Add colour to family history facts to make ancestors lives interesting

 

Census 1861

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.

Erdigg

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.

1861 Portsmouth census

 

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.

St Mary's Portsea

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.HMS Warrior 1860

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.

Coiled rope

And I could see the tools that Henry would have used everyday, in the exhibition piece there.

Ropemaking

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.

 

 

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Who Do You Think You Are? Paul Hollywood

Paul_Hollywood

Paul_Hollywood

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:

http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/affiliate/?affid=ptergx&page=808

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

 Compensated affiliate links used in the post above http://paidforadvertising.co.uk/

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Jewish Seatholders go online

 

I got this piece from TheGenealogist this week.

Seems like a great resource for anyone with Jewish ancestors from London.

 

TheGenealogist has released online 99,500 records of London synagogue seat-holders spanning the years from 1920 to 1939.

Covering the records from 18 Synagogues around London with many connected guilds, societies and charities etc.
Additional information found in these records include names of gentlemen eligible for office, life member of the council, women who are seatholders in their own right and seatholders who are not eligible to vote.
Fully searchable by name, keyword, synagogue and address, the Jewish Synagogue Seatholders has been extracted from various years of: “Seatholders for Synagogues in London”

Those with Jewish ancestors from London will welcome this fascinating new release from TheGenealogist. Revealing details of positions held by forebears, researchers will be able to track ancestors who became wardens, council members, or served on committees of their synagogue, as well as seatholders in synagogues from around the capital city. These fully indexed records allow family historians to search by name, keyword, synagogue and address and with one click see an image taken from the pages of Seatholders for Synagogues in London.

The records include some synagogues that are no longer in existence; for example the Great Synagogue that once stood at Duke’s Place and which was destroyed in the Blitz.

Nigel Bayley, MD of TheGenealogist said: “These records will allow you to search for Jewish relatives amongst the London synagogue seatholders, it is now easier than ever to discover any official positions that your jewish ancestor held.”

Here is an example provided by TheGenealogist to illustrate these records:
Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, OBE (25 January 1882 – 28 January 1942) can be found in these records. De Rothschild was an English banker and a Conservative politician who was well known as the creator of Exbury Gardens near the New Forest in Hampshire. He was the eldest of the three sons of Leopold de Rothschild (1845–1917) and Marie née Perugia (1862–1937) and a part of the illustrious Rothschild banking family of England.
On 25 January 1910 he was elected to the House of Commons for the constituency of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire – his grandfather and namesake had been the first practising Jew to be able to take up his seat in Parliament.

Exbury House from wikipediaExbury House from wikipedia

His father, Leopold, died in early 1917 and Lionel and brother Anthony became the managing partners of N M Rothschild & Sons bank. However, Lionel de Rothschild had developed an interest in horticulture at a very young age and is said to have planted his first garden at the age of five. In 1919, he purchased the Mitford estate at Exbury in Hampshire where he devoted a great deal of time and money to transform it into one of the finest gardens in all of England with more than one million plants building Exbury House around an existing structure in a neo-Georgian style. Although he continued to work at the family bank, he is quoted as describing himself as “a banker by hobby — a gardener by profession”. Lionel Nathan de Rothschild died in London, aged sixty, in 1942 and was buried in the Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

Logging into TheGenealogist and selecting Jewish Synagogue Seatholders from the dropdown menu, we enter Lionel as a forename and De Rothschild as the surname. We can filter the results by date. This returns us several positions that De Rothschild held in three different synagogues in London, including the Warden of the Great Synagogue that once stood in Duke’s Place, north of Aldgate, until it was destroyed in the London Blitz. We can also see that he was the President of the United Synagogue in North Finchley.

Lionel de Rothschild United Synagogue

Selecting that record allows us to view the actual image of the page from the Seatholders for Synagogues in London 1920.

United Synagogue image

 

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Grandpa caught a bit of shrapnel – how I found him in the online records

 

Your Family Tree Magazine June 2015

 

In this month’s Your Family Tree Magazine I have written a piece about my grandfather called ‘Grandpa “caught a bit of shrapnel” in World War I and I soon revealed how’. You can read it in full if you hurry down to the news-stands and pick up a copy of issue 157 of YFT before the next edition comes out.

 

It is all about how I used TheGenelogist website to piece together my grandfather’s war and blow out of the water a family theory as to how he came to have a nasty scar on one of his legs. You see my grandpa never really spoke about how he got his wound except to say that he “caught a bit of shrapnel”.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_dispatch_rider_in_France_%28Photo_24-317%29.jpg

We knew that there were two distinct parts to his war, firstly as an enlisted man riding a motorbike carrying despatches to and from the front line, and secondly as a junior officer in the Royal Engineers. But with the aid of the extensive military collections on TheGenealogist I was able to find out much more than any of us in the family had known before about this man! If you can, pick up a copy of Your Family Tree Magazine (known as Your Family History outside of the UK. The content is the same in both magazines) and see how I discovered more.

 

It really is satisfying when your research bears fruit and particular story was made possible by using the right resources.

 

 

 

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Easter 2015: The Sherborne Missal

SHERBORNE_MISSAL
On this Easter Sunday, when many of our ancestors would have attended church, I have been exploring via the British Library’s online gallery a digital copy of the 15th century Sherborne Missal.
http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/sherborne.html

Made for the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary’s in Sherborne, Dorset, at the opening of the 15th century, it is a masterpiece of the International Gothic style.

It is staggering to see this beautiful piece of work and to think of the labour put in by the monks who illuminated it and by those who were the scribes who wrote the script and the musical notation for the mass. Unusually, for a medieval missal, the names of the main scribe and main illuminator are actually given in the volume as John Whas and John Siferwas. This book takes us back to a time, before the reformation, when the religion of the country was still Catholic Christianity and the service in the churches up and down the land would have been the Latin mass.

How can you see more of this book?

The British Library has created a digital version using their award-winning Turning the Pages™. You can also switch on an audio commentary that explains what is on the pages as you turn them. I found this fascinating.

 

Happy Easter to all my readers,

Nick

The Nosey Genealogist.

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