Well! Problems with my internet connection means I have to post a very short update today before it drops out again!
So I shall keep it simple…
Have you seen my Author page at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk ?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
I was having a chat with a professional genealogist recently.
During the discussion I mentioned a particular brick wall that I had in my family tree.
“When was the last time you reviewed it?” he asked.
“Ah, I see what you mean!” I replied. “It is over six months since I sent it to the back burner and concentrated on other easier to find people.”
It is a lesson that even I forget to do and that is to periodically go back and see if, with new information you can now make some progress.
New record sets may have become available in the time since you last looked at your ancestor. It may be the release of yet more transcripts by Family History Societies, or those of the genealogical retailers that can now aid you. New parish records may have been uploaded to the likes of Ancestry, TheGenealogist or Findmypast.
Your ancestor may appear in one of the more diverse data sets that the subscription sites are releasing such as the Tithe Records on TheGenealogist, new occupational records on Ancestry, or The British in India records on Findmypast.
It is not just the case of reviewing the recently released documents on the subscription sites, that I am advocating. Take a look again at sets you may already have used. Perhaps, in the light of your experience and any new found knowledge that you have gained since last you looked, the answers may now be clear.
With my friend’s advice I set about looking again at a brick wall that I had in Devon.
In 1794 I have a John Thorn marrying a Sarah Branton in Plymouth in the parish of Charles on the 12th January. This John Thorn is not listed as being of the parish, yet his wife is.
They then move quickly to Dartmouth where their son, also called John is born with the child being baptised on the 28th September of the same year. In the marriage register, in Plymouth, John Thorn Senior was listed as a mariner and so it does not surprise me much that they pitch up along the coast at another port. But then what happens to them?
We are taught to always kill off our ancestors as good practice. In my case I had not found the death records for John Thorn Senior, nor of his wife Sarah. I had an inkling that they probably settled in Dartmouth, as the line remains there for another two to three generations, but I did not know if they stayed or not.
Since reviewing my notes on the searches I made, in the parish records at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter, I have now realized that I had indeed found a possible burial of a John Thorn in Dartmouth in January 1810, but had not entered it into my family tree.
The page from the parish of St Saviour’s, Dartmouth, had helpfully given me the information that this particular John Thorn was only 41 at his death This means he could be a candidate for the marriage in 1794, as he would have been 25 in that year.
When I last looked at the parish records, on the visit to the Devon Heritage Centre (previously the County Record Office), I had been disappointed not to have found the burial entry for his wife Sarah in the same parish and so I had put this line of enquiry aside.
But now, as I looked back at my notes, I see that I had also done a thorough job and looked at all the other churches in the town. I had found, among all the people buried in Dartmouth, and with the correct surname, one Sarah Thorn aged 50.
This Sarah Thorn is buried at the Parish church of St Clement’s, Townstall, Dartmouth on the 21st June 1818. At 50 she would have been born in 1768 and so she may well have been the wife of John, who was buried 8 years prior in the daughter church of St Saviour’s that is closer to the port.
Looking back at my visit to the record office I can recall that I finished my trawl of the parish record microfiche as a deadline for me to leave approached. I had a flight to catch from Exeter Airport and a connecting bus from outside of the Met Office to get me there. In my rush I had noted down the finding but had not looked at it in the right frame of mind. So perhaps here is another reason for reviewing your brick walls.
Now that the Devon Parish Records are on Findmypast I was recently able to go back and look at them at my leisure. This time without the pressure of missing a flight and so I can hypothesize that these two individuals are very possibly my direct ancestors.
Regretfully, with the paucity of information to identify someone contained in the pages of most parish records, I can not be completely sure. As with anyone with a common name there is always the possibility that they are simply namesakes.
If you would like to learn more about Death records, parish registers or good practice in doing English/Welsh family history then take a look at joining the Family History Researcher.
There is a special trial offer price of £1 for the first 2 weeks at the moment. Click the banner below.
How do you break down a brick wall and find those elusive ancestors?
A problem that most of us have had; so I lined up eight experts and asked them to give you their top tips for carrying out English/Welsh family history research! The result is a FREE download audio file that I am making available to you here.
These knowledgeable interviewees include practising professional genealogists, with years and years of experience to offer.
Yet others are from the very highest levels of the online data provider companies, like Ancestry and TheGenealogist.
Listen to the download and learn some plain tips that will simplify the often confusing business of researching English/Welsh ancestors. I am going to give you access to these eight professionals so that you can use their advice to break down several brick walls that you may have.
So who are these experts?
1. Anthony Adolph – Professional Genealogist, Author and Broadcaster starts of the recording with three tips that he thinks anybody researching their family tree should do. His advice will take you back to basics, but sometimes that’s what we all need to hear. So often we are far too keen to make leap forwards and forget the tried and trusted route.
2. The Family History Society Expert. I recorded these interviews at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show 2014 where many top family historians gather together once a year.
Its here that the Society of Genealogists set aside a special space where family history experts sit at tables and offer an advice-surgery for members of the public who have brick walls. This next lady was one of those very experienced individuals chosen to give others her help. I managed to get her to give a quick couple of tips about listening to relatives and what use to make of photographs.
3. The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) Member. What would the advice be from a professional genealogist practitioner?
Well as many serious professional genealogists belong to this association, I headed over to the AGRA stand and asked a member for his research tips. Points he brought up included the information on documents being only as good as that given by the informant and what to do about conflicting data. There is more to hear in the full interview that you can download here .
4. Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Expert. In family history we often have to think a bit outside the box. Well have you considered that your missing ancestor had moved abroad? With 3 million Brits having gone out to India then if we have a missing forbear it could certainly pay us to take a look at the records from this part of the British Empire. Its not just soldiers, the list of people who went out to work there is long as we hear from this FIBIS expert.
5. Celia Heritage – Professional Genealogist, Author and Family History Teacher introduces us to an often under used set of resources in her piece: Death Records. She explains how to use these records to flesh out the bones of our ancestors lives.
Celia is an excellent and knowledgeable speaker and you can just hear the passion that she has for her subject as she dispenses some gems of advice in the free downloadable audio presentation. Its not just death certificates that Celia brings to our attention in this part of the recording!
6. Dr Ian Galbraith – The National Wills Index explains about one of the best single major sources for family historians when I asked him to talk about Wills and Administrations for this audio.
Ian explains why wills can be an important resource with an average of 10 names per will and with half of them being different from that of the testator. Many people are surprised by the fact that all sorts of people left wills, but you won’t be when you have heard the full interview.
7. Brad Argent – Content Director for Ancestry advises family historians to drill down for the information in the online databases in his contribution to the recording. Brad suggests we use the card catalogue to seek out data sets and then use the advance search facility of “exact”, “soundex” and “wildcards” when we are on this large data provider’s site. His advice is compelling.
8. Mark Bayley – Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, a site that gives really fantastic value and a very wide range of data, introduces us to a great name-rich resource recently published by TheGenealogist, in association with The National Archives.
What is this important resource for England and Wales?
It is, of course, the Tithe collection.
I have been using this set recently to great effect with my own rural ancestors and so I have included a module in my Family History Researcher Guides about the tithes.
The beauty of this data is that it includes both sides of society, with landowners and tenants being recorded and giving names and addresses. As a pre-census data set it is hugely valuable to us! Listen to Mark explain about these exciting records in the free recording you can download now by clicking the link below.
Its because I want to introduce you to a set of guides that I have put together. A series of pdf modules that takes the information I gleaned at Who Do You Think You Are? Live and incorporated it, along with much more content into a year’s worth of weekly written guides.
There are extra contributions from various other professional experts who have penned some of the reports, as well as those modules written from my own extensive experience.
I am guessing that, if you have read this far, you are interested in English/Welsh family history and that you have hit at least one of the inevitable brick walls. The solution is to understand more ways to find your ancestors.
So if you would like to dramatically increase your knowledge then I think you will enjoy being a member of my Family History Researcher Guides. This is a 52 weekly series of guides written in an easily accessible form and you can take a two week trial for just £1 by going here:
But STOP! First go and download you free audio of the:
I’ll include a link to my Family History Researcher Guides on the thank you page!
The largest family history show in the world!
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.
To take advantage of this either come along to our stall, number 56 on the ground floor, or head over to our special trial webpage at http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/WDYTYAcomp/
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:
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!
Following on from last week’s post, about the Memorial Awareness Board’s photographic competition, comes this interesting project from S&N Genealogy and TheGenealogist.
As family historians we are all, no doubt, well aware of experiencing that thrill when finding the grave of an ancestor in some churchyard or cemetery. I also know the frustration of knowing that a forebear was buried in a particular burial ground but not being able to find them. Perhaps because their memorial stone had been taken down when it became dangerous, or simply that the inscription had decayed over the years from the onslaught of the British weather.
Headstones nationwide are suffering from erosion, and burial grounds from closures for new developments. We need to act now to preserve these crumbling records.
If you, like me, are interested in helping to achieve this then you may want to join this new project where you can earn credits towards a subscription with TheGenealogist or products from S&N Genealogy. All you need to do is photograph and transcribe headstones from local churchyards and cemeteries from your part of the country.
As S&N Genealogy writes, in their most recent newsletter, they are aiming at building the most comprehensive record of gravestones for family research and help preserve the memories these fragile stones provide.
I applaud them for doing this and make no mistake, I for one shall be contributing my part.
Join me by heading over to: http://www.ukindexer.co.uk/gravestone and signing up!
Remember to keep your ears open, at this time of year when families come together, for any stories that can be useful when investigating your family tree.
I’ve already experiences a few reminiscences this week, some I am sure are a little bit exaggerated, but all worth a bit of investigation. These tales can often point you in a general direction and then you need to find out if they are correct by checking the primary sources. There is always the chance that the stories have grown over the years into the “received truth” with embellishments made for the telling or plain misremembering of the situation.
For some family history researchers Christmas time may be the only opportunity they get to gently question their senior family members about times past; but just as moderation in all things is a good motto to try and live by, don’t over do the questioning and end up making parents and grandparents think that they are being interrogated!
Have a very merry and peaceful Christmas.
The Nosey Genealogist
The question, that he had, was would it be likely that it was a family surname from one of the female lines and being passed down to honour that family connection.
From what research I have done, by reading around, it would seem thatÂ it was quite common for children to be baptised with a second name taken from a family surname that was, perhaps, the mother’s or grandmother’s maiden surname.
Mark Herber, in Ancestral Trials, The History Press; New Ed edition (1 Jun 2005) makes this point when introducing genealogical research in chapter 1 of this comprehensive book. But hold on a minute, before you jump to the conclusion that the name you have found must be attributable to another branch of your family.
In the picture, that I have included here, from a Thorne family bibleÂ just one of that generation were given names that honoured their forebears surnames and that was Ellen Florence Malzer Thorne, the Malzer name being her mother’s maiden name.
The generation before (Henry Thomas Thorne’s siblings)Â were given a variety of conventional second names until the family broke with the C of E and became members of the Flavel Memorial (Presbyterian/Independent/Congregational) church.
At this stage several of Henry’s brothers and sisters were baptised with the middle name of Lemon. I am yet to understand who they were being named after so if any of my readers can put me on the right path then post a comment below or on my facebook page: www.facebook.com/NoseGenealogist
Certainly the parents of these children, John Brandon Thorn and Elizabeth Gardiner Thorn, were usefully named after their mothers and so made the search for them in the parish records all the easier.
So the conclusion is that an unusual middle name may point you to the maiden name of your ancestor or, regretfully, it may not!
Another point, that I have noticed, is that people may adopt a middle name and later generations begin passing it on as they assume it to be an ancestral name. Perhaps it was someone that they admired greatly, or perhaps it was indeed a family name.
For someone I was researching this week I discovered that they were not given a middle name in the church register when they were baptised and yet they begin to use this middle name and so do the generations that followed. Perhaps it was someone that they admired greatly, but it was certainly not noted in the parish register at the time of their baptism!
My research this week has been greatly helped by the fact that more parish records have made it online. My friend’s family were from the Birmingham area of Northfields. Now very much a suburb of Birmingham but in the years I was researching between 1769 and 1820 part of the county of Worcestershire.
Many of us are keen to get on and fill out our family trees with generation after generation of ancestors. We can be in such a rush, to see how far back we can get with a direct line, that we so often ignore the siblings and others in the extended family.
We probably all know that there is a better way to understand our forebears lives. We really should try to include as many others in the family tree as our direct line ancestor usually didn’t live in isolation. They may have had any number of brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, all of whom can help us ascertain who is the correct individual when we hit that problem of two John Smiths born in the same year in the same parish!
One way that we may come up against other family members is when they appear as informants to the registrar on the death of one of our ancestors.
Sometimes we may see names that we don’t recognise in the column, perhaps they are the married daughter whose surname now gives us a clue as to whom she married. Or we find our direct line ancestor’s address, as I did when he reported the death of his father to the registrar and the address he gave was different from the address listed in the census six years earlier. I could now see where he had moved to between the decennial census.
I know that we seem to be more naturally drawn to the births and marriages of people, but don’t ignore the deaths. When we are dealing with the period after 1837, in England and Wales and the GRO civil registration, it is so easy to make a decision not to order a death certificate based on the cost. But this can mean you’ll miss something. A death certificate can give us clues and more about our departed ancestor that we will not pick up elsewhere.
When I started out on this hobby I was told by a professional genealogist that I really must â€œkill off my ancestors!â€ I was unconvinced, but in the years since I have seen how correct this advice has been.
This week I bought a new family history book, written by Celia Heritage, to go in my library.
I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying reading it for the great information that it provides. Tracing Your Ancestors through Death RecordsÂ has showed me how to find, read and interpreted death records and also how to garner as much information as possible from them. In many cases, she argues, they can be used as a starting point for developing your family history research into other equally rewarding areas.
After reading chapter 1, I was then able to get a snap shot into my past family’s life from the deaths of my 3x great-grandparents and all from taking another look at their death certificates.
The husband died in 1866 in Charles Street, Dartmouth and his son reported the death having been “present at the death” meaning that he was in the house. The son (my 2x great-grandfather) gave his address as “Church Path, Dartmouth”.
When the wife and mother died in 1868, she died in the son’s house, in Church Path, but the informant, “present at the death”, was a lady whose address was in the street that the older couple had formally lived. I was able to go back to the census and see that they had been neighbours. Perhaps they were very close, who can tell?
So I am assuming that the son took his mother into his own house, from this. But that a friend, from around the corner, was looking after my 3x great-grandmother when she passed away and it was she who informed the registrar of the death. Now this paints a bit more of a picture, don’t you think?
Â Disclosure: Links to the book in this post are compensated affiliate links that may mean I get rewarded by the publisher should you buy the book.