I watched the Sir Derek Jacobi episode of Who Do You think You Are? with great interest this week. The television researchers showed us that although the famous actor was born into a South London family of humble stock, he was descended from a Huguenot ancestor of status. Joseph De La Plaigne had been imprisoned in France for his protestant beliefs, before making his escape to England in his sixties.
It gave me great delight to find the TV programme showed Sir Derek a copy of his illustrious forebear’s will, as I too had discovered this very same document when looking around the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills on TheGenealogist’s website.
Many people from all stations of society, including some whom we would not have expected to have, made wills and so it is certainly worth taking a look to see if your ancestors left one.
Before 1858, England and Wales were divided into two provinces. The largest and most influential was Canterbury, which covered the South of England up to the Midlands and also Wales. The other was York, which covered Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and the Isle of Man. The two provinces of Canterbury and York each had their own Archbishop, and were divided into several dioceses. Each diocese had a minimum of two bishops, and these dioceses were also divided again into archdeaconries.
All wills, up until 12 January 1858, had to be proven in a church court to ensure that the will was legal. Wills were proven in over 250 church courts across the country, and the records of these are now stored mostly in local record offices.
For more on wills there is a module that reveals more about the subject inside the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History that is available from the link below. The course takes the student from beginning researching their English/Welsh ancestor to deal with many intermediate level lessons such as wills and much more.
On a recent visit to Wiltshire I dropped into the offices of S&N British Data Archive, manufacturer and suppliers of many family history products from archival binders and equipment to data CDs and much much more.
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With the holiday season well and truly in swing, I’m on a weekend in London as you read this hopefully getting my fill of museums and heritage sites.
If you are like me and end up visiting parts of the country that you are unfamiliar with, then I’d recommend The History & Heritage Handbook 2015/16 to you.
Not content with this current short break, I’m also planning another few days in the South of England in September, perhaps going to the Record Offices and archives there. Plus I’ve a visit to the Midlands in the next few months. Back in June I was in Salisbury and saw the copy of the Magna Carta that is on show in the chapter house of the cathedral there and visited some other historical venues while there.
The new History & Heritage Handbook 2015/16 edited by Andrew Chapman and published by Heritage Hunter came out only recently and is invaluable to help people like me make the most of our visits.
The book is a comprehensive guide to almost 3500 places and organisations in the UK , the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Each of the entries provides the contact details and a brief description, many of which give specific information about specialist collections and all listed across more than 500 pages..
I recommend you use it to
research your family history: as the book includes details of county record offices and family history societies
find thousands of heritage sites to visit on holiday or for day trips
learn about special archives in museums and libraries across the UK, ideal for researching local, social or military history
Hit a brick wall with your English/Welsh ancestors?
Learn how to discover the many records and resources to find your forebears within
I was lucky enough to have some time recently to look around Salisbury Cathedral and in amongst the treasures of that beautiful place of worship I noticed a couple of ancient chests that were being completely ignored by the streams passing visitors.
As a family historian, interested in searching for ancestors in the Parish Records, I am acutely aware that these interesting heavy wooden pieces of furniture also appear in churches up and down the country and at one time performed a vital function in the preservation of documents that we use today in researching our families.
In my English/Welsh family history course, available online at www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com, I cover Parish Chest records in more detail in lesson 8. If you want to know more about how to tease out your elusive ancestors, from the documents that they were recorded in, then perhaps you may like to join me and numerous satisfied students on an online journey to learn more about the resources and records that you could be using.
As a teaser I am reproducing some of the content of that lesson below:
The Parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, were first introduced by Henry VIII’s Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell in 1538 to the English Church. Cromwell, who supervised the church through his position as Henry’s Vicar General and Vice regent, required that every parish church was to acquire a sure coffer (that is, a parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored.
The parish chest was not a new idea, however, they could have been found in churches up and down the land all the way back to medieval times. Often no more than a hollowed out tree trunk that was secured with three locks. The keys to which were to be kept by the Bishop, the Priest and by a religious layman. What was new, in Tudor times, was the notion that Cromwell dictated that accurate records were to be kept and the responsibility to do so was placed on the parish officials to keep these records safe.
By the mid-1500’s the parishioners in every parish of the land were instructed by law to provide a strong chest with a hole in the upper part thereof, and having three keys, for holding the alms for the poor. Another chest may have been used to keep safe the church’s plate and this or the first chest would also double up as a place where the parish registers and other parish documents could be kept safe. In some places only one chest would have sufficed for both purposes, while in other parishes two or more may have been used.
As can be seen by the pictures above, The Parish Chest was just that; a chest locked and housed in the church that could now only be opened by the Vicar and two officers of the parish.
It was the place for the parish church to keep safe its documents away from mice, dust and other conditions that may have damaged them. But as the chest filled up with records, then the oldest papers at the bottom would have been disposed of to make room for newer documents to go on top. For this reason alone many records will not have survived to the present day.
That is sad as the various account books, bundles of documents of all different sizes, could be valuable information. You may be able to read some fragments of extra information about your forebears and their lives, if your ancestor had dealings with the church in their parish. It could be that your ancestor was an artisan that was paid for some service by the parish clerk.
Perhaps your ancestor was mentioned in Settlement Examinations? Or Apprenticeship Indentures? What about bastardy examinations and bonds? Maybe the Constables’ and Overseers’ account books?
All of these records are what we call the Parish Chest documents as formally they would have lived in such a container in the church.
The reason why these documents may not have survived through to the present day are many. Some parishes would have been poor at keeping good records, anyway. Others may have consciously destroyed their documents while yet more parishes lost their records accidentally – perhaps through carelessness, water damage, fire, fungus, mold, or by being eaten by insects or animals.
As a consequence, when Parish Chest material has survived, for your parish, then you will definitely want to take a look at what has endured the years as it can open up a fantastic insight into your ancestor’s parish.
Other Parish Records
Here are some other records in the parish chest:
The Churchwardens Accounts
Glebe Terriers and Tithe Records
Charity Accounts (possibly not of a great deal of use to family historians!)
Petty Constables Accounts
Various other miscellaneous records
As I have stressed above, it is by no means certain that these documents will have survived the ravage of time, if they have, however, then the originals should now be stored away safely at the relevant County Record Office for the church in question. You see how the County Record Offices come up time and time again? I love visiting them and I encourage any of you that can to do so too.
In many cases you may be lucky enough to find that a local history society, or a county record society, may have published some of these records in full, if so then do take a look at their publications.
Be warned, however, that it is unusual to find any generally available on the Internet. Despite this caveat, I would still say that it is worth your while doing a search on Google, Bing or some other search engine.
Also it is worth seeing if they have possibly been filmed by the LDS and so made available from your local Family History Centre.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
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,
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
One of my clients has family from Staffordshire and he was bemoaning the lack of records he could find online.
Well now the UK family history website findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time over 2.8 million parish records in partnership with Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service as the final instalment of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to release 100 record sets in 100 days.
Spanning 1538 to 1900, the parish records launched today mark the start of an exciting project to create the Staffordshire Collection on Findmypast – a rich source, which on completion will comprise around 6 million fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of handwritten parish records.
The Collection covers all Staffordshire Anglican parish registers up to 1900 deposited with the Archive Service and includes over 3,400 registers recording the baptisms, marriages and burials carried out in the ancient county. This will include the City of Stoke on Trent and parishes now within the City of Wolverhampton, as well as the Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall.
The lives of many notable Potteries folk are recorded in the Collection. Captain of industry and prominent abolitionist, Josiah Wedgwood, the man who established the Wedgwood company in 1754, industrialised the manufacture of pottery for the first time and created the famous “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” anti-slavery medallion, appears in a baptism register. Born on 12 July 1730, Josiah was baptised the same day at St John’s church in Burslem. His grand-daughter Emma Wedgwood, the future wife of Charles Darwin, also appears in the Collection.
These church records also provide some unexpected insights into significant events in Staffordshire’s colourful history. In a late 18th century register of baptisms from the parish of Alrewas, curate John Edmonds took it upon himself to record a narrative of local happenings, and this too can now be read online for the first time. Edmonds recounts details of a flood that swept two bridges away, an earthquake that rocked the parish in 1795, a series of local riots over food shortages and even a lightning strike that killed 3 cows and 2 horses. He also recorded events of national significance, such as King George III being fired upon with an air gun on his way to parliament.
The Potteries proud manufacturing history is well represented in the Collection. Other important potters in the records include William Moorcroft, Potter to the Queen by Royal Warrant, and founder of the Moorcroft pottery that supplied stores such as Liberty & Co and Tiffany New York. There’s also Thomas William Twyford, inventor of the single piece ceramic flush toilet and co-founder of Twyford Bathrooms, and John Aynsley, the founder of Aynsley China, one of the last remaining producers of bone china in Stoke on Trent.
Manufacturers are not the only famous Staffordians to be found in the records. Admiral of the Fleet and 1st Earl of St Vincent John Jervis, best remembered for his defeat of the Spanish fleet at the 1797 Battle of Cape Saint Vincent and his patronage of Horatio Nelson, was born at Meaford Hall in 1735.
Marriage registers from 1835 contain Burton upon Trent brewer and politician Michael Thomas Bass Jr, whose clever leadership saw Bass become the best known brand in Britain and the largest brewery in the world. Other famous figures include Francis Barber, a freed Jamaican slave, who became the manservant and beneficiary of Dr Johnson; William Thomas Astbury, the pioneering X-ray scientist; and legendary classical composer Havergal Brian.
The Staffordshire Collection adds to Findmypast’s already extensive cache of parish records, the largest available online. These records allow family historians to research as far back as the 1500s, and with more Staffordshire records still to be added to Findmypast, family historians from all over the world can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before, and uncover their Staffordshire, Black Country and Potteries ancestors.
The records were launched at an event at the Staffordshire Record Office by Findmypast, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service and Staffordshire County Council Cabinet member for Children, Communities and Localism, Mike Lawrence.
Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “From today, anyone, wherever they are in the world, will be able to go online and discover whether they have Staffordshire roots. These really are fascinating parish records, full of colourful insights, and you might even be able to get your family tree as far back as 1538, when Henry VIII was on the throne!“
Mike Lawrence, Cabinet member for Community at Staffordshire County Council said: “We are very proud of our heritage here in Staffordshire and this is the start of an exciting partnership with Findmypast to bring 6 million names online for people to search through. The project will give family historians from across the world an opportunity to delve into our rich past and learn more about our great county.
“We also want to encourage more people from the county to explore their own family history, and access to the Staffordshire Parish Registers on Findmypast will be free in Archive Service offices and libraries across Staffordshire.”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post
MILLONS OF NEW DEVON BAPTISM, MARRIAGE AND BURIAL RECORDS PUBLISHED ONLINE
RECORDS REVEAL OVER 375 YEARS OF DEVONSHIRE HISTORY
As someone with a paternal line that is almost all from Devon I am really pleased to see that findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time parish records in partnership with Devon Heritage Services, as the latest instalment of their 100in100 promise to launch 100 record sets in 100 days.
Spanning 1538 to 1915, the Devon Collection is a rich source comprising over 4 million fully searchable transcripts and scanned colour images of the handwritten parish registers held by the record offices in Barnstaple and Exeter. With Plymouth and West Devon Record Office’s records already available on findmypast, these new additions mean that findmypast’s Devon Collection is the best possible place to find Devonshire ancestors.
The baptism, marriage and burial records of many notable Devonians are stored within the collection. The baptism of literary icon Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ and founder of the Romantic Movement, can be viewed in records from the parish of Ottery St Mary.
Bad boy satirist John Gay, member of the Scriblerus club and author of ‘The Beggars Opera’, was born in Barnstaple in 1685 and records of his baptism in 1686 can be found from the Parish of Black Torrington.
Crime writer Agatha Christie’s baptism record appears in the parish register of Tormohun in 1890 under her maiden name Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller.
Legendary explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who was famous for completing the Hajj to Mecca disguised as a pilgrim, translating the Karma Sutra into English and becoming the first European to visit the great lakes of Africa amongst other exploits, was born in Torquay in 1821 and is recorded in the collection.
The records also include the polymath Charles Babbage, who is widely considered to be the father of the computer. Records of his 1814 marriage were kept by the parish of East Teignmouth.
Sir John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and ancestor of Winston Churchill was born in the parish of Musbury at the height of the Civil War. He was a legendary soldier who revolutionised the British army in the late 17th century and was, for a time, one of the richest men in England. Details of his baptism can also be viewed in the archives.
VC winner and hero of the Zulu wars, Sir Redvers Henry Buller, is yet another famous military man from the county. Sir Redvers was widely celebrated before his disastrous leadership during the Second Boer War saw him sacked by the Minister for War, St. John Brodrick. He was born in Crediton in 1839 and died there in 1908, with both events being recorded by the parish.
Devon is one of the largest counties and therefore highly significant for family historians. As Maureen Selley, Chairman of Devon Family History Society www.devonfhs.org.uk, whose records are also available on findmypast, put it; “We all have Devonshire ancestors, it’s just that some of us haven’t found them yet.” Findmypast’s existing Devon records are already the most popular parish record set on the website.
The records are also of international significance as many historic Devonians emigrated to Canada, the US and Australia to work in the booming mining, fishing and agricultural industries. Devon’s position on the west coast meant that it was often used as a jumping off point for those headed to the United Sates. The Mayflower, the ship that carried the first pilgrims across the Atlantic, departed from Plymouth and the Devon Collection houses records that predate this famous voyage. These new records will help people from all over the world to trace their ancestral roots back to the county.
The Devon Collection adds to findmypast’s already extensive cache of parish records, the largest available online. These records allow family historians to go as far back as the 1500s, and with more parish records still to come as part of the 100in100 promise, family historians can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before.
Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “The Devon Collection is one of the largest regional parish record collections available anywhere online and contains some truly wonderful gems. This is the first time that parish records for the whole county have been available to search in one place, enabling people all around the world to discover fascinating details of Devonshire ancestors they didn’t know they had in this historical goldmine.”
Tim Wormleighton, of Devon Heritage Services said: “ We are delighted that, after a lengthy process of preparation involving a lot of hard work by a large team, people will now be able to access high quality images of the majority of Devon’s parish register entries online for the first time ever through findmypast”.
This week (Thursday 20th, Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd) Who Do You Think You Are? Live comes to Olympia with stands from all the major genealogical websites, family history suppliers, expert advice, talks from celebrities from the TV programme and a myriad of workshops.
The Nosey Genealogist will be there too on stand 56 showcasing our Family History Researcher Beginners English & Welsh Family History Course. As a special show offer we have re-introduced the popular Â£1 trial membership of our course that gives you two weeks lessons and some free bonus content.
The Nosey Genealogists has gathered together in one fixed-term-membership site a collection of 52 weekly lessons that will aid the beginner in English & Welsh family history to become a more knowledgeable researcher.
Also of great value to the more advanced, the course explores the different resources, data sets and documents that can reveal more about your English or Welsh ancestors.
Written from the practical point of view by Nick Thorne, an advanced beginner (as even the most experienced researcher is always learning more) and, with the aid of some lessons penned by professional genealogists, this course is delivered by email to your inbox to do at your own pace.
Topics covered in the 12 months include:
The census collections
The Parish records
The Parish Chest
County Record offices and what valuable treasures they contain
City and Town Directories
Genetics and DNA
Maps and Charts
The National Archives
Family Search Centres
If you are attending the show then do please come over and say hello and tell us that you read this blog. You will then be able to enter our competition to win a free copy of our next product due out soon!
I want to take a moment this week to sing the praises of the knowledgeable people who work in county record offices and archives up and down the country.
I had a knotty problem to deal with this week with a family that I am researching. My task was to look for the maiden name of a second wife who married into the family in 1814 at St Thomas’, Dudley in Worcestershire and who was also marrying for the second time.
Because she was a widow her surname, in the marriage register for the second marriage, is assumed to be that of her first husband and so I have been asked to see if I can find out her maiden name. On her second marriage a fair number of her sons were given a distinctive second name and it had occurred to us that this may have been the woman’s maiden name.
I had a few hours in the City of Worcester set aside for this task and so I headed off to find the county record office.
What I discovered was that Worcestershire has housed its archives in the same modern building as its library at The Hive, which is aÂ joint university and public library. The Hive is the result of the vision of the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council.
On the first floor I found the reception for the archive and was immediately impressed by the helpfulness I was afforded. A member of staff showed me around the facility and when I explained what I was there to do was able to point me to the shelf containing collections of Worcestershire marriages transcripts.
I spent a productive hour or so noting down all the marriages of men with the woman’s first married surname, Fletcher, to a woman with the Christian name of Sarah.
Unfortunately there was no Sarah with the maiden name that I was looking for.
After a period of time the member of the archive staff returned to see how I was getting along. I explained that I had not found the answer and she then showed me another volume on the shelves that listed Worcestershire marriages by the bride’s surname. The suggestion here was that I may possibly be looking for the surname of the woman’s mother and not hers.
I then spent some time copying down all the women who had married in the relevant period and then compared the surnames of the men married with my first list. There was one surname that matched the other checklist I had of Sarahs who married a Fletcher; but sadly I can find no children called Sarah to the couple identified.
It looks like it is set for a long haul to look at all the marriages of a Sarah and someone called Fletcher and see if I can find the premature death of the husband called Fletcher. Once I identify the marriage that ended in Sarah being widowed before 1814 I will then have me a candidate for a possible maiden name. With this some more research will be required to make sure that we have found the right one.
As for the second name that this Sarah gave to her male children in the second marriage, perhaps it was from the father’s side and so this opens up the need for yet more research to be done!
Though I didn’t make a breakthrough this time, all the same the archive staff were most helpful in acting as a sounding board for my ideas to tackle this project and for their knowledge of the resources available in their collections that may help me.
In honour of Remembrance Day, Ancestry is opening up millions of military records to give everyone the chance to journey back in time and discover the war heroes in their family.
Between 08 and 12 November 2013, 3.6 million records will be freely available from four important military collections:
WWI Service Records (1914 – 1920)
WWII Army Roll of Honour (1939 – 1945)
Navy Medal and Roll Awards (1793 – 1972)
Victoria Cross Medals (1857 – 2007)
Almost every family in the country will have relatives who once served their country, so these records are an excellent source of discovery.
Travel back through 100 years of military history to find physical descriptions, next of kin, medals awarded, places served, disciplinary procedures, photos, dates and places of death ? and much more.
New WWII collection
Ancestry has added new Civilian War Dead records from WWII, which hold the names of 60,000 civilians who perished during the Second World War. People died in their homes, offices, factories, schools and public vehicles during the terrifying bombings and air raids.
London was hardest hit so the London Boroughs have lengthy casualty lists, but the collection also covers many other cities, including Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and York.