I was very pleased to hear from Anthony Adolph this week, about his new bookIn Search of Our Ancient Ancestors: from the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth especially as I had just been reading all about it in Your Family Tree Magazine and was intrigued as the magazine review called it ‘unusual and fascinating’.
According to science, life first appeared on Earth about 3,500 million years ago. Every living thing is descended from that first spark, including all of us. But if we trace a direct line down from those original life-forms to ourselves, what do we find? What is the full story of our family tree over the past 3,500 million years, and how are we able to trace ourselves so far back?
From single celled organisms to sea-dwelling vertebrates; amphibians to reptiles; tiny mammals to primitive man; the first Homo sapiens to the cave-painters of Ice Age Europe and the first farmers down to the Norman Conquest, this book charts not only the extraordinary story of our ancient ancestors but also our 40,000 year-long quest to discover our roots, from ancient origin myths of world-shaping mammoths and great floods down to the scientific discovery of our descent from the Genetic Adam and the Mitochondrial Eve.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestorswill tell you where you come from, before the earliest generations of your family tree that you can trace using records. It also saves you having to think any harder about what to buy for your family and friends this Christmas!
I do hope you will enjoy it. Anthony Adolph.
Anthony Adolph’s book is available from the publishers, Pen & Sword books, and all good booksellers.
I was at a function recently and on my table was an enthusiastic family historian who had been tracing his family tree for many years. Next to him was the inevitable sceptic who tried to put us both in our place by saying just how boring she thought “gathering a load of names and dates was”. I didn’t enquire what her hobby was, or even if she had one at all.
I did surprised her, however, by agreeing and saying that one of my mantras that I repeat often in my contributions to the Family History Researcher Academy course is to find out about the lives, work, environment and social conditions that existed at the time that your forebears were alive.
If you have discovered, from a search of the census, that your Great Aunt Jane was in service in a large house then I would make an effort to go and visit the below stairs of a similar property. There are quite a few National Trust houses that meet the bill. On a visit to Erdigg in North Wales, this was exactly what I did. There the upstairs and downstairs were beautifully presented to give a feel for what life was like for our ancestors living in both levels of society.
As a worked example of what I teach, let’s consider my ancestor Henry Thomas Thorne. From the census of 1861, accessed on TheGenealogist I am able to discover him working in the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth where he is employed as a rope-maker at H.M.Dockyard.
This weekend I had the chance to visit Portsmouth and not only go to the church where he married, but also to tour the Historic Dockyard and see an exhibit explaining how men like my 2x great-grandfather and his colleagues created the cordage that the Royal Navy of the time required for its ships.
I had previously obtained a copy of my ancestors’ wedding certificate from the GRO, having found their details in the Births, Marriages and Death Indexes that are available on various websites.
On this visit to Portsmouth I could now walk in the footsteps of my forebears on their wedding day the 5th February 1859 at St Mary’s, Portsea Island.
I could go on board H.M.S. Warrior, an actual warship from the time period (1860) and see how the cordage that he made was used on this ironclad steam and sail man-of-war.
And I could see the tools that Henry would have used everyday, in the exhibition piece there.
This story of my weekend excursion illustrates how I use the information that I discover in the records as a springboard to go on and find social history museums, or even the actual places that my ancestors would have gone to, and so build my family’s story.
If you haven’t moved past the gathering of names and dates stage in your family tree research, then I urge you to start doing so now.
Did you watch the Paul Hollywood programme in the 12th series of Who Do You Think You Are?
I thought it was a great show to start the new series off. Paul came across as a genuine normal guy who like many of us wished he had taken the time to speak more to his relatives about the past before they sadly died.
Even though one of the main lessons in my Family History course is to talk to your relatives and jot down what they tell you, as a basis for then trying to substantiate their stories with research in actual records, I too am guilty of not having done this before it was too late with some of my own family.
In this week’s TV show Paul Hollywood, from The Great British Bake Off, was taken back to his grandfather’s WWII experience in North Africa. It was here that his grandfather Norman Harman (1913 – 2003) had been sent as soon as he had completed his training. At Medjez el Bab in Tunisia, Norman’s Light Anti-Aircraft division were protecting the infantry from enemy air attacks at the time of the major Allied offensive to take Tunis from the German forces. With the enemy throwing bombs and missiles at them it was hard on these men.
From there Paul travelled to Italy, where he learnt about how his grandfather was part of the landing force that became trapped on the beaches at Anzio for four months, surrounded by Germans and all the while under constant aerial bombardment. Paul gets to see the landing area where his grandfather and the other men would have felt like sitting ducks, with death and devastation all around them. Norman and his comrades finally managed to land and their gun was then transported five miles inland. Unfortunately for them the regiment was soon surrounded by the enemy in a dangerously exposed area. Huge numbers of men had no choice but to dig themselves into 7ft long fox holes and spend months trapped, coming under repeated German shell attacks.
In May 1944 and thanks to Norman’s regiment’s extraordinary efforts, the stalemate at Anzio was broken. The next month the Allied armies went on to liberate Rome, but not without the loss of 14,000 lives. Paul’s grandfather brought back from this conflict a visible memento of his terrifying time. He had developed a facial tic that stayed with him until he died.
Researching his line even further back, Paul Hollywood was seen in the Who Do You Think You Are? programme to use TheGenealogist’s ‘family forename search’ to find Alexander McKenzie, a Wood Turner who had come down to Liverpool from his native Glasgow. I was very glad to see that this company’s excellent resource was used by Paul, in place of one of the other two subscription sites who normally always get a look in.
Following his Scottish family line up to Glasgow Paul then found that the next generation in the McKenzie family was a Glasgow Policeman, down from the Highlands, who had a certain amount of trouble avoiding alcohol and was eventually dismissed from the Police force, moved to Liverpool before returning to Glasgow and death in the Poorhouse.
Paul then discovered in the programme that his great, great, great, great grandfather Donald McKenzie, was a Highland postman with quite extraordinary stamina. As a crofter with little land he had to make ends meet with other employment. Donald’s was a post runner. Not having a horse, with which to cover his rounds delivering the mail to 30,000 people, Donald simply ran the 120 miles with the mail every week from one side of Scotland to the other.
With thanks to TheGenealogist for permission to use part of their article as a basis for this post. You can read the full piece, that reveals even more about Paul Hollywood’s family history, by clicking this link:
I’ve been reading a fascinating article by leading genealogist Laura Berry in this month’s Discover Your Ancestors Periodical. It explains more about how between the 17th and 20th centuries hundreds of thousands of foreign settlers applied for protection from the Crown and government by becoming British subjects.
Laura, knows her subject as she is a freelance writer, family historian and archive researcher who has been the lead genealogist for the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? series in the past and has written about family history for many publications. In her article for Discover Your Ancestors she explains that prior to 1844 the vast majority of applicants became ‘denizens’ after pleading for a patent of denization from the monarch, which bestowed certain privileges and was easier to obtain than a private Act of Naturalisation from Parliament. To be entitled to almost equal rights as people born in this country, aliens needed to be ‘naturalised’, a process that was made more affordable with the passing of the 1844 Naturalisation Act when the Home Office assumed responsibility for issuing naturalisation certificates and a private Act of Parliament was no longer necessary.
This is only one of many really interesting articles in this month’s online periodical and I highly recommend you buy a copy.
I was so very pleased to meet up again with Anne Reid from SpeakingLives as I have done at several Who Do You Think You Are? Live shows in the past.
Some memories deserve to be remembered forever…
By recording spoken memories from the person who experienced them SpeakingLives offers us all the chance to secure a very special and personal legacy – one that can be enjoyed for years to come.
And that is especially true if the memories belong to your parents or grandparents and represent part of your family history. After all, as Anne says, “How often do you hear the words “I wish I’d known about…”, or “I wish I’d asked…” ?
“Whether what they recall is happy, sad, humorous, meaningful or triumphant, these special memories should be treasured. Because if they’re not preserved carefully they can be lost. Forgotten, forever.”
With SpeakingLives®, one of their specially trained Life Interview Consultants meets people in their own home, or a place of their choice, to record their unique memories and reminiscences using discrete digital audio recording equipment. The voice recordings are then professionally edited and delivered to them as a beautifully packaged CD or MP3 file.
It’s literally the gift of a lifetime.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
I’ve been having a lot of interesting fun playing with the many maps on the National Library of Scotland site. NLS give access to some historic high-resolution zoomable images of over 91,000 maps of Scotland and beyond.
Initially I was using it to superimpose the old OS 1:10K 1900 map on to the modern satellite image of the plot of a long demolished ancestors house in Fife (see the hatched building in the image on this page). By using the slider, that changes the opacity, I was able to see exactly where the house had been in relation to the ground today. All that remains are the stables and the farm buildings that make up part of the modern farm and no sign from the air of the villa that once stood on the plot.
It is not just maps of Scotland that can be found on this brilliant website as I was able to select an English county and chose between different series of the Ordnance Survey and the modern hybrid view from the air for a village in Leicestershire that I was interested in not to mention the coverage for London.
The better family historians will always try to gather together as much information on their ancestors as possible so as to be able to place their forebears squarely into the contemporary environment in which they lived.
The bare genealogical facts of names, dates and places go only so far to build a family tree, whereas finding out about the social and physical landscapes of your past family’s lives can help you to understand the challenges that faced them.
Landscapes can and did change over time. The enclosure of land and the movement from rural employment to working in the cities, as the industrial process grew had an affect on past generations. The building of the railways and roads, which may have disrupted their lives as well as provided new communication routes for them to travel down can often be seen by looking at various map series over time.
For those of you researching your English/Welsh family history and have hit a brick wall, maps are covered in more detail in a module of the Family History Researcher Academy.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
I was looking back at some old photographs from the 1970s this weekend.
They are quite faded colour pictures taken on a Kodak Instamatic camera from the time and I was about 18 and starting my first job as a reservations clerk for a tour operator in Birmingham.
This was the house in which I lived. You can’t see my room in either of the photos from the back garden, neither in the summer snap, nor winter one.
The reason was that my room was right up in the attic and had a skylight that was up high and was somewhere near the chimney on the right. If I got up on a chair I could see a flat piece of roof and if I clambered out of the window I could then see distant high rise flats through Edgbaston’s leafy canopy.
This journey into my past made me stop and think about the house and its history.
Thinking about it now, my room must have been intended for a servant to sleep in, and so it had me wondering if I could find, in the census collection, the names of those who had once occupied this house.
One of the great tools that subscribers to TheGenealogist get is the ability to use their address search on any of the census from 1841 through to 1911. There is also the ability to search for a family in the census, which I have found really useful in the past. This is in addition, of course, to the normal name search of the census that you are probably use to using.
So in this case I made a search of “Carpenter Road in Edgbaston” and soon discovered that it had once been known as Carpenters Lane. I easily located the house and discovered that it was owned in 1841 by a 35 year old Merchant called William Bolton, his 25 year old wife and 6 children and looking after them were three servants, one of which must have occupied what was destined to become my room!
Moving forward through the years I discovered that by 1861 it was occupied by a different family, the head of which was a Solicitor and he managed with just two servants.
As the decennial census came and went the occupiers and their servants changed until in 1891 a 52 year old man with the same Christian name and surname of William Bolton is recorded as the head! Looking back to the 1841 census there is no 2 year old son recorded to the first William Bolton. Is this just a coincidence, or is it a member of the family taking back a house that has been leased out for many years? Perhaps I may look into this one day.
Without knowing about the facility at TheGenealogist to do an address search of the census data I would never have uncovered this intriguing fact.
By the way, all the servants that may have occupied my room were females. I do wonder if any had managed to climb out of the skylight, to stand on that narrow piece of flat roof next to the chimney, as I had? With their long skirts I think not!
TheGenalogist has some easy to use search tools and thousands of records to help the family historian find their ancestors. Click on the image below and get started!
I 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.
In the last of the present series and in a show that was the 100th from the BBC of the gripping genealogical programme, we were treated to 60’s icon, model and fashion designer Twiggy.
And what a great show it was.
Twiggy’s Who Do You Think You Are? research revealed that she has a family history story filled with colourful characters, leading lives as eventful as her own has been.
The story of her great-great-grandmother who turned to crime “uttering forged coins” (passing them in payment) and spending time in a Victorian prison. The same woman and her daughter who were prosecuted for stealing a significant amount of money from the girls employer. The mother, having taken all the responsibility and being convicted, doing hard labour.
Others who ended up in the workhouse and the tale of the parish, when faced with having to support the inmates of this harsh institution, prosecuted the husband for abandonment of his wife and children and had him committed to jail with hard labour.
The fact that the convicted man’s occupation was that of a Slater, a hard job dependent on seasonal employment and from his death records we discover that he had a strangulated hernia. All of which point to another era when the welfare state did not exist to provide the safety net that we all so much take for granted today.
So why did the Workhouse exist? Why was there such fear on the part of the administrators of the Parish Poor Relief that they made conditions harsher than those that a labourer on the outside had to endure?
For centuries in England, those who fell on hard times would become the responsibility of their parish. The old poor law system had coped well enough until around 1800 new demands on the system caused the government to think again.
Unemployment had risen to new heights, a consequence of the growing industrialisation of the country that now needed less men to make the goods that previously had been created in the old cottage industries.
Another pressure on the poor law came from the disaster of a succession of bad harvests that meant those who subsisted in rural areas found it difficult to feed themselves.
Then, on top of this, the ending of the Napoleonic Wars caused a great many soldiers to return from France with no work to go to.
In today’s United Kingdom, we often refer to a North South divide with the balance being towards the richer South. In the 1800s the industrial north, with its large cotton mills and other factories, fared better than the South where fewer industries existed to employ those people who had previously worked on the land and were no longer required.
As the situation got worse for the government, by 1832 they believed that they had to overhaul the poor law system and the way in which the poor relief was distributed. A Royal Commission was asked to look into it and as a result parliament passed the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
A belief was widely held in the country that the poor were often undeserving of the money. That they were idle if they had no work. Under the new Act Parishes were compelled to ban together into Poor Law Unions that often covered a 20 mile radius and each Union a Board of Guardians were chosen to administer the new system.
The biggest result of this change that could have affected your ancestors was the provision of a workhouse in each Union.
Five hundred plus of these Union Workhouses were constructed during the next 50 years with two-thirds of them having been built by 1840.
Although workhouses were not a new phenomenon, under the old system most of the unemployed would have received poor relief while continuing to live in their own homes (so called “out relief”).
Any parishioners, now needing help after the passing of the new law, were compelled to live inside the workhouse, where conditions were made as harsh as possible so as to discourage all but those who were desperate from applying.
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 the poor would have to undress, have their clothes taken away from them until they were discharged. They would have had a thorough wash and then dress in the workhouse uniform of rough shapeless material. This stripping away of identity was all part of the discouragement from claiming indoor relief.
I have more on the Poor Laws, the Workhouse and Crime and punishment as just some of the many topics covered in my comprehensive Family History Researcher Academy course for anyone researching their English/Welsh family history. At the moment there is a Special Offer trial from the link on this page of £1 for the first two weeks!
Read what some of my past members have said:
“I am finding the course very useful, even though I have been doing family history for many years. Kind regards. ” H.Stephens
“You communicate in an understandable way! Thank you for the modules that I have had so far” P.Martin.