I watched the Sir Derek Jacobi episode of Who Do You think You Are? with great interest this week. The television researchers showed us that although the famous actor was born into a South London family of humble stock, he was descended from a Huguenot ancestor of status. Joseph De La Plaigne had been imprisoned in France for his protestant beliefs, before making his escape to England in his sixties.
It gave me great delight to find the TV programme showed Sir Derek a copy of his illustrious forebear’s will, as I too had discovered this very same document when looking around the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills on TheGenealogist’s website.
Many people from all stations of society, including some whom we would not have expected to have, made wills and so it is certainly worth taking a look to see if your ancestors left one.
Before 1858, England and Wales were divided into two provinces. The largest and most influential was Canterbury, which covered the South of England up to the Midlands and also Wales. The other was York, which covered Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and the Isle of Man. The two provinces of Canterbury and York each had their own Archbishop, and were divided into several dioceses. Each diocese had a minimum of two bishops, and these dioceses were also divided again into archdeaconries.
All wills, up until 12 January 1858, had to be proven in a church court to ensure that the will was legal. Wills were proven in over 250 church courts across the country, and the records of these are now stored mostly in local record offices.
For more on wills there is a module that reveals more about the subject inside the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History that is available from the link below. The course takes the student from beginning researching their English/Welsh ancestor to deal with many intermediate level lessons such as wills and much more.
With the holiday season well and truly in swing, I’m on a weekend in London as you read this hopefully getting my fill of museums and heritage sites.
If you are like me and end up visiting parts of the country that you are unfamiliar with, then I’d recommend The History & Heritage Handbook 2015/16 to you.
Not content with this current short break, I’m also planning another few days in the South of England in September, perhaps going to the Record Offices and archives there. Plus I’ve a visit to the Midlands in the next few months. Back in June I was in Salisbury and saw the copy of the Magna Carta that is on show in the chapter house of the cathedral there and visited some other historical venues while there.
The new History & Heritage Handbook 2015/16 edited by Andrew Chapman and published by Heritage Hunter came out only recently and is invaluable to help people like me make the most of our visits.
The book is a comprehensive guide to almost 3500 places and organisations in the UK , the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Each of the entries provides the contact details and a brief description, many of which give specific information about specialist collections and all listed across more than 500 pages..
I recommend you use it to
research your family history: as the book includes details of county record offices and family history societies
find thousands of heritage sites to visit on holiday or for day trips
learn about special archives in museums and libraries across the UK, ideal for researching local, social or military history
Hit a brick wall with your English/Welsh ancestors?
Learn how to discover the many records and resources to find your forebears within
I was lucky enough to have some time recently to look around Salisbury Cathedral and in amongst the treasures of that beautiful place of worship I noticed a couple of ancient chests that were being completely ignored by the streams passing visitors.
As a family historian, interested in searching for ancestors in the Parish Records, I am acutely aware that these interesting heavy wooden pieces of furniture also appear in churches up and down the country and at one time performed a vital function in the preservation of documents that we use today in researching our families.
In my English/Welsh family history course, available online at www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com, I cover Parish Chest records in more detail in lesson 8. If you want to know more about how to tease out your elusive ancestors, from the documents that they were recorded in, then perhaps you may like to join me and numerous satisfied students on an online journey to learn more about the resources and records that you could be using.
As a teaser I am reproducing some of the content of that lesson below:
The Parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, were first introduced by Henry VIII’s Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell in 1538 to the English Church. Cromwell, who supervised the church through his position as Henry’s Vicar General and Vice regent, required that every parish church was to acquire a sure coffer (that is, a parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored.
The parish chest was not a new idea, however, they could have been found in churches up and down the land all the way back to medieval times. Often no more than a hollowed out tree trunk that was secured with three locks. The keys to which were to be kept by the Bishop, the Priest and by a religious layman. What was new, in Tudor times, was the notion that Cromwell dictated that accurate records were to be kept and the responsibility to do so was placed on the parish officials to keep these records safe.
By the mid-1500’s the parishioners in every parish of the land were instructed by law to provide a strong chest with a hole in the upper part thereof, and having three keys, for holding the alms for the poor. Another chest may have been used to keep safe the church’s plate and this or the first chest would also double up as a place where the parish registers and other parish documents could be kept safe. In some places only one chest would have sufficed for both purposes, while in other parishes two or more may have been used.
As can be seen by the pictures above, The Parish Chest was just that; a chest locked and housed in the church that could now only be opened by the Vicar and two officers of the parish.
It was the place for the parish church to keep safe its documents away from mice, dust and other conditions that may have damaged them. But as the chest filled up with records, then the oldest papers at the bottom would have been disposed of to make room for newer documents to go on top. For this reason alone many records will not have survived to the present day.
That is sad as the various account books, bundles of documents of all different sizes, could be valuable information. You may be able to read some fragments of extra information about your forebears and their lives, if your ancestor had dealings with the church in their parish. It could be that your ancestor was an artisan that was paid for some service by the parish clerk.
Perhaps your ancestor was mentioned in Settlement Examinations? Or Apprenticeship Indentures? What about bastardy examinations and bonds? Maybe the Constables’ and Overseers’ account books?
All of these records are what we call the Parish Chest documents as formally they would have lived in such a container in the church.
The reason why these documents may not have survived through to the present day are many. Some parishes would have been poor at keeping good records, anyway. Others may have consciously destroyed their documents while yet more parishes lost their records accidentally – perhaps through carelessness, water damage, fire, fungus, mold, or by being eaten by insects or animals.
As a consequence, when Parish Chest material has survived, for your parish, then you will definitely want to take a look at what has endured the years as it can open up a fantastic insight into your ancestor’s parish.
Other Parish Records
Here are some other records in the parish chest:
The Churchwardens Accounts
Glebe Terriers and Tithe Records
Charity Accounts (possibly not of a great deal of use to family historians!)
Petty Constables Accounts
Various other miscellaneous records
As I have stressed above, it is by no means certain that these documents will have survived the ravage of time, if they have, however, then the originals should now be stored away safely at the relevant County Record Office for the church in question. You see how the County Record Offices come up time and time again? I love visiting them and I encourage any of you that can to do so too.
In many cases you may be lucky enough to find that a local history society, or a county record society, may have published some of these records in full, if so then do take a look at their publications.
Be warned, however, that it is unusual to find any generally available on the Internet. Despite this caveat, I would still say that it is worth your while doing a search on Google, Bing or some other search engine.
Also it is worth seeing if they have possibly been filmed by the LDS and so made available from your local Family History Centre.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
A Happy St David’s day to all my Welsh friends and readers of this blog.
While many of the records for doing Welsh family history are the same as those for neighbouring England, there are some differences when it comes to researching in Wales, or Cymru as it is known in its own language.
For those of us used to finding our family records in the County Record Offices in England will discover that much is the same in Wales. Researchers will find that records of registration of births, deaths and marriages are exactly the same in Wales as in England, and that the Registrar General’s indexes cover both England and Wales.
The census is the same, except for an extra question from 1891 when all those aged 3 and over were asked whether they spoke English only, Welsh only, or both languages.
Anglican parish records are the same as those for England, and are kept in local authority archives in the same way.
Some of the differences, however, that can cause us to stumble are Common names, the favouring of Patronymics, the Welsh language, and that many families were not members of the Established Church.
Nonconformity, being more important in Wales than in some parts of England, may mean that you find that your ancestors didn’t go to the local parish church. In many chapels the language used was Welsh, and some of the records may also be in Welsh.
Because the country has its own language English speakers may find the place names to be unfamiliar to them.
Another difference, from the English system, is that in England the County Record Offices are (in most cases) the diocesan record offices and therefore hold all the records of the diocese, such as Wills, bishop’s transcripts and marriage bonds and licences, as well as parish records. In Wales, the National Library of Wales is the diocesan record office for the whole of Wales, and therefore holds all the bishop’s transcripts, marriage bonds and licences, and Wills proved in Welsh church courts.
The National Library of Wales or Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru is very important for our research as it acts as the main repository for family history research in Wales holding a vast number of records useful to the family historian – census returns, probate records, nonconformist records and tithe maps, to name but a few, will help at some point during research.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources to use to find elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
MILLONS OF NEW DEVON BAPTISM, MARRIAGE AND BURIAL RECORDS PUBLISHED ONLINE
RECORDS REVEAL OVER 375 YEARS OF DEVONSHIRE HISTORY
As someone with a paternal line that is almost all from Devon I am really pleased to see that findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time parish records in partnership with Devon Heritage Services, as the latest instalment of their 100in100 promise to launch 100 record sets in 100 days.
Spanning 1538 to 1915, the Devon Collection is a rich source comprising over 4 million fully searchable transcripts and scanned colour images of the handwritten parish registers held by the record offices in Barnstaple and Exeter. With Plymouth and West Devon Record Office’s records already available on findmypast, these new additions mean that findmypast’s Devon Collection is the best possible place to find Devonshire ancestors.
The baptism, marriage and burial records of many notable Devonians are stored within the collection. The baptism of literary icon Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ and founder of the Romantic Movement, can be viewed in records from the parish of Ottery St Mary.
Bad boy satirist John Gay, member of the Scriblerus club and author of ‘The Beggars Opera’, was born in Barnstaple in 1685 and records of his baptism in 1686 can be found from the Parish of Black Torrington.
Crime writer Agatha Christie’s baptism record appears in the parish register of Tormohun in 1890 under her maiden name Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller.
Legendary explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who was famous for completing the Hajj to Mecca disguised as a pilgrim, translating the Karma Sutra into English and becoming the first European to visit the great lakes of Africa amongst other exploits, was born in Torquay in 1821 and is recorded in the collection.
The records also include the polymath Charles Babbage, who is widely considered to be the father of the computer. Records of his 1814 marriage were kept by the parish of East Teignmouth.
Sir John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and ancestor of Winston Churchill was born in the parish of Musbury at the height of the Civil War. He was a legendary soldier who revolutionised the British army in the late 17th century and was, for a time, one of the richest men in England. Details of his baptism can also be viewed in the archives.
VC winner and hero of the Zulu wars, Sir Redvers Henry Buller, is yet another famous military man from the county. Sir Redvers was widely celebrated before his disastrous leadership during the Second Boer War saw him sacked by the Minister for War, St. John Brodrick. He was born in Crediton in 1839 and died there in 1908, with both events being recorded by the parish.
Devon is one of the largest counties and therefore highly significant for family historians. As Maureen Selley, Chairman of Devon Family History Society www.devonfhs.org.uk, whose records are also available on findmypast, put it; “We all have Devonshire ancestors, it’s just that some of us haven’t found them yet.” Findmypast’s existing Devon records are already the most popular parish record set on the website.
The records are also of international significance as many historic Devonians emigrated to Canada, the US and Australia to work in the booming mining, fishing and agricultural industries. Devon’s position on the west coast meant that it was often used as a jumping off point for those headed to the United Sates. The Mayflower, the ship that carried the first pilgrims across the Atlantic, departed from Plymouth and the Devon Collection houses records that predate this famous voyage. These new records will help people from all over the world to trace their ancestral roots back to the county.
The Devon Collection adds to findmypast’s already extensive cache of parish records, the largest available online. These records allow family historians to go as far back as the 1500s, and with more parish records still to come as part of the 100in100 promise, family historians can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before.
Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “The Devon Collection is one of the largest regional parish record collections available anywhere online and contains some truly wonderful gems. This is the first time that parish records for the whole county have been available to search in one place, enabling people all around the world to discover fascinating details of Devonshire ancestors they didn’t know they had in this historical goldmine.”
Tim Wormleighton, of Devon Heritage Services said: “ We are delighted that, after a lengthy process of preparation involving a lot of hard work by a large team, people will now be able to access high quality images of the majority of Devon’s parish register entries online for the first time ever through findmypast”.
I’ve been to the Midlands this week and while I was there I took the opportunity to do some research in the Dudley Archives & local history centre.
No matter what gets put online, and believe me I am a keen user of online content, when I get the chance I still love to go to an actual archive and do some research in the reading room of one or other of these local authority depositories.
I spent my time in the one run by Dudley Metropolitan Council looking back at parish records in Halesowen and was fascinated, as always, by the extras that are to be found written in the margin of the parish records, or as notes in the front or back.
One note that I saw this week referred to a number of burials on the page and it mentioned that all of the above died of smallpox putting some context onto the conditions at the time. In other records down at the Devon record office I have seen a whole brood of children being baptised together after the family had returned to England after many years in the fishing fields of Newfoundland and a helpful side note by the vicar explaining this.
Another great benefit of a visit to a record office is that they often have books on their shelves that can be helpful finding aids. I was able to make use this week of a set of indexes to the parish records, published many years ago, but with them I could narrow down the dates that I wanted to look at on the microfilm reader.
In my Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh ancestors I have a module specifically about the treasures that can be found in a County/City Record Office. The course can be done at your own pace and comes in 52 weekly downloads that build into a great resource for busting those brick walls in family history.
In England and Wales the Record Office is where the records of the local government administrative area are kept. In many cases they also house the ecclesiastical diocese records and, from a family historian’s point of view, they are the keepers of the old Parish Registers collected from the churches of the area, which was my reason for visiting Dudley Archives this week.
A Record Office:
– collects and preserves historical records of all kinds relating to its county,
– makes these records available for research of all kinds by all interested individuals and groups, and
– encourages and promotes awareness of the value and importance of its documentary heritage.
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. If you are in the area where your ancestors lived then go on an pay them a visit. The staff are usually very knowledgeable about their records and the district and so they can be a huge help to the family historian.
This week (Thursday 20th, Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd) Who Do You Think You Are? Live comes to Olympia with stands from all the major genealogical websites, family history suppliers, expert advice, talks from celebrities from the TV programme and a myriad of workshops.
The Nosey Genealogist will be there too on stand 56 showcasing our Family History Researcher Beginners English & Welsh Family History Course. As a special show offer we have re-introduced the popular Â£1 trial membership of our course that gives you two weeks lessons and some free bonus content.
The Nosey Genealogists has gathered together in one fixed-term-membership site a collection of 52 weekly lessons that will aid the beginner in English & Welsh family history to become a more knowledgeable researcher.
Also of great value to the more advanced, the course explores the different resources, data sets and documents that can reveal more about your English or Welsh ancestors.
Written from the practical point of view by Nick Thorne, an advanced beginner (as even the most experienced researcher is always learning more) and, with the aid of some lessons penned by professional genealogists, this course is delivered by email to your inbox to do at your own pace.
Topics covered in the 12 months include:
The census collections
The Parish records
The Parish Chest
County Record offices and what valuable treasures they contain
City and Town Directories
Genetics and DNA
Maps and Charts
The National Archives
Family Search Centres
If you are attending the show then do please come over and say hello and tell us that you read this blog. You will then be able to enter our competition to win a free copy of our next product due out soon!
I want to take a moment this week to sing the praises of the knowledgeable people who work in county record offices and archives up and down the country.
I had a knotty problem to deal with this week with a family that I am researching. My task was to look for the maiden name of a second wife who married into the family in 1814 at St Thomas’, Dudley in Worcestershire and who was also marrying for the second time.
Because she was a widow her surname, in the marriage register for the second marriage, is assumed to be that of her first husband and so I have been asked to see if I can find out her maiden name. On her second marriage a fair number of her sons were given a distinctive second name and it had occurred to us that this may have been the woman’s maiden name.
I had a few hours in the City of Worcester set aside for this task and so I headed off to find the county record office.
What I discovered was that Worcestershire has housed its archives in the same modern building as its library at The Hive, which is aÂ joint university and public library. The Hive is the result of the vision of the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council.
On the first floor I found the reception for the archive and was immediately impressed by the helpfulness I was afforded. A member of staff showed me around the facility and when I explained what I was there to do was able to point me to the shelf containing collections of Worcestershire marriages transcripts.
I spent a productive hour or so noting down all the marriages of men with the woman’s first married surname, Fletcher, to a woman with the Christian name of Sarah.
Unfortunately there was no Sarah with the maiden name that I was looking for.
After a period of time the member of the archive staff returned to see how I was getting along. I explained that I had not found the answer and she then showed me another volume on the shelves that listed Worcestershire marriages by the bride’s surname. The suggestion here was that I may possibly be looking for the surname of the woman’s mother and not hers.
I then spent some time copying down all the women who had married in the relevant period and then compared the surnames of the men married with my first list. There was one surname that matched the other checklist I had of Sarahs who married a Fletcher; but sadly I can find no children called Sarah to the couple identified.
It looks like it is set for a long haul to look at all the marriages of a Sarah and someone called Fletcher and see if I can find the premature death of the husband called Fletcher. Once I identify the marriage that ended in Sarah being widowed before 1814 I will then have me a candidate for a possible maiden name. With this some more research will be required to make sure that we have found the right one.
As for the second name that this Sarah gave to her male children in the second marriage, perhaps it was from the father’s side and so this opens up the need for yet more research to be done!
Though I didn’t make a breakthrough this time, all the same the archive staff were most helpful in acting as a sounding board for my ideas to tackle this project and for their knowledge of the resources available in their collections that may help me.
A few years back and it was impossible to find any English Church Registers online, but gradually more and more are appearing now and I take my hat off to the various family history websites that are entering partnerships with County Record Offices to bring us more and more of these very special records. Well done Findmypast and Ancestry to name two!
This week it was findmypast.co.uk that made available online records showing the life and times of some of the most famous figures in the largest county in east England, Lincolnshire, following a new project with Lincolnshire Archives to create the Lincolnshire Collection.
The handwritten registers date back to 1538 and span more than 300 years; they provide insight into baptisms, marriages and burials from 103 parishes across Lincolnshire, from Laughton to Gedney Hill.
Some of the incredible details include information on the baptisms of scientist Isaac Newton and poet Lord Tennyson, famous for the Lincoln inspired Victorian ballad, ‘The Lady of Shallot’. The records also include information on the burial of famous hangman William Marwood, renowned for inventing the ‘long drop’ technique that ensured the prisoner’s neck was broken instantly at the end of the drop, considered to be a kinder way to be executed.
Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: ‘The Lincolnshire parish records include fascinating information about some of our most noteworthy and infamous figures, not just from Lincolnshire’s history, but the whole of British history.
‘Publishing them online so that people can find their ancestors and see whether they are related to Sir Isaac Newton or one of the other celebrities we’ve uncovered, such as poet Lord Tennyson, polar explorer John Franklin, or mathematician George Boole, is really exciting.’
Councillor Nick Worth, executive member for libraries and culture, said: “Lincolnshire has a rich cultural heritage, and the county council has long sought to celebrate and enhance this through digital access. The partnership with findmypast.co.uk is a very positive development that will help bring these records to a wider, global audience, and hopefully encourage people to explore more of the county’s vibrant history.”
At present I am yet to find any of my own ancestors came from Lincolnshire, but as I go on researching I am always surprised when someone from outside of the county marries into my family tree and sets me off researching a new line in a part of the country that I never knew I had kin from. Perhaps one day I will find a forebear from Lincolnshire, but in the meantime I recommend this data collection to any of you that have ancestors from there.
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?