ONLINE RECORDS REVEAL OVER 360 YEARS OF STAFFORDSHIRE HISTORY

Findmypast logoOne of my clients has family from Staffordshire and he was bemoaning the lack of records he could find online.

Well now the UK family history website findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time over 2.8 million parish records in partnership with Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service as the final instalment of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to release 100 record sets in 100 days.

 

Spanning 1538 to 1900, the parish records launched today mark the start of an exciting project to create the Staffordshire Collection on Findmypast – a rich source, which on completion will comprise around 6 million fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of handwritten parish records.

 

The Collection covers all Staffordshire Anglican parish registers up to 1900 deposited with the Archive Service and includes over 3,400 registers recording the baptisms, marriages and burials carried out in the ancient county. This will include the City of Stoke on Trent and parishes now within the City of Wolverhampton, as well as the Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall.

 

The lives of many notable Potteries folk are recorded in the Collection. Captain of industry and prominent abolitionist, Josiah Wedgwood, the man who established the Wedgwood company in 1754, industrialised the manufacture of pottery for the first time and created the famous “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” anti-slavery medallion, appears in a baptism register. Born on 12 July 1730, Josiah was baptised the same day at St John’s church in Burslem. His grand-daughter Emma Wedgwood, the future wife of Charles Darwin, also appears in the Collection.

These church records also provide some unexpected insights into significant events in Staffordshire’s colourful history. In a late 18th century register of baptisms from the parish of Alrewas, curate John Edmonds took it upon himself to record a narrative of local happenings, and this too can now be read online for the first time. Edmonds recounts details of a flood that swept two bridges away, an earthquake that rocked the parish in 1795, a series of local riots over food shortages and even a lightning strike that killed 3 cows and 2 horses. He also recorded events of national significance, such as King George III being fired upon with an air gun on his way to parliament.

 

The Potteries proud manufacturing history is well represented in the Collection. Other important potters in the records include William Moorcroft, Potter to the Queen by Royal Warrant, and founder of the Moorcroft pottery that supplied stores such as Liberty & Co and Tiffany New York. There’s also Thomas William Twyford, inventor of the single piece ceramic flush toilet and co-founder of Twyford Bathrooms, and John Aynsley, the founder of Aynsley China, one of the last remaining producers of bone china in Stoke on Trent.

Manufacturers are not the only famous Staffordians to be found in the records. Admiral of the Fleet and 1st Earl of St Vincent John Jervis, best remembered for his defeat of the Spanish fleet at the 1797 Battle of Cape Saint Vincent and his patronage of Horatio Nelson, was born at Meaford Hall in 1735.

Marriage registers from 1835 contain Burton upon Trent brewer and politician Michael Thomas Bass Jr, whose clever leadership saw Bass become the best known brand in Britain and the largest brewery in the world. Other famous figures include Francis Barber, a freed Jamaican slave, who became the manservant and beneficiary of Dr Johnson; William Thomas Astbury, the pioneering X-ray scientist; and legendary classical composer Havergal Brian.

The Staffordshire Collection adds to Findmypast’s already extensive cache of parish records, the largest available online. These records allow family historians to research as far back as the 1500s, and with more Staffordshire records still to be added to Findmypast, family historians from all over the world can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before, and uncover their Staffordshire, Black Country and Potteries ancestors.

The records were launched at an event at the Staffordshire Record Office by Findmypast, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service and Staffordshire County Council Cabinet member for Children, Communities and Localism, Mike Lawrence.

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

Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “From today, anyone, wherever they are in the world, will be able to go online and discover whether they have Staffordshire roots. These really are fascinating parish records, full of colourful insights, and you might even be able to get your family tree as far back as 1538, when Henry VIII was on the throne!“

Mike Lawrence, Cabinet member for Community at Staffordshire County Council said: “We are very proud of our heritage here in Staffordshire and this is the start of an exciting partnership with Findmypast to bring 6 million names online for people to search through. The project will give family historians from across the world an opportunity to delve into our rich past and learn more about our great county.

“We also want to encourage more people from the county to explore their own family history, and access to the Staffordshire Parish Registers on Findmypast will be free in Archive Service offices and libraries across Staffordshire.”



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Online Newspaper Archive Passes the 7 Million Page Mark

 

British Newspaper Archive

The British Newspaper Archive (BNA) passed a giant milestone today, as page number 7,000,000 was added to the site at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk.

 

Since its launch in November 2011, the BNA has been committed to transcribing thousands of pages a day. With a target of 40 million pages by 2021, this 10-year project is the biggest digitisation of newspapers to take place in the UK.

 

Ian Tester, The British Newspaper Archive’s Brand Director, said: “We are ecstatic to reach the 7 millionth page. Newspapers are one of the richest resources available to historians, and historical newspapers packed a lot more into a page than modern papers. The Archive holds newspapers that date back to the early 18th Century, and with the 7 million mark passed, we now provide access to comfortably over 100 million stories and articles online  a unique perspective on more than 200 years of historical events.”

The 7 millionth page to be added to the online archive was page seven of the Burnley Express for Saturday 30th June 1945. The main headlines of the day include a visit from Winston Churchill, images of servicemen, and an article on the cost of living and pensions.

 

The website is free to search, with a range of credit and subscription packages available to suit the different needs of researchers who wish to view the paid-for content. Access to the resource is free to users of the British Library’s Reading Rooms.

 




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Workhouse Ancestors

 

After last week’s post about the Workhouse and my visit to the National Trust’s property of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, I was really pleased to have feedback from some of you about finding your own ancestors in the workhouse.

Then on Tuesday night there was the first part of  the “Secrets from the Workhouse” programme on ITV. Fantastic timing for me. And I also had the chance to recognise that much of the interior and exterior of Southwell House had been used in the filming of the show, to add atmosphere.

102_0370 On my visit I had been struck at how much smaller the rooms were than I had somehow expected to find. Also shocking was the basic lack of privacy that the inmates would have had to suffer in the confined space that they would have found themselves.

 

I could quite understand how, being on top of each other, that these people could end up fighting with each other as was evidenced by examples of records on display in the museum.

102_0377

The food was not of the highest quality, but for someone who had no other means to feed themselves, was at least available to them inside the institution. Breakfast was Milk Gruel and bread. The amount each inmate got depended on if they were an adult male, adult female or a child.

Lunch on a Sunday, Tuesday and a Thursday included 5 oz of meat for the adults and 4 oz for the children. To this was added 16 oz of potatoes and 5-6 oz of bread for the adults and less for the children. Supper was yet more Gruel and bread.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the hapless inmates had no meat or potatoes, but simply a broth for lunch and on  Saturdays they had Suet pudding instead!

That was, of course, unless part of it was stopped as a punishment.

Workhouse Punishment

In the records on show it was possible to see that certain inmates were stopped their meat or broth as a punishment for fighting and given 8 oz of bread or 1 lb of potatoes instead. You really do have to feel sorry for them.

 

There is much more on workhouse records in my new course on English Family History Research at: www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com

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The Idle Poor and the Deserving

 

Southwell WorkhouseI have just been to Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire to look over an actual workhouse that is now run by the National Trust as a museum.

By doing this and seeing the layout of the accommodation, with its day rooms and exercise yards, my understanding of how these institutions worked has become clear.

 

In past times, before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the care of the poor members of the community fell to the monks in the various religious houses throughout England and Wales. With the reorganisation that the dissolution brought, those poor ancestors of ours who had the misfortune to fall on hard times, would then have become the responsibility of their parish.

Under this parish system, the old poor law had coped well enough until around the year 1800 when, under increasing demands being made on the system the authorities were forced to review the process for supporting the poor.

The situation was that unemployment had risen to new heights, as a result of the burgeoning industrialisation of the country. Britain now required less men to make the goods that had previously been manufactured by workers in the cottage industries.

On top of this the disaster of a succession of bad harvests that meant those who subsisted in rural areas found it difficult to feed themselves, added to the demand placed on the poor law system as it had been constituted.

As if this was not enough for the Government, the ending of the Napoleonic Wars had meant that a great number of soldiers now had come back from France and they had no work waiting for them at home.

The Deserving Poor.

In my family tree I was, at first, surprised that none of my ancestors seemed to have ended up in the workhouse. As I found more and more forebears I had become complacent that all my lot seemed to make it in the world without having to “Go On the Parish” and then I found one.

It was a sad shock for me as the lady in question had been the wife of a Master Mariner, the mother of several children who had all married and were making their way well in the world. But there she was in one of the census spending the end of her life in the workhouse!

Her husband was nowhere to be found in the census and so I speculated that he must have died abroad, not being able to find his death record. She, poor woman, had nowhere to go but into the workhouse.

But the workhouse was also a place where medical care could be given to those with little means in a time before the availability of free hospitals or medical insurance. So perhaps this explains why she was there? The deserving poor were segregated from the idle poor having different quarters and exercise yards.

The Idle Poor.

The number of workhouses had grown after the enactment of the Workhouse Test Act of 1723. The thinking behind this was that this new Act would help to prevent irresponsible claims being made on a parish’s poor rate. Something that concerned those who had to find the money to run the system as the funding of it was paid for by the wealthier members of the parish.

By the 1830s, in England and Wales, most parishes had at least one workhouse to send its poor to.

So what would any of our ancestors, unlucky enough to have found themselves in this position have faced? Those poor unfortunates who had no option but to seek “indoor relief” would have to endure unpalatable conditions inside the institution. It was designed to be thus so as to put people off from entering the workhouse unless they had run out of alternatives for survival outside.

Families were split up. Men and women segregated with children over seven separated from their mothers and forced to live in the children’s section.

On admission they would have to undress, surrender their own clothes until they were discharged, have a thorough wash and then dress in the workhouse uniform which was usually made of rough and shapeless material. This was all aimed at discouraging people from entering the system by stripping away part of their identity.

The belief, at the time, was that the undeserving poor were idle and so they were made to do tedious jobs. Inmates who were not aged or infirm would have to work for their keep. The jobs given to them were deliberately chosen to be monotonous and boring. At Southwell they would grind corn, pick oakum or, for the females, do laundry work.

Workhouse tasks

The picture to the left is of an old rope from the docks that the inmates would pick apart so that the fibres could be sold back to the docks to be used in the caulking boats and ships.

 

 

So what about the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and how this shook up the system?

There will be more detail about the workhouse inside my course on English and Welsh family history at: http://www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com

 

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Don’t Rely Only On The Internet.

Devon County Record Office

Devon County Record Office

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!

 

Family History Researcher Academy

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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?

Read all about my new site at www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com

Nick

 

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