To all readers of this blog I’d like to wish a very Happy Christmas.
Remember to keep your ears open, at this time of year when families come together, for any stories that can be useful when investigating your family tree.
I’ve already experiences a few reminiscences this week, some I am sure are a little bit exaggerated, but all worth a bit of investigation. These tales can often point you in a general direction and then you need to find out if they are correct by checking the primary sources. There is always the chance that the stories have grown over the years into the “received truth” with embellishments made for the telling or plain misremembering of the situation.
For some family history researchers Christmas time may be the only opportunity they get to gently question their senior family members about times past; but just as moderation in all things is a good motto to try and live by, don’t over do the questioning and end up making parents and grandparents think that they are being interrogated!
I’ve spent a few days visiting family and as always keeping my ear open for any tales of ancestors past. It has been very interesting discovering new stories that I had not heard before and even some tales told from a different perspective in the family.
I urge you to look on these opportunities that may come your own way as useful background to your family history, but do always treat them with some healthy scepticism! If possible do try to check the facts in some other way and if possible with some primary records such as official data sets.
I was listening to a rendering of a story when I suddenly realised that I recognised that I had actually been there myself and that I remembered it differently to the teller! The narrator had not even included me in the tale and the subject was treated in a different way than I recalled it.
So having dealt with faulty long term memory then there is the problem of my own poor short term memory. At one of my other visits to see family I found myself thinking that I would remember that useful piece of information as to the change of a person’s surname, to use in my further research into the tree. The trouble is today I just can’t remember what that surname is and as we were eating a meal at the time I couldn’tÂ just reach for my notepad and jot it down!
Above I have alluded to checking your facts with the primary sources. GRO vital records are a fine example of these and yet these let me down this weekend as well. So before I go I’d just like to issue you with one more warning of something to beware of in this family history pastime.
I was looking for the birth details of one of my cousins to show them how easy it was to use the births marriages and deaths data. They were nowhere to be found in the correct year for their birth and the reason for this? They had been registered with an incorrect spelling of their name! One extra letter had been inserted and on all the genealogy look up sites they appeared spelt in a different way form how they have been known since they and I were children.
I will be teaching more tips and tricks to break down your family history brick walls in my ongoing course for English or Welsh family history:
Don’t rely on the Internet only, I was once advised, go and look in the County Record Office for the actual records, you may find something else interesting there that you won’t be able to see online.
Since that day I have become a fan of our various archives and I believe that we need to support them by visiting when possible.
Usually a Record Office will also preserve a great deal of other archival material such as the records from independent local organizations, churches and schools. There may be papers donated by prominent people from the community, leading families, estates, companies, lawyers and more.
Some County Record Offices are also the Diocesan Record Office for the area and hold the ecclesiastical historic records as well. In some of the larger cities the local government may run its own City Record Office on the same principles as a County Record Office.
Archives may have been acquired by the record office either through donation from the original owner, or the documents may be deposited for safe keeping on long-term loan.
All of which may, or may not, be useful to you in finding out the story of your ancestors. But if you don’t go and look you will never know!
From the family historian’s point of view, the record office is a goldmine of original research documents which are valued as primary sources in the tracing of our ancestors.
The staff can offer direct access to documents or microfilmed copies in their public search rooms and provide a secure and supervised comfortable environment for research on these treasured documents.
So don’t just rely on the Internet, good as it is, but get out there and plan a visit to a record office or other archive this spring!
I am putting together an email course that teaches beginners about English and Welsh Family history. The tutorials are downloaded from a link that I send members weekly and one of the lessons will be on the subject of archives and repositories that I have written about above.
If you are starting out in tracing your English and Welsh ancestors and are finding that your forebears are hiding from you, behind those brick walls that we all encounter, then why not join me to learn how to get around those problems in Family Tree research?
As I walked around the exhibition hall at Olympia, taking in all the different stands for family history societies and suppliers, I came across four different companies at Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE offering to record your loved ones as they recall their oral family history, or recount different tales passed down to them from relatives thatÂ no longer are with us.
The first one I came across was that of SpeakingLives. This company records people’s life stories and memories and offers to beautifully present these personalised recordings of loved ones so that the client and their friends and family can enjoy them for generations to come. The recording is made available on audio CD and MP3.
I was attracted to the variety of memorabilia on their table, items that I assume could have been used to spark off memories in the subjects.
SpeakingLives prices start from Â£195, but they sometimes have special offers to take advantage of.
Gift vouchers are also available.
Next I found My Viography who specialised in professionally filmed “viographies” (video biographies) and family history documentaries. From what I gathered by talking to them on the stand they use the latest high-definition video and professional film-making techniques with a professional presenter.
They can use your family photographs, video clips, mementos and favourite music in your viography or family history documentary to really bring your story and personality to life. Also on offer is to scan in your old photographs and convert older film and video footage in a range of formats (Mini DV, Video 8, VHS, Betamax, Super 8 or 16mm film) to help you tell your story.
My Viography’s price for a video starts at Â£594, but this can be made in three payments of Â£198. They also have other packages that offer extras to the basic at higher price points in the thousands and an audio only one at Â£495.
Then there wasÂ Splendid ReflectionsÂ whose owner offered a life interview consultancy. Which she explains is your opportunity, from the comfort of your own home, to reminisce, reflect and record your life story and memoirs for the enjoyment of your children and grandchildren for years to come. The result would be made available to you on DVD in a mini-documentary style combining any of your own videos or photographs.
I was very taken by the empty chair and recording equipment on the next stand together with large professional microphone on the next stand that I found in this market.
Life Stories say that they can help you create a unique recording of your story; a carefully constructed audio autobiography to leave for family, friends, or simply for posterity.
They can also help you store it securely for future generations to access, enjoy and even expand; a digital family vault of recorded memories saved for ever.
Life Stories package was Â£600 that would include preparatory conversations with you and/or your family about what you want to cover.Â Planning the conversation and discussing how best to retrieve and organise memories before recording. Lengthy recording over the course of one day and several days editing and production to produce the finished product. Longer recordings could be done at a slightly higher cost.
These companies are providing an interesting service that adds a professional polish to the job of recording the family’s oral history and as all good family historians know, our family’s oral history stories are of very great importance to us. Though we should always remember to check the facts with primary sources before we add them to our family trees!
That said, how great will it be for your children’s children to be able to look back, in years to come, and hear or see their relatives talking?
I was taking my research, of a branch of my tree that I have never really looked into before, a stage further.
It was the family of the Master Mariner that I had identified in Findmypast’s records of merchant navy records online that I looked at last week. I had traced back my 2 x great grandparents to their marriage in Portsmouth in 1859 and found that her family were living in that maritime city at the time of the 1851 census. Having failed to identify them in any of the other census from the UK, I then took a look at the LDS familyserch.org website to see if I could find marriages and baptisms for the parents. Now the results here were equally sparse. I did, however, find a marriage in St Thomas’ church Portsmouth for what I believe to be my great-great-great grandparents. From the census of 1851 I had got the Christian names of the family unit and my 3x great grandparents appeared to be called John Malser and Rosanna Craydon and John was born in 1811.
I thought I was on track until I tried to research back these families in Portsmouth. At present I have no leads from the online websites for the Craydon branch. What I did find was a possible baptism, from some Hampshire Genealogical Society transcriptions on the findmypast website for St Thomas’ Portsmouth. This gives the baptism date as being 1809 and so I can not be sure that I have found the correct man, but he is certainly a possibility.
We are all aware, in the family history community, how dates of birth in the census records can often be recorded incorrectly. This is where the subject wishes to massage their age slightly for some reason, simply doesn’t know their age, or in the case of the 1841 census the age is rounded down to the nearest five years for anyone over 15. Likewise we know that errors creep into transcriptions when they are copied and so that information contained within them may not be correct. So what I am left with is a tentative branch to my tree that awaits further investigation by looking at original, or at least microfilm copies of, parish records when I am able.
Before leaving this new line I decided to enter my newly discovered ancestors into a search engine. I quickly found a family tree that showed a link from the Malser’s to my parental family line, the Thorn’s. Here, however, it claimed my 2 x great grandmother was the daughter of a differently named set of parents from those that appear in the one census return that I have found. If I had done my research the other way around and had decided to put into my tree the information that was published on another’s tree without checking to a primary source, then I could have unintentionally introduced errors into my tree. As it is all I have is some leads that also need to be checked against the primary source, when time allows, but at least I have one census that has sent me in the right direction.
The names on that other tree could be different for all manners of reasons. They could be nick names, a case of remarriage or just plain wrong. Always check your ancestors back to a primary source before you can be confident that you have found your family.
Take your family history further by considering a subscription to these websites:
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.
I have been doing some family history research this week to try and find a burial plot for someone that had been killed in action in World War II.
The information that I had passed on to me, identified a particular cemetery and came with a plot number. This seemed to circumnavigate a great deal of time for me searching out the details myself. On visiting that burial ground, however, the gave in the particular plot belonged to a completely different named family and was not that of the fallen soldier that I was looking for. The details had come to me via a member of the family and had been given to them by an archivist for one of the British Army’s Regiments. Somehow the cemetery that the soldier was buried in had become mixed up with another one in the same town and supplied in error.
On realising that the details that I had were wrong, I went back to basics and did a search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Here I was able to find the correct burial ground to go and visit and locate the grave in question.
The actual grave itself also cleared up some other queries that I had, as it was shared with members of the man’s maternal family as well as his father. What it revealed was that theÂ maternal surname was spelt differently from that which we had previously been given to understand and that his grandmother’s first name was not Daisy but was actually Minnie.
The lesson that I took away, yet again, is that information passed down a family can become clouded. Perhaps Minnie was always known as Daisy and her nick name had been remembered, while her given name had been forgotten, or it was just a simple mistake in recalling the name.
Surnames can be spelt differently. An example is that mine is Thorne with an “e”. But go back four generations and my ancestor spelt it without an “e” for part of his life and with one for the latter part. His father spelt it without.
The best rule of Family History is to always check details of ancestors in primary sources and to beware of transcription errors, those mistakes made in family folklore and second-hand information in general.
Wills can be of great use to any family historian for a number of reasons. They can furnish you with names of relatives, give you a description of the property that your ancestor owned at the time of their death and even reveal their favourite charity. Or though in my case I suspected that the charity that my aunt chose to leave the residue of her estate to was really her solicitor’s favoured charity and his suggestion!
Wills are one of the few documents written by your ancestor. For this reason they may give you an insight into their attitudes, social standing and their lifestyle. Perhaps, if you are lucky they can also explain family feuds and even expose scandals.
If, however, you discover that one of your ancestors seems to have been cut out of the will, you should always consider that this may not necessarily mean that they were disinherited. You should be open to considering that other arrangements had already been made for them in the lifetime of the deceased.
Quite a few family history researchers assume it is not worth checking if their ancestors left a will because they think their ancestor’s background precluded them from doing so. It is, however, wrong to believe that only a minority of people from the top of society left wills. Yes, it may be true that most people who left wills had some property of some kind or another. But wills can be found for people from amongst the very widest range of backgrounds.
Whilst it is perhaps true that only a small percentage of the population left a last will and testament, you should remember that for every person who did so means that there will be at least one other person mentioned in the document and this at least doubles your chance of finding a connection to your family tree, even if they are a distant relative.
It is possible, but not all that common, to find a will belonging to your family that pre-dates the parish registers, or even better where parish registers and the other primary sources have been destroyed or gone missing over the years.
You should know that before 1858 wills were generally proved in the church courts. In order to find a will in this time period will need you to have some understanding of the church hierarchy and how this bears relationship to the place or area that you are researching within.
So, what is a will?
It is a formal document stating exactly what a person desires should happen to their possessions after they have passed on. The person making a will is referred to as the Testator and they make a Last Will and Testament. This is actually a joint deed, the Will and the Testament.
Last Will and Testaments became the legal means of passing on one’s property in England in the year
1540. This was because it was only from that date that â€˜Freeholdâ€™ land could be gifted or “devised” through a will. Before this date a “testament” was legally only concerned with what the law knows as “personality”. this is a term referring to personal property, that is a personâ€™s moveable goods and chattels.
Why wasn’t it possible to pass on land? The answer lies with the fact that interests in “real property”, or the land and buildings your ancestors owned, would descend automatically to the deceased immediate heir. The church law, however, stated that at least one-third of a manâ€™s property should pass directly to his widow as her dower and then one-third to all his children.
In theory these rules could not be broken, however property owners found ways that they could get around them. As an example, whilst “Copyhold land” – land held from the Lord of the manor – could not be left in a will before 1815, it could still be given up or “surrendered” to be used in a will. This effectively meant that it could be left to whomever a person wanted! Other methods of circumnavigating the rule was to transfer one’s property to trustees who would hold it during the ownerâ€™s lifetime as per that personâ€™s instructions.
If you are lucky and find your ancestor has left a will you will see just how useful it is to the family historian.
Are you having trouble finding birth records for family members who have very common names? Have you tried to figure out which ones belong to you and which don’t using the census data but just can’t be sure you have the right people?
Often, when you can’t find records for a person, it can pay to take a step
back and sort of zoom out from concentrating on the one we can’t find.
By this I am suggesting that you take a look at that person’s siblings, if they
have any of course, and identify where theses other children of the parents of your difficult forebear were born. Once you have done this, you may be able to then trace the parents back.
It is worth looking at the census records for the streets around where your ancestor lived as sometimes families occupied houses quite near to each other. Sometimes they can even be living in the same road. Maybe clues can be had from investigating these parallel lines to your direct branch in the family tree.
It could be that you will need to go and search the Parish Registers in the County Record Office, for where your ancestor came from, to see if there are any leads to be had by looking at the microfilmed copies of the parish church records.
I have found that many of my ancestors were simply called John Thorn, which is pretty common in Devon!
I was in luck getting back one generation because my 3 x great-grandfather at least had a middle name of Branton. On doing some delving I found out that this was in fact his mother’s maiden name so I could find his parent’s marriage.
But John Branton Thorn’s father was simply called John Thorn (with no middle name) and he married Sarah Branton in a city centre church in Plymouth. The records that I have seen of the Parish register do not say that he was “of that parish” and indeed omit to say from which parish he was from at all!
I have had to put him on the back burner and concentrate on other lines in my tree, until I can find the time to go to Plymouth and check the primary source of-line records in the Record Office, such as the Bishop’s Transcripts etc.
Good luck in your research into ancestors with common names.
Use the following steps to discover your genealogy.
1.Â Every portion of a family history should be as complete as possible.Â Strive to assemble a precise account of each family’s history.Â In the future, we will be the ancestors.Â Those who follow us will appreciate working with correct and detailed information as they research their family tree.
2.Â Avoid being a copyist. DoÂ pull together as much documentation as you can for proper evaluation. Just because it is in in print or on the internet does not make it a true statement.Â Many earlyÂ family histories were based onÂ incorrect research.
3.Â AÂ family genealogy,Â to be useful should citeÂ the sources that were collected in the records.Â Use a reference bibliography and do your own genealogy research,Â when ever possible.Â Another person’s interpretation of the data may not be accurate.Â Copying another person’s error only makes it that much worse .
Sources ofÂ information fall into two categories, secondary and primary.Â Primary sources are those statements or records, written or verbal, made at or near the time of the event.Â The information will be an eyewitness or from someone closely associated with the happening. TheÂ quest to find primary sources should be obvious. A secondary source comes from someone not present at the time of the event, orÂ from one not closely associated with the occurrence.Â The recording perhaps would have been made later, from memory.Â Information sources are found in many places including vital records, census and obituaries.
4. Do not hesitate.Â Living relatives can provide eye witness versions which may never be found elsewhere.Â Â A life time of “tomorrows’ may be required to find the answer to a questionÂ that you should have asked.
5.Â With records,Â there are two criteria in judging credibility.Â Are the records original, or copies?Â An original record is the first recording of an happening inÂ accordance with the prescribed law or custom.
The event may be noted in more than one original records.Â The birth of aÂ infant could be recorded in Vital Statistics, in the Church Register,Â and perhaps in a Family Bible.Â These records would be considered as originals because,Â they are the first entry ofÂ that birth in thatÂ locality.Â A copied record is one that has beenÂ transcribed, compiled, or copied from another record.Â The other record may have beenÂ an original, or it may have been a copy.Â Whenever a copy isÂ transcribed there is a chance for error.Â Every new copy, increases the chances of errors.
6.Â A certified copy is considered an official copy, but it is a copy, and is subject to error.Â ThisÂ problem has beenÂ reduced with the wide spread use ofÂ electronic scanning or photocopying .Â Â AÂ scan of an originalÂ record should be consideredÂ as good as the original.
7.Â No genealogy is consideredÂ close to completion unless family tree research is done for eachÂ individual of the family.Â No one should be unnoted and no one should be eliminated.
8.Â A name should be recorded as the entire name.Â Avoid using ditto marks.Â Always record the complete names of the childrenÂ on a family group sheet or in your computer database.Â When If a person has been known by a name other than the given name,Â include it.
9.Â If you find aÂ nickname has been used, such asÂ Betty, on some documents, and or nickname for the same person onÂ other records, ensure you make note of the two names.
10.Â A child born out of wedlock assumes the mother’s name most frequently.
Some advice that I have found useful, over the years, is to listen to the more senior members of your family if you want to get leads for your family history research. The stories that they have to tell can sometimes be coloured by the passing of time and not be a hundred percent accurate. They can sometimes reflect the “receivedÂ wisdom” that has been passed down in the family to them, that is stories that have been adjusted to blur over anything that was thoughtÂ embarrassingÂ to previous generations. Nonetheless listening to our elders is an important place to start and onÂ occasionsÂ go back to as a source.
Recently I had the opportunity to learn a bit more from my father about his youth, his parents and trips he made on business. The catalyst was a day out with him on the Great Central Railway. Now getting our parents to sit down and talk about the old days can sometimes be difficult and so the opportunity that a birthday treat of Sunday Lunch in a First Class dinner carriage on a steam train on the Great Central Railway, provided a useful way of learning some new stories from the past.
My advice is to record what is said, using aÂ DictaphoneÂ if you have one, or by writing up your notes before you yourself forget them and store them away. The stories can then be used as leads to follow up in your family history research.Â Remember, however, to check any facts such as vital records details given with primary sources such as birth marriages and death records if you are going to enter them into your family tree! Mistakes are made, maybe not intentionally, but they do happen.