This index has been created as a combined project by Origins.net and the Devon Wills Project to compile a consolidated index of pre-1858 Devon wills, administrations, inventories, etc. Many Devon probate records were destroyed by enemy action, when the Probate Registry was destroyed in the bombing during the Exeter Blitz in 1942. Thus the aim of this index is to create a finding-aid to enable the researcher to determine what probate materials were originally recorded and most importantly what documents have survived and where they can be located.
Ahead of Remembrance Day, Ancestry.co.uk, has today launched online the UK, WWII Civilian Deaths, 1939-1945 collection, listing the thousands of British citizens killed on the â€˜Home Frontâ€™ during the Second World War.
The records, originally compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, list almost 60,000 members of the British Commonwealth and Empire who were killed as a result of enemy action whilst going about their everyday lives or while at their posts as members of the Civil Defence Services.
The majority of the names listed were civilians killed in the aerial bombings by the German Luftwaffe (air force) as it attempted to bring Britain to its knees. These attacks on British cities, which took place from September 1940 to May 1941 are known collectively as The Blitz and led to around 40,000 deaths.
Nearly half of those killed in The Blitz (17,500) were Londoners, but several other cities were also badly hit, with Liverpool next worst off in terms of civilian deaths (2,677) followed by Birmingham, Bristol, Hull, Plymouth, Coventry, Portsmouth, Belfast and Glasgow.
Among the 59,418 names listed in the records is James Isbister, considered the first civilian casualty of WWII on home soil. He was killed in March 1940, when German bombers attacking Scapa Flow Naval Base, Orkney, jettisoned their remaining bombs over civilian territory as they fled back to Germany.
Hundreds of British civilians lost their lives before this point, most commonly in sea disasters when civilian ships hit military mines during the early months of the war. As the war progressed deaths at sea became all the more common, with thousands lost, as Germany used submarines to sink merchant ships in an attempt to restrict supplies to Britain.
More than 2,300 Civil Defence Service members also gave their lives whilst on duty, including air raid wardens, home guard, and members of the Womenâ€™s Voluntary Services.
One of the most notable names in the collection is actor and star of Gone With The Wind, Leslie Howard. He was killed in 1943 when the civilian airliner he was travelling in to Bristol was shot down. Historians have since suggested that the Luftwaffe may have attacked the non-military plane because German Intelligence believed Prime Minister Winston Churchill to be on board.
Before the war it was feared a sustained campaign of aerial bombings would lead to more than 600,000 deaths and as a result the 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act forced local councils to make provisions for defence. These varied from a widespread imposed blackout of all lighting from public and commercial buildings to the construction of bomb shelters and provision of gas masks.
The government also implemented widespread evacuation of major cities, with Operation Pied Piper responsible for the relocation of more than 3.5 million people – mainly urban children moved to safer homes in rural areas.
Several other famous names of the day can also be found within the digital records, including:
- Albert Dolphin â€“ Dolphin was working as an emergency hospital porter at what is today New Cross Hospital London when a bomb hit the kitchens of the building. A true Home Front hero, Albert rushed to the aid of a nurse trapped in wreckage and protected her as a damaged wall gave way. He was killed saving her life and was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery.
- James Baldwin-Webb MP â€“ Baldwin-Webb, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire and one of the most famous civilians of the day, was lost at sea. In September 1940, whilst travelling to Canada to fundraise for the Ambulance Corps, his liner SS City of Benares was torpedoed by a German submarine. He stayed aboard the ship to assist women and children onto lifeboats before going down with the ship.
- Arthur Bacon â€“ Bacon was a popular footballer, playing as a striker at Reading, Chesterfield and Coventry City â€“ scoring 71 goals between 1923 and 1935. After his footballing career he served as a Special Constable in Derby where he was killed in 1942 (aged 37) during an air raid.
Miriam Silverman, UK Content Manager, from Ancestry.co.uk comments: â€œAs we approach Remembrance Sunday, itâ€™s important to not only remember those heroes who served and died in conflict but the thousands of ordinary people who lost their lives in Britain and the Commonwealth whilst battling to keep the country running at a very difficult time.
â€œThis collection gives people the chance to find out about any Home Front heroes that might be in their family tree, and adds to the millions of military records available on Ancestry.co.uk from the past 100 years and more.â€
Ancestry.co.uk is providing free access to 3.6 million military recordsÂ between 8th and 12th November, including WWI Service Records 1914 â€“ 1920, WWII Army Roll of Honour 1939 â€“ 1945, Navy Medal and Roll Awards 1793 â€“ 1972 and Victoria Cross Medals 1857 â€“ 2007. To search for the war heroes in your family tree, visit www.ancestry.co.uk/start_
Disclosure: Links are compensated affiliate links.
I’ve heard that some of Ancestry’s collections that were previously available as image-only on the site, have been indexed by the Ancestry World Archives Project (AWAP) a collaborative effort involving thousands of people around the world keying digital records to make them free for everyone.
The two in question are:
Middlesex County Records – Calendar of the Sessions Books 1690 â€“ 1709
Oxford â€“ Brasenose College Register 1509 – 1909
Established in 1509, Brasenose College is among the older colleges of Oxford University. The College Register lists thousands of people who passed through Brasenose from 1509 through 1909. The Register has been compiled from a variety of sources, including admission registers, buttery books (lists of payments by students for food and drink), lists of college officers and administrators, inscriptions on college monuments, newspaper clippings, lists of sporting groups, directories, and numerous biographical resources.
The Register is divided into chapters that categorize the college memberâ€™s involvement at the institution (e.g., visitors, principals, fellows, officers, scholars, etc.). Details included vary from chapter to chapter, but typically include the name and years of attendance, admission, or degree. Some death dates will be provided as well. Several pages of name changes appear in the book, and it also includes an index of names contained in the Register at the back.
Within the pages of the register, youâ€™ll find 400 years of Brasenose collegians, from sportsmen to lecturers, including:
Â· Henry Addington (Lord Sidmouth), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: Henry Addington arrived at Brasenose in January 1774 at the age of sixteen, and took his B.A. degree in 1778.
Â· Elias Ashmole, founder of the Ashmolean Museum: Ashmoleâ€™s name appears in the accounts of Brasenose College in 1644. He studied mathematics and physics but did not take a degree.
Â· John Clavell, highwayman and playwright: John Clavell arrived at Brasenose in 1619 but did not take a degree. It appears that his criminal career began here, for in April 1621 he was granted a pardon for stealing plate from the College.
Â· William Webb Ellis, reputed founder of Rugby Football
Â· Arthur Evans, archaeologist: Sir Arthur Evans was the first undergraduate to take archaeology as a special subject in the Modern History School at Oxford. He came up to Brasenose in 1870 and took a first class degree in 1874.
Â· Thomas Traherne, poet: The son of a shoemaker, Thomas Traherne came to Brasenose at the age of fifteen in 1653 and took his B.A. in 1656.
Â· F.E. Weatherly, songwriter: Frederic Edward Weatherly, writer of over 3,000 songs including the famous â€˜Danny Boyâ€™ lyrics from Londonderry Air, came to Brasenose from Hereford Cathedral School in 1867, and was awarded a B.A. in Classics in 1871.
The other collection to now be indexed is:
Middlesex County Records – Calendar of the Sessions Books 1690 â€“ 1709
This book, originally published in 1905, is a calendar of the Sessions books for Middlesex County, 1690â€“1709. â€œSessionsâ€ refers to court sessions, which dealt with a broad range of issues. This calendar serves as an index that notes volumes and pages where items can be found in the Session books at the London Metropolitan Archives.
What You Can Find in the Records
Beginning at the start of the reign of William III and Mary II, this two-decade collection gives unique insights into the times and the day-to-day workings of the county. Many of the entries deal with provisions for the poor, with references to individuals in many cases. Examples include wounded soldiers and sailors, or women who had been deserted by their husbands. There are frequent entries referring to the â€œsettlementâ€ of individuals between parishes. Right of settlement was an important issue in determining which parish was responsible for poor relief for an individual.
The calendar notes punishments for crimes, which may involve sentencing to imprisonment or, more commonly, fines, time in a pillory, or whippings.
The court heard cases on the parentage of illegitimate children and requests for terminating apprenticeships. Appointments to public positions are mentioned, and youâ€™ll find entries regarding payments for work done on roads and other civic improvements.
Nonconformists needed licenses for assemblies of more than five persons, and you can find memorandums regarding these licenses among the records. Some Catholics were listed as â€œsuspected papistsâ€ who had refused to take oaths of allegiance to the king and queen.
Licenses were also required for alehouses, and there are complaints about alehouses and suppression or revocation of licenses where owners had â€œsuffered visits from prostitutesâ€ or otherwise run afoul of the prevailing laws.
References to the military can include soldiers seeking relief, debtors being released from prison to serve in the army or navy, and relief for the spouses of soldiers and sailors.
Beyond the names of individuals, youâ€™ll gain insights into the times through legislation aimed at bettering communities and conditions at institutions such as prisons.
So you may want to head over to Ancestry.co.uk to take a look at these newly indexed records.
Disclosure: The links in this post are compensated affiliate links that may mean I get compensated by Ancestry.co.uk should you purchase a subscription from them.
I believe myself lucky to have ancestors that hail from very different backgrounds as it makes my research all the more interesting.
On the one hand I have the ubiquitous Ag Labs, some small business men, dressmakers, mariners, landed gentry,Â the odd Victorian Army officers of various ranks and if I go back far enough down one branch, Scots Aristocrats who trace their lineage back to Normandy.
Looking at the records of The Great Western Railway, sometimes affectionately refereed to as â€œGodâ€™s Wonderful Railwayâ€, I find that one of my great-great grandfathers was an employee of the company at the end of its Dartmouth link. Henry Thomas Thorne was the Captain of the paddle steam ferry that ran across the Dart from Kingswear, serving the GWR and its predecessor companies for more than 40 years. In today’s world ofÂ job uncertainty this seems like a very long time!
I found him in the Ancestry.co.uk records for UK Railway Employment earning 5 shillings and tuppence in 1897 up from 4/8d in previous years.
In my maternal branch I have discovered one of my other great-great grandfather’s in the list of shareholders of the GWR at findmypast.co.uk as one of the owner’s of the gilt-edged stock.
The Society of Genealogists produced its GWR Shareholders Index from ledgers created by the Great Western Railway and now in the Societyâ€™s possession. The Great Western Railwayâ€™s original ledgers were compiled by the company for transactions relating to all shareholdings which changed hands other than by simple sale.
The GWR called the ledgers Probate Books, which reflects the fact that the great majority of such share transfers (approximately 95%) were as a result of the death of a shareholder and their shares changing hands during the administration of the deceasedâ€™s estate. The proportion of the GWRâ€™s total number of shareholders included in the Society of Genealogistsâ€™ GWR Shareholders Index is not known but is estimated to be between 50% and 75%; this is because the railway shares were regarded as gilt-edged stock to be held for the long term. Source:Find My Past
To search the records of shareholders you have to either belong to the Society of Genealogists or they can be viewed at Find My Past website where you can get a 14 day free trial!
Disclosure: The Link above is a Compensated Affiliate link. If you click on it then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk should you sign up for one of their subscriptions.
I was researching one Thomas Westlake, an ancestor of mine from Plymouth in the mid 1800s.
I’d found this enterprising forebear, of mine, who had been a Victualler and Brass founder, on the 1861 census. He employed one woman, six men and some boys in this Devon City at this time and so I guess I would find him listed in the trades section.
This had lead me on to use the University of Leicester site, Historical Directories at www.historicaldirectories.org to find him and his advertisement in a Plymouth Trade Directory!
Its great fun to see how polite were the requests of a Victorian era businessman, asking for trade, in an advertisement from this time. My ancestor, Thomas Westlake paid for a half page advertisement in the 1852 edition of the Plymouth directory, whose full title was:
“A Directory of Plymouth, Stonehouse, Devonport, Stoke, and Moricetown, compiled from actual survey.”
Trade advertisement from 1852 Plymouth
Brass Founder, & Manufacturer of Gas Fittings, Beer Engines, Water Closets, Lift Pumps, etc…
Begs respectfully to acquaint his Friends and the Public generally that he has, in his Establishment, men of experience in the above branches, from London and Birmingham; and assures them that all orders entrusted to his care, will be executed in first rate style, under his immediate superintendence, and on moderate terms.
Now who could resist an advertisement like that, but what would we think of it today?
I have also had some luck with other ancestors finding their advertisements in the newspapers of the day. It is worth a look at the British Library Newspapers collection.
The British Newspaper Archive is a joint venture with brightsolid, the company behind findmypast.co.uk and recent developments there are that they have just published millions of pages of local newspapers on their site for the period 1710-1950. More than 200 titles are included and they say they will be adding more all the time.
ÂDisclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk or The British Newspaper Archive should you sign up for their subscriptions.
If we are to go back before the start of Parish Records being kept, in England that would be the year 1538, then no official records will have been complied on who was born, married or died in the country. It may have been the case that the priest in charge of a parish kept notes of what was happening in his church, but there was no official or standard form that they would have been kept in.
Records for the landowning members of society are much more likely to have been compiled than for the poorer classes of England. That said, however, records of people from the time do exist in the form of documents complied for other purposes rather than to detail the life events of a particular person.
Many of the records that have survived were produced for the Exchequer, Chancery and the law courts, or they relate to the land laws of the country.
A problem, for us in the twenty first century looking back, is that these records from medieval time are most often written in Latin and an abbreviated form at that.Â English began to be used from the late fifteenth century in more informal documents, but even so we are then faced with the old handwriting of the era and so it is not such an easy task.
The National Archives website has some useful tools in the form of online in-depth learning guides. These can also help you learn basic Latin skills useful for tackling the documents that you may come across. See theÂ Beginners’ Latin and Palaeography guides.
Being rather close to the continent as it is, Jersey has had more than its fair share of unwelcome visitors. The French invaded in 1781 and the brave Major Pierson beat them back but died before the end of the battle: the artist John Singleton Copley painted the scene (some years after the event) and the resulting picture is one of Jersey’s iconic images.
The years that followed this were uncertain ones, and the uncertainty became worse after the French Revolution. There was a real concern that the French would try again. But at the start of the 1800s, General George Don was appointed as Jersey’s Governor-General.
General Don put in place a massive programme of fortification works and new roads, and alongside that he carried out two censuses in 1806 and 1815 to track where the able bodied fighting men were. In addition to this, the censuses recorded the sizes of the households and the number of women, girls and under-aged boys.
Transcripts of both censuses are kept at the Archive. They were originally transcribed in the original format, names by parish and vingtaine, but there is also a single combined list of names for the 1815 Census. It gives an indication of the position of the listed man of the household and whether he was an ordinary soldier, or a drummer, or providing a horse.
Alongside the local militia forces, the British army maintained a significant garrison in Jersey right up to the Second World War. Its main sites were at Elizabeth Castle and Fort Regent, and regiments rotated in and out regularly. The Army doesn’t maintain a single definitive list of which regiments served when in the Jersey garrison, but there are partial lists compiled by CIFHS members in the Archive. There are also a small number of baptism, marriage and burial records which were kept specifically by the garrison rather than the parish of St Helier – and these may be worth a look.
Nearly at the end. The next post looks at what you can get from books, newspapers and photographs – until then, à bientôt!
Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society
There are not many places where the contribution you make to property rates is public knowledge, but Jersey is one of them.
In Jersey rates are paid in two parts: one part is paid by the owner of the property (the foncier rate) and the other is by the occupier (mobilier rate). There are sets of rate books in both the Archive and the Coutanche Library covering about a century up to 1965, plus some more recent data as well (ask for Taxation du RÃ¢t)
These arenâ€™t the easiest of documents to use, because the listing is an alphabetical list of ratepayers in each vingtaine (a vingtaine is a subdivision of a parish; the smallest parish (St Mary) has two, while St Helier has seven).
Ideally you need a detailed map of Jersey and a lot of patience â€“ but the listings can be very rewarding. They will indicate whether someone owns a property or not: they can also indicate something about the condition or size of the property (someone paying 5 quartiers of mobilier rates a year is going to be living more modestly than someone paying 20 quartiers a year. Itâ€™s also indicative, at least to some degree, if the person you are researching is not on the list of ratepayers â€“ that would indicate someone who was probably in a shared tenement and fairly low down the pile (because this became a lot less common as slum housing started to be replaced in the 20th century). Some of the parishes also published lists of people with dog and/or gun licences alongside their rates.
The existence of the rates books is also very handy in tying movement down. I knew that my wifeâ€™s family moved from one address to another between the 1891 and 1901 censuses: the fact that they suddenly started paying rates in 1896 or so pinpoints the move more exactly. Equally, my second cousins had a hotel in Grouville, but they disappear from the rate books in about 1905 â€“ only a year after the owner (to whom one of them was married) died.
Property owners have to acquire their property, and next time weâ€™ll be looking at what you can get from Jerseyâ€™s land registry system. Until then – Ã€ bÃ©tÃ´t!
Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society
As I mentioned last time, there are occasions where you find something in the BMD indexes and you canâ€™t get to Royal Square in time to see the certificates. But there are two sets of data in the Archive that can help you to nail dates of marriages and deaths down.
The first is what is referred to as the â€œthird copyâ€ of the marriage registers. Individual parishes maintain their own registers and then send copies of the certificates to the Superintendent Registrar to compile the full volumes. However, in between the two the Superintendent Registrar maintains draft registers â€“ and it is this that the Archive now possesses.
To access the draft registers, you need to use the Reference search facility on the OPAC. The collection reference you need is D/E: this will get you to the top of the collection. Reference D/E/B covers the third copy, and you will find that itâ€™s divided into individual collections from specific Church of England churches and general collections of nonconformist and civil marriages from 7 parishes. Itâ€™s not quite a complete set, but the vast majority of material is there and you will find that most of the time there is at least some degree of correlation between the indexes and the draft registers.
As far as recording deaths goes, the simple answer is that there will almost always be a burial shortly afterwards. There are two ways that you can attack this problem: one is to look at the records kept by the cemeteries, and the other is to check the funeral directors. Cemetery records exist for two of St Helierâ€™s major burial grounds â€“ Almorah and Mont Ã lâ€™AbbÃ© â€“ between about 1860 and 1950, and there are also records for some of the other burial grounds around the island including MacpÃ©la, the non-conformist cemetery at Sion Village. These are all in folders in the reading room. One cautionary word: women are indexed by their maiden name only (although the married name is given).
The Archive also received a major deposit from a local funeral director the other year, containing records of seven of their predecessor companies, some of which go back to about 1820. Again, youâ€™ll need to use the OPACâ€™s Reference Search, and this time the collection reference is L/A/41. Be aware that for any given period you may have to look at two or three different companiesâ€™ books â€“ but feel free to enlist the help of the volunteer from the Channel Islands Family History Society if you need advice. These records are fascinating, because they will tell you not only who was buried when, but how â€“ the relative spends on funerals vary from parsimonious to lavish â€“ and also who paid for it.
Death is one of the great certainties in life: taxation is the other, and weâ€™ll take a look at that next time. Until then – Ã€ bÃ©tÃ´t!
Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society
Recently I have seen that Ancestry.co.uk has launched on-line the Land Tax Valuations from 1910 London. Now we all know that property goes up and down, with most home owners expecting that the long term trend is up. Well this data collection reveals that the historic values of some of the capital’s most famous streets and landmarks from just over a century ago and no surprises that they were lower then than they are today.
Originally the records were compiled in 1910, from across the UK as part of David Lloyd George’s 1910 Finance Act and later refereed to as the ‘Domesday Survey’. The reason behind the government gathering this information was as a means to redistribute wealth through the assessment of land value.
What do the records contain for family historians? There is a listing of the owners and occupiers of the properties and it includes the address, value and annual rental yield for the properties in London in the early 20th century.
The average 1910 property could be purchased for a price tag of just Â£14,000, it would seem â€“ almost 3,000 per cent less than today.
Of particular interest are the values of famous landmarks included in the collection. The Bank of England; worth a mere Â£110,000 in 1910, the Old Bailey; worth just Â£6,600, and Mansion House; which contrastingly was valued at an impressive Â£992,000. St Paul’s Cathedral also features, but without a valuation as it is listed as ‘exempt’ from tax.
Perhaps more surprising is that the media-hub Fleet Street, was then home to numerous newspapers from outside of London including the Liverpool Courier, Yorkshire Evening News and the Newcastle Chronicle! A property on Fleet Street cost an average of Â£25,000 in 1910, compared to Â£1.2 million today.
The records provide us with a valuable snapshot of the ownership of land at the beginning of the 20th century. It may help those with ancestors who appear in the collection to find out more about their forebears respective financial situations and the lives they led a hundred years ago.
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones, whom I interviewed recently at Who Do You Think You Are? Live about their website, comments: â€œThese records are especially useful as a census substitute for people tracing their London ancestors who may not have been captured in the England and Wales 1911 Census.
â€œThe collection offers a fascinating insight into our capital at the beginning of the 20th century – a time when Britain was on the verge of major social, political and economic change.â€
The collection complements the extensive census records, ranging from 1841 to 1901, already online at Ancestry.co.uk.