I was at a function recently and on my table was an enthusiastic family historian who had been tracing his family tree for many years. Next to him was the inevitable sceptic who tried to put us both in our place by saying just how boring she thought “gathering a load of names and dates was”. I didn’t enquire what her hobby was, or even if she had one at all.
I did surprised her, however, by agreeing and saying that one of my mantras that I repeat often in my contributions to the Family History Researcher Academy course is to find out about the lives, work, environment and social conditions that existed at the time that your forebears were alive.
If you have discovered, from a search of the census, that your Great Aunt Jane was in service in a large house then I would make an effort to go and visit the below stairs of a similar property. There are quite a few National Trust houses that meet the bill. On a visit to Erdigg in North Wales, this was exactly what I did. There the upstairs and downstairs were beautifully presented to give a feel for what life was like for our ancestors living in both levels of society.
As a worked example of what I teach, let’s consider my ancestor Henry Thomas Thorne. From the census of 1861, accessed on TheGenealogist I am able to discover him working in the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth where he is employed as a rope-maker at H.M.Dockyard.
This weekend I had the chance to visit Portsmouth and not only go to the church where he married, but also to tour the Historic Dockyard and see an exhibit explaining how men like my 2x great-grandfather and his colleagues created the cordage that the Royal Navy of the time required for its ships.
I had previously obtained a copy of my ancestors’ wedding certificate from the GRO, having found their details in the Births, Marriages and Death Indexes that are available on various websites.
On this visit to Portsmouth I could now walk in the footsteps of my forebears on their wedding day the 5th February 1859 at St Mary’s, Portsea Island.
I could go on board H.M.S. Warrior, an actual warship from the time period (1860) and see how the cordage that he made was used on this ironclad steam and sail man-of-war.
And I could see the tools that Henry would have used everyday, in the exhibition piece there.
This story of my weekend excursion illustrates how I use the information that I discover in the records as a springboard to go on and find social history museums, or even the actual places that my ancestors would have gone to, and so build my family’s story.
If you haven’t moved past the gathering of names and dates stage in your family tree research, then I urge you to start doing so now.
Last week in Birmingham I caught up with Chris Baker, from The Long, Long Trail website and FouteenEighteen.co.uk after he had just given one of his very popular talks to a group of enthusiastic family historians on the subject of Military records.
Chris had discovered the rich military records set on TheGenealogist and was thus able to tell his audience about some of what he found useful on that website.
He particularly drew our attention to the Casualty records sourced from the War Office and told us how well done and useful TheGenealogist website was for Military researchers of the First World War with some interesting niche record sets.
Transcript of the video:
Hi I’m Nick Thorne from the Nosey Genealogist blog
and I’m here on TheGenealogist website’s stand
with Chris Baker a military expert
from Fourteen Eighteen website and he’s just been doing a talk
on military records.
Hi Chris. Hello Nick.
How did it go?
Great, thank you! Great audience,
tremendous buzz, very nice to be here to give the
The subject of the talk was the very
fast changing world of
military records and how digitization has really changed
the way people can access information,
understand military records and
work out what happened to their soldier.
And yes it’s a it’s good to run
through what’s going on, but also
to highlight TheGenealogist and the various unique sets of records. Which is actually how I came to
meet TheGenealogist myself. I found
they’ve got some casualty lists that were newly digitized
from the War Office originals. I personally found it extremely
well done and very helpful and I contacted the
company to say so.
And it just led to us being here and me being invited to give the talk.
That’s really interesting, so you’d recommend TheGenealogist for military research?
Military records cover a very wide span of subjects,
as you know, TheGenealogist
has got for itself a very interesting
collection of what you might call niche records,
but they’re the ones that can really
help you unlock the story sometimes, particularly if a man’s
service record is missing or you can’t find him in medal records
These things will help you unlock it and
for that purpose, yes TheGenealogist, for me is a
very important provider now in in the
field of Military History.
Okay, so if our viewers want to contact you
they look for FourteenEighteen on the Internet?
Yes, they can find me, in terms of the professional services at www.14-18.co.uk
but they will also find my free of charge website which has existed for a long
time and is very popular
on the subject of the British Army in
the first world war, it’s called The Long, Long trial
it’s at www.1914-1918.net
And it contains lots of information about
regiments, how to research soldiers
and all that sort of stuff.
Great, thanks very much Chris.
You are very welcome.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
I’ve been off line for some days now as the family home, that I was visiting for Christmas, has been suffering from a basic lack of broadband. BT were persuaded to check the line, but the signal remained elusive to all my devices until now. This, I hope, explains my lack of posts on the blog and on Facebook for more than a week.
Fancy that, days without any proper connection to the outside (virtual) world with only the snatched five minutes here and there, when out at a public hotspot. How did we all survive prior to the web connected world we are so wedded to today?
So what did we all do, over the festive period, without being able to check the web, read emails or post on Facebook?
Our extended family reverted to a more traditional Christmas of socialising with each other, eating food around a huge dining table and playing games. One day we all donned costumes, on a Gilbert & Sullivan theme and so I am happy to reveal my true self on this page as Nick the Pirate from Penzance! This was a planned competition that forced everyone to join in an make a spectacle of ourselves – the reward being a Christmas cocktail brought back from the Merchant Navy in the Second World War by my dad and now a tradition in the Thorne family. It seems that if the troop carrier ship, on which he served, was at sea for Christmas then the Shaw Savill Line provided the officers with a bottle of Gin, a bottle of Martini Rosso and a bottle of Martini Bianco. What did they do? They mixed them together of course!
We had quite a few tipsy Pirates in our house that day, with one Lord High Admiral trying to keep order.
Many people that I speak to seem to relish the prospect of finding a felon, such as a pirate in their family tree. Much as I have tried to root one out in my tree and despite that many of my ancestors were from the West Country and sailed the seas as mariners, I have yet to find one.
I have found mariners in the Shipping Crew Lists, such as that available from TheGenealogist, but no Pirates. I’ll keep looking as revisiting brick walls several times often results in a break through.
The Nosey Genealogist
Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate Links used above.
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 avisit to a Family History websitewhile surfing forkeywordsto do with the ancestor and then a little bit of time spentbrowsing 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Now you may be asking why I am doing this for free?
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:
Message to all my readers: So sorry that the blog has been off line for the past week.
This was necessary while support tried to figure out what had happened to make it fall off it’s perch here on the web.
It seemed to have received an unusual quantity of spam messages from some unscrupulous people, along with a few genuine comments that are to be welcomed. Thousands rather than the usual hundreds of spam messages hit the inbox!
One of the security plug-ins seemed not to update and in my dashboard. I then got a message asking me to press a link to manually update the software. This I did and was then shocked to see the screen go blank in front of my eyes and also find that the link to the blog had gone, as had my way in to edit it.
This plug-in is currently getting the blame for the blog disappearing into oblivion for 7 days. But I love a good conspiracy theory and so I am not so sure!
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!
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.
To all readers of this blog I’d like to wish a very Happy Christmas.
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!