Family History sent me round the houses today!

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I was back in the area of Jersey where I grew up today.

It was not my family history that I was researching, but ancestors belonging to someone else.

I had received a request to take a photograph of the house in which my contact’s forebears had lived and so I went to my computer and opened TheGenealogist.co.uk and looked up the head of the household in their Channel Island records.

This site has some “Jersey Almanacs” which are very useful trade directories for the islands and soon I was on the trail.

The Genealogist also has the full run of census data and images, which I next used to quickly find the person in question.

Unless you are new, to family history research, then you will be aware that the census collections are also available on Ancestry and Findmypast as well. I tend to use all three sites, as sometimes the transcription on one may help me better locate a person with a difficult name spelling.

 

In the 1901 and 1911 census it was quite plain that the family in question lived around the harbour at St Aubin, in the parish of St Brelade. The census in each case clearly gave the name of the house, though it was different in 1911 from 1901 so there was the possibility that the family had moved a very short distance. Either that or they had changed the name of their house.

So a simple task, you may think. All I had to do was pop along to the road in question and snap a building. Even if the house name was no longer visible, or had changed, there was bound to be a property in the road that had retained its name and I could use as a reference point. All I would need to do is count down the houses from that one.

Oh that it was so easy! You see the harbour front has some alleyways off it and these had different road names today from the ones used in the census. It seems to me that the parish has gone back to using the older French names for these roads from the Anglicised ones used in 1901 and 1911.

Another problem was that off these alleys were some semi-detached cottages, some of which are reached via foot paths. Also there were a set of steps, leading up to the steep Market Hill that rises behind the harbour, on which three more un-named cottages perched.

Both of the census records ignored the Methodist Church, that sat in the middle of the harbour frontage between one of my reference properties, as is to be expected if it had no residents to be counted. But it was also obvious that, in times past, some of the other buildings would have been warehousing, or other uninhabited commercial buildings and so these too were not enumerated. This made my task of counting down the houses to the ones for which I was searching, difficult.

I consulted the “Description of the Enumeration District” as in some cases this can give you a good idea of the enumerator’s walk. In this case it mentioned the names of the roads, in general, but did not explain how he had dealt with buildings set behind each other or to the side.

By finding some more reference buildings, that is those that have retained their names through to today, I was able to tie down the house in the 1901 to being on one plot. I am not certain that it is the actual building as it may well have been built later, it not having many of the period features of its neighbours to give away its age.

So only a partial victory for family history research this week, but the Description of the Enumeration District can be a useful tool elsewhere and browsing through a road on the census can often be illuminating in other ways. Sometimes you may find more members of the family living close by and a child missing from one house in its grandparent’s or Aunt and Uncles. I remember finding this in my own family in Plymouth.

 

Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used above when discusssing the resources of:

The Genealogist

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Family history secrets from the Asylum

ITV CaptureLast night’s ITV programme on Secrets from the Asylum was fascinating from a family history point of view.

It showed vividly how emotional a finding that one or other of your ancestors spent some time, or indeed died, behind the doors of an asylum can be.

One of the things that I always advise people, thinking about researching their family tree, is to be aware that they may find skeletons in the cupboard. Also that once the skeleton is out this can cause other members of your family to get upset with you for opening the door into the past. Its particularly difficult if you dispel a carefully constructed family story that has been woven to protect the family from a perceived disgrace.

Another maxim, that I tell people new to family history, is not to judge their family for making up these stories and to try to understand your ancestor in the era in which they lived and in the social context of their times.

Both these “rules” had to be applied when I found a cause of death for a client whose family tree I was researching. Just like Christopher Biggins, one of the celebrities on the show, he to discovered that his ancestor died from “general paralysis of the insane”.

The client’s ancestor was said to have fallen from his horse as a relatively young man. My client had become suspicious of this story, perhaps subconsciously having picked up that the received wisdom was not told convincingly enough. His theory, however, was that his ancestor had perhaps run away from his wife and family. The truth was more of a shock when the certificate was delivered to him by me.

In the programme last night actress Sue Johnston was also featured as she revisited the hospital where she had worked in the 1960’s. Her experience was of wheeling patients down to have Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which was invented in the 1930s to treat schizophrenia but was used on a variety of illnesses by the 1960s. Her memories of the patients getting the treatment were quite distressing for her.

I have found people who had this treatment and went on to live normal lives but for researchers who discover this in their family tree, this can sometimes be upsetting.

So, as long as you are aware that not everything that you may find out about ancestors will be “rosy” then family history research is a compelling pastime that gets better with the more records and resources that you can get to use.

 

If you are just starting out and want to build your knowledge of English/Welsh family history so that you are able to track down elusive ancestors then take a look at my course at Family History Researcher Academy.

For another couple of weeks I am offering my Summer Sale of a month’s trial for free in conjunction with S&N Geneology Supplies! Click the image below.
 
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The Midlands Family History Fair on tomorrow

I am going to be at The Midlands Family History Fair tomorrow Saturday 9th August 2014 between 10:00 – 4:00.
I’ll be introducing people to my Family History Researcher Course and selling some of my Genealogy help audios at very special prices.

If you are going to the fair, then come over and say hello.

Its on at the Worcester Rugby Club, Sixways Stadium, Worcester, WR3 8ZE

Admission: £3.00, Children FREE

There is free parking at the Rugby Club, or a shuttle bus from Foregate Street Railway Station.

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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…

 

 

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How To Find Ancestors, A Professional’s Tip

 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?

The Mouth of the River Dart.

Dartmouth, Devon.

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.

St Saviours on phone camera

St Saviour’s Dartmouth

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.

Dartmouth St Clements

Dartmouth, St Clement’s. Townstall

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.

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