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

 

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From Flight Sergeant to Wing Commander

I have been talking to senior members of the family again, in the hope of finding out interesting snippets about relatives passed lives and one fascinating character to be spoken about was that of my great-uncle Harold.

I recall Uncle Harold and Auntie Winnie, the sister of my paternal grandfather, coming on holiday to the St Brelades Bay Hotel in Jersey when I was a child growing up in this island. I know that he died in 1969 and so it must have been in the sixties that they would have come over on holiday.

My father recalls that he and his brother would be taken by Uncle Harold to Farnborough, as young men and that their uncle was treated with a great deal of respect by the people there.

It would seem that in the war Harold Matthews joined the RAF technical branch, but what he did no one in the family seems to now recall. It was certain that he didn’t pilot planes. Also known was that at the beginning of the war he was a Flight Sergeant and that when he retired from the RAF he was a Wing Commander.

To start my research I went to the London Gazette online and soon found that on the 9th of July 1940 Warrant Officer 162784 Harold Perring Matthews (43860) was granted a commission for the duration of  hostilities as a Flying Officer.

Another search found that on 1st January 1941 Acting Flight Lieutenant Harold Perring Matthews was admitted as an Additional Member of the Military Division of the said Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. That was one year into the war and it is intriguing to wonder what he had done in the service of the country.

Next was a hit for 18 July 1947 and H P Matthews OBE is being promoted from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander. and then on the 10 February 1956 Wing Commander H P Matthews OBE  BEM (43860) retires from the Royal Air force.

This is an interesting man and would seem to call for more research from me.

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WDYTYA? LIVE is nearly here!

Who Do You Think You Are? Live is now just a few days away, and I am looking forward to seeing what the organisers promises to be “the biggest family history event the country has ever seen”.

The show takes place this weekend (24-26 February) in Olympia, London, and as ever will bring together exhibitors and organisations from the world of genealogy.

One of the biggest attractions that they promise at this year’s show will be the Irish section. So any of you out there with roots from the Emerald Isle should pop along to Olympia and discover some creative techniques to uncover new connections in that country that has always been just a little bit difficult to do research in before.

I’m also very much looking forward to the popular Celebrity Theatre which will see talks from the likes of actors Larry Lamb and Emilia Fox, and presenter Richard Madeley.

For those of us that are interested in our ancestor’s occupations the new section called Our Walking Past reveals ancestors’ trades to visitors. In the press release that I saw it promises that whether our forebears worked down a mine or owned it, built ships or sailed on them, we’re sure to find invaluable information from the experts on hand.

On Saturday there is the chance to book oneself a seat for the new Keynote Workshop which is due to start at 1pm. This informative talk will focus on recent issues in the world of genealogy, specifically the advancement of social media and how it can help you with your research.

Also to look out for are the Military Pavilion and the Society of Genealogists’ Workshop Programme of  experts advice and demonstrations and you can find a complete schedule at www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com. Make sure you book yourself a place on the one you want as they tend to fill up quickly. The website and show Facebook page also have all the latest news, as well as great competitions and offers.

Who Do you Think You Are? LIVE 2011
Who Do you Think You Are? LIVE 2011

 

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What is the future for finding the past online?

I’ve been reading a business tip today. It was all about what big company may wish to gobble up the likes of Ancestry.com in the future.

It began from the premise that family history was big business, with the more of us turning to online resources such as the subscription sites run by Ancestry who have grown their revenue every quarter since they went public on the New York Stock Exchange.

I have always thought of Ancestry as being one of the big players in the genealogical market. But this article, by The Mottley Fool, talks about the possible threat of a larger company than them entering the market. The likes of Facebook, Google, or Microsoft being their assumed predators.

All three of these organisations could take advantage of the massive amounts of information that they have acquired, plus the technological skills of the programmers that they employ to build a more streamlined search website than what is already on offer in the market.

As The Motley Fool points out Facebook has its Timeline feature, which is an indication that they have noticed the potential of our hobby. There is Google, a big player in organising information, to consider as well. Meanwhile, Microsoft have something called Project Greenwich which allows its users to collect together their photos, links, scanned objects, and potentially more information to create chronological timelines about specific events, people, places, or things. It would not take much for them to turn this into an interactive timeline of our family history.

It is suggested that by providing such a timeline that this would encourage people to remain as members of sites like Ancestry for longer and thus defend them against the problem of membership churn. The article  concludes that perhaps these firms will go down the partnership route, or that Microsoft licenses its technology to the likes of Ancestry.

But who knows what will be on offer to us in the future in researching the past online?

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Did you see June Brown on Who Do You Think You Are?

Did you see June Brown on the BBC’s new series of “Who Do You Think You Are?” last night?

It was really interesting in the number of generations of her Jewish line that they were able to trace. I was fascinated by the different countries they had to go and research in, as each generation moved on, sometimes by being forced out and sometimes for economic reasons. If you missed it the countries included the Barbary Coast of North Africa, present day Algeria, Italy, Holland and England.

Not only was it revealing of June’s family history but it shone a light on a wider history of the times and, as she said in the programme, “the wandering Jew”. Wandering because they had to, not by choice.

 

Has the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ got you interested in researching your own family history? Findmypast.com are offering you 10% off subscriptions. You’ll have access to over 850 years’ worth of records including complete census, births, deaths, marriages, military and many more specialist records. Start searching for your ancestors now!



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One in 20 of us Brits use MyHeritage.com, the Online Family Network

When I was at Olympia I had a chat to Mario Ruckh from MyHeritage.com, one of the most popular family networks on the web. They had just announced that they has surpassed the 3 million registered user milestone in the United Kingdom, which is some figure! So with more than one in every twenty people in the UK now using MyHeritage.com, online family history would seem to be becoming a part of the fabric of internet life for the mainstream.

So what is it? Well they say it is a mix of social networking and genealogy, where MyHeritage.com provides a free and private place online for families to explore their history and keep in touch.

When the camera stopped rolling they gave me one of their press packs and from this I can report that there are currently over 3,176,905 registered users of MyHeritage.com out of a total UK population of approximately 62 million. More facts, for those that like them, are that the Global membership of MyHeritage.com has risen steadily since the website launched in November 2005, indicating a rising trend for researching roots, and collecting and sharing family memories online.

I always knew that this hobby was growing, but now I know that I’m not alone here!

When measured by the number of registered users for MyHeritage.com, there is more interest in family history in the UK than any other European country.

“Our phenomenal growth in the UK and around the world indicates that family history is transforming into a popular mainstream activity”, said Laurence Harris, UK Genealogy Manager at MyHeritage.com and a researcher for the BBC’s WDYTYA (Who Do You Think You Are?) programme. “By enabling people to explore and share their family histories on the web for free, MyHeritage.com is helping drive this trend. We’re delighted to provide the British people with the tools to discover their rich and diverse family histories”.

With one of the longest and most celebrated histories, and as a nation rich in multiculturalism, the British Isles present fertile conditions for the genealogy market.

For people wishing to trace their past, MyHeritage.com’s free Smart Matching™ technology has already helped hundreds of thousands of people discover ancestors and locate long-lost relatives, reuniting families whose ties have been broken by time and fate. The technology matches between the people in a user’s family tree and more than 700 million people in 17 million other family trees on MyHeritage.com.

With over 54 million users, huge global reach and support of 36 languages, MyHeritage.com helps users find and reunite with family members all around the world. Several dozen user stories can be found on the MyHeritage Blog, including some exciting stories from the UK. People wishing to begin tracing their roots can visit www.myheritage.com and start filling out their family tree today.

A completely free basic site comes with Smart Matchingâ„¢, Family Tree Charts, social networking features for family members and more. A premium subscription can help take family history research one step further with enhanced features for finding, documenting and sharing family history.

MyHeritage.com were exhibiting at the WDYTYA (Who Do You Think You Are?) show at Olympia, London, between the 25th-27th February at stand 505 in the National Hall and that was where I recorded this interview.

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Researching family in Jersey, part 8: Military Records

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

 

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Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE is coming soon.

Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE Olympia 2008

Its getting close to that time of the year again! I mean when the Who Do You Think You are? LIVE comes to London. If you have followed me for any time then you will know how much I enjoy this show for the chance to see lots of fellow minded family historians all gathered in one place.

This year the management has changed as BBC Magazines Bristol has bought a majority share in the UK’s largest family history event.

Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE was first brought to us back in 2007 by Brand Events, the consumer event specialists, and  the television production company, Wall To Wall ( a Shed Media company) who were responsible for the highly successful TV programme: Who Do You Think You Are? The annual genealogical event is staged at London’s Olympia and last year attracted over 14,000 visitors including me!

So who are the new organizers? Well BBC Magazines Bristol is an award-winning specialist interest arm of BBC Magazines. They are the publishers of the “Who Do You Think You Are?” Magazine and together with Wall To Wall will run the event. Brand Events will be acting as consultants for the 2011 event, so they have not bowed out completely.

Andy Healy, Show Director of Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE and Publisher of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to further help genealogists, from beginners to experts, delve deeper into their own stories. The event has been so successful over the past four years, it’s incredibly exciting to be taking it on at such a buoyant time for this industry.”

Claire Hungate, Commercial Director of the Shed Media Group, commented: “Brand Events have done an amazing job of launching the show and establishing it as the biggest genealogy event in the UK and we very much look forward to building on that success and further developing the show’s reach with BBC Magazines Bristol.”

I’m looking forward to attending the event and maybe catch up with some of you there?

Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE Olympia 2008
Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE Olympia
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Family Tree Researchers See More Online Parish Records

I have noticed recently that there seems to be more Parish Records coming online for those of us researching our English Family Tree. Welcome news indeed for family historians that find it difficult to travel to the areas where their ancestors came from.

Websites such as Freereg.org.uk are aiming at putting more than a million transcripts on the web thanks to a programme of digitisation by the Parish Register Transcription Society (PRTSoc). Until recently this society has only ever made its transcripts available on CD, so this is good news.

In partnership with a technology firm called Frontis Archive Publishing, the first batch of transcripts have been uploaded from more than 300 parishes across 17 English counties.

To search the indexes cost you nothing. To view an entry is one credit and 10 credits can be bought for £2 with a sliding scale if you want to purchase more. The proceeds are going towards funding further transcription and should they end up with a surplus, then this will be given to the mental health charity Rethink.

While I am glad to see better access to transcript from the parish records there are some questions in my mind. We all know that transcriptions are no substitute for the original. Good family historians are taught to always go and look at the source material to make sure that no errors have crept into the transcribed record.

Other things to be wary of is who made the transcription that the index is based upon? Is the record a complete one without any significant gaps? Has the information been checked against Bishop’s transcripts and Licence records?

But, in spite of this, the fact that more Parish Records are finding their way online is wonderful news for those of us researching our English Family Tree.

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