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,
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.
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…
I’m very lucky to get all sorts of information sent to me, regarding family history, and this week I have interesting news about a new Apprentice and Masters database.
TheGenealogist has just released over one million Apprentice and master records for us to search online. This makes over two million searchable records when the apprentices from the census are included. What is more, these can both be searched together by using the keyword â€œapprenticeâ€ in TheGenealogistâ€™s Master Search.
The site helps you find detailed records relating to the occupation of your ancestor. This is the first time you can find apprentices from a whole range of records between 1710 and 1911.
TheGenealogist’s is the largest searchable collection of apprentice records available online, allowing you to view how your ancestors developed their skills and also if they became a master in their profession.
These detailed records in IR1 cover the years from 1710 to 1811 giving name, addresses and trades of the masters, the names of the apprentices, along with the sum the master received and the term of the apprenticeship. Until 1752, it was also common to see the names of the apprenticesâ€™ parents on the record (often including their occupations).
So if you want to take a look for your ancestors then the new records are available to their Diamond subscribers in the Master Search and under the â€˜Occupation Recordsâ€™ section.
What is great is that you can search for both Apprentices and Masters.
TheGenealogist allows you to view the full transcript of an apprenticeship record to see more details of your ancestors apprenticeship – including when they started their training, the â€˜Masterâ€™ who trained them and how long their apprenticeship was scheduled to be.
The Apprenticeship records provide an insight into a method of training that stood the test of time and are today, once again a popular method of training. Many apprentices did their training, worked their way up and then took on apprentices themselves. The Apprenticeship records allow you to trace this with just a few mouse clicks.
Then there is the handy keyword option. This also allows you to narrow down your search if you have an idea of the profession, or the area your ancestor worked in saving you even more time.
The new records are taken from the â€˜IR1 Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Booksâ€™ from The National Archives. As well as the new collection of records, apprentices can also be discovered in the transcribed â€˜profession fieldâ€™ of census records on TheGenealogist from 1841 to 1911.
The apprentice training route has for many people set them on their way in their working life or as a way of developing others. From James Hargreaves (inventor of the spinning jenny) to Thomas Yeoman (first President of The Society of Civil Engineers), to Sir Michael Caine who started as an apprentice plumber) to Beatle George Harrison who was an apprentice electrician, they have all experienced the apprenticeship programme.
This traditional way of training young people is now regaining popularity as the benefits our ancestors recognised are re-introduced as a way of giving people a start in a career.
I have just been to Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire to look over an actual workhouse that is now run by the National Trust as a museum.
By doing this and seeing the layout of the accommodation, with its day rooms and exercise yards, my understanding of how these institutions worked has become clear.
In past times, before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the care of the poor members of the community fell to the monks in the various religious houses throughout England and Wales. With the reorganisation that the dissolution brought, those poor ancestors of ours who had the misfortune to fall on hard times, would then have become the responsibility of their parish.
Under this parish system, the old poor law had coped well enough until around the year 1800 when, under increasing demands being made on the system the authorities were forced to review the process for supporting the poor.
The situation was that unemployment had risen to new heights, as a result of the burgeoning industrialisation of the country. Britain now required less men to make the goods that had previously been manufactured by workers in the cottage industries.
On top of this the disaster of a succession of bad harvests that meant those who subsisted in rural areas found it difficult to feed themselves, added to the demand placed on the poor law system as it had been constituted.
As if this was not enough for the Government, the ending of the Napoleonic Wars had meant that a great number of soldiers now had come back from France and they had no work waiting for them at home.
The Deserving Poor.
In my family tree I was, at first, surprised that none of my ancestors seemed to have ended up in the workhouse. As I found more and more forebears I had become complacent that all my lot seemed to make it in the world without having to â€œGo On the Parishâ€ and then I found one.
It was a sad shock for me as the lady in question had been the wife of a Master Mariner, the mother of several children who had all married and were making their way well in the world. But there she was in one of the census spending the end of her life in the workhouse!
Her husband was nowhere to be found in the census and so I speculated that he must have died abroad, not being able to find his death record. She, poor woman, had nowhere to go but into the workhouse.
But the workhouse was also a place where medical care could be given to those with little means in a time before the availability of free hospitals or medical insurance. So perhaps this explains why she was there? The deserving poor were segregated from the idle poor having different quarters and exercise yards.
The Idle Poor.
The number of workhouses had grown after the enactment of the Workhouse Test Act of 1723. The thinking behind this was that this new Act would help to prevent irresponsible claims being made on a parish’s poor rate. Something that concerned those who had to find the money to run the system as the funding of it was paid for by the wealthier members of the parish.
By the 1830s, in England and Wales, most parishes had at least one workhouse to send its poor to.
So what would any of our ancestors, unlucky enough to have found themselves in this position have faced? Those poor unfortunates who had no option but to seek â€œindoor reliefâ€ would have to endure unpalatable conditions inside the institution. It was designed to be thus so as to put people off from entering the workhouse unless they had run out of alternatives for survival outside.
Families were split up. Men and women segregated with children over seven separated from their mothers and forced to live in the children’s section.
On admission they would have to undress, surrender their own clothes until they were discharged, have a thorough wash and then dress in the workhouse uniform which was usually made of rough and shapeless material. This was all aimed at discouraging people from entering the system by stripping away part of their identity.
The belief, at the time, was that the undeserving poor were idle and so they were made to do tedious jobs. Inmates who were not aged or infirm would have to work for their keep. The jobs given to them were deliberately chosen to be monotonous and boring. At Southwell they would grind corn, pick oakum or, for the females, do laundry work.
The picture to the left is of an old rope from the docks that the inmates would pick apart so that the fibres could be sold back to the docks to be used in the caulking boats and ships.
So what about the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and how this shook up the system?
It is a well known fact that you should never import another persons research into your own tree until you have checked it. This weekend I have been looking at a Pedigree chart that was sent to me that, at first glance, seemed to give me some great leads on a branch of my family that I have not got further back than 1805 with.
The kind person who had sent it to me seemed to have identified the parents of the ancestor that I had myself got as far back as, and so I went to check the details myself.
At first I thought that it really did look like they had saved me a lot of work and had helped me with my family tree – until I noticed that there were two sons of the family with the same first name and one was my forbear, while the other purported to be his brother.
With the terrible instances of infant and child mortality, in times past, it is often possible to come across parents giving the names of dead siblings to the children born after the death of the older and now deceased child. In this pedigree, however, both of the supposed brothers lived long lives into adulthood!
Having been alerted by this error I now looked with closer interest at the purported father of my confirmed ancestor and noted that in the parish records collection there were two men baptised in the same city around the time I would have expected and that they had different parents and so were different families. So now I needed proof that the one chosen by my correspondent to be my forebear was indeed the father of my ancestor I had already researched and confirmed in the prime sources of the parish register.
Two siblings of the same name and two possible sets of parents!
This is a lesson for those that are new to family research to take on board when they start to search back before the civil records were taken over by the GRO from the parish church records.
It is equally a lesson for me. I was doing a little family research while feeling tired from a heavy week and the temptation was there to cut corners and import wholesale this enticing bit of research into my own tree. Luckily my sense kicked in and I started to check the details as I have been taught to do.
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This weekend I decided to revisit a line in Plymouth that I had only barely scratched the surface of in my research into the family.
My paternal grandmother’s father was called Edgar Stephens. His mother was Mary Ann Stephens nee Westlake and her mother was also called Mary Ann. Thus, in the 1851 census I was able to find my 3 x great-grandmother Mary Ann Westlake nee Legg married to Thomas Westlake the Brass Founder and Plumber that I have written about before in relation to his advertisement in the 1852 Plymouth Trades Directory.
I was looking at the 1851census records for Thomas and Mary Ann and noticed that they were both the same age, having been born in 1818.
I then went to find them in the 1861 census and noted that the transcript on TheGenealogist had Thomas’ wife listed as “Clara M Westlake” but as her date of birth was still 1818 I just put this down to an error. Opening the image I could see that the writing was none too clear, giving the transcriber a bit of a job to work out. What it certainly didn’t look like was the Mary Ann, as I had expected it to read.
Popping over to Ancestry.co.uk and the transcription for their 1851 census was given as “Chrisk W “.
Searching the same 1851 census on Findmypast and I got the transcription returned as “Catherine W”. The writing on the census page had challenged the transcribers at all three sites and I can not blame them for their differing attempts to make sense of the entry as I certainly couldn’t.
So what had happened to Mary Ann? Had she tired of her name and changed it to something more exotic? Or had she died and Thomas had taken a new wife, who also happened to have been born in the same year as he and the former Mrs Westlake?
I decided to do some detective work and search for a death of Mary Ann Westlake from after the 1851 census and before the 1861. What I found was a number of candidates that could have been my great-great-great-grandmother.
So now I approached the problem by seeing if I could find a second marriage for Thomas and here I can testify to the usefulness of the advice, given by many experienced family historians, to “always kill off your ancestors”.
You see, by having done just this for Thomas, having found his death in the records and then the listing for his probate, I was able to discover that he had an unusual middle name of “Scoble”.
Now I could look for a marriage of Thomas Scoble Westlake and I found just the two in the databases. One was in 1841 to Mary Ann Legg in Stoke Damerel, which is in the Devonport area. The other was to Christian Upcott Harwood in the last quarter of 1859 in Falmouth, Cornwall.
I had the name of the second wife!
Though this asked the question, if Thomas and Christian were wed in 1859, then what had happened to Mary Ann? The records show that in the second quarter of 1859 a death was registered in Plymouth for her, allowing Thomas to take a new wife in the fourth quarter! I will need to order a copy of the death certificate to find out what she died of.
So who was Christian Upcott Harwood? I had looked for her birth or christening without any luck. Then it struck me that perhaps she too was a widow. I now looked for the marriage of a Christian Upcott, leaving the bride’s maiden name blank,Â to someone called Harwood and I found one to Samuel Peter Harwood in 1841 in Lewisham. Christian was from Plymouth and he was from Plumstead in Kent. A death occurred in East Stonehouse, Devon in the year 1858 to one Samuel Harwood and I assume it was his widow who married Thomas Scoble Westlake.
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Those of you with merchant seamen in the family are probably aware that only some records have been kept by the National Archives. Luckily for me the ones that I needed to access, for my father who had been a WWII merchant seaman, were kept there.
I was asked by my father, over Christmas, if I could find out for him exactly when it was that he went to sea, back in the second world war. He was a very young man and can remember having his first birthday, in the service, at sea one May in the 1940s.
With the passing of the years he has a sketchy recollection of his training period and can not remember exactly how long it was before he joined a merchant ship on the convoys across the Atlantic and also sailing in the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand.
The ship he joined acted as a troop ship in the war, armed with a single gun manned by an army contingent. It had been built as a passenger liner in peacetime and was fast having four screws.
In my last article I referred to my trip down to The National Archives at Kew in search of his service records where I had to wait for the staff to view the documents and blank out any personal detailsÂ before I could view a copy. The process took longer than the time I had and so they had promised to post me the copies when it had been completed.
Well the documents from TNA arrived this week and I now have my father’s merchant seaman’s’ pouch and his wartime service records as he sailed the oceans!
At Kew I had been advised to look at the series BT 382/1799 which was the Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Fifth Register of Merchant Seaman’s Service (CRS 10 forms). Part 1: European origin mainly. Series 1, mainly of European origin, mainly 1942-c1965. Thon Hans Christopher to Thorne N B. for his records.
And also to request a search for him in BT 382/2981 being Part 2: European origin mainly. Series 2, mainly of European origin, 1946-1972. Thorburn A to Thorougood J G.
This has indeed given me the dates of his engagements and discharges for each voyage and so I can now tell him the first date that he went to sea in his war service.
As to the most interesting document from my point of view? This would be his British Seaman’s Identity Card, complete with a contemporary photograph of him aged 19, from his seaman’s pouch as held by TNA.
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Start Your Family Tree Week is back fromÂ 26 Dec 2012 â€“ 1 Jan 2013 with special offers on accessing some search sites!
Hope you had a lovely Christmas day yesterday. At this time of year, when we are visiting or calling family, that we can often make a break through in our family tree research by simply talking to our relatives.
But now some of the family tree research websites are also making it easier for some of us to participate with special Christmas holiday offers. For example Find My Past has 50 free credits available to use for a short time.
Due to the past success of the Start Your Family Tree Week it is back for its third year.Â From today, the 26th December to the 1st January, Genes Reunited and findmypast.co.uk will be helping members start their family trees with special offers, free getting started guides, discounts and competitions for the chance to win fantastic prizes!
Genes Reunited has some great prizes on offer during the week, competitions will be posted on the message boards and Facebook page.Â To see the Genes Reunited getting started guides, visit www.genesreunited.co.uk/static.page/syftw
Findmypast.co.uk will be offering 50 free credits to get involved with the fun and to start searching records, coupled with quiz questions, guides and templates that make getting started as simple as can be! Experts are by no means left out in the cold either, with more advanced questions alongside beginnersâ€™ tasks and a â€œbrick wall challenge dayâ€ will be held on Facebook and Twitter on the 31st December! The entire weekâ€™s calendar of activities can be found at http://www.findmypast.co.uk/content/start-your-family-tree-week/index
And here is another little present for you!
For a limited time there is an offer of an exclusive 10% off the 12 Month Package to the British Newspaper Archive!
You will need to use this link to the British Newspaper Archive.
And then use the voucher code: fHmTenYtR(to be entered at the point of checkout, stage 1)
You then get:
o A 12 Month package
o Validity: 26 Dec 2012 â€“ 31 Jan 2013
o Available in the UK Only
What do customers get with a 12 Month Package to the British Newspaper Archive?
o Unlimited credits / page views
o Access to all digitised newspaper pages dating back 300+ years
o Access to â€˜My Researchâ€™ â€“ a personal area to keep track of searches, add notes and bookmark viewed items into folders
So happy holidays and good luck with your research!
Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by the companies should you sign up for their subscriptions.
I believe myself lucky to have ancestors that hail from very different backgrounds as it makes my research all the more interesting.
On the one hand I have the ubiquitous Ag Labs, some small business men, dressmakers, mariners, landed gentry,Â the odd Victorian Army officers of various ranks and if I go back far enough down one branch, Scots Aristocrats who trace their lineage back to Normandy.
Looking at the records of The Great Western Railway, sometimes affectionately refereed to as â€œGodâ€™s Wonderful Railwayâ€, I find that one of my great-great grandfathers was an employee of the company at the end of its Dartmouth link. Henry Thomas Thorne was the Captain of the paddle steam ferry that ran across the Dart from Kingswear, serving the GWR and its predecessor companies for more than 40 years. In today’s world ofÂ job uncertainty this seems like a very long time!
I found him in the Ancestry.co.uk records for UK Railway Employment earning 5 shillings and tuppence in 1897 up from 4/8d in previous years.
In my maternal branch I have discovered one of my other great-great grandfather’s in the list of shareholders of the GWR at findmypast.co.uk as one of the owner’s of the gilt-edged stock.
The Society of Genealogists produced its GWR Shareholders Index from ledgers created by the Great Western Railway and now in the Societyâ€™s possession. The Great Western Railwayâ€™s original ledgers were compiled by the company for transactions relating to all shareholdings which changed hands other than by simple sale.
The GWR called the ledgers Probate Books, which reflects the fact that the great majority of such share transfers (approximately 95%) were as a result of the death of a shareholder and their shares changing hands during the administration of the deceasedâ€™s estate. The proportion of the GWRâ€™s total number of shareholders included in the Society of Genealogistsâ€™ GWR Shareholders Index is not known but is estimated to be between 50% and 75%; this is because the railway shares were regarded as gilt-edged stock to be held for the long term. Source:Find My Past
To search the records of shareholders you have to either belong to the Society of Genealogists or they can be viewed at Find My Past website where you can get a 14 day free trial!
ClickÂ below for a 14 day free trial..
Disclosure: The Link above is a Compensated Affiliate link. If you click on it then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk should you sign up for one of their subscriptions.