Don’t just use the major records – ancestors may be found in smaller collections as well

 

Visit to Wolverhampton City Archives
Visit to Wolverhampton City Archives

 

I’ve been looking into a collateral line ancestor this week and that took me up to Wolverhampton City Archives.

In initial research, that I had carried out previously, I had found my great-grand uncle had left the army and moved to Wolverhampton to take up the position of Chief Constable in the Borough Police.

Making a return trip to the archive, in order to do some research for another tutorial that will eventually go in my English/Welsh family history course, I decided to take a further look into Major R D D Hay.

If you are new to family history then you may be a little unsure of using the facilities of an archive. Perhaps you worry about what sort of reception you may get. From my experience, of visiting these establishments over the years, I always get wonderful help and service from the staff on the desks up and down the country.

Ah but you are somewhat experienced at doing research, you may say.

I really don’t think that that is really a factor to consider. When I am looking to find someone, in the many small collections that the local archive or county record office has, I am in the same position as a newbie may be. I approach them and ask for their advice as to where they think I should look in their collections.

 

So it was this week when in the reading room at Wolverhampton. I gave them the name of the person I hoped to trace and the dates I was interested in. The staff looked on their computerised catalogue and were able to offer me the Watch Committee reports that covered both the start and the finish of Robert Hay’s tenure.

From my point of view this was fascinating as I could read the names and some details about the 106 candidates for the Chief Constable’s job. I could also see the selection process and even read who it was, on the Borough Council, who voted for my ancestor to be given the job. As it was Robert David Dewar Hay had a landslide victory over other short-listed candidate.

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For other researchers, with Wolverhampton ancestors from around this time, the records may reveal your ancestor if they had any dealing with the Police, Fire brigade, or even the Weights and Measures in the borough – as all of these activities fell under the jurisdiction of the Police and the Watch Committee.

If you have a policeman ancestor he may well be mentioned if he did well or needed reprimanding. Alternatively if he was to fall ill and so required to resign, or if he died and the committee felt an obligation to his widow, again he may be mentioned by name.

I saw names of those suppliers of goods and products, such as uniforms for the police officers and firemen contained in the records. As you would expect names of local criminals appeared in the lists of warrants executed on felons, which gave a description of what they had done to deserve a visit from the boys in blue and even the report on the lady owner of a brothel that the police were trying to close down.

 

I do commend these types of interesting small record collections to you. As I say in my English/Welsh family history course: don’t just collect names and dates from the vital records and the census sets – try to flesh out your family tree research with some colour to add to your family history story.

Wolverhampton City Archives reading room

The reading room at Wolverhampton City Archives

 

 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about English and Welsh ancestor research then take a look at my family history course. Or to pay in US dollars check this page out for more information: http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/specialoffer/aindex.html

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I found an ancestor in the Wolverhampton City Archives

 

Wolverhampton City Archives

 

I’ve been visiting the Midlands for the New Year and on the last day of 2015 I marked the occasion with a visit to the Wolverhampton City Archives.

I am so glad that I decided to see if they were open as I managed to discover something interesting about a person in my family tree that I didn’t know before then.

I had identified that a great-grand uncle of mine, Major Robert D D Hay, had become the Chief Constable of the Wolverhampton Borough Police in around 1866. In fact I had got the completely wrong dates for his tenure, but the knowledgeable staff in the archives were able to find me an entry in their catalogue for a newspaper report that put me on the correct track. The correct date was 1878 that he had been appointed to the job.

In the interest of discovering something about the Major’s wife I asked the archive staff if they had anything about Mary Hay, neé Corser, whom I believed may have been a local Wolverhampton girl. Entering her name they showed me entries that suggested that she may have been the daughter of a local solicitor and attorney called Charles Corser and another link that revealed the fascinating fact that she had founded a home in the late nineteenth century as a shelter for homeless girls where they could learn a trade.

The archive staff explained to me what the home was established for and it certainly made perfect sense for the wife of the Chief Constable to have founded the institution. The man behind the desk seemed himself to be intrigued to discover that the Mrs Hay, of the Mrs Hay Memorial Home for Friendless Girls, had been the wife of the borough’s chief policeman.

It turns out that the home had been set up by my Victorian middle-class great-grand aunt who, like many of her class, feared that prostitution, that was rife among the desperately poor working class women of the city, was in danger of undermining the fabric of their own level of society. This, they concluded, was because of the temptation prostitutes held for their own middle class men and so the solution they came up with was to take the girls off the streets and teach them a trade other than the oldest profession!

 

In my course on English/Welsh family history I always encourage those who want to discover more about their ancestors to explore the records that the county record offices and city archives have as many of their holdings have not made it online. While there certainly is a lot of records to explore online now, there are often some smaller collections that can help you find out more about your family. To find them you very often have to pay a visit to the repositories in the area that your ancestor lived in and ask the staff what holdings they suggest may help you find out more.

 

While I was in the City Archives I was also able to take a look at the original Chief Constable’s report to the Watch Committee. While it was a later book than my own ancestor had compiled, it still gave me a fascinating insight into the running of a Victorian police force and I felt privileged to be able to turn the pages of the old ledger and read about some of concerns of the Chief Constable. Within its pages were the names of various PCs on sick leave; the names of officers facing disciplinary proceedings and the recommendations (or otherwise) for lodging house licences and so on.

Looking at the Chief Constable s report Wolverhampton City Archives

 

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