and the offices, shows that they have been replaced by a modern vista. Lastly, I did a Google search for the Denmark Tea Estate in Sri Lanka and by chance it still exists! Using Google Earth I was able to use the satellite view to see, from the air, the hillside estate that once was where my great-grandfather cultivated tea.
It seems to me to be well worth using some of these alternative tools, available to us, when doing family history research. They may add just a little bit of flesh to the bones of facts gained from the census data or the birth, marriage and death records for our ancestors.
There seems to be a trait among many family historians who all seem to want information to be available to them at the drop of a hat, for free and provided instantaneously as well.
Now, I’d like to raise an argument that this would seem toÂ defeat the object of much family history research. Is it not the thrill of carrying out a piece of detective work, in order to find an ancestor after ploughing through the databases online and then visiting the County Record Offices in person to read page after page of parish registers on the microfilm machine, that makes this pastime of ours fun?
Certainly, a good few newcomers to family history seem to believe that all they will need to is log onto the web, enter a name into a search box and they will instantly find their ancestors going back to Adam and Eve. Many do not think that they should pay anything for this, as if the state has some sort of obligation to give them the information on demand.
I don’t know if you have you ever looked into the searches that are carried out on the likes of Google for keywords? Take “family tree” as an example. I’ve noticed that the number of people typing in a search on how to get their family tree for free, was quite high. It would seem that some people express the idea that as its “their family” that they have some sort of right to be given the research.
When most of the newbies, to family history, find that they need to pay for a subscription to a website, in order to progress, they either descend into rudeness, or give up before they even get properly started. This latter scenario being an absolute shame, in my view.
From my website I offer a tips and tricks email which gives the people, who have signed up to my list, valuable free content. At the bottom of the email I often have an advertisement for my paid for products and it amazes me that I get aggressive emails back saying things such as “I’m not made of money you know”. To these people I would just like to humbly suggest that they enjoy the 98% of the rest of the email, that comprises the free tip, and just try to ignore the advertisement for my products at the bottom.Â Do they have such a problem with commercial television, I wonder?
Expanding the discussion a little bit more, I’d like to bring in the arguments of the Open Genealogy Alliance – http://www.opengenalliance.org/
As I understand it, they are arguing that our public records should be made free to view online. They make the point that, in a large number of cases, many public records have now been licensed to private companies. These business need to make a return on their investment and so the public can only gain access to the data if they pay for it. The OGA are challenging this idea, saying that the digital versions of, what are, public records are effectively being privatised.
In my opinion there certainly needs to be some sort of balance, the record offices and archives are all facing up to the shortage of funds in the present economic climate and perhaps we should all make a bit of an effort to go out there, whenever possible, and visit the various archives more often. A vicious circle where they many have to cut their hours, due to less visitors coming to see them and reacting to spending cuts could see the record offices and archives closed or amalgamated.
Until absolutely every record is available online, a situation that is never likely to happen, then we family historians should stop expecting instant records to be available to us at our finger tips. And, what is more, I do think that we need to get out of depending only on our computer and just go out there into the world to find the information for ourselves. Believe me, it really is much more fun that way!