How To Break Down A Family History Brick Wall

 

Break Down Your Family History Brick Walls
Family History Brick Wall

I’ve got some advice for you to break down a brick wall.

Have you been stuck trying to find an ancestor?

Thought you might have been!

Maybe what I relate below will help you too.

 

The thing was that some while back, I was getting quite frustrated by being unable to trace a person in the records.
I was completely stuck finding this person’s birth, marriage or death and I had tried looking online and off without any luck.

Maybe you are in this position too?

What broke the problem for me?

Well it was a visit to a Family History website while surfing for keywords to do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spent browsing the transcripts featured on the platform.

Dartmouth-Archives-onscreen

There were some other factors, such as trying different spelling variations of first and second names, as advised by my family history teacher at the time and a visit to an archive.

What it boils down to is using a bit of lateral thinking in our family tree research and most importantly finding out about alternative records to the ones that we might have already used.

This is one of the themes of the Family History Researcher course that I market online.

Thorne-family-tree-web-site

The family branch that has presented me with the most frustrating problems has been that from Devon. I was fine going back through the census years, 1911, 1901 and so on back to 1841 but then it became more of a problem.

Perhaps this story resonates with some of you to?

I had figured out that my 3x great-grandfather was called John Thorn. This was provided in the information he had given to the census enumerators over the years, along with the fact that he had been born in about 1795. His wife, Elizabeth, had been born about 1798.

As I belong to The Society of Genealogists I took a trip to their headquarters in Goswell Road, London knowing that they have the largest collection of Parish Records in the country on microfiche. They’ve also got some transcripts of parish registers in their library, which I thought may be worth looking at.

If you are in the area I highly recommend you visit the Society of Genealogists.

SoG library

The SoG library is a treasure trove and it features often in the Family History Researcher Course and one complete module takes us inside their doors.

Unfortunately for me, at the time of my research, the Dartmouth parish records were not on microfilm at the SoG. But I was over the moon to find a great selection of Devon Family History Society booklets for marriages taking place in the churches of the town, including St. Saviour’s, Dartmouth. Browsing one book for any likely ancestors I spotted that on 13 April 1817 one person called John Thorn got married to an Elizabeth Sissell.

I opened up the internet and began searching using my new lead. My mission was to hunt down any evidence that this was the marriage of my ancestors.

Doing a search-engine query for Dartmouth + family history steered me towards the Dartmouth-history.org.uk website belonging to The Dartmouth Archives. I discovered that this voluntary organisation had a really broad family history section and included a number of transcribed baptisms, burials, marriages and census records.

I could read the very same information, as I had seen at the SoG in London, on this niche site. The data began in 1586 and ran to 1850 and there was the marriage of John Thorn to Elizabeth and this time I noticed that the witness were given as John Adams and Sunass (sic) Sissell.

Funny name, I thought, and today I understand taking transcribed names with a pinch of salt. If you decide to join the Family History Researcher Academy you will learn more.

At the time I made an assumption that this last person was more than likely some member of the bride’s family. Could it perhaps be the father of the bride?

But that name “Sunass” just didn’t seem likely to me. Now I know that it was the best guess by the transcriber as it couldn’t be read properly in the original record.

From the information I knew that they had signed with a mark, thus they were illiterate and so the first name and the second had not been written down by the ancestors themselves.

When you are doing your own research you should bear in mind that our ancestors may not have had the ability to read or write and the minister may have interpreted the name as he had heard it said to him. In my ancestor’s case the surname “Sissell” could possibly have been “Cecil” or something entirely different. Consider saying the name with the regional accent and seeing what you come up with.

As for Sunass – at this point I was clueless!

The Dartmouth Archives website had not got any early enough christening records for John and Elizabeth and so I went over to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website or FamilySearch.org and here I did a search for Elizabeth’s christening.

St Petrox, Dartmouth font

I was rewarded by a lead to a baptism in one of the other churches in Dartmouth, St Petrox, on the 16 September 1878. This child was the daughter of James and Sarah Sissill and she was christened Elizabeth Gardener Sissill.

You may notice that the spelling had changed to Sissill with an “i” and not an “e” again pointing to the vicar writing it down the way that he heard it.

I now jumped to a conclusion that the witness to Elizabeth’s marriage could have been her father “James” and this has been interpreted as “Sunnas” because a flowing “J” for James had looked like an “S” to the transcriber and the other letters had been misread as a “u” for an “a” and the double “n” as an “m”. All easily done.

So what I am emphasising here and I continue to do so in modules from my Family History Researcher Course, is to be wary of names and the way they were spelt. If you keep this in mind then some of the logjams we find in our research can be got past.

This breakthrough I had was down to finding that Dartmouth has an active family history website and then using their indexes in conjunction with other internet resources, such as the LDS site.

The first learning point is that you should always find out what other research may have been done, for the area your ancestors came from.

If you find a family history society, or local interest group with a website, can any of their publications or website pages help you with your quest?

Secondly, always keep in mind that names were misspelled in many records. In my own family research I have had to think of other spellings for the Sissells, and indeed names that may have sounded like Sissell in order that I may trace this line back further and break down the brick wall.

Ancestors in Thorne Family tree

I have made some fantastic strides in my family tree research and it is mostly down to learning as much as I can from other’s experiences and finding out as much as I can about what records and resources are available.

Last year I put together some modules for a course of 52 guides, aiming at passing on my experience. Perhaps they can help you become a more knowledgeable researcher?

I had some professional genealogists and data providers also contribute to the project to make it well rounded.

There is a special offer running for readers of this page of a £1 trail for four weeks membership of the Family History Researcher Academy. Click here to learn more.

As you have come to this page I am sure that you must have an interest in family history and I am betting that you to have some brick walls to knock down as well. So take a look at the report below that is based on some of the material from the Family History Researcher course…

 

 

Report3

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A Newly digitised, navigable atlas collection details 500 years of British history

 

County map courtsey of Ancestry.co.ukAtlas shows us how Britain’s landscape has changed over the last 500 years

Looking at this collection of 57 maps and you will be able to find England’s lost counties of Westmorland and Huntingdonshire

Find Parish borders that hark back to when people associated more with their Parish church than town hall

There is a newly published historic atlas of Great Britain online at Ancestry.co.uk that gives the family historian something of a unique view of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales stretching back over 500 years.

Digitised by the family history site Ancestry.co.uk, the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, consists of fifty seven different maps of the counties of the U.K. What is interesting to me about this is it shows how Britain’s ancient parish and county boundaries have changed shape over the centuries.

We have all been there in our research. You may have lost someone from the records of a
particular county and thus you become stuck unless you can see the boundaries as they stood at the time that your ancestor was alive.
I was doing some research for a client whose ancestors came from Northfield. Today that is a suburb of Birmingham and so is in the West Midlands. At the time of their ancestor Northfield was in Worcestershire.

The subject of the research got married about ten miles away in Dudley, which was in Staffordshire at the time and today has its own archive service as it is a Metropolitan Borough. Thus to find the records of a family that lived in quite a small radius needs careful thought as to where to look.

This newly digitised Atlas is navigable online, users are able to scroll over whole counties and then use a zoom tool to go in and out. Useful if you need to identify the various local parishes, towns and the churches.

The original documents used in the atlas are from the resources of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies.

Browsing the maps open up quite an insight into how England’s historical county maps didn’t change much for centuries, before many of the ancient counties were split up to make more governable areas.

In this atlas the county of Middlesex is shown as it was in the 19th century. At that time it consisted of what are today large swathes of modern London and so included the likes of Islington and Chelsea. London itself is a much smaller settlement that is barely more than one mile wide.

The Home Counties appear in their original form before the legislation of the London Government Act 1965  created Greater London. You will also be able to see the original boundary of the counties of Essex and Surrey when viewing the maps.

Other counties that are defunct today but can be traced in the atlas include Westmorland (today a part of Cumbria), and Huntingdonshire, which disappeared into Cambridgeshire following a Government Act in 1971. Lancashire is also to be found here in its original form, comprising of modern day Manchester and Liverpool and also various parts of Cumbria and Cheshire. It was subsequently reorganised and downsized, losing nearly a third of its area in the process.

Before the population of the country grew over the centuries and along with this regional administration developed, people were inclined to identify themselves more with their local parish when considering where they came from. As time moved on and these parish borders changed to such an extent that now it is almost impossible to determine the exact location of some parishes and their records using modern maps.

I have an interest in a small village that sits today in North west Leicestershire, but in years past was divided between Leicestershire but with pockets residing in Derbyshire and completely surrounded by Leicestershire on all sides!

The Atlas is thus an authoritative guide to the drastic changes in Britain’s county and parish borders over the last 500 years and a valuable way of adding geographical context to family history research.

The maps were the brainchild of Cecil Humphery-Smith, a genealogist and heraldist who founded the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, based in Canterbury, which promotes family history both through courses and its extensive library. He is, of course, the author of Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers.

At Ancestry.co.uk, the maps can now be searched and browsed by county.   For family historians using Ancestry’s Lancashire Parish records as well as the 1851 Censuses and Free Birth, Marriage and Death Index will discover that every record in these collections links to a relevant map.

In addition, almost eight million new records have been added to the Lancashire Parish records currently available on Ancestry’s site.

Ancestry.co.uk Senior Content Manager Miriam Silverman comments: “The borders of the UK parishes and counties have changed so much over the last 500 years and that really makes these maps the key to navigating the past and progressing with your family history journey.”

To search the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, as well as millions of additional birth, marriage and death records, visit www.Ancestry.co.uk.


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Poets, Crime Writers, Soldiers, Sailors and Explorers – the lives and deaths of historic Devonians revealed online

 

Charles Babbage - Baptism
Charles Babbage – Baptism from Findmypast

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.

You can view these exciting new records here: http://100in100.findmypast.co.uk/.

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”.

To learn more about the records visit www.findmypast.co.uk. For further information about Devon Heritage Service call 01392 384 253, email devrec@devon.gov.uk, or visit the website http://www.devon.gov.uk/record_office.htm



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OVER 2 MILLION SHROPSHIRE BAPTISM, MARRIAGE AND BURIAL RECORDS PUBLISHED ONLINE

Hanging Judges, Captains of Industry, Empire Builders and a few Shropshire Lads

RECORDS REVEAL OVER 360 YEARS OF SHROPSHIRE HISTORY

Findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time parish records held by the Shropshire Archives as the latest instalment of their 100 in 100 promise to launch 100 record sets in 100 days.

Spanning 1538 to 1900, the Shropshire Collection comprises approximately 2.1 million fully searchable transcripts and 155,000 scanned colour images of the parish registers. A selection of Anglican, Methodist and Non-Conformist registers from well over 200 Shropshire parishes from Abdon to Yockleton are included in the collection.

P195/A/1/2

P195/A/1/2

Many notable Shropshire lads and lasses can be found within these records, including Charles Darwin, Wilfred Owen, and Clive of India. A number of early industrialists such as Tom Farnolls Pritchard can also be found, reflecting the important role the county played in establishing Britain as an industrial powerhouse.

The Shropshire Collection adds to findmypast extensive parish record collection, claimed to be the largest available online. These records allow family historians to go as far back as the 1500s. With more parish records still to come as part of the 100 in 100 promise, family historians can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before. A new browse function allows for scrolling through individual while a number of new search fields have been added.

 

You can view these exciting new records here: http://100in100.findmypast.co.uk/.

Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “The Shropshire Collection is one of the largest regional parish record collections we have ever published online and contains some truly wonderful gems. Family historians or people looking into their past, wherever they are in the world, can now search this historical goldmine and uncover the fascinating stories of their Shropshire ancestors. There is plenty of intrigue in the records to pique the interest of social historians too. With our adjoining Cheshire and Welsh parish record collections already available, these records could prove invaluable to anyone with missing ancestors who may have crossed the border into Shropshire.”

Tina Woodward, Shropshire Council’s deputy cabinet member responsible for Visitor Economy, said: “Making these records available online for the first time is a great step forward for access to Shropshire’s fantastic archives. We hope that people across the world will uncover Shropshire ancestors they never knew they had and renew their connection with our wonderful county.”

The collection is being launched to coincide with the Discover Shropshire day, a gathering of local heritage organisations, speakers and musicians who all have something important to impart about the history of the county. It will take place at Shirehall, Abbey Foregate in Shrewsbury.

To learn more about the records visit www.findmypast.co.uk. For further information about Shropshire Archives call 01743 255350, email archives@shropshire.gov.uk, or visit the website www.shropshirearchives.org.uk



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Millions of School Records to go online

 

I got back from doing some family research in London today to find in my inbox an interesting press release from findmypast .co.uk.

It tells us that The Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) – ARA – has signed a deal, on behalf of a large number of archives and schools, with digital publishing experts brightsolid to publish online for the first time millions of school records from England and Wales.

 

It seems that this will be the first project to be undertaken under the framework of the new National Digitisation Consortium, which comprises up to 120 English and Welsh archives and schools working together to offer records for digitisation.

It is the first time such a large number of bodies will work together to digitise material – in this case their pre-1914 school registers. Once the registers have been scanned and transcribed by brightsolid, they will be made available to search online at leading family history website findmypast.co.uk, which is owned by brightsolid.

 

The registers span the period 1870-1914 and cover every region of England and Wales. They contain details of particular interest to the family historian, including name of the school and the pupil, their date of birth, year of admission to the school and the name of a parent or guardian. Teachers are also listed and Industrial School registers are included in the collection.

Chris van der Kuyl, Chief Executive of brightsolid said: “We are proud to have agreed terms with the ARA to publish online this fascinating set of school records from over 120 separate archives across England and Wales.

“Projects of this magnitude reinforce not only our ambition, but our credentials as the leading digital publishing experts, especially within the genealogy market. We look forward to working closely with the ARA and the National Digitisation Consortium on this exciting endeavour.”

 

John Chambers, ARA Chief Executive, said: “As the leading membership body for those who work in UK and Irish archives, the ARA has an important role to play in helping the sector find new ways of working. The National Digitisation Consortium allows a number of archives and schools, of all sizes, to offer records for digitisation within a single, shared legal agreement. As well as enabling these fascinating school records to be available to the public, this project will set an important precedent for the way the sector can work together to achieve a better return.”

I for one am looking forward to seeing them!


Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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RECORDS REVEAL 400 YEARS OF WESTMINSTER’S HISTORY

findmypast searchWell, I was out and about today so I missed this announcement earlier from findmypast.co.uk.

Today they published online for the first time the parish records held by the City of Westminster Archives Centre.

The Westminster Collection comprises fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of the parish registers dating back over 400-years.

 

The 3 million records cover the period 1538-1945 and come from over 50 Westminster churches including St Anne, Soho, St Clement Danes, St George Hanover Square, St James Westminster, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Mary-le-Strand and St Paul Covent Garden.

 

Some of the fascinating documents now available online detail the wedding of Theodore Roosevelt, the former US President, in 1886; the marriage of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel; and the marriage of poet Percy Shelley.

 

Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “The Westminster Collection is one of the largest regional parish record collections we have ever published online and contains some truly wonderful gems.

 

“Family historians or people looking into their past, wherever they are in the world, can now search this historical goldmine and uncover the fascinating stories of their London ancestors. There is plenty of intrigue in the records to pique the interest of social historians too.”

 

Adrian Autton, Archives Manager at Westminster Archives commented: “The launch of the Westminster Collection is of huge significance and makes Westminster records fully accessible to a global audience. This resource will be of immense value to anyone whose ancestors lived in Westminster and to anyone wishing to study the rich heritage of this truly great city.”

 

The new Westminster Collection at findmypast.co.uk joins a growing resource of official parish records from local archives, including Cheshire Archives & Local Studies, Manchester City Council and Plymouth and West Devon Records Office, with many more in the pipeline, due to go live in the coming months. In addition, over 40 million parish records from family history societies can be found at findmypast.co.uk in partnership with the Federation of Family History Societies.

 

The Westminster Collection is available on all of findmypast’s international sites as part of a World Subscription.

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Find Ancestors in Old Newspapers!

British Newspaper Archive

It looks like it has been a pretty busy month for The British Newspaper Archive website. They have introduced lots of new titles to expand their database and have also broadened the year ranges of their existing titles. The website is a wonderful source for family tree research to flesh out the story of your ancestors.

So even if you have used The British Newspaper Archive website in the past, you may still want to re-vist them to see if you can track down your ancestors in the extra pages and titles that have been recently added.

To check which new titles and issues have been added to the site in the past 30 days you only need to visit the ‘Newspaper Titles’ page at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk !

Here are a few of the many new titles and issues that have just been added to the site.

New Title – ‘The Staffordshire Advertiser’
The latest newspaper to be added to the website for the Midlands is ‘The Staffordshire Advertiser’, from 1801 to 1839. While I haven’t found any of my ancestors came from this region I have found adverts placed by some of my forebears who were in business in many regional titles. This paper was established by Joshua Drewry (c.1773-1841) in Stafford in 1795, the paper went on to become the main county newspaper for Staffordshire.

New Title – ‘The Shoreditch Observer’
For those of us with ancestors that went up to the London area, the addition of ‘The Shoreditch Observer’ for 1863 to the website is to be welcomed. It rejoiced in the strapline of: ‘A journal of local intelligence for Bishopsgate, St. Luke, Hackney, Kingsland, Bethnal-Green, and the Tower Hamlets’, ‘The Shoreditch Observer’ contains an excellent round-up of local news, adverts and notices so worth a trawl.

New Issues – ‘The Western Gazette’ (1950)
With some of my family tree being in the west of England this latest addition to the website now meas that I can search the ‘The Western Gazette’ from 1863 right through to 1950 for family members. If, like me, you’re carrying out historical research in any of Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Berkshire, then this weekly newspaper will certainly help you with your searches.

New Issues – ‘The Evening Telegraph’ of Dundee (1904)
I have some Scots roots as well and so I am pleased to see that north of the border is not being left out. Still in publication, The Evening Telegraph is affectionately known by Dundonians as ‘The Tully’. With the addition of the 1904 issues, it’s now possible to read this Dundee institution from 1877 to 1904.

 

We have just had the Olympic torch go by today where I live. With a little bit of history being made makes me think about the games in years gone by. The Archive contains a terrific collection of stories about past Olympics, spanning the years 1894 to 1948.

Why ‘1894’?

Because there are also dozens of stories about the planning for the first Modern Games in 1896. From the lost luggage (and wine!) of the French Team in 1948 to worries about the Greek government’s finances for the 1896 Games – all Olympian life is there to be found.

What ever it is that you are researching, why not look at what can be found in The British Newspaper Archive website. Take a look today!

The British Newspaper Archive is a partner of the British Library and set up to digitise their collection of over 300 years of newspapers. Now accessible to the public, with market leading search functionality, it offers access to over 4 million pages of historical newspapers. A great source for hobby historians, students, reporters and editors – what will you discover?




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London Family Tree? Westminster Parish Records Go Online.

WESTMINSTER PARISH RECORDS PUBLISHED ONLINE BY FINDMYPAST.CO.UK

.       Over a million baptism, marriage and burial records that date back as far as 1538 are now available
.       For the first time you are able to see images of the original parish records from the City of Westminster online

Leading UK family history website findmypast.co.uk has published online for the very first time today 27th March 2012 the parish records that are held by the City of Westminster Archives Centre.  What they have dubbed “The Westminster Collection” is to be found on the net at findmypast.co.uk and comprises of fully searchable transcripts together with scanned images of the parish registers of this part of London. What is great for people searching for their ancestors in this area is that some of the records are over 400 years old!

Coming from over 50 of the churches from Westminster and including St Anne, Soho, St Clement Danes, St George Hanover Square, St James Westminster, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Mary-le-Strand, St Paul Covent Garden, these 1,365,731 records, that are launched today, extend over the various years between 1538-1945.

Debra Chatfield, the family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said today: “The Westminster Collection is one of the largest regional parish record collections we have ever published online and contains some truly wonderful gems. Family historians, wherever they are in the world, can now search this historical goldmine and uncover the fascinating stories of their London ancestors.”

Today’s launch is only the beginning of this exciting project, whose aim is to digitally preserve the City of Westminster Archives Centre’s collection. It is the first tranche of  Westminster records containing the city’s baptisms, marriages and burials. The remaining records are scheduled to go live on the site over the coming months, along with other records such as cemetery registers, wills, rate books, settlement examinations, workhouse admission and discharge books, bastardy, orphan and apprentice records, charity documents, and militia and watch records.

Adrian Autton, Archives Manager at Westminster Archives commented: “The launch of the Westminster Collection is of huge significance making Westminster records fully accessible to a global audience. This resource will be of immense value to anyone whose ancestors lived in Westminster and to anyone wishing to study the rich heritage of this truly great city.”

If you are interested in this part of London then the records can be searched free of charge by visiting the Life Events (BMDs) section at findmypast.co.uk. From there you should select parish baptisms, or marriages, or burials. Transcripts and images can then be viewed with either PayAsYouGo credits, vouchers or a full subscription to findmypast.co.uk.

The new Westminster Collection at findmypast.co.uk joins a growing resource of official parish records from local archives, including Cheshire Archives & Local Studies, Manchester City Council and Plymouth and West Devon Records Office, with many more in the pipeline and due to go live in the coming months. In addition over 40 million parish records from family history societies can be found at findmypast.co.uk in partnership with the Federation of Family History Societies.



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Brick Walls in Family Tree Research

I was reading a newsletter, from someone I respect, in a completely different field of interest from family history this weekend. In it he was talking about obstacles in the paths of people that are trying to achieve something, whether it was in sports, business or any other pursuit.

Nick James runs a membership site that caters for people that want to run an internet marketing business and in this week’s tip he recalled advice that a life coach had given him to physically write down your stumbling block in a paragraph or two and then to draw a little picture next to it. The picture could be a fence, a brick wall or whatever you chose to depict the problem that you face.

The idea behind this is that by so doing the brick wall no longer exists as a theoretical problem. It now takes on a concrete form that you can now deal with. I have a special note book into which I enter my problem ancestors and this acts in very much the same way for me.

In my family tree I have various lines that seem blocked and so I decided to tackle one of them this week end by seeking the help of an expert and talking through the problem with them. Now I did this by making use of the excellent facility of a telephone consultation provided by the Society of Genealogists’ Family History Advice Line on 020 7490 8911. It is available on Saturdays: 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm and also on Thursdays: 6pm-7.45pm. I came away with ideas for further investigation that just might help me unlock the problem that I have of an ancestor whose occupation in the marriage register was a mariner. He turned up in a maritime city and married a local girl (of this parish) but did not provide posterity with any clue as to his parish or where he had sailed in from!

Society of Genealogists

At the end of this month Who Do You Think You Are? Live returns to Olympia from the 24th to 26th February and one of the popular benefits of attending this event is the the Society of Genealogists Family History Show will be part of the weekend. Apart from the talks given there is a fantastic chance to book some time with an expert who can help you look at ways to tackle your obstinate brick wall. A chance to speak one-to-one with a local, regional or specialist expert may be what is needed to allow you to get through your brick wall.

For more useful tips to research your Family Tree then download my Kindle book by using the button in the box below.

 

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Take a Look at Your Ancestor’s Occupation

Census on Computer Screen

What a person did as an occupation can very often give the family history researcher a greater insight into their ancestor’s life. It may also be a useful way of distinguishing between two people who happen to have the same name and that you need to work out which belongs in your family tree and which one does not.

 

Another reason to look into a forebear’s occupation is that it may help you to work out an ancestor’s social status, political affiliation, or migration pattern.

 

Skilled trades were often passed down from father to son and so having regard to an ancestor’s occupation may also be a useful tool in identifying a family relationship with others who happen to have the same name.

 

An important point to remember, in your research, is that people’s occupations sometimes changed. I have an ancestor who changed from being a gunsmith to working in a pawn brokers and another who changed from being a cordwainer (shoemaker) to being a boatman on the river. Workers may suffer accidents or simply get ill and so are no longer fit to work in their primary trade. When this happened they were often forced to take on less prestigious jobs as they grow older. Many of our unskilled ancestors would have had a variety of jobs which depended on the season and local trade requirements.

 

I have wondered about one of my ancestors exaggerating their occupational qualification status in the census returns and I am sure that I am not alone in this! Clearly not everyone would be completely truthful. Just keep in mind that the census collections may exhibit some embellishment as to what your ancestor did; e.g., from Labourer to Mason, Carpenter to Cabinet maker, or from journeyman to Master craftsman.

 

Names for old or unfamiliar local occupations have the potential to cause us confusion if they are poorly legible in the record we are consulting. A prime example is the similarity between the words ostler (a keeper of horses) and a hostler (an innkeeper) which could so easily be confused for one another.

 

In a similar manner, some descriptions of occupations may also pose us problems. One of my Plymouth ancestors was a General Commission Agent, another a Merchant in London, but what did they do? I am yet to find out what areas of commerce these two distinct gentlemen worked in in spite of trawling the trade directories. Several trades have regionally preferred terms. For example, “shoemaker” and “cordwainer” have the same meaning in some places.

 

Finally, we need to remember that many apparently obscure jobs are part of a larger trade community, such as shipbuilding, framework knitting, or gunmaking.

 

We can look for occupational data in several places. It may be found in the records of occupational licenses, tax assessments, the membership records of professional organisations to which our ancestors belonged, trade, city and town directories, census returns, and civil registration vital records.

 

There are a number of websites available that explain many of the obscure and archaic trades, here are two that I have found:

 

http://www.rmhh.co.uk/occup/index.html

 

or

 

http://www.occupationalinfo.org/dot_c1.html

 

Clearly, the occupations that our ancestors carried out on a day to day basis can give the family history researcher an insight into their forbear’s life, as well as providing clues about other family members and the social status of the family. The data may be used by us to distinguish between two people of the same name; but all along we have to be aware that our ancestors may well have been telling little white lies and embellishing their actual job descriptions to the officials compiling the records.

 

 

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