Aristos and Family history

Siberechts-Longleat HouseHave you caught the TV series about Longleat House and the Thynn family on the BBC? Its called All Change at Longleat and had me gripped as we witnessed the tensions that revolve around the eccentric Marquess of Bath and his son and daughter-in-law who have taken over the running of the house and estate.

Lord Bath, we discover, has handed over the control of the £190 million estate to his son, Ceawlin, but the handover isn’t going smoothly. Ceawlin, whose title is Lord Weymouth but only uses this on formal occasions, prefers to be known by his first name. With such an uncommon name as this I am sure that he is never mistaken for one of the members of the lower echelons of society.

In the first programme in the series we find out that Ceawlin has upset his father by removing some of the murals painted by the latter in the apartments where they had all lived once lived and the pair are no longer on speaking terms. In the village on the estate, there’s further unrest after Ceawlin puts up the villagers’ rents.

Meanwhile, Ceawlin’s glamorous wife Emma is settling into life at Longleat as Lady Weymouth.

In the safari park, the animal keepers wonder how Ceawlin will compare to his father. Lord Bath is still a flamboyant, controversial figure and the village fair allows the viewer to witness the awkwardness of  a meeting between the son and his father. Although now in retirement, the Marquess continues to enjoy a famously open marriage. Various ‘wifelets’ still visit when his wife is away.

46 Longleat house (70)

For me the most telling part was when Ceawlin was asked whether his childhood was a happy one, growing up at Longleat. There was quite a pause as he considered what his answer should be, then he tellingly said “Happy bits and not so happy bits.” Another pause and “it was what it was.”

He admitted that as a child he would definitely have preferred to have lived in a cottage in the village like most of his friends did. We heard how, in his teenage years, members of the public traipsed not just through the main house but also through the private apartment where he lived.

For those of us from a less privileged background, who may have occasionally dreamed of life in the upper classes, then this insight into one such family may make us realise that the grass is definitely never greener on the the other side of the hill.

 

Many more of us than we think may be descended from aristocratic ancestors. Be it from junior lines that have fallen away from the main family, to those who are fruits of liaisons between an aristocrat and another.

If you want to explore this fascinating part of family history research then Pen and Sword books have published Anthony Adolph’s book: Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors.

Tracing Your Aristocratic AncestorsClick this link to read more:

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Tracing-Your-Aristocratic-Ancestors/p/3827?aid=1101

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Norfolk Parish records to go online.

Burnham Thorpe Church in Norfolk - Horatio Nelson’s baptismal place- Photograph by John Salmon
Burnham Thorpe Church – Horatio Nelson’s baptismal place. Photograph by John Salmon

TheGenealogist and the Norfolk Record Office announce that they have signed an agreement to make Norfolk parish and other historical records available online for the first time. The registers of baptisms, marriages, burials and banns of marriage feature the majority of the parishes in Norfolk.

On release the searchable transcripts will be linked to original images of baptism, marriage and burial records from the parish registers of this East Anglian county

  • Some of the surviving records are from the early 1500s
  • These vital records will allow family history researchers from all over the world to search for their Norfolk ancestors online for the first time

Famous people that can be found in these records include:
– Samuel Lincoln, the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Abraham Lincoln, 18th President of the United States of America, can be discovered in the baptismal records of St Andrew, Hingham in Norfolk for the 24th August 1622. At some point his entry has been highlighted with a star.

Samuel Lincoln in Norfolk Parish records

 

– Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, who lost his life at the Battle of Trafalgar. This impoverished clergyman’s son can be discovered in the register for Burnham Thorpe in 1758. There his father, as rector of the parish, would have officiated at all the baptisms that year in this church with his name appearing at the bottom of the page.

Nelson's birth in Church Register

Viewing an image of the actual parish register reveals that the young Horatio Nelson was firstly baptised privately in October 1758, just a week after being born and then given a second “public baptism” in the middle of November. This practice was carried out for sickly babies who were not expected to survive and begs the question of how different British history would have been had he died as an infant. Fascinatingly, by looking at the actual image of the page there are some additions to his entry that have been penned in the margin years later. These notes, reputedly to be by his brother the Rev William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson, celebrated the honours that his brother received in his adult life. He ends it with the Latin quote “caetera enarret fama” which translates as “others recount the story”.

In addition to those from the Diocese of Norwich the coverage also includes some Suffolk parishes in and near Lowestoft that fall into the deanery of Lothingland and also, various parishes from the deanery of Fincham and Feltwell, that part of the Diocese of Ely that covers south-west Norfolk.

Nigel Bayley, Managing Director of TheGenealogist said: “With this collection you will be able to easily search Norfolk records online for the first time. From the results a click will allow you to view high quality digital images of the original documents. Joining our already extensive Parish Record collection on TheGenealogist, this release will be eagerly anticipated by family and local historians with links to Norfolk”

Gary Tuson, County Archivist at The Norfolk Record Office said: “The Norfolk Record Office is pleased to be working with TheGenealogist, a commercial company helping to make these important records available to a worldwide audience.”

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

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Happy St David’s Day to my Welsh friends

 

Welsh Flag

 

A Happy St David’s day to all my Welsh friends and readers of this blog.

While many of the records for doing Welsh family history are the same as those for neighbouring England, there are some differences when it comes to researching in Wales, or Cymru as it is known in its own language.

For those of us used to finding our family records in the County Record Offices in England will discover that much is the same in Wales. Researchers will find that records of registration of births, deaths and marriages are exactly the same in Wales as in England, and that the Registrar General’s indexes cover both England and Wales.

The census is the same, except for an extra question from 1891 when all those aged 3 and over were asked whether they spoke English only, Welsh only, or both languages.

Anglican parish records are the same as those for England, and are kept in local authority archives in the same way.

Some of the differences, however, that can cause us to stumble are Common names, the favouring of Patronymics, the Welsh language, and that many families were not members of the Established Church.

Nonconformity, being more important in Wales than in some parts of England, may mean that you find that your ancestors didn’t go to the local parish church. In many chapels the language used was Welsh, and some of the records may also be in Welsh.

Because the country has its own language English speakers may find the place names to be unfamiliar to them.

Another difference, from the English system, is that in England the County Record Offices are (in most cases) the diocesan record offices and therefore hold all the records of the diocese, such as Wills, bishop’s transcripts and marriage bonds and licences, as well as parish records. In Wales, the National Library of Wales is the diocesan record office for the whole of Wales, and therefore holds all the bishop’s transcripts, marriage bonds and licences, and Wills proved in Welsh church courts.

The National Library of Wales or Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru is very important for our research as it acts as the main repository for family history research in Wales holding a vast number of records useful to the family historian – census returns, probate records, nonconformist records and tithe maps, to name but a few, will help at some point during research.

Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources to use to find elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,

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Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,

CLICK the image below:

Family History Researcher English/Welsh course

 

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Can you trust this family tree?

Family Tree on a computerI was doing some work on an obscure branch of my family tree this week when I came across a family tree online that included the individual that had married into my family.

Great, I thought, I can quickly get a handle on this person and get some clues as to where he had come from and so on. But casting an eye over the family tree I was disappointed to see that many of the details, such as the dates of birth and death were not backed up with any sources quoted.

For anyone, starting out in researching their family history, an early lesson to learn is that you should never import a family tree that someone else has complied, unless you have checked the details yourself. If the author of the tree does not give you the sources, from where they have obtained the information, then you are not going to be able to check them for yourself and so the best you can do is use the information only as a guide for further research.

Being in an optimistic mood I, nonetheless, jotted down on my scrap pad the names and dates so that I could go and look for them myself. But then it hit me that this family tree had been put together by someone in a haphazard  and slapdash way. A birth was attributed to Essex in Massachusetts, when the subject had been born in the English County of Essex. A marriage to a lady rejoicing in the first name of Thomasine reputedly had taken place in 1800. This was impossible as the subject was not born until 1837.

The problem can occur on websites that give suggestions that may or may not be your ancestor and that happen to have the same or a similar name. It seems that some people accept the suggestions as leads to be further investigated and so the family tree may be seen only as a work in progress. They don’t mean it to be used by anyone else, even though it left as Public in the settings.

This is all well and good except that it causes a mighty pitfall for the person new to family history who, having started their own tree on the site, then imports the details as fact and ends up tracing up a line that is not their forebears at all!

In the case of the tree I was looking at it was blatantly obvious that mistakes were made, but in some others it could not be so clear. If you are new to family history research beware of believing all that is written on the internet!

 

If you are serious about discovering your family history, then spend the winter nights looking for your ancestors in the records.

First you need to know where to look and what tips you need to tease them out.

My Family History Researcher Academy offers a simple to understand course on English/Welsh family history.

I have been sending out weekly tutorials to many satisfied members for some time and this month I had the following from a student who had just completed their 52nd lesson.

“Hi Nick.   Thank you very much for this series. I have learnt such a lot and it has increased my knowledge considerably.     A. Vallis.

Join the now better informed researchers, such as the family historian above.

Try it for yourself with this special offer of one month FREE!

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Don’t fall for the Julian Calendar trip up

St Nicholas', Gloucester Parish Records are at County Record OfficeA friend of mine had this brick wall in their family tree.

They asked for my help and it was one that a moments consideration enabled me to break down for them.

We were looking at a family in the parish records of a small town in the south west of England. My friend had been examining records back as far as 1638 and had found an entry for a John Horn marrying an Joan Narbor in the parish church. The date was the 31st January 1638 and my friend said that this could not be her ancestor for the reason that John was still married to his first wife at this time.

I took a look and saw the baptism of a child, Edward son of John Horn, on the 26th August 1638 in the same church’s register as the marriage to Joan was recorded, followed sadly three days later by the burial of Ann, the first wife of John and mother of Edward on the 29th August 1638.

The answer was one that can trip up many family history researchers, when they are looking that far back, and is to do with mistaking the dates as recorded at the time in the Julian calendar and assuming it is recorded as we do today in the Gregorian calendar.

The simple solution is that January 1638 was in the last quarter of 1638 and came after August 1638 according to the Julian calendar.

 

Julian_to_Gregorian_Date_Change
Julian to Gregorian Date Change

The Gregorian reform started in 1582, in Pope Gregory XIII’s time, as in the image above but took some time to be adopted by Europe. It was 1752 that England and Wales adopted the Gregorian calendar a little later than some other countries, including Scotland. At that time 11 days were omitted – the day after 2nd September 1752 became the 14th September from the English calendar.

The first day of the year, or Supputation of the Year became the 1st of January, but only from 1752 in England and Wales.

Prior to this in England & Wales, the year began on Lady Day, or the 25th March. This would mean that in our example the 24th of March 1638 would be the last day of 1638 and the next day was the 25th of March 1639, and a new year.

The Calendar Act 1750 changed this situation, so that the day after 31 December 1751 was 1 January 1752. As a consequence, 1751 was a very short year – it ran only from 25 March to 31 December!

The year had previously been broken up into quarters, still in use for some legal practices, Lady Day (25th March), Midsummers Day (24th June), Michaelmas Day (29th September) and Christmas day 925th December).

To throw even more confusion into this situation, Scotland had already changed the first day of the year to 1 January in 1600 and so 1599 was a short year there ( remember that in 1600, Scotland was a completely separate kingdom). What has to be recognised is that when King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England in 1603, the possibilities of date confusion must have been very large indeed.

 

So that brakes down that brick wall for my friend, as John Horn would have needed a wife to help bring up his children and so it is no surprise that he remarries quickly.

 

This tip is taken from one of my lessons in the Family History Researcher Course.

If you are serious about discovering your family history then why not spend the winter nights looking for them? But first you need to know where to look and what tips you need to tease them out.

I am making available again, on a special offer of a FREE month’s trial, my extremely well received course on English/Welsh Family History.

The offer is live now on www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com/winter-offer .

So don’t delay take a free trial of a month’s worth of information packed lessons now!

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I Love It When Long Lost Distant Family Are Found

Nick ThorneI have had a very productive weekend, from a family history point of view.

I’ve found out about a mysterious Uncle, by marriage, who had been almost airbrushed out of a family’s story. I made contact with a relative of his, who was unknown to the first family, and so discovered part of the hidden story.

I still love it when something like this happens, but a word of warning, others may not be so happy with you.

When, by shear persistence you manage to force open that dusty old metaphorical cupboard into which they, or previous generations, have bundled the skeleton you may not be appreciated for doing so.

When ever I take on a commission, to look into someone’s family tree, I try to warn them that they need to be prepared for the possibility of something hidden and the upset it may cause by crashing out into the open.

In this case it is not a great scandal, as far as I can see. But in a past occasion I have had one skeleton cause elderly relatives, of the principal subject, wish that I had never gone poking into the recess and bringing out into the daylight the things that they believed should have stayed in the dark. I got the blame fair and square for discovering the truth that time!

Sometimes a family story may have been spun to hide the inconvenient truth. By following the traces that our ancestors leave behind in the myriad of records, all of which are there waiting for us to go and research within, the true facts can emerge.

Perhaps it is a lesson that the best thing is to tell the truth in the first place and just accept that human beings mess up and they live complicated lives!

 

If you want to find more ancestors then you need to know about the many different record sets that they may be lurking within. You need to know how best to use the documents and where to find them.

If you are serious about discovering your family history then why not spend the winter nights looking for them? But first you need to know where to look.

I am making available again, on a special offer of a FREE month’s trial, my extremely well received course on English/Welsh Family History.

The offer is live now on www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com/winter-offer

So don’t delay take a free trial of a month’s worth of information packed lessons now!

Join Family History ResearcherFREE MONTH’S TRIAL.

 

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Another Brick Wall Crumbles!

Minolta DSC

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 have a useful tutorial in my Family History Researcher course on using the General Register Office index and ordering certificates for anyone that is unsure of how these records can help in your English/Welsh family tree research. Click the link below to read more.

 

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Who do you think you are? Family history programme delights many fans.

Mary Berry

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 her ancestor who was the baker with the contract for supplying bread to the Workhouse and the Outdoor relief paupers (not really made clear in the programme as to what each were, probably because of time constraints). My module on the Poor Law explains the difference between indoor and outdoor relief.

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.

Click the image below to find out more.

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ONLINE RECORDS REVEAL OVER 360 YEARS OF STAFFORDSHIRE HISTORY

Findmypast logoOne 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.

You can view these exciting new records here: http://100in100.findmypast.co.uk/.

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.”



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How To Break Down A Family History Brick Wall

 

Break Down Your Family History Brick Walls
Family History Brick Wall

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 a visit to a Family History website while surfing for keywords to do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spent browsing the transcripts featured on the platform.

Dartmouth-Archives-onscreen

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.

This is one of the themes of the Family History Researcher course that I market online.

Thorne-family-tree-web-site

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.

SoG library

The SoG library is a treasure trove and it features often in the Family History Researcher Course and one complete module takes us inside their doors.

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.

Funny name, I thought, and today I understand taking transcribed names with a pinch of salt. If you decide to join the Family History Researcher Academy you will learn more.

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.

St Petrox, Dartmouth font

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.

Ancestors in Thorne Family tree

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.

There is a special offer running for readers of this page of a £1 trail for four weeks membership of the Family History Researcher Academy. Click here to learn more.

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…

 

 

Report3

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