Twiggy’s Family History on Who Do You Think You Are?

 

wdytya2014_twiggy  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?

Workhouse tasks

Picking oakum (pulling apart old rope) was a punishment in prison for Twiggy’s 2x great-grandmother. It was also the task given to Workhouse inmates.

 

 

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!

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How To Find Ancestors, A Professional’s Tip

 I was having a chat with a professional genealogist recently.

During the discussion I mentioned a particular brick wall that I had in my family tree.

“When was the last time you reviewed it?” he asked.

“Ah, I see what you mean!” I replied. “It is over six months since I sent it to the back burner and concentrated on other easier to find people.”

 

It is a lesson that even I forget to do and that is to periodically go back and see if, with new information you can now make some progress.

New record sets may have become available in the time since you last looked at your ancestor. It may be the release of yet more transcripts by Family History Societies, or those of the genealogical retailers that can now aid you. New parish records may have been uploaded to the likes of Ancestry,  TheGenealogist  or Findmypast.

Your ancestor may appear in one of the more diverse data sets that the subscription sites are releasing such as the Tithe Records on TheGenealogist, new occupational records on Ancestry, or The British in India records on Findmypast.

It is not just the case of reviewing the recently released documents on the subscription sites, that I am advocating. Take a look again at sets you may already have used. Perhaps, in the light of your experience and any new found knowledge that you have gained since last you looked, the answers may now be clear.

 

With my friend’s advice I set about looking again at a brick wall that I had in Devon.

In 1794 I have a John Thorn marrying a Sarah Branton in Plymouth in the parish of Charles on the 12th January. This John Thorn is not listed as being of the parish, yet his wife is.

They then move quickly to Dartmouth where their son, also called John is born with the child being baptised on the 28th September of the same year. In the marriage register, in Plymouth, John Thorn Senior was listed as a mariner and so it does not surprise me much that they pitch up along the coast at another port. But then what happens to them?

The Mouth of the River Dart.

Dartmouth, Devon.

We are taught to always kill off our ancestors as good practice. In my case I had not found the death records for John Thorn Senior, nor of his wife Sarah. I had an inkling that they probably settled in Dartmouth, as the line remains there for another two to three generations, but I did not know if they stayed or not.

Since reviewing my notes on the searches I made, in the parish records at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter, I have now realized that I had indeed found a possible burial of a John Thorn in Dartmouth in January 1810, but had not entered it into my family tree.

The page from the parish of St Saviour’s, Dartmouth, had helpfully given me the information that this particular John Thorn was only 41 at his death This means he could be a candidate for the marriage in 1794, as he would have been 25 in that year.

St Saviours on phone camera

St Saviour’s Dartmouth

When I last looked at the parish records, on the visit to the Devon Heritage Centre (previously the County Record Office), I had been disappointed not to have found the burial entry for his wife Sarah in the same parish and so I had put this line of enquiry aside.

But now, as I looked back at my notes, I see that I had also done a thorough job and looked at all the other churches in the town. I had found, among all the people buried in Dartmouth, and with the correct surname, one Sarah Thorn aged 50.

Dartmouth St Clements

Dartmouth, St Clement’s. Townstall

This Sarah Thorn is buried at the Parish church of St Clement’s, Townstall, Dartmouth on the 21st June 1818. At 50 she would have been born in 1768 and so she may well have been the wife of John, who was buried 8 years prior in the daughter church of St Saviour’s that is closer to the port.

Looking back at my visit to the record office I can recall that I finished my trawl of the parish record microfiche as a deadline for me to leave approached. I had a flight to catch from Exeter Airport and a connecting bus from outside of the Met Office to get me there. In my rush I had noted down the finding but had not looked at it in the right frame of mind. So perhaps here is another reason for reviewing your brick walls.

Now that the Devon Parish Records are on Findmypast I was recently able to go back and look at them at my leisure. This time without the pressure of missing a flight and so I can hypothesize that these two individuals are very possibly my direct ancestors.

Regretfully, with the paucity of information to identify someone contained in the pages of most parish records, I can not be completely sure. As with anyone with a common name there is always the possibility that they are simply namesakes.

If you would like to learn more about Death records, parish registers or good practice in doing English/Welsh family history then take a look at joining the Family History Researcher.

There is a special trial offer price of £1 for the first 2 weeks at the moment. Click the banner below.

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‘National Union of Teachers’ War Records from 1914 to 1919

 

I was passing by a village war memorial this week, still resplendent with its poppy wreaths from the  remembrance day service. I took to wondering about who these named individuals, carved in stone, were and what their lives had been before they went off to fight and die for their country.

So it is sort of apt that I just got this in from TheGenealogist. It deals with the National Union of Teacher’ War Records, giving some insight into one set of professionals who answered the call to go to war.

 

The Diamond subscription on TheGenealogist now has over 18,000 new records to access from the ‘National Union of Teachers’ War Records from 1914 to 1919. These records include a list of teachers who joined the forces, those who received honours, and also those who were sadly killed, plus other information relating to the National Union of Teachers during the war.

J Harrison V.C. M.C.

Covering all N.U.T. members who served in the war and also discussing issues of the time, such as pensions, salary levels of teachers who joined the army and fund raising for relief in Europe.

 

The records are a comprehensive list of members of the National Union of Teachers who served in the Great War. The teaching profession and its members responded to the great nationwide pressure to ‘do their bit’, with most male teachers of service age answering the call to arms.

The ‘National Union of Teachers’ had a number of courageous medal recipients amongst its members. Listed here is 2nd Lieutenant Jack Harrison of the East Yorkshire Regiment. He was killed in May 1917 in Oppy Wood, France aged 27. After having earlier won the Military Cross for bravery, he was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross for single-handedly attacking a German machine gun post to protect his platoon. His body was never found.

He taught at Lime Street Council School in Hull and also played rugby league for Hull FC as a prolific try scorer. He is listed among the ‘Gallant War Dead’ in the records along with the name of his school.

Hull War Dead

 

The records provide an interesting insight into how a specific profession and its union coped with the events of The Great War. Taken from the National Union of Teachers War Records 1914 to 1919 publication, the records can be found in the War Service Lists in the Military Records section on TheGenealogist.

Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist comments: “The war affected so many lives, but it can often be hard to trace records for those who survived. This is why TheGenealogist is committed to providing more unique records of those who survived, whether they are casualty lists, prisoners of war, or in this case full service lists for specific professions. We are aiming to continually add more of these specialist records to provide family historians with more unique data at their fingertips.”

Take a look at TheGenealogist.co.uk to search these records.

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Disclosure: All links are compensated affiliate links.

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The Family History Researcher and Harold P Matthews

Last week I wrote about how a family story had sent me off looking for my great-uncle Harold who served in the RAF during the Second World War and rising from Warrant Officer to Wing Commander in the Technical Branch.

One of my kind readers suggested a lead after they had done a Google search for H.P.Matthews that threw up a person of this name working for the Australian Department of Supply in a document referring to the Blue Streak Missile project. I had also come across something similar in Google Books and so was likewise wondering if there was a connection to Australia.

I set to work doing a trawl of Google search results and found a copy of an article in a 1959 copy of Flight Magazine with a picture of the Australian Government London Representative of the Department of Supply Mr H P Matthews.

http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1959/1959%20-%202503.html

Regretfully I came to the conclusion that it didn’t look to me to be the same man. You see I have a picture of my Great-Uncle in my baby photo album! He and my great-aunt Winnie came to visit me in the late 1950’s (I was born in the summer of 1958) and there is one of them with me as a baby.

A further search of Google books have thrown up some snippet views of books that have Wg. Cdr H P Matthews appointed as the managing director of Zwicky Ltd in 1958. This company was a filters, pumps, airport ground equipment, pressure control valves, and hydraulic equipment manufacturer of Slough and Harold Matthews was also the MD of SkyHi Ltd. a hydraulic jack manufacturers also of Slough and possibly related to the first company.

 

I did a search on the website www.forces-war-records.co.uk and here I could see that H.P.Matthews was awarded the MBE, OBE and BEM, 1939-1945 War Medal, 1939-1945 Star and was Mentioned in Despatches, but not a lot else.

I am still at the beginning of cracking this family story and it is a major regret that I didn’t know Uncle Harold better. It would seem he was some sort of an aviation engineer, but I still don’t know what he did in the war that got him such promotion and honours!

http://www.apimages.com/oneup.aspx?rids=b122ed18743d49238762fd28fd2f913b

 

Disclosure: The above advert is a compensated affiliate link which may mean I get rewarded should you join their website.

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Multiple baptisms in Record Office

When I was in the Devon County Record Office the other week looking for ancestors to put in my family tree, I came across a job lot of children bearing my surname and all being baptised on the same day in 1811. Now as far as I can tell this multiple baptismal party are not direct ancestors of mine, but their record interested me all the same.

I had been looking for a John Thorn, at around the turn of the century from 1799 to 1805, and had noted on the familysearch.org website that there was such a christening in 1811 for a child born in 1803. (“England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/J79W-GBY : accessed 16 Sep 2012), John Thorn, 23 Jul 1803; reference , FHL microfilm 917191.)

There can be many reasons for a late christening and indeed some people were not baptised until they were adults.

Archive Church Register

A Church Record from the Archive

While in the DCRO I followed up this lead by looking at their microfiche copies of the original St Petrox, Dartmouth church registers. What I found was that there were actually 5 children, all being the offspring of a John and Mary Thorn, being baptised that day and the original records gave the explanation for this in a note by the vicar.

“The above 5 children were born at Little Bay, Newfoundland.”

Dartmouth, it would seem, has a long history of men sailing across the other side of the Atlantic to the rich cod fishing grounds. A tradition that is mirrored in the island of my birth, Jersey.

While my interest was raised by the partial explanation for the multiple baptism in the records, I searched the web for details of Little Bay, Newfoundland. It would seem that there is still a place with that name in today’s Canada, but there was also a previous settlement in Newfoundland that is now called St Georges, but previously had the same name as well.

Dartmouth-history.org.uk has several documents that explain the development of the town and its harbour. It would seem that the Newfoundland trade was greatly reduced by the the Napoleonic wars, the number of ships annually involved dropping from 120 to 30 by 1808   (see: http://www.dartmouth-history.org.uk/content_images/upload/Nfland_fishing.htm)

Also this same site notes that… “the dominant families in Dartmouth for over 100 years were the Holdsworths and Newmans, both of whom acquired land in Portugal and Newfoundland, and became prosperous in the triangular trade between England, Newfoundland and Spain/Portugal/the Mediterranean.” While my family were humble mariners, much like the family I had identified in these church records.

I have ruled out that this family group are my direct ancestors by the dates given in the parish registers for their births. Of course, often in a church record you only get the baptismal date, but because the vicar was doing a batch of little Thorns at one time he has very usefully included their birth dates!

I wonder if this family, having been making a living in Newfoundland for some years had found the reduction in trade, caused by the Napoleonic wars, forced them back to England? Then, having put up in a small community like Dartmouth, they had come under pressure to christen their brood of children. Or perhaps there was no church at Little Bay that they felt able to use.

Who knows the answer to these questions; but this little example shows how family history, as opposed to genealogy, can be about the stories that are behind the bland statistics of births, marriages and deaths.

 

The websites that I am using the most at the moment are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To take your family history further I highly recommend that you too consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer:

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online


Disclosure: 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 Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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